It’s been an eventful 6 months of the 2019/20 EFL Championship season, with it being closer than ever, and cementing its place as the most competitive league in the world, with around 10 sides fighting it out for promotion to the Premier League.
The league where anyone can beat anyone, where you can get promoted with a negative goal difference and the home of the likes of Danny Graham and Ashley Williams, the pinnacle of British football.
But what’s gone down this year? Who’s in the mix to reach the riches of the Premier League, find out here in our guide to the rest of the season in the Championship. First let’s take a look at the current table.
Now, we’ve got 11 contenders with a chance of gaining one of those 6 places at the top of the second division of England’s footballing pyramid.
Those eleven being Leeds, West Brom, Fulham, Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Preston, Bristol City, Blackburn, Swansea, Cardiff and Millwall with a realistic chance of slipping into the playoffs come May. Those teams are in the order of the current table on the 24th of February, so that’s the order we’ll go in.
West Bromwich Albion
We’re going to start with the league leaders and top scorers in West Bromwich Albion, who under Slaven Bilic have looked incredibly impressive and are much improved on last season. In fact, they’ve only lost 4 times all season and are 6 points better off than they were at this stage last season.
But the thing that’s been the most impressive from the Baggies this season is their away form, they’ve won 11 of 18, only losing twice, and have gained more points away from home than at the Hawthorns.
It’s not like West Brom have even been poor at home in this Championship season either, they’ve only lost twice, with their only losses being when they have failed to score.
As for star players, there’s one blaring name that stands out to me, Matheus Pereira. The Brazilian creative midfielder, who’s on loan from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, has been a breath of fresh air to a previously rigid West Brom side.
He’s contributed to 18 goals, creating 12 of them and scoring 6 times in 30 appearances. Jake Livermore looks back to his best, with an outstanding display last weekend against Bristol City. There’s quality in attack too, with Charlie Austin, Hal Robson-Kanu and Matt Phillips leading the line for the Baggies.
This side looks built for the Premier League, I’d back them to stay up, and they’ll be my table-toppers in my prediction I’m doing later, well done to Slaven Bilic and co.
Next up, Bielsa Ball, and Leeds United, it seems as if Leeds are near the top of the Championship year in, year out lately, and to say it correctly, always crack under pressure and bottle promotion.
Managers have been and gone, and there’s been progress, but they and Derby have a little competition going on for who can stay in the league longer by the looks of things. However, they are a seriously talented footballing side and will look set to break their curse and return to the top division of English football.
There’s a huge touch of quality running through the side, from Luke Ayling to Kalvin Phillips and Stuart Dallas, all the way up to Pablo Hernandez, Mateusz Klich and Helder Costa. These are all talented footballers, built to play with the ball at their feet, and go forward as a unit.
Many Championship managers, including Brentford boss Thomas Frank, have called Leeds the best footballing side in the league, and they’re right. The only thing stopping the Elland Road side from winning the league is the lack of a 20 goal a season striker, they’d be unstoppable with a Mitrovic leading the line up top.
The Yorkshire side statistically are exceptional, in fact they are in the top 5 of the league in every single category on the table.
The Whites are joint second in both home and away games this season, behind Preston and West Brom respectively, meaning that they’re consistent both home and away, the signs of a good side, who should secure an automatic spot.
Speaking of Mitrovic, let’s move onto his club Fulham who have a similar amount of quality to Leeds, but don’t have the manager to get the best out of them in my opinion. Scott Parker was a quality player, England international, and a great servant for Fulham, but they won’t get very far in the playoffs if they make them at all.
In fact, if Mitrovic was playing for another club, I doubt they’d even be in the top half of the Championship, as tight as it is, and with the quality, the Cottagers possess going forward, you’d expect them to be competing with Leeds and West Brom, but Parker’s style of football is having a negative effect on their star players such as Tom Cairney.
We’ve seen little from Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, two players who have previously torn up the Championship, and who you’d expect to be massive threats, but actually are having quiet seasons. But what will hurt arguably the best side in the league on paper is their poor record against the top 7 sides in the division.
Fulham have gained 4 points out of a possible 18 against those sides this season, which will prove a disadvantage come May. And to add to their wounds, this perceived quality attacking side has scored more than one goal just once in their last 10 games.
But it’s not all bad, they do boast an incredible defensive record, conceding just 37 goals in 34 games, meaning that they can sit on a one-nil lead, as proven by their last ten matches.
