GOTW: Preston v Wigan

Just a quick one this week as we’re only one game in.

Only one game ended in a draw last weekend, which just happened to be the first match of the EFL season:

Going into this week, we’ve got thirteen unbeaten teams, but only Barnsley, Millwall and Birmingham kept clean sheets. Brentford, Fulham and Preston failed to score in their first matches – it may be significant that of the latter trio, only Brentford (at Middlesbrough) are away this weekend. Arguably the surprise result last week was Charlton winning at Blackburn; the Addicks scored all three goals in a 2-1 win.

League Cup: Birmingham are already out of this season’s competition having lost 3-0 at Portsmouth. The Blues will be able to concentrate on the league until January. Everyone else plays next week.

Preston v Wigan

Lancashire derbies will be few and far between this season – the next one won’t be until the end of October – and as this is the only match up fitting my traditional ‘top six v bottom six’ parameter, it’s a bit of no-brainer.

The Lillywhites lost at Millwall last weekend for the first time since 2011 (when they were relegated) but are tough to beat at Deepdale even if they find it hard to win at home – Preston have only lost two of their last ten outings there, even though they’ve only won twice in the same period.

Wigan’s away form last season was awful: they beat Leeds in April but hadn’t won on the road in nineteen previous attempts after a victory at Stoke almost a year ago.

HTH: Only the fifth meeting between the Lancashire rivals at preston since the turn of the century – Wigan have failed to win the last three and were battered 4-0 in the corresponding fixture last season having gone two goals behind before Darron Gibson was sent off.

Only one televised game this weekend and it will come as no surprise to long term readers that it’s Leeds v Nottingham Forest (Saturday, Sky Sports Main Event, kick off 12:30pm) which those imaginative b*stards at Sky Sports normally schedule for Boxing Day afternoon.

Back next week…

 

Sky Bet Championship Preview 2019-20

The hard facts are as follows:

If you want to win the Championship you need to earn at least 90 points and to go up without a detour via Wembley you’ll need at least 89 in the bag.

Those amounts have changed a bit over the last couple of seasons, but something else has to0 – even though at the moment it may only be possible to draw provisional conclusions.

Consider this – odds quoted below are for promotion, regardless of how it’s achieved:

Of the twelve teams that won Automatic Promotion over the last six seasons only two had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season – indicating that despite receiving parachute payments not only were those clubs not good enough to stay in the top tier but that they also weren’t good enough to finish in the top two at the end of the following season. If you look at the same stats over the last decade, only four of the new arrivals from the Premier League were promoted.

However, for me the main change is where the teams that eventually won automatic promotion had finished at the end of the previous season in the Championship.

Seven of those 12 – including two of the last six winners – had finished between tenth and fifteenth at the end of the previous season. I was going to to consider the teams that finished in those positions last season, until Hull and Sheffield Wednesday changed managers but at time of writing – a day before the season starts – Wednesday still haven’t replaced Steve Bruce and although Grant McCann is a good choice for Hull, I can’t see the Tigers making waves in 2019/20.

That being said, Preston (14th – 10/1), Brentford (11th – 9/2) and Swansea (10th, 10/1) are worth considering. Brentford in particular had a strong finish to last season, Preston recovered well after a poor start and Swansea now have a full season in the Championship under their belts.

The obvious contenders are Leeds (7/4F) and WBA (4/1), but there’s as much chance of both of them having playoff hangovers as there is of them finishing in the top two.

Leeds were the second lowest scoring side in the top six last season, whilst only ten teams conceded fewer goals than the Baggies; three of them were relegated. Slaven Bilic might be a step in the right direction, but his recent body of work is unconvincing and although he’s managed West Ham in the Premier League, he has no experience in the Championship. Leeds’ fans should also be aware of the fact that only two of the favourites to win automatic promotion over the last decade actually achieved a top two place.

Moving on to the playoffs, a couple of seasons ago I would have said that 70 points was enough for a top six finished, but that’s also changed: now the magic number is 72.

The post season is where the teams relegated from the Prem tend to have their best chance of an immediate return but it’s been three seasons that a club that had been relegated won at Wembley: the last two winners were teams that had reached the semi finals at the end of the previous season (so Leeds and WBA again!)

I’d still expect teams that finished in the top half to be competing for playoff spots but probably only Cardiff (7/2) from the teams that weren’t good enough to stay in the Premier League to challenge for the post season and that’s almost entirely down to Neil Warnock’s knowledge of how to win promotion.

Again, when I started writing this preview I’d included Birmingham (18/1) and Nottingham Forest (13/2) in the ‘possibles’ list but I’m going to discount them as I’ve got no idea what’s going on with either of them. Forest are overrated at the start of every season and you’ll be reading about the Blues in a moment.

