GOTW: Sheffield United v Leeds

Televised game of the week alert!

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first here’s a quick overview.

The current top seven are still on course for a trip to the playoffs at the very least – it’s going to be tight but I also still think Leeds, Middlesbrough and WBA are the best bets for promotion. We’ve got a few weeks until the annual Christmas Prediction Fest so let’s see what happens before then.

I’ve not bothered covering the midweek games for a while but the encounter at Villa Park on Wednesday was somewhat eventful:

At the bottom it looks increasingly as if it’s a case of select two from five to accompany Ipswich into League One at the end of the season. Over the last five seasons the only team that was in last place at the end of November and wasn’t relegated was Bolton last season; Ipswich are slightly better than Rotherham and Blackpool were when those clubs spent the entire season adrift at the bottom of the table, but that’s about the only positive spin you can put on this situation.

As for the other contenders for the drop, over the last half decade the bottom six at the end of November has provided us with at least two of the teams that were relegated and between 2014 and 2016 all three of the teams that were demoted at the end of the campaign were in nineteenth place or worse.

Sheffield United v Leeds (today, 12:30 kick off, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

The Blades are currently on an eight game unbeaten streak at Bramall Lane but that’s going to be tested this month as they host Derby, Leeds and WBA. Leeds’ recent away form is patchy: although they’ve only lost twice in their last six road trips, they’ve only won at Hull and Wigan.

Hang on, that looks a bit like a sentence that you’d find in a rugby league blog.

Head to head: unbelievably, Leeds haven’t won at Bramall Lane since they clinched the old Football League Championship in April 1992! United have won six of the last eight meetings in all competitions since then. Additionally, seven of the thirteen Yorkshire derbies this season have ended in draws.

A couple of extra categories for this one as it’s such a big game – in the top six mini league, the away side has won four of the 13 games between the current top six this season, but all four of those matches involved either Nottingham Forest or Norwich. As I mentioned above, this is the start of a nasty looking run of home games for Sheffield United: Leeds have already won at Norwich but were well beaten at WBA a few weeks ago.

This is the eighth game of the week this season but only two of those matches have finished with a home win. It’s less than six weeks since I last chose a game of the week and to illustrate how much things can change in the Championship, at that point Sheffield Wednesday were sixth. The Owls then lost five of their next six games and are now only three points outside of the bottom six.

Verdict: Leeds won’t win – their previous record at Sheffield United is poor and with three key defenders (Ayling, Berardi and Jansson) all missing, I can see the wait for an elusive win at Bramall Lane continuing. That’s not to say The Blades will win though…

The other televised games this weekend are Middlesbrough v Villa (5:30) and WBA v Brentford (Monday 8pm) – the former looks as if it should be a good one, but I can’t see anything but a home win in the latter.

Finally this week the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup Draw will be shown on BBC1 on Monday evening at 7:30pm. Tempus fugit as the Romans used to say.

Weekend Preview 23-25th November

It’s a brief post this week due to work commitments.

Somewhat different from swanning off to France, but at least one will pay for the other 🙂

At the top there’s five point gap between the top six – altough if Norwich lose at Swansea they could be overtaken by Leeds, Middlesbrough or Sheffield United. I fell into a typical Championship trap by praising Leeds last post didn’t I! I don’t think anyone saw them losing so heavily at WBA – it’s well over 30 years since they lost by three goals at the Hawthorns.

At the bottom: Ipswich are five points adrift but only two points separate the six clubs immediately above them. As I noted in the previous post, I was expecting Bolton to get trapped in a relegation battle but the only team in that group that’s moving in a positive direction is Preston.

As luck would have it, two of the three games that are contenders for game of the week are both being shown on Sky Sports Football/Main Event. Ipswich v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm) and Rotherham v Sheffield United (Saturday 12:30pm) both feature teams from either end of the table: Ipswich have only won two league games at Portman Road since January, but before any Baggies fans get carried away, it’s only fair to point out that West Brom haven’t won on the road since the end of September.

