Championship Analysis

After 16 years, English club Leeds United have earned promotion back into the Premier League. The three-time English Champions have fallen as low as the third tier of English football after a financial crisis, but Leeds are back and clinched promotion from England’s second tier, the Championship, after second-placed West Brom lost 2-1 to Huddersfield Town.

So Leeds have clinched promotion, and two other teams still can get to the Premier League. In the Championship, the top two teams earn promotion (now including Leeds), and teams that finish third through sixth face a playoff. In the playoff, the first round is two-legged, as third plays sixth and fourth places fifth twice each. Finally, the winners of the two legs play each other in a one-legged final to see which one makes it through to the Premier League.

All of this means that as of July 17, ten teams, excluding Leeds, still have a chance to earn promotion. There are two games remaining for all teams but West Brom and Huddersfield, who each have one game remaining. But who has the best chance for promotion?

This article is only a review of teams currently in the top six. It does not include Derby County, Bristol City, Swansea, Millwall and Preston North End. But I’m not ruling out writing about them, too: tell me in the comments if you would like a part two in the near future.

West Brom (2nd Place, 82 Points)

Key Player: Matheus Pereira

West Brom might have just blown their best chance to get back in the Premier League. West Brom are winless in their past three games, with draws to mid-table Blackburn and fourth-placed Fulham before the most recent loss to Huddersfield. West Brom were in first place on matchday 38, but have lost twice since then, most notably 1-0 to closest challengers Brentford, who are one point behind West Brom with a game in hand.

The Baggies have relied heavily on 24-year old Brazilian winger Matheus Pereira, on loan from Sporting Lisbon. Pereira has a league-high 20 assists and has chipped in for eight goals. West Brom are reportedly planning to make the loan deal of Pereira permanent for around $11,000,000, but they will need to be quick as Pereira’s loan deal expires on July 31, four days before the Championship playoff final. If West Brom end up playing in the final, they would be without Pereira unless his loan is extended or West Brom bought Pereira.

Brentford (3rd Place, 81 Points)

Key Player: Saïd Benrahma

Brentford have come from absolutely nowhere, in the fourth tier of England in the 2008/09 season. Last season Brentford finished in eleventh place, but are currently third and a win over relegation threatened Stoke would move the Bees (yes, you heard me) into a promotion spot. Brentford have never been in the Premier League, but if they were to earn promotion, it would be completely deserved.

Brentford have so many key players, including Bryan Mbeumo and the league’s top scorer in 24-year old Ollie Watkins, but Brentford’s key player has to be Saïd Benrahma. The young Algerian has been incredible since Brentford bought him in 2018 from French club OGC Nice for a bargain $1.87 million, and this season Benrahma has scored 17 goals and has nine assists, attracting interest from Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester and Aston Villa.

Fulham (4th Place, 77 Points)

Key Player: Aleksandar Mitrovic

Fulham fans were excited following the Cottagers’ promotion in the 2018/19, and Fulham’s wealthy owner Shahid Khan spending over $100,000,000 added to that excitement. But Fulham finished in 19th place, and almost every player Fulham purchased was a tremendous bust. Jean Michaël Seri is now on loan at Galatasaray. Ryan Babel was sold to Galatasaray then loaned to Ajax. Andre Schürrle returned to Dortmund, loaned to Russia and recently retired. It’s been rumored that Shahid Khan’s son Tony was responsible for the transfers. Thankfully, Fulham have mostly recovered from that nightmare of a season and are guaranteed a playoff spot.

Arguably the only wise transfer that Fulham did was buying Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle for roughly 27 million USD. In Fulham-style, they still overpaid drastically for him, but Mitrovic has been clutch for the team this season, scoring 24 goals.

And my advice if Fulham do earn promotion? Don’t give Tony the cheque book (checkbook for my American readers).

Nottingham Forest (5th Place, 70 Points)

Key Player: Lewis Grabban

Nottingham Forest join Leeds and Fulham on the list of historic English teams that have fallen from grace. Nottingham won many trophies in the late 70s, but haven’t been in the first tier since the turn of the century. However, Nottingham are using an experienced squad to get into the top six, and will look to stay in fifth, which means they would play Fulham rather than Brentford or West Brom.

A huge reason for Nottingham’s success is Lewis Grabban, who might be the least popular man in Sunderland for forcing Sunderland to end his loan early while the club were fighting relegation so he could return to Bournemouth (well displayed by Netflix’s documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die). Nonetheless, Grabban has been in good form for Nottingham, scoring 20 goals and grabb-ing two assists.

I’ll show myself out.

Cardiff City (6th Place, 67 Points)

Key Player: Lee Tomlin

Cardiff City have found themselves in the Premier League just twice since the turn of the century, most recently last season which saw Cardiff put up a fight but finish in 18th place, the final relegation spot. This season they have played solidly making their way up to sixth place. The Bluebirds will just have to hope that they can fight off competitors, mainly Millwall and fellow Welshman Swansea City, and then do well in the playoffs.

Striker Lee Tomlin has been clutch with eight goals and nine assists. Tomlin has mainly played a rotational role for Cardiff, who have been rotating in just about every position, including goalkeeper, since just four players have played over forty games for a Cardiff team that has played fifty.

Many teams have a great chance for promotion, but which teams will join Leeds in the Premier League? Who will make it to the playoffs? Will Brentford overtake West Brom? Please let me know in the comments.

Image Courtesy of Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia / CC BY.

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