With the 2020/21 Championship campaign coming to its final section, there is still everything to play for when it comes to the promotion race. There is one clear favourite, but picking the club with the second-clearest route to ascend from the Championship is a tricky task – so too is predicting the rest of the top six.
Dissecting the Championship Automatic Promotion Race
Championship Promotion Begins With Favourites, Norwich City
The Canaries presently nest on the perch of the league, ten points clear of second-placed Watford. With Emiliano Buendia and Co. performing as well as ever, Norwich City appear destined for an instant rebound to the Premier League. Teemu Pukki is in fine form and their recent victory against Brentford solidified their control of the table.
Daniel Farke’s men already have one foot back in the Premier League. It would take a catastrophic meltdown for the club on a seven-match winning-streak to fall out of the automatic promotion places. The only member of the current top four who they have not played a second time is Watford, meaning their run-in is kind.
Brentford, Swansea City and Watford Too Close to Differentiate
The Hornets currently sit three points ahead of the Bees – though Brentford have a match-in-hand (and a victory in that match would see them move ahead of Watford on goal difference). Watford have picked up 18 out of 21 possible points from their last seven matches. The Hornets have found the perfect tactical balance since switching to the 4-3-3 formation.
Xisco Munoz’s squad has a difficult run-in. But, at the same time, it can be seen as the Hornets truly having the ability to control their own fate. They play all of Norwich, Brentford, and Swansea City in the final four matches of the season. As long as the Hornets keep pace with their promotion rivals, those clashes can be treated as automatic-promotion finals.
Brentford started the season strong and were destined to be favourites, but four defeats in their last six matches have hampered their chances of going up. Admittedly, the Bees are coming off of a period with a considerable number of pivotal injuries. Despite recent results, Brentford have the league’s best striker in the league and have what it takes to nearly replicate the form they had in their 21-match unbeaten run.
Watford’s current and recent trajectory is better than Brentford’s. Still, it is impossible to not consider Thomas Franks’ men serious contenders for second. So, as of now, the clubs seem equally likely to be promoted. The key match in this battle is the second-to-last match of the season when the Hornets visit the Bees. But, one more team has to be seriously considered in the fight for automatic promotion.
If Swansea City win their two matches-in-hand, they would go five points clear of the Hornets. What must be noted is Watford host Swansea City on the final day, so if the Hornets are only two points behind (or three points with a better goal difference), all they need to do is win to hop above Swansea. As in, even if Swansea go five points clear, it is as if they only have a one-match advantage.
The reason Steve Cooper’s side is hard to put alongside Brentford and Watford is their recent form. They lost two of their last five matches. Their most recent two matches were victories – but triumphs in which they were given gifts through objectively poor officiating decisions. As recent victories can be largely attributed to “luck,” Swansea seem to have a bit less of a chance at automatic promotion, as such fortune wears out over time.
Technically, Swansea City do have the upper hand on Brentford and Watford. But, they will need to significantly improve their performances if they are to keep picking up points at an equal rate as their promotion rivals. Nonetheless, they cannot be written off.
Watford With the Wheel
Assuming Norwich City do not tremendously have a dip in form, Brentford, Swansea City, and Watford will be the three fighting for the second automatic promotion spot. But, as the Hornets play Brentford and Swansea City as their final two matches, whereas Brentford and Swansea have already played twice, Watford will completely control their own fate if no considerable separation is made before the final couple of match-weeks.
Reading And Barnsley on Track to Round Off Championship Top Six
Reading are six points back from the top two. Barnsley would be the same distance off if they win their match-in-hand on the teams around them. Still, catching up to the automatic promotion places is not considered likely. It is a possibility, but not the focus for these clubs, as the seventh and eight-placed teams are seeking to take their top-six spots.
The Royals unforgettably picked up 22 out of 24 possible points from their opening eight matches. Since then, their form has been solid, but of course, the output could not be replicated. Following two defeats in a row, Reading have rediscovered form by winning three matches on the bounce.
Valerien Ismael has been nothing short of a revelation for Barnsley. They are currently on a seven-match winning-run, which started with a 2-0 victory against Brentford. With a relatively kind run-in, and new-signing Daryl Dike contributing during Cauley Woodrow‘s goal-drought, halting the Barnsley juggernaut will not be simple in their relatively easy run-in.
Both clubs have what it takes to threaten the automatic promotion places. But, for now, the gap with the top two is larger than the gap they need to more imminently focus on below them.
Bournemouth And Cardiff City Not Far Off in Championship Promotion Charge
Under Jonathan Woodgate, the Cherries have fallen out of the top six. Even after picking up seven points from the last nine available, they sit one point away from sixth place (which can extend to four if Barnsley win their match-in-hand). With a weekend clash against Barnsley fast-approaching, Bournemouth‘s true chances of slipping back into the top six will be seen. A defeat would make true hopes at promotion few and far between.
Mick McCarthy has certainly found how to get the best out of Cardiff City. Now on an eleven-match undefeated run, the Bluebirds have found themselves in the hunt for promotion. Currently in eighth place, McCarthy’s men are on the outside looking in. Recent draws against Middlesbrough and Huddersfield have partially slowed down their prolific progress. Their upcoming clash against Watford will be telltale of their chances.
Overall, the top six picture in the Championship is still nowhere close to being taken. Norwich City seem destined to become champions, Watford and Brentford are the teams likeliest to join the Canaries in the top two, with Swansea City being capable as well. Reading and Barnsley are the most probable teams to round off the top six. Bournemouth and Cardiff City still cannot be ignored. Only time can tell.