After a two-month-long off-season, the 2022-23 EFL Championship starts this weekend. The only game on Monday will see Watford host Sheffield United at the Vicarage Road stadium in the evening. Last season, Watford were relegated from the Premier League after they finished second from the bottom (19th position). Sheffield United reached the playoffs but lost to eventual promotion winners Nottingham Forest in the semi-final. Both teams will be looking to challenge the very top of the table this campaign in an attempt to win promotion.
Watford’s Premier League stint lasted just one season as they were sent straight back down to the EFL Championship. They had only 23 points in their campaign, winning just six, drawing five and losing 27 games with a goal difference of -43. The Hornets conceded a massive 11 goals more than what xGA predicted, which was 66.
As much as Watford struggled in defence, they were no better in attack, underachieving against xG as well. Their 0.8 goals per 90 were the joint second-worst along with Burnley. Their creativity left a lot to be desired as they ranked in the bottom half for xA per 90, progressive runs per 90, key passes per 90, smart passes per 90 and through balls per 90. The Hornets were also very reckless in tackling as they committed nearly 11 fouls per 90.
Sheffield United qualified for the playoffs last season, but could not beat Nottingham Forest as they lost on penalties in the second leg. In the regular season, the Blades collected 75 points as they won 21, drew 12 and lost 13 matches. Luton had the exact identical record, but Sheffield had a higher goal difference (+18 compared to +8). In the regular season and the playoffs combined, they were expected to score ~72 goals, but they ended up scoring only 66 times.
England-born Northern Irishman, Oliver Norwood, created the highest threat for Sheffield United last season. His xT score of just above 12 was nearly 1.74 times greater than the next best Blades player, Morgan Gibbs-White, who has since returned to his parent club, Wolves. Norwood generated the most threat from both set-piece situations as well as from open play. However, he was only the joint third-best in the assists charts alongside David McGoldrick and Conor Hourihane. Gibbs-White and Billy Sharp had more assists at nine and seven, respectively.
With both Watford and Sheffield United expected to challenge for promotion throughout the season, both teams would like to get their campaigns off to a positive start. The odds predict that this game will either be a draw or won by a single-goal margin.