The twelve Yorkshire derbies we’ve had so far have been fairly well balanced (half have been drawn with the remaining games split evenly between home and away wins), but whilst Rotherham have only picked up one point in three attempts, Sheffield United have earned four points in the same number of games.

The other game of note is between Millwall and Bolton – in six meetings in all competitions in London since the turn of the century, the Lions have only won once (six years ago), but Wanderers have only scored one away goal since mid-September.

Additionally Brentford v Middlesbrough (Saturday 5:30) and Aston Villa v Birmingham (Sunday, noon) are also being televised – the former shouldn’t be any surprise considering how close Griffin Park is to the Sky Sports HQ and I don’t think many of us would have predicted that the first Second City Derby of the season would have seen the protagonists only separated by goal difference.

All being well, I’ll be back next Friday although that may also be a brief post.

Crystal Ball Scratching

With just under seven weeks to go until Christmas, the next couple of months are very important for clubs chasing promotion or trying to avoid relegation.

As there are no particularly outstanding games in the Championship this weekend I thought I’d gaze into my crystal ball this week to make some quick predictions – especially as we’ve got another bl**dy international break coming up next weekend.

  • It looks as if I’m going to have to eat my words about Leeds – they’re much better than I thought they’d be and there’s a chance that by Boxing Day they may have secured pole position – their key game before the festivities is a trip to Bramall Lane on December 1st. Looking further ahead, February may be the key month for Leeds but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
  • Leeds’ biggest rivals for automatic promotion are Middlesbrough and WBA, but although Marcelo Bielsa’s side are well balanced, Tony Pulis and Darren Moore’s men have glaring issues: Middlesbrough don’t score enough goals, whilst WBA’s defence is non-existent. Only four teams have conceded more goals than the Baggies and two of them are in the bottom three.
  • Along with Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham Forest are unrecognisable from last season – the latter pair have become tough to beat, but may need to wait another season for a realistic chance of promotion. Forest’s best case scenario is the playoffs.
  • Norwich aren’t as good as the current table suggests: they’ve done well against the bottom half of the table, but have already lost at home to Leeds and WBA. They have a reasonable looking schedule this month; December will be far harder.
  • Sheffield Wednesday are worse than the current table suggests: current owners of the worst defensive record in the division they’ve played 12 games against the teams currently above them and lost seven of those contests, winning just twice. They face Sheffield United on Friday (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 7:45pm this evening) and Derby later in the month.
  • As it stands, Paul Lambert has a well nigh impossible task of keeping Ipswich from dropping into the third tier for the first time since the late 1950s, but I’d expect Rotherham and Bolton to be drawn into the relegation battle over the next few weeks: both teams are struggling to score goals – at the moment there are three other clubs that have scored less than a goal per game, including QPR who are currently eleventh and are second in the eight game form table behind Norwich.
  • Reading and Preston will continue to make progress up the table and although I don’t think Reading will trouble the top half, Preston are more than capable of doing that even though they look as if they’ve left it too late for a playoff challenge.

Televised games this week – Sky Sports Football/Main Event unless stated:

I’ve already mentioned the Sheffield derby, which is always entertaining and shouldn’t be missed if you’ve got the opportunity to watch. The other game on Sky Sports this weekend is between WBA and Leeds at The Hawthorns (tomorrow, 5:30pm) – for some of us, that’ll bring back memories of a very controversial game from the 1970/71 season…

Eight Out Of Ten Stats

The last post of the month is going to be stats driven, so please be patient.

It’s still really early in the season, but after four games there seem to be some surprise team at both ends of the table.

First of all, here are the highlights from last weekend’s game of the week:

This isn’t the best stat of the week, but it’s been over a decade since Ipswich had a shirt sponsor that wasn’t Marcus Evans.