This should get them a top 6 finish, I just don’t see the Cottagers getting it done this year, as if I was to pick one of the current Top 6 to drop out, Fulham would be the team. They also have the toughest run in of all the sides we’re talking about today, which could see them drop out.
We mentioned Thomas Frank earlier, now let’s look into his Griffin Park side, of Brentford Football Club. Look no further than BMW, no, not the German car manufacturer, I’m of course talking about Brentford’s front three of Said Behrahma, Brian Mbuemo and Ollie Watkins.
The almost unstoppable threat of a strike force, with 43 goals between them, that’s 2 less than fellow promotion contenders Nottingham Forest have scored all season.
In all honesty, the Bees are unlucky not to be in the automatic places of the Championship, with a few results earlier in the season just not going there way, I feel as if Brentford are the side to challenge Leeds for that second automatic promotion spot.
Surprisingly what no-one ever talks about is Brentford’s defensive record, the Griffin Park side have only conceded 29 goals in 34 games, topping the Championship.
It’ll be a new beginning for Brentford from next season, as they move into their new state of the art Brentford Community Stadium, will they be playing top division football there next year?
Quite possibly yes, statistics tell us that as long as Brentford score they’ll get a point. This is as in every game they have scored in, bar a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday the Bees have got something out of the game.
Scoring isn’t a problem either, they sit second in goals scored, just behind league leaders West Bromwich Albion, and should be taken seriously in the playoffs, or as a sneaky last game of the season team to sneak into the automatic places, if Leeds do a Leeds, again.
Of all the teams we’re going through today, I didn’t at all expect Nottingham Forest to be in a strong playoff position, with a chance of getting an automatic spot.
In all seriousness, hats off to Sabri Lamouchi and co, they’ve worked their way to 5th in the Championship, with limited attacking threat and a manager experiencing his first taste of English football.
There’s everything you need already there to be a success at Premier League level too, they’ve got a quality winger in Joe Lolley, who shouldn’t be playing at this level, joined with a top Target Man striker, in Lewis Grabban.
Pair those two with Matty Cash, Joe Worrall and the ever experienced Ben Watson, and you’ve got some foundations for Forest to build on. The 5th placed Championship side are built similarly to Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United and could pose a similar threat to the likes of them and Wolves if they were to reign victorious in the playoffs.
Moving onto Forest’s Championship season so far, they currently sit 5th, as we previously stated and have only lost 8 times all season. The tricky trees have mastered their way to an impressive away record, placing 2nd in the league, behind West Brom and level on away points with Leeds United.
Lamouchi’s side have one hidden talent in their ability to beat the sides around them, boasting only two defeats in 14 games against the sides we’re covering today, that’s 2 defeats to the top 10 sides around them.
If that form continues, they’ve surely got to be playoff favourites, that’s an amazing record, and one that could help them out with results when the clock is ticking in April and May.
Preston North End
Alex Neil’s at it again, after guiding Norwich to Premier League promotion in 2015. This time the former Hamilton Academical player, turned manager is in charge of Preston North End, the club that have launched the managerial careers of the likes of David Moyes.
North End, like Brentford and Bristol City have been sniffing around the playoff places for a few years now, and look to have put together an even stronger side together for this current campaign.
What’s more, they top the form table of the past 8 games, with 17 points, and like Nottingham Forest have an excellent record against the sides around them, which will help them try to cement a place in the top 6. If Preston had a 20 goal striker, they’d be fighting for automatic promotion.
At this current moment in time, Preston are THE form side of the Championship, losing once since New Year’s Day, to playoff contenders Milwall. Alongside this, they are excellent at home, topping the league with 36 home points, 64% of their overall points tally.
Deepdale is their fortress, proving a hard environment for their opponents to deal with, scoring 1.89 goals a game, and only letting 1.07 goals a game in at home this season.
North End have some quality players to throw in the mix on top of this too, Patrick Bauer was a quality addition from Charlton, who he earned promotion with last season.
Ben Pearson is a Premiership quality defensive midfielder if it wasn’t for his hot-headed temper. Pearson faced 10 games out due to suspension last season, he’s a great player, there’s just always going to be a risk there surrounding the ball-winning midfielder and his frequency of picking up yellow cards.
Dropping out of the top 6, and traveling down to the South West, 7th placed Bristol City are up next, can they sneak into the playoffs? Streaky Lee Johnson has a knack of winning games his side perhaps shouldn’t have won, and then going 6 or 7 unbeaten, after not winning for 5 or 6 games.