The one team that should at least be making a serious attempt at a top six finish is Bristol City (15/2). The Robins have come close to the playoffs over the last couple of seasons and a combination of managerial stability and impressive recruitment over the summer might push them into promotion contention – although like so many other clubs, they need a proven striker.

I can’t see either Derby (13/2) or Middlesbrough (11/2) doing much this season. Frank Lampard’s move to Chelsea belies the fact that he did next to nothing with the Rams and Jonathan Woodgate is going to need at least one season to change the legacy of Tony Pulis’ defence first style at the Riverside.

Moving swiftly downwards…the odds quoted below are for relegation.

As a general rule over the last half dozen seasons, anything less than a 1.1 points per game and you’re in trouble as is any team finishing below sixteenth place at the end of the previous season.

Using that criteria, Reading (3/1) and Millwall (4/1) are the obvious contenders for the drop this season. As for other possible strugglers, in four of the last six seasons at least one of the promoted teams have struggled and I think this is where Luton (9/2) could be candidates. The last team to win successive promotions from League 2 was Rotherham a few seasons ago and the Millers never finished higher than 21st before being relegated at the end of 2016/17.

Both Charlton (9/4F) and Barnsley (5/2, 2F) have relatively recent experience at this level but that’s doesn’t mean either can be complacent. At one point over the summer it looked as if Lee Bowyer wouldn’t be with the Addicks for much longer whilst The Tykes have something of a reputation as a yo-yo club and haven’t finished in the top half of the second tier since it was renamed the Championship.

If you’re looking for outsiders, even though I’m a fan of Mark Warburton I think QPR (7/2) might continue to struggle and after a couple of seasons where Birmingham (9/2) had apparently turned the corner, I’m expecting the Blues to regress back to the team that struggled especially as the appointment of Pep Clotet is baffling, considering he did nothing at all at Oxford and didn’t last a full season at Malaga either.

It’s also highly unlikely that any of the new arrivals from the PL will be relegated to League One: Sunderland remain the only team since 2013/14 to have completed that particularly unenviable double.

TV Games: one a day from Friday to Monday – all Sky Sports football, kick off times in brackets.

This evening: Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45pm), Saturday: Forest v WBA (5:30pm), Sunday: Bristol City v Leeds (4:30pm), Monday: Huddersfield v Derby (7:45pm)

I’ll back next Thursday with a brief preview, but from now on it’s uninterrupted coverage until the first international weekend of the campaign…in a month.

Opening Weekend 2019/20

The fixtures for the new season were released this morning, here are the opening weekend’s games:

Friday August 2nd

Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)

Saturday August 3rd

Barnsley v Fulham, Blackburn v Charlton, Brentford v Birmingham, Millwall v Preston, Reading v Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke v QPR, Swansea v Hull, Wigan v Cardiff, Nottingham Forest v WBA (5:30 – Sky Sports Football)

Sunday August 4th

Bristol City v Leeds (4:30 – Sky Sports Football)

Monday August 5th 

Huddersfield v Derby (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)

We already have a number of new managers: Birmingham and Hull have yet to name replacements for Garry Monk and Nigel Adkins respectively, but Luton, QPR, WBA. Middlesbrough and Swansea all have new managers.

The League Cup fixtures are out later on today but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Right, guess who’s off to start putting a preview together…

Regular Season Round Up

Champions: Norwich City

Promoted: Sheffield United

Playoffs: Aston Villa v WBA, Derby v Leeds

Relegated: Rotherham, Bolton and Ipswich

New arrivals: Barnsley, Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield, Luton and one from Charlton, Doncaster, Portsmouth or Sunderland.

There will be a full playoff post coming at the end of the week.

EFL Sky Bet Championship Preview 2018/19

We’re only a couple of hours from the start of another nine months of fascinating and frustrating action in the Championship so here’s my take on what to look out for in 2018/19.

I decided to abandon the club by club previews for this season because – to be perfectly honest – I needed a break after the World Cup, which ended less than a month ago. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy – far from it!

Seven of last ten Championship winners had spent the previous season in the competition, although four of last five seasons have been won by teams that had either been relegated at the end of the previous campaign or hadn’t even finished in the top nine – atlhough I need to point out immediately that two of the three teams that bounced back immediately were Newcastle United. The last unsuccessful playoff team who went on to win the Championship were Leicester in 2013/14, which isn’t good news for Aston Villa. Stoke are the current favourites – which makes sense, but as the Racing Post pointed out in their excellent preview earlier this week, over the last decade only one of the antepost favourites to win the title have done so – Newcastle a couple of seasons ago.