Anyway, I’ve identified a number of teams who were playing in the Championship last season but are currently performing either above or below the level they were in 2017/18. I looked at how they’ve performed against (a) the current teams in the top six and (b) those sides currently in the bottom six, then compared the points they earned from those games against the grand total they’ve earned this season:

This seems to suggest the following:

  • Any club that’s earned more than 50% of their total points against teams from the bottom six has probably had an easy start: Bolton, Brentford, Leeds and Preston fall into that category – although the Lillywhites are currently underperforming compared to last season, which indicates this may be a bump in the road rather than a crisis.
  • Birmingham have had a bad start due to having already played Bolton, Middlesbrough and Swansea, but they don’t have to face another club in the current top six until the middle of next month. That being said, you have to wonder if the Blues would have been in this position if they’d had an easier schedule: I think it’s highly likely that the end of last season was something of a dead cat bounce.
  • I’d be very worried if I was a QPR fan. A couple of seasons ago Rotherham were relegated to League One after finishing 19 points adrift at the bottom but after four games The Millers had one win and three goals under their belts – which is a better record than Steve McLaren’s team currently has.
  • Nottingham Forest have improved – they couldn’t have got any worse without being relegated – but probably not enough to be considered promotion candidates. They to come from behind at both Bristol City and Wigan to earn draws, struggled to beat Bury in the League Cup and lots of teams are going to beat Reading this season.

Once again, although this is far too early in the campaign to make predictions, I think that Aston Villa, Brentford and Middlesbrough will be in the mix at the end of the season. It’s a ‘wait and see’ situation with Leeds (when isn’t it?) but I’d be very surprised to see Bolton in the top half of the table at Christmas. Overall though, I think it’s still wide open at the top.

At the bottom, it’s Birmingham, QPR and Reading who will need to look over their shoulders – I picked Reading out before the season began – but I’ll be honest and thought that QPR were the type of team that could do well. Of course, that could still happen. I deliberately haven’t mentioned any of the new arrivals in this post, but Stoke have had a dreadful start.

Elsewhere I’d suggest keeping an eye on Frank Lampard’s progress at Derby. It could go either way but at the moment I’d suggest their lowest finish in the Championship for half a dozen seasons is a realistic outcome: a guaranteed playoff hangover combined with an inexperienced manager is not a recipe for success.

This weekend’s televised games: Middlesbrough v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm, Sky Sports Main Event/Football) and Nottingham Forest v Birmingham (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Main Event/Football). The first one looks like an interesting one, the second one has draw written all over it.

It’s the second round of the League Cup next week and I’ll cover that in next weekend’s post. I may not have a hangover by then 🙂

GOTW: Derby v Leeds

Just a quick post this week.

There were a couple of unexpected results last weekend.

Bolton have already won as many away games in 2018/19 as they did last season, having beating WBA 2-1 at the Hawthorns.

Both Leeds and Stoke were fancied for promotion before a ball was kicked in anger but Marcelo Bielsa’s first game in charge at Elland Road ended in a convincing 3-1 victory for the hosts.

The only televised game this weekend is Derby v Leeds (Saturday evening, 5:30pm – Sky Sports Football/Main Event at 5:15pm): the Rams have only won ten of their last home games but have beaten Leeds in eight of the last ten games where they’ve had home advantage. The visitors haven’t won an away game in the Championship since last Boxing Day and only won a point from 18 in away games against the top six last season – against Pride Park in February.

One 3pm kick off to keep an eye on though: QPR v Sheffield United. It’s early days yet but this is a bottom six clash: the Blades have lost both of their games this season and haven’t won at Loftus Road since August 2004.

Stats corner: 12 of the 14 games so far have seen both teams score, with eleven featuring over 2.5 goals. I’d say that there’s a good chance that both teams will score at Hillsborough on Saturday afternoon.

The League Cup starts next week and there’ll be a recap of any notable results – good or bad – in next Friday’s post.