The Championship is back in full swing following the World Cup, and the top two are starting to pull away.
At the end of the 2021/22 campaign, the Championship said goodbye to Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, all of whom were promoted, as well as Peterborough United, Derby County and Barnsley, who suffered a collective relegation to League One.
But there has been very little time to miss them, as the Championship steeplechase has already scaled multiple fences — in fact, we’re now past the halfway stage of the season. Burnley and Sheffield United are 16 and 11 points clear of third respectively, putting them in pole positions for automatic promotion.
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For those not in the know, the promotion system in English football allows three teams from the Championship to be promoted to the Premier League. This is at the sacrifice of the bottom three teams in the top league, moving down to Championship level.
The top two teams in the Championship qualify for promotion automatically, making those top two spots some of the most lucrative in all of football. The third team worthy of promotion is then decided with a playoff with the teams finishing 3rd to 6th entering a play-off tournament. The winner of this playoff tournament is then promoted to the Premier League.
Who are the favourites to win the Championship this season?
Before the season started their was quite a bit of uncertainty at Turf Moor as to whether Vincent Kompany had the capabilities of navigating a clear path through the turbulent waters of second-tier English football. This is the Belgian’s first time back in English football after leaving Manchester City in 2019, having had a spell in charge of Anderlecht.
But Kompany has worked quickly to allay any fears to show that he is actually a very good manager. The Clarets entered the World Cup break top of the table, three points clear of second place with just two defeats from their opening 21 games. Following Qatar, that form has continued with his side on a seven-game unbeaten run and clear of third by a whopping 16 points.
Paul Heckingbottom worked well to get the Blades up to fifth last season and book a spot in the play-offs. They ultimately came up short to Nottingham Forest, who went on to win at Wembley, but they’re currently in a decent position this season. Burnley’s closest rivals, Sheffield United have won just one fewer game than the Clarets and sit five points back having lost five matches. They will have taken confidence from a 5-2 in over Burnley before the World Cup break, though.
The Hornets seem to change divisions as much as they change managers, and summer appointment Rob Edwards has already been sacked, replaced by Slaven Bilic. It was a ruthless sacking from the Watford board who were unhappy with Edwards’ start to life at Vicarage Road, feeling he had been given enough time to show the identity of his team.
It appears to be paying off with Watford currently third, with nine wins from 17 games under Bilic’s stewardship.
Boro were unfortunate to just miss out on the play-offs last season, but that was the price they paid for a quarter-final run in the FA Cup, in which they claimed the scalps of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur before coming up short to Chelsea. With just three wins from their opening 14 games, they looked destined to finish in the bottom half of the table, but following the dismissal of Chris Wilder and subsequent appointment of Michael Carrick, Boro are on the up. The former Manchester United interim boss has won eight of his last 10 matches and has his side up to fourth now. Quite the turnaround from the inexperienced coach.
Blackburn fans may be daring to dream, but previous campaigns will also keep hopes down. The Lancashire club have had good starts to the season before only to fall away quite dramatically, but Blackburn entered the World Cup break in third, just five points behind leaders Burnley. That gap has since changed to 17 points, owing largely to their inconsistency. They have lost 13 matches, the second-most in the division. The only thing keeping them going is their 14 wins, with Jon Dahl Tomasson yet to experience a draw.
The Canaries likewise have generated a reputation as a bit of a yo-yo club in recent years. They claimed the Premier League’s wooden spoon last season, but bookmakers had them as one of the early favourites to triumph and they are holding their ground. It’s not been as smooth as they would have liked, with 10 defeats already, but don’t count Norwich out, particularly with David Wagner now at the helm.
The Baggies were heading towards the Championship trap door under Steve Bruce, who was unable to puncture their dismal form. In fact, the club had won just two of their opening 17 games, which eventually culminated in Bruce’s sacking. His replacement, Carlos Corberan, has provided a tactical panacea to, not only get West Brom out of relegation trouble, but shoot them up the table and into the play-off positions. Under the disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, West Brom have won nine of their last 10 games and look good value to sneak a place in the play-offs.
West Bromwich Albion
Preston North End
Queens Park Rangers