Congratulations. You watched 38 grueling matches with a tight sphincter and sweaty palms to witness your club just barely survive the drop. It was a season with ups and downs that probably saw at least one manager sacked. You survived an inordinate amount of injuries to key players, but here you are, back in the top division for another long fingernail-nibbling season. Now it’s time to point said finger at the person most responsible for your survival.
The only rule I’m going to follow is that it has to be an outfield player. No goalkeepers, managers, referees or chairmen. With the use of simple and advanced stats, let’s decide who your club should thank for their survival. And in the interest of time, we’re going to start with Newcastle, who finished 10th, and flirted with relegation much later in the season than say Everton, Burnley or Leicester.
Newcastle – Jamaal Lascelles
Newcastle United ranked seventh in the Premier League in goals-against this season and were second among teams outside of the Top 6. So I have to go with the captain and center-back Jamaal Lascelles.
The 24-year-old played 32 matches and logged close to 3,000 minutes. Lascelles won nearly four aerials and made seven clearances per game. He also led the team in getting in the way of opposing shots. What I’m pretty much saying here is that Lascelles was a pain in the ass for attacking players all season and that’s what makes him Newcastle’s savior.
Runner-Up: Florian Lejeune
Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha
Most of this article is tongue-and-cheek, but Wilfried Zaha built quite an argument for being the literal savior for Palace this season. We don’t have to go into stats to prove it. Jesus, I mean Zaha, was missing from 10 team sheets this season due to two injury spells. Crystal Palace failed to gain a point without him. With Zaha in the lineup, Palace average more than a point and half per match. It’s hard to find anyone in top European competition that makes that type of impact for their club.
Palace were an interesting lot this season. Their big-money striker Christian Benteke found himself coming off the bench after returning from injury and Zaha and Andros Townsend double teamed the forward position as wingers. Zaha had a career season from the center-forward spot, scoring all nine of his goals as a “striker.”
Runner-Up: Luka Milivojevic
Bournemouth – Joshua King
The Norwegian striker wasn’t able to replicate what he did in 2016-17, but Bournemouth’s leading goal-scorer was back at it again this season. With eight goals and three assists, King was integral for the Cherries in the attacking half.
King is by no means the runaway winner for the savior badge this season. Callum Wilson was basically right there, step-for-step with King, statistically. The one difference is with this nifty advanced stat called Expected Goals Per 90 + Expected Assists Per 90 (xG90+xA90). King had the slight advantage over Wilson with 0.42 xG90+xA90. If you’re looking for another stat that’s much less complicated, King also had the advantage in passing percentage over Wilson.
Runner-Up: Callum Wilson
West Ham – Marko Arnautovic
Marko Arnautovic proved why he was worth every cent of his $30 million transfer from Stoke City to West Ham last summer. Example 1a: West Ham are staying in the Premier League while Stoke City were relegated. Coincidence? I don’t know, so let’s move on.
Arnautovic joined a whole gang of big, tall and lumbering strikers at West Ham. And the Austrian out-classed them all, banging in 11 goals and distributing six assists in 28 appearance – a rate-higher than Palace savior Wilfried Zaha. Arnautovic also generated the highest xG90+xA90 on the team. (I’m going to use this pesky little stat often.)
Runner-Up: Manuel Lanzini
Watford – Abdoulaye Doucoure
Let’s be honest, Watford had a pretty blah season. And that’s what makes it so hard to pinpoint one player as the savior. Watford allowed the third-most goals this season so that eliminates everyone on the backline. So let’s move our attention a little higher up the pitch and we’ll find Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Pretty much any kind of attacking threat went through Doucoure this season. He played in every match but one this season, and finished with a passing percentage of just north 83 percent. He also led the Hornets in pass completion per game by more than 10. Yeah, I know, it’s a boring pick for a boring team.
Runner-Ups: Richarlison, Robert Pereyra and Andre Gray
Brighton & Hove Albion – Pascal Groß
Brighton defied the odds this season by staying in the top flight. They didn’t even sack their manager Chris Hughton to do it, either. Come on you Seagulls. I think it’s pretty easy to point to Pascal Groß as their most impactful player.
The midfielder was the perfect rock a team on the fringe of survival needs to remain in the Premier League. He played every match and constantly distributed balls through the midfield to dangerous positions on the pitch. Groß finished eighth in the Premier League in the sum of goals of shots from his passes with 8.66. He led all players outside of the Top 6 in that stat. Groß also led Brighton by a wide margin in KP90 (2.45), key passes per 90 minutes.
Runner-Up: Glenn Murray
Huddersfield Town – Christopher Schindler
If I didn’t establish the rules prior to the creation of this list, I think I would have gone with German-American manager David Wagner as Huddersfield’s savior. But alas, rules are rules and I must pick somebody. That’s why I’m choosing center-back Christopher Schindler.
The 28-year-old German was signed by Huddersfield for less than $3 million prior to their promotion season in 2016-17. He continued his stalwart defending in the Terriers first season in the Premier League. He made 37 appearances and won 4.2 aerial challenges and made 7.2 clearances per match. Schindler was truly Huddersfield’s main janitor, cleaning up the mess defensively.
Runner-Up: Aaron Mooy
Southampton – Charlie Austin
I’m still scratching my head as to how Southampton avoided relegation this season after winning one league match from December through the end of April. That makes picking a savior a true toss-up.
Charlie Austin gets my nomination because of his constant impact on the squad, even though he was in and out of the team sheet throughout the season. He did slot home a team-leading seven goals in 24 matches but what gave him the edge was in the advanced statistics. Austin’s xG90+xA90 was at 0.74 this season. But the most telling statistic of his impact is something called xGChain90. This tells you the players’ total expected goals of every possession the player is involved in per 90 minutes. He led Southampton at 0.57, nearly 0.1 more than perceived playmaker Dusan Tadic.
Runner-Up: Dusan Tadic