Could Luton’s throwback style lead to one of the greatest Premier League survivals?
When Luton Town gained promotion to the Premier League via a heroic play-off victory beating Coventry in the final, not many people gave them much chance of surviving. Their squad value of just €87.2 million is the lowest of any team in the last five seasons in the English top-flight, and the fifth lowest in the last 10 years. Their squad value is also less than 10% of the value of Manchester City (€1.26 billion) Arsenal (€1.1b) Chelsea (€999m) Manchester United (€877.3m) and Liverpool (€877.3m).
Unable to play a home game until the 23rd of September due to their 11,050 capacity stadium, Kenilworth Road not meeting Premier League regulations, and without a point from their first four games, the general consensus from that moment, was that Luton were doomed, and heading back to the Championship. But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Since then, they have beaten Everton at Goodison Park, and taken points off Nottingham Forest and Liverpool, and because of the Toffees’ 10 point deduction, Luton are now out of the drop zone in 17th. They are something of a throwback with their tactical set up, and the chaos caused by their direct style of play could lead to perhaps the greatest Premier League survival.
25 grounds from 25 leagues - The smallest first division stadiums in Europe
Denmark | The stadiums in Lyngby, Viborg and Silkeborg each have a capacity of 10,000.
Israel | *For some stadiums there are no images available from our photo provider - in these cases we have used the club logo.
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Stats behind Luton’s Premier League start
In the modern game, the majority of teams are obsessed with mirroring the great Pep Guardiola’s possession based football, with emphasis on a high press and creating overloads as the team builds up play through the pitch. In fact, you could argue that right now West Ham and Luton are the only Premier League teams who actually want to have less of the ball on a regular basis. Luton rank joint bottom for least average possession this season, with the Hammers in 16th (a low figure considering they have the ninth most valuable squad in the division).
If Luton are to remain a Premier League side come next August, the chaos and unfamiliarity caused by their 3-4-3 formation, and their direct style of play focused on getting aerial balls into the box and winning set-pieces, could be the deciding factor. Carlton Morris is the figurehead to this. After scoring 20 Championship goals last season, he has won the second most aerial duels in the entire league this season (54), only behind Brentford centre-half Ethan Pinnock (58), and the next striker on the list is Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 14 behind him on 40. His fierce ability in the air has been key to hold up play and relieve pressure, as well as to be a threat in the box and score goals. And they’ve got the perfect man to pick him out.
Left-back Alfie Doughty has completed the second most crosses in the entire division this campaign, which is even more impressive when you consider, as mentioned, they have the joint lowest average possession. He has fired 49 crosses into the box this season, many of those aimed at the aerially dominant Morris. Doughty’s one assist so far this term was an inviting cross that led to a Morris half volley in the box. The Hatters will feel the link up of that duo will be key if Luton are to stay up. Five of Luton’s seven goals this season have come from set-pieces including penalties.
After Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road this month, manager Jurgen Klopp said, “Strange game. Strange feeling after the game. I think we should have won, but I think the draw is the deserved result – and we could have lost, so that's how it is. Credit to Luton, they did really well. Nobody won here with a crazy result and I knew before why, but now I felt it, they do really well.” And Jurgen has a point - against Tottenham, Liverpool and Man United this season, Luton have conceded just one goal in each game. These fixtures are unlikely to be the games that keep the North London based club in the league, but keeping their negative goal difference to a minimum could be integral - Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Burnley all have an inferior goal difference to the Hatters currently.
The greatest Premier League survivals
Luton have just six points after 12 games - only 14 teams have had a worse start in Premier League history, but luckily for Rob Edward’s team, three of those sides are from this season - Sheffield United (five points) Everton (four points - after deduction) and Burnley (four points). Of teams with five points or less at this stage, only two have made the great escape. They were Everton themselves in the 1994/95 season and Crystal Palace in the 2011/12 campaign. The only team to stay up with a lower total squad market value in the last ten seasons were Bournemouth in the 2015/16 season, when they finished 16th. At the other end of the scale, the Derby County team of 2007/08, still hold the unwanted title of the lowest ever points total, picking up just 11 points that campaign.