Bristol City are in one of those ruts right now, as they have been all season. The Robins have been incredibly unlucky this term, with their three main summer additions, in Tomas Kalas, Jay Dasilva and Benik Afobe combining for 30 appearances between them, after all picking up long term injuries early in the season.
We’ve seen 2 formations from the BS3 side this year, with Johnson not being afraid to change things up after a poor run of games. City started the season with a loss to Leeds, before embarking on a staggering run, with the Robins only losing once in 17 games.
They did this playing a 5-3-2 system, built around Afobe, Andreas Weimann and advanced playmaker Kasey Palmer, playing through the middle, with wingbacks either side. The Robins were much better defensively playing this system, conceding 21 goals in their opening 18, compared to the 29 they’ve let in over their previous 16 matches.
A shock 3-0 loss to Luton occurred in October, with a change in system occurring the very next game, as did the emergence of Niclas Eliasson. The Swedish winger, who I’ve done a scout report on recently came into the side for a start against Charlton.
City set up in a 4-4-2 system in which they haven’t changed, and gaining 12 assists in the process, placing 2nd in the league.
But results are beginning to dry up again, and Eliasson’s form is dipping, resulting in City fans to cry out to go back to their successful narrow formation, and for either Jamie Paterson or Kasey Palmer to feed balls into Nakhi Wells and either Weimann, Afobe when he returns, or Famara Diedhou.
I do believe if City can get the 20 goal-a-season-striker, in Nakhi Wells, who they signed in January after a long 18-month striker search following Bobby Reid’s departure, rolling them in, then they are serious top 6 contenders.
Those 7 are the main contenders, but there are a few others, who could still sneak into the sixth spot, and get into the Championship playoffs, with a chance of gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Let’s start with 8th placed Blackburn Rovers, who are fresh off an impressive 2-2 draw away to Brentford, a game which they probably should have won, but was packed full of referee controversies.
Their standout players from the season so far include Darragh Lenihan, Tosin Adarabioyo, Stewart Downing and Bradley Dack. If Blackburn are to challenge for a playoff place, they’ll be looking towards their top scorer Adam Armstrong, who’s netted 11 times in 34 games, and has totted up 6 assists in the process.
Tony Mowbray’s got his side rolling, only losing at home once since 28th of September and have lost just one of their last eight. I for one would love to see Mowbray back on the Premier League sidelines.
Gliding across to the Swans of Swansea City, who under Welsh manager Steve Cooper started the Championship season excellently losing just once in their first 10 games, picking up some impressive wins against the likes of Preston and Leeds United.
But the former England under-19’s manager’s side have dropped off a bit lately, and at this moment in time are playing like a mid-table side in Cooper’s first season in charge. The Swans have embarked on a rebuild, and will be in the challenging pack sooner rather than later, maybe even by next season.
There’s a good mix of youth and experience in the side, with a few club developed players, such as Connor Roberts, playing week in week out. If they are to make a late push for the top 6, that’ll be down to Andre Ayew’s recent form. The attacker has put together 5 assists, whilst also adding 11 goals, powering his way to being the Swans’ top scorer.
Neil Harris seems to be a good appointment for the bluebirds, who have been sitting around mid-table for most of the season, and will look to build on that next time out. The welsh side are in a state of rebuild, like their rivals Swansea, but have done well to be in this healthy position, compared to some of the football they’ve played.
Cardiff don’t lose many games, but haven’t won many either, meaning they’ve drawn a total of 14 times, the most in the league. Lee Tomlin looked back to his best this season, scoring 7 goals in the process, while also providing the same number of assists.
However, Tomlin has recently suffered a knee injury, and will be sidelined for over 8 weeks, depending on it’s severity. A huge blow for Cardiff.
Finally, the last team with a shot at reaching those 6 playoff and automatic promotion places is Milwall, who I would say have the best chance of reaching the playoffs of all the other teams in this outsiders segment.
Of Milwall’s next 12 games to finish the season, only two of them are sides within the top 6, and on average, the Lions have an upcoming schedule of opponents who only rack up 1.25 points per game, which is the easiset of the bunch we’ve covered today.
As for their start man, look no further than Jed Wallace, the creative midfielder who has been involved in 19 goals, netting 10 himself, and setting up another 9. He’s looking like a shoe-in for a place in the Championship Team of the Year.
I’ve gone through the remaining 12 games for all eleven sides, predicted the outcome and produced a final league table, via worldfootball.net’s score predictor, which is available to use here. My prediction is below. Have a go and let us know what your predictions for the top 6 are on our social media!
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