EFL Championship:Teams Fighting for Premier League Promotion
While Premier League has arguably been the favourite football tournament around the globe, there are three leagues beneath them where teams dream of playing in the top flight of English football. One among them is the English Football League Championship, the second tier of England’s football industry.
The “Big Six” of the Premier League (PL) have been busy in the past week. While hearts and records of a few teams were broken, reputation and faith of others were restored. The EFL (English Football League) Championship, the league below it, is experiencing similar emotions.
Every season, top three teams from EFL get promoted to the PL. The top two teams qualify directly. The four teams below them go through playoffs to decide the third team.
This competition is as fierce and as bitter as the one witnesses on the top of the PL. Currently, Norwich leads the table with 86 points, closely trailed by Leeds at 82. Sheffield United lags behind by a mere three points to Leeds; followed by West Brom, Aston Villa, and Bristol City, respectively.
Leeds: Marcelo Bielsa – The Saviour
In the 2017/18 season, Leeds finished 13th in the EFL. It has been 15 years since they last played in the PL, when they were relegated at the end of the 2003/04 season.
Something had to change and that came through the sacking of Leeds manager Paul Heckingbottom.
On 15th June 2018, after two weeks of rigorous negotiation, Marcelo Bielsa was appointed the manager. The appointment brought hope among Leeds fans. Hope was restored and the Argentine tactician has rightfully done his job. With four games left, Leeds are second in the table and are edging closer to PL promotion.
The combination of K. Roofe, Pablo Hernandez and Bamford has worked wonders for the club, producing a total of 34 goals and 14 assists among them. Credits to Bielsa, an astute tactician with his genius interplay. His strategy of video analysis of opposition’s matches has been behind the success. Even the British press were awestruck when he explained his strategy at a press conference in 2018. Such is stature of the former Argentina coach would look to continue the same momentum in the remaining games.
Norwich: On the Road to Championship Title
In the last decade, Norwich’s best performance in the EFL came in the 2010/11 season, when they were runners-up. Five years later, theysecured promotion through the play-offs. Since their relegation from Premier league in 2016, Norwich has progressed in a slow but in a steady manner. The patience has borne fruit and they will be eventually crowned champions if the results are optimistic.
Daniel Farke, Norwich’s manager, has brought about a transformation. A large number of goals have poured into the team through a single player, T Pukki, who has scored a staggering 27 goals this season. They have been unbeaten in the last ten games and are chasing their first EFL Championship title.
The Fight for the Third Berth
Standing at 80 points, Sheffield United have the brightest prospects of winning the playoffs. But points won’t matter if they fail to make the cut. The same applies for West Brom, Aston Villa, and Bristol City. The interesting scenario is that Aston Villa and Bristol are hanging on the thread fin the playoff positions. The teams placed seventh to 10th are in a position to dislodge them.
Middlesbrough are seventh at 64 points; a point behind Bristol; followed by Derby at 63, Hull City at 60 and Sheffield Wednesday at 59 points.
A loose game by Aston Villa and Bristol would leave playoff qualification wide open. This is similar to the PL where sides place seventh to 10th, Leicester, Wolves, Everton, and Watford, are fighting for UEFA Europa League berths.
Next Season - Premier League Scenario for Promoted teams
If they qualify, Norwich and Leeds need produce results. The league has become so ruthless, that a a few matches lost would land you in the relegation zone. In EFL, teams mostly deploy the same formation and tactics against all opponents. It doesn’t work that way in the Premier league. Leeds manager Bielsa always sticks to his 4-1-4-1 formation and plays a well-lubricated passing game. His Norwich counterpart, Farke, is a disciple of the 4-2-3-1 formation. If both teams stick to the same style throughout next season, they could be condemned for the drop within the first half of the season.
One can argue that, if a style has produced results for them in EFL, it could do so in the Premier League. But for how long, that is the question? The second argument could be that a team like Wolverhampton has stuck to a 3-5-2 style but has played scintillating football as well as got results. Even the “Big Six” fear to face them; such was their prowess.
Manchester United failed to break their setup, losing both PL games against Wolves this season. So, can Bielsa and Farke, both apostles of a single formation, follow the Wolves' footsteps and succeed in the Premier League? The answer awaits!