The EFL Championship promotion battle
With only four fixtures to go, can Leeds and West Brom lose the automatic promotion seats? Which team is more likely to win the play-off and gain the third promotion spot? The answers to these questions and many more are here!
Let’s welcome Marcelo Bielsa to the Premier League
Last season’s nightmare-scenario will not be replicated again at Elland Road. Bielsa’s side sits at the top of the table with 81 points, having a 6-point cushion on the play-off positions. Their final run of fixtures include hosting Charlton and Barnsley, two teams that have a lot to play for, but far less things to show.
Leeds recently trashed Stoke at home (5-0), another team involved in the relegation battle. If Charlton and / or Barnsley will share the same faith as ‘the Potters’, Leeds can consider themselves a Premier League club. And they should feel like one anyways.
‘El Loco’ Bielsa created a powerful club out there and I think they can really make an impression in the top division. With minor improvements to the squad (maybe a striker that doesn’t miss as much Patrick Bamford does), Leeds could enjoy a successful spell in the top flight.
West Brom can see Brentford over their shoulder
‘The Baggies’ needed a little bit more game-time to readapt and took a single point from the first two fixtures post-restart. Unfortunately for them, the defeat they suffered came against Brentford, who are now just 5 points behind.
Since then, WBA bounced back and have 3 consecutive wins. They have a Premier League manager on the bench, able to adjust his team’s tactics to fit against any opponent. Slaven Bilic also has top quality players he can work with: Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Grosicki are just some of them.
Clearly, West Brom possesses everything that is necessary to win promotion. But also, they have shown inconsistency at times. I fear a bad night at The Hawthorns in fixture 44 (against Fulham) could add some serious pressure to their play for the final games.
Brentford – a factory of goalscorers
‘The Bees’ are arguably the best team in the league right now, in terms of form. They have 6 wins in a row, with a goals record of 16 – 1 in this interval. In the first two games after the restart they triumphed over Fulham (2-0) and West Brom (1-0).
No other team in the Championship has scored more goals than Brentford’s 75. No other team in the league conceded less goals than they did: 34.
The top goalscorer in the competition this season is Brentford’s Ollie Watkins, who netted 23 times so far (joint-high with Aleksandr Mitrovic). Also in the top ten goalscorers we find two other Brentford players: Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo, both having scored 15 times already.
These three players haven’t even reached their peak age yet and look very appealing for Premier League clubs in search of talented men up front. Same thing happened last year, when Neil Maupay – Brentford’s top goalscorer – was bought by Brighton for £20 million.
However, ‘the Bees’ might want to hold on to their strikers this year. Given that they gained so much momentum and their next fixtures look pretty decent, I would definitely put my money on them to make it to the top-flight after 70+ years of absence. Whether their promotion will come automatically or through the play-off remains to be seen.
Struggling Fulham could end up in frustration
I don’t think the Londoners have what it takes to bounce back up. While having a squad with great individual players, they seem to lack team strength. Their victories (especially the most recent ones) often include a significant amount of luck.
In spite of their 3 consecutive wins, they don’t strike you as the team you would never want to be playing against. Averaging more than one goal conceded per match, Fulham’s defensive play is quite sloppy.
Scott Parker’s tactics up front rely mostly on Mitrovic, so when the Serbian is not in his best shape there aren’t too many defensive lines that fear Fulham’s attack. The play-off route will be a tough one for ‘the Cottagers’.
As for the rest of the teams involved in the battle for promotion, we are in store for some thrilling encounters between the sides of Nottingham, Cardiff, Swansea and even Preston and Derby.
I think neither of them could snatch the promotion from Brentford (or West Brom?) in the play-off, but I also discredited Aston Villa last season and they’ve proven me wrong. We shall see if my foresight has improved since then…