In the UK, we’re often guilty of obsessing over the Premier League. It is one of the best and most entertaining divisions in world football, so it’s easy to see why. Still, the English Football League Championship is also incredibly competitive, and the race for the playoffs symbolises this better than anything else.
Four sides get a shot at reaching the Holy Land by making it to the final and winning the mini-competition, a tournament that is always full of shocks and surprises. This year, the run-up to the end of the season is no less exciting, with six or seven teams in with a chance to secure sixth-place.
Guessing who will grab it is a challenge because football can shift in the blink of an eye. Still, here is a selection of the features that are set to have an impact on the final Championship standings.
Blackburn’s rise, Bournemouth’s fall
At this crucial stage of the season, the form is an incredibly important factor. Several teams in the past have mounted a late challenge by stringing a run of wins together. This year, it looks as if Blackburn are the side that will take on the mantle as barring losses to QPR and Doncaster, they haven’t slipped up in three games. As a result, the EFL Championship odds in 2021 have the East-Lancashire outfit at 15/8 to make the playoffs.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, are the anthesis of Blackburn. They have spent most of the season comfortably in the playoff positions, also occupying the top two spots, but a poor run means they are in sixth. The bookmakers have them at 2/5 to make the playoffs, and 10/3 to win the finale, yet it will be close if Blackburn wins their game in hand. A win would put Rovers three points behind Jonathan Woodgate’s men with a possible 54 points left in the season.
The role of the FA Cup
Making the playoffs isn’t only about managing domestic league form. It’s also about kerbing aspirations to win a trophy. For AFC Bournemouth, their recent win against Burnley puts them in the hat for the FA Cup quarter-finals, which is a massive achievement.
On the flip side, it’s another mid-week fixture to play against strong opposition that will stretch their squad to the bone. Swansea City is another club that might not benefit from their cup run. They have already lost defender Brandon Cooper and goalkeeper Steven Benda and will be crossing their fingers that the extra mileage in the players’ legs won’t harm their chances for automatic promotion. At 10/11, the bookies think the Swans are on a knife-edge.
Managers can’t pick the fixtures before the season kicks off, no matter how much they want to! As usual, the random nature of the slated ties always throughs up potential hurdles for teams chasing playoff success.
A glance at the list shows that Bournemouth suggests none of the chasers or the incumbents will have an easy ride. Middlesbrough, for instance, have to play in-form Derby County away from home and fellow playoff challengers reading within the next three games. Stoke City have Norwich, the second-best side in the division, while Blackburn Rovers have a tough Lancashire derby among their games.
As you can tell, any predictions could easily go out of the window. What is blindingly obvious is that any of the clubs from fourth to tenth could realistically sneak into the EPL places.