The Championship has given us some amazing promotion battles over the last few decades, from Fulham and Cardiff City’s race for second place two seasons back, to the peak of the table tussle between Norwich City, Sheffield United and Leeds United at 2018/19. However, this year’s fight for a place in the Premier League has been beginning to seem like something of a foregone conclusion as recently as the turn of this year.
Fast-forward less than two weeks and the advertising picture is appearing markedly different, after a tumultuous couple of weeks of soccer in England’s second grade.
Before the most recent two rounds of Championship fittings, the gap between the teams from second to fifth was reduced to only two points, following a drop in form from Leeds United coincided with a streak of favorable outcomes from Fulham, Nottingham Forest, and Brentford. Marcelo Bielsa’s men have recovered a three-point edge on their challengers within the last week, but the constant ebbing and flowing of the league table were testament to the erratic nature of this Championship, it surely feels harder than ever to predict who’ll come out on top once the end of the season rolls around. However, the statistics behind the effort so much can go some way to helping us estimate how the league will look at its completion. Bielsa’s sides are usually criticised for fighting in the last stages of the season, but it is difficult to argue with Leeds’ amounts thus far. For starters, the Whites are top of the table in regards to anticipated goals (xG) with 61.93, that is more than ten goals better than Brentford, that are next in the xG graph with 51.29. Additionally, it puts Leeds’ xG only under 14 goals higher than their true goal tally, suggesting that the guys from Yorkshire are well-positioned to finish the season if they are more clinical in the last 13 matches.
Present first-choice striker Patrick Bamford gets the greatest individual xG at the Championship (22.98) but has only found the net on 12 occasions, that level of wastefulness could significantly hamper the Whites’ promotion chances and indicates that they might be better off with Augustin upfront for their remaining games. If you think that Leeds is also the joint-best team in the division with Brentford for Expected Goals Against (xGA) in 27.73, it becomes increasingly clear that Bielsa has assembled a side worthy of finishing in the top two. Their current drop off in shape, just winning two league games from 11 attempts until Saturday’s victory over Bristol City, will, of course, worry fans after last year’s capitulation at the last hurdle. Taking all that into consideration, it seems like that must surely be time for Leeds United to rejoin the game’s elite.
However, who will join them at the top flight? Many people would say that the smart money is on West Bromwich Albion in this phase of the campaign, together with the Baggies now in pole position and seven points clear of third-place Fulham. They are also below Brentford at the table if we examine anticipated points (xP) with 53.4 versus the Bees’ 58.3. Interestingly, the west London club also have been better than the Baggies at a range of other locations, from rolls at the box per 90 (21.32 vs 17.87) to shots against per 90 (8.07 vs 9.87).
Even if the Bees do not make it in the automated areas, the stats point to them appearing well-placed to come out on top if they end in the play-offs. But it would be foolish to attempt to forecast that end of year lottery, and possibly also not a good idea to bet against Fulham, seasoned play-off campaigners after finishing in the top six during two of the past few seasons (and winning at Wembley two years back ).
Three back-to-back clean sheets in January imply that we can see a more resilient Fulham in 2020, which might be sufficient to keep them in the advertising mix over the coming months. But the figures certainly indicate that it might be the other promotion-chasing group in west London breaking open the champagne in May, joining Leeds United at the 2020/21 Premier League celebration.