Automatic Promotion

It’s a similar story in the battle for second place, which in six of the last ten seasons has been won by a team that has played at least one season in the Championship, but only two clubs that had been unsuccessful in the playoffs at the end of the previous have managed that –Middlesbrough fans take note. Teams between eighth and thirteenth were far more likely to bridge the gap between just missing out on the playoffs to becoming genuine promotion contenders: so based on last season’s performances Bristol City and Millwall cannot be ruled out. It’s been eight seasons since one of the relegated teams finished second: depending on your point of view that means it’s about time someone managed that again or it shows how difficult it is to adapt to the second tier. I’d prefer the latter explanation.

Playoffs

Last season Fulham became the first team since Swansea in 2011 to win promotion via the playoffs after a top ten finish in the Championship at the end of the previous campaign. Other than that, there have been strong performances from relegated teams (four of the last ten winners) and from sides nobody expected to do well – Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield all finished in the bottom half of the table in the season before they won the so-called ‘richest game in the world.’ I’m not saying that Nottingham Forest or QPR fans should get overexcited, but they’re precisely the sort of teams that fit the description: Forest appear to be this season’s trendy pick but we’ll see about that.

Relegation

Slightly easier to predict. Last season Sunderland became only the second club in the last decade to suffer consecutive relegations (the other team was Wolves) so it’s safe to say that there’s only a remote chance that the new arrivals from the Premier League will find themselves in the bottom three next May. Only six of the last 30 teams that were relegated from the Championship (20%) went down after being promoted from League One so even though Rotherham are among the favourites for the drop, that might not be the case. If you’re looking for teams that could struggle, your best bet is to look at clubs that finished in seventeenth place or below last season: half of the teams that were relegated over the last ten years had performed poorly in the competition during the previous season – although in 2017/18, only Burton had finished the previous season in the bottom six. Bolton and Reading look particularly vulnerable this time round: the Trotters finished two points clear of Barnsley despite not being in the bottom three from January until the penultimate game of the season and – to use one of my favourite cliches – the Royals were lucky that there were three teams worse than them last season. If you’re looking for an outsider for relegation, don’t rule out Hull – they were marooned in the bottom third of the table from the end of October, slipped into the bottom three at the start of February and only won eight more points than Barnsley. Not to mention that I think Nigel Adkins is incredibly overrated as a manager.

Rash Predictions:

Neither Aston Villa nor Bristol City will perform as well as they did last season, but the consequences for the Robins will not be as dire as they will for the Villans. Especially if Thierry Henry actually does replace Steve Bruce.

It’s been over five seasons since Marcelo Bielsa has coached a club side for more than 20 games. The recent history of the Championship has been littered with ‘big’ names that couldn’t manage at this level and I will be very surprised if he’s the still manager of Leeds this time next season. I was tempted to add ‘at Christmas’ there, but I said that about Ian Holloway last season and he managed to last the entire season before being binned by QPR.

I’m not sure which of the former Premier League teams will have the best season, but Stoke pinching Gary Rowett from Derby is a canny move that might work out well. On the other hand, I’m prepared to wait and see how his replacement at the Rams will do: on paper Frank Lampard should be a decent manager, but five consecutive top ten finishes show just how frustrating it must be to support Derby and Lampard will be doing well if he can make that six.

Despite having picked up a couple of pre-season injuries that could scupper their start to the season, Preston could be dark horses for promotion if they start winning the type of games they drew last season.

Sheffield Wednesday’s decline will continue although I don’t think they’ll be relegated. Staying in South Yorkshire, don’t be too surprised if Paul Warne suddenly becomes the target of bigger clubs if Rotherham defy expectations.

I might be alone here, but I can’t see Ipswich struggling. The Tractor Boys have been stuck in a rut for years now but they aren’t suddenly going to get worse overnight. Paul Hurst did a great job at Shrewsbury last season and I think the doom mongers are extraordinarily premature and are basing their predictions on the last ten games of last season when Town had absolutely nothing to play for and nobody had a clue who the next manager would be.

I’ve left the easiest one until last: last May it was 38 years since a second tier club won the FA Cup. It won’t happen this season either.

A couple of interesting stat lines for those of you that are interested in that kind of thing:

The most popular score line in the Championship over the last five seasons has been 1-1; it won’t come as a massive surprise that over the same period, both teams have scored in just over half of the games in the division.

Last season was the second season in the last three where fewer than 2.6 goals per game were scored; four of the last five campaigns have featured an average of over 2.5 goals per game.