happy february everyone! as promised - here is your EFL Champ roundup:
Today let’s focus on the push for the playoffs. Barring near-historic collapses, Burnley and Sheffield United will claim the automatic promotion spots.
That leaves a good handful of teams competing for the four playoff spots. In fact, five points separate sixth-placed Norwich City from 16th-placed Reading. Two good results (or bad) could shake up the table.
With all this movement, we need to place the competing teams into three groups: contenders, pretenders and dreamers. Let’s give this a shot.
Contenders: Middlesbrough (3), Luton Town (4), Watford (5), Norwich City (7), West Brom (10), Coventry (13)
It seems the top contenders are beginning to settle into the 3-8 range of the table. First (third, actually) are Boro, who’ve been resurgent under Michael Carrick since they’ve sacked Chris Wilder. Most impressive has been Chuba Akpom, who’s scored three in his last five games.
West Brom, once at the bottom of the league under Steve Bruce, are now two points out of the playoff spot. And the return of Daryl Dike has strengthened their attack, notably in their wins against Preston and Reading.
And while we’re on Luton: Their form away from home is second best in the league. Rob Edwards, sacked by Watford earlier this season, has done a terrific job since Nathan Jones left for Southampton.
Norwich City and Watford still boast two of the deepest squads in the league.
And Coventry are an interesting team. They had a miserable start to the season, mostly because they didn’t have a pitch. Their season stats are pretty average, and it’s been hard to pinpoint a time where they picked up any sort of momentum for more than three weeks. But if Gyokores can keep scoring, then who knows. Three tough games await against West Brom, Luton and Millwall. Six points would be an impressive haul.
Pretenders: Blackburn (6), Millwall (8), Sunderland (9)
Blackburn have been in the playoff sports for some time, but their form is unsustainable. And I think that’s beginning to show. It has been more than a decade since a team with a negative goal differential was in the playoffs (Blackburn are at -4). This could be Blackburn’s final go at a promotion push for some time, too, with the departure of Ben Brereton Diaz this summer.
I was loathe to place Millwall here, but they’re not good away from home. You need to steal points in the Championship to push for the top six, and that’s where Millwall will fall short. A brief look shows me that their one away win against a top-six side came against a 10-man Watford on Boxing Day.
That leaves Sunderland, looking for that rare double-promotion bump. It’s exactly why I’m placing them in the Pretenders category. I think Sheffield United were the last to do it in 2018-19.
Dreamers: Preston (11), Swansea (12), Queens Park Rangers (14), Hull City (15), Reading (16)
These are all clubs that can get a result or two against a top-six side. But they’re just as likely to drop points against bottom-six clubs. And this is where the volatility of the league comes into play.
QPR have been a particular disappointment since Michael Beale jumped ship, Hull City are abysmal at home, Preston are the second-worst scoring team in the league, Swansea haven’t won back-to-back games since October and Reading let four go past them against Stoke City.
Can any of these squads pull a serious push for the top six? I don’t see it. Perhaps Reading with some favourable fixtures against Blackpool, Cardiff and Rotherham coming up. But even Rotherham are known to cause an upset or two.
So while these dreamers may only be a couple points away, they’re in actuality a long way from having a chance to play at Wembley.
Tune in next month when we take a closer look at the relegation battle!
Fitzie’s track of the day: Shagu, by Mulatu Astatke
And now for your links:
Dan KP on why Tottenham should keep an eye on Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi
Alasdair Gold’s latest video on the transfer window and more
Why Cardiff City are the latest club in crisis
The Atheltic ($$) on why it’s jumping on the Wrexham FC bandwagon