- Championship is open and congested this season
- Mid-table sides will be hoping for promotion while also fearing relegation
- Over half the table could get promoted
- Barnsley are struggling, but every other team has challenged
It feels like we say this every season, but the Championship is ridiculously open this year. While the likes of Leeds and West Bromwich Albion will have surprised nobody by being near the top of table, plenty of teams have sprung shocks and made unexpected advancements. Could this be one of those campaigns where none of the recently relegated teams makes it back to the Premier League at the first attempt?
Leeds and West Brom are the favourites to win the league, with Leeds at 11/10 to become champions of the league. West Brom aren’t far behind them, and both teams are in the top three, surprise package Preston sandwiched between them in second. Between first and sixth there’s only five points in it, and with a game in hand on the other sides Nottingham Forest could go level on points with Leeds and Preston, yet only move up one place to fourth. The other two teams in the play-offs going into the international break are Swansea, currently occupying fourth place, and sixth-placed Bristol City.
Fulham, currently seventh and two points away from a play-off berth, are right in the mix and are definitely one to keep an eye on. Doing the best of the three relegated teams, Scott Parker appears to be doing well at the beginning of his managerial career, and with the likes of captain Tom Cairney and league top scorer Aleksandr Mitrović have a team that are more than capable of challenging at this level.
How tight is mid-table?
From Brentford in 9th on 24 points to Derby in 16th on 21 points, mid-table is looking increasingly congested, featuring both teams widely tipped to struggle pre-season (Birmingham, Charlton) and teams predicted to be challenging higher up the table (Cardiff, Derby). The results of matches like Charlton vs Cardiff on November 23rd will be crucial as these sides aim to edge closer to the play-offs and away from the slight threat of relegation.
9th – Brentford, 24 pts
10th – QPR, 24 pts
11th – Charlton, 22 pts
12th – Hull, 22 pts
13th – Birmingham, 22 pts
14th – Cardiff, 21 pts
15th – Millwall, 21 pts
16th – Derby, 21 pts
It seems as if Derby are perennial promotion favourites, but they haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season. Losing manager Frank Lampard to Chelsea in the summer was obviously a hefty blow, and his replacement Phillip Cocu has struggled to string a set of positive results together, meanwhile captain Richard Keogh was sacked for off-the-field matters. On the same points are Cardiff, who recently saw veteran manager Neil Warnock leave after three years at the club, and Millwall, now with Gary Rowett in charge. The Bluebirds are as big as 22/1 to gain promotion with SkyBet, while Millwall are 40/1 with a number of bookmakers, as they’re suspected to remain in mid-table.
At the other end of the table to the likes of Leeds, only Barnsley really look to be dead and buried in the relegation places. For all of their struggles, Huddersfield look rejuvenated under the Cowley brothers, and Stoke have the players to get themselves out of trouble, if new manager Michael O’Neill can build on their victory against Barnsley on November 9th. Reading have also been slowly climbing the table under new boss Mark Bowen, while Wigan will be worried as they don’t look like pulling away from relegation trouble any time soon.
Besides Barnsley, The other two newly promoted teams aren’t doing too badly. As said, Charlton are sitting pretty in mid-table while Luton are 21st, a point clear of 22nd-placed Middlesbrough. It looks as though Charlton should have enough to stay away from relegation, but Luton will feel that a couple of wins will get them a bit further away from trouble, particularly if Stoke can continue their new manager bounce.
What could happen?
A look at the favourites to be top scorer shows how quality stretches from the top to the bottom of the league. Unsurprisingly, Mitrović is the favourite at 11/8 with most bookies, with Brentford’s Ollie Watkins, Hull’s Jarrod Bowen and QPR’s Nahki Wells also amongst the frontrunners.
Still early in the season – we haven’t had Christmas yet – it’s difficult to predict what will happen. From Blackburn in 18th upwards, any team could make the play-offs, while Huddersfield and Stoke also have the players to do so. But spare a thought for Barnsley; five points away from safety, it looks to be a long season of drudgery for them. They’re comfortably the favourite for relegation, with Luton, Wigan and Middlesbrough following behind them.
With the present international break, clubs have a chance to regroup and have a breather in this hectic Championship season. Can Barnsley pull off the unlikely and get out of the relegation zone? Will Cardiff or Hull get into the play-offs? In the Championship, anything can happen.