A decade ago, or even just half of that, the prospect of Luton Town being in the Premier League would have been unimaginable. It wasn’t too long ago they were in administration and relegated to non-league football. It’s a journey only replicated on Football Manager. The sheer novelty of their presence in the topflight is something to relish for The Hatters’ fans.
A remarkable figure in this narrative is manager Rob Edwards, who typifies Luton’s extraordinary promotion. Commencing the previous season as the manager of arch-rivals Watford, Edwards was dismissed just seven weeks into the campaign. When Nathan Jones was lured away by Southampton, Edwards assumed the managerial role at Luton.
In a remarkable turn of events, he not only continued Jones’ commendable work but also capitalized on the coaching potential previously witnessed at Forest Green Rovers. Displaying remarkable composure amid the playoff frenzy, Edwards led the team to success, overcoming the stumbling block that had thwarted Jones. As the upcoming season kicks off, it will conclude a year that stands as one of the most unconventional and remarkable periods for any manager in recent memory.
Luton’s ascent to the Premier League wasn’t accidental, rooted firmly in their deserving performance. Nonetheless, the promotion arrived ahead of schedule, bringing along its own set of challenges. Although Kenilworth Road meets the requirements of the top-flight, the club is exercising prudence to avert financial instability, opting against extravagant investments in the playing staff.
Luton Town’s approach to squad building following their promotion is characterized by a prudent investment strategy. While they haven’t splurged on major signings, the cohesiveness within the team and the overall synergy behind the scenes stand out as noteworthy strengths. This cautious strategy does raise some concerns. Few individuals within the squad possess significant top-tier experience. If the season kicks off sluggishly, the adjustment to the higher level might prove to be a demanding trial.
Their recruitment has been largely centred around physical profiles to coincide with their on-pitch style. Edwards’ side set up in an aggressive 5-3-2 shape and consistently pump the ball long, ceding possession and focusing on winning duels and counter-pressing high up the pitch.
The aggressiveness and compactness of their pressing are emphasised by how high their wingbacks and outside centre backs push on. Of course, they are expected to defend deep frequently in the Premier League given they will be playing against higher-quality opposition, but they will aim to give their opponents as little chance as possible to create these situations. It’s very Brentford-esque.
One major challenge shared by most promoted clubs is goal-scoring. Luton registered a mere 57 goals, ranking as the lowest among the Championship’s top six teams last season. Their success often hinged on narrow victories, securing 12 league wins by a solitary goal. While they dominated against the Championship’s lower-ranked teams, their performance against the top nine clubs was less impressive. The transition to the Premier League raises questions about their ability to maintain this level of performance.
In regard to this summer, Luton Town has exhibited a strategic approach. Instead of pursuing high-profile signings demanding substantial wages, they’ve bolstered their roster with a group of players poised to play a crucial role, particularly in the event of immediate relegation.
Among the acquisitions, Mads Andersen stands out as a really shrewd piece of business. The 25-year-old central defender was a stalwart during his time with Barnsley, with his height and aerial prowess standing out. Further up the pitch, Manchester United academy graduate Tathith Chong represents a calculated gamble at £5 million, whilst Ireland international Chedozie Ogbene also bolsters their options, joining on a free from Rotherham United. Thomas Kaminski has been purchased for a low fee from Blackburn Rovers to replace Ethan Horvath, who returns to Nottingham Forest following his loan.
The Hatters have also added Ryan Giles, a promising full-back from Wolves, to strengthen their defensive options. The 23-year-old spent last season on loan at Middlesbrough, where he played as an attacking left-back and yielded an impressive 11 assists, showcasing his unique offensive qualities. He possesses a durable engine which allows him to get up and down the flank to complement his excellent crossing and ball-striking technique. He could also feature as an outside centre back too.
Notably, Marvelous Nakamba’s loan has been converted into a permanent deal, underscoring his importance to the squad. The Zimbabwean international was pivotal in pushing Luton over the line of promotion, bringing an abundance of physicality and intensity to the midfield, enabling him to nick possession off opponents, sweep up loose balls and mop up in transition.
A particularly intriguing signing is Issa Kabore on loan from Manchester City, who featured multiple times in the Champions League for Marseille last season. Kabore slots fittingly in the right-wing-back role for Luton given his attacking quality and dynamism. They have also bolstered their goalkeeping options with the signing of 35-year-old Dutch international Tim Krul, who should provide some much-needed Premier League experience to the squad.
Most recently, Luton announced the signing of Jacob Brown on a permanent deal from Stoke City. Brown is a versatile forward who works incredibly hard and offers runs in behind but perhaps doesn’t fix the goalscoring solution. Which could be where Ross Barkley comes in.
In one of the most surprising signings of the summer so far, Barkley has joined The Hatters following the end of his short-term deal at OCG Nice. Although the ex-Everton man’s stock has dropped significantly in recent years, he’s capable of being a difference-maker, producing something out of nothing and adding goals from midfield. At 29, and with over 200 Premier League appearances under his belt, Barkley will have a chip on his shoulder and will aim to bring his quality and experience to help steer Luton away from the drop.
The linchpin of Luton’s setup is Carlton Morris, who emerged as the focal point of their attacking strategy. His £2 million transfer from Barnsley before this summer marked a record fee for the club. A target-man striker, Morris possesses the capacity to both retain possession and exploit his agility against defenders, making him a potent threat, especially during set-piece situations.
Prior to last season, Morris’ goal tally had never exceeded eight in a league campaign, a figure he surpassed while becoming the first Luton player since Phil Gray in 1992-93 to score 20 league goals across the top two tiers. His consistent goal-scoring prowess will be instrumental in the club’s bid to remain in the Premier League.
Undoubtedly, their performance at home will play a pivotal role. Last season, Luton secured victory in only 10 out of their 23 home matches in the Championship. Although Kenilworth Road has undergone renovations during the summer, its unfamiliarity to elite Premier League players might provide Luton with an edge they can capitalize on.
The Hatters kicked off their season with a 4-1 defeat at Brighton, with Carlton Morris narrowing the deficit to one from the penalty spot in the 81st minute only for substitutes Simon Adingra and Evan Ferguson to bag late goals and secure a comfortable win for Roberto De Zerbi’s side. Their match against Burnley was postponed due to Kenilworth Road’s ongoing refurbishment, and they’ll be looking to bounce back on Friday at Stamford Bridge as they face off against Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea.
While relegation is a dreaded outcome for all clubs, the revenue generated from their Premier League venture is seen as a protective buffer for their long-term sustainability – an optimistic sentiment that resonates deeply within the club and its community. Intriguingly, history favours them as none of the last four Premier League debutants have suffered relegation after their inaugural campaign in the top-flight. However, given the quality of the surrounding clubs, it’s fair to say Rob Edwards’ side must play out of their skins to stand a firm chance of staying in the Premier League
By: James Lloyd / @Jlloyd2000
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images