The new EFL season has been with us for a while now, and 11 rounds of the Championship have given us some idea of who will be challenging at the top, and who will likely struggle this season. This article will look in more depth at the current top three sides, looking at their transfer business, current form, and whether they are likely to still be there at the end of the season. We will look at the same things with the bottom three sides, but will see if they have a good chance of going down or if they will stay up.
All numbers and statistics are correct at time of writing.
At the top….
Reading (currently 1st)
The Royals have been a surprise package this season so far; I’m not sure many, if anyone, expected them to go from a team surviving in the division last season to challenging for promotion to the Premier League, particularly when you consider how they changed their manager so late in the season.
However, Veljko Paunovic has made them more attacking, playing a good style of football, and the likes of Lucas Joao have been seemingly reinvigorated by him. Joao is a player who we know has quality, but hasn’t really been able to show it consistently at the Madejski so far. However, he has been one of the Championship’s best strikers so far, which shows how much they have changed. Another player I have been really impressed by so far is young French winger Michael Olise, who looks to be a serial goalscorer from a slightly deeper position, and has already netted some really good strikes this season.
Their last couple of results have been disappointing, and we do wonder whether they have had their moment at the top, before falling back down the table, but I think they will still be up there at the end of the season. They do need to get themselves back on track, and quickly, but the players they have in their team, and the balance they have, should mean they can keep up their good early form. This balance has come from the players they have brought in, which include former Shrewsbury midfielder Josh Laurent, a box-to-box midfielder capable of linking up the play for his team; he will help Reading to move the ball from the back to the front much quicker. They do seem to be playing a good style and going in the right direction.
Watford (currently 2nd)
When Watford came down from the Premier League last season, there had been a lot of questions asked as to whether they could get back up again at the first time of asking. They had managed to get through four managers last season, if you include Hayden Mullins, who was caretaker at various stages last season, which was a big reason for their relegation.
However, the Pozzo family have decided to go with a left field choice for their new permanent manager this season, with Serbian former Maccabi Tel-Aviv manager Vladimir Ivic’s appointment raising a few eyebrows. However, he won the Israeli Premier League in both of his seasons with Maccabi (the first with a record difference of 31 points, losing just one game all season), so he clearly has a good record that the Watford owners like. His playing style has been the subject of criticism in the first 11 games of the Championship season, but I think he has done well so far in terms of results.
The thing about coming down to the Championship is that it gives teams a chance to start again and rebuild, bringing some of their promising academy players into the team and clearing some of the fringe players out. One player who has thrived so far this season is young forward Joao Pedro, who has been a huge threat in the box so far. Another is Ismaila Sarr, who we saw at the end of last season really start to create chances and cause problems for opponents, as he was signed to do in 2019. All of the squad have stepped up and are playing some reasonably good football at the moment, but many are wondering if this will continue. We will have to see if it does as the games start coming really quickly, but it looks at the moment like they will be up there fighting for an immediate return to the Premier League for most of the season.
To ensure they continue to fight, they need to score more goals in each game, because, apart from three games in their 11 so far, they have scored only one goal at most, and, whilst this shows that they can win tight games, it might cost them in games against more free-scoring teams.
Norwich City (currently 3rd)
Another team who came down from the Premier League last season was Norwich City, and they are the favourites to go straight back up in first place. However, it won’t be easy for them, as some of their results already have shown; they have lost to the third team to come down, Bournemouth, as well as struggling Derby County, as well as drawing with Preston, Brentford and Millwall. They have also had to fight for wins, such as their most recent game against Swansea City.
One strength of Norwich’s has been to find players from leagues across the world who can come in and fill positions that needed filling. They didn’t lose too many of their major players over the summer, with only Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey signing for Newcastle and Everton respectively. However, key players brought in have included Polish winger Przemyslaw Placheta, attacking midfielder Kieran Dowell, striker Jordan Hugill, and defenders Ben Gibson and Xavi Quintilla, who have all added different elements to the team. Overall, the strength in depth of the team, added to a rejuvenated Finland striker Teemu Pukki, gives them a really good chance of going up at the first time of asking.
At the bottom….
Wycombe Wanderers (currently 22nd)
It was always going to be a difficult season for Wycombe, and, realistically, their aim this season has to be just staying up. It was quite the story when they came up, but underneath we wondered whether they would be able to compete with the other teams; the answer to that is yes, but it took time for them to settle in and get used to their new surroundings. We know they have quality in their squad, with full-backs Jack Grimmer and Joe Jacobson both threats in the final third, whilst Fred Onyedinma has been coveted by other clubs in the Championship in recent seasons, such is the quality he brings to the team. We know about the strength in the box that veteran striker Adebayo Akinfenwa brings, but it has been another striker, Scott Kashket, who has proven to be Wycombe’s biggest goal threat so far.
Despite their initiall struggles to adapt to life in the Championship, their last few games have brought them more joy, with two wins and one draw in their last four games, and this has taken them to within a point of moving out of the relegation zone. To stay up this season, they will just need to go for it and not hold back, and keep working on the basics; in 11 games, they have scored six and conceded 19, so, even though it sounds obvious, they need to tighten up at the back, whilst creating and scoring more at the front, because Kashket is their top scorer in the league this season, but only has three goals.
Sheffield Wednesday (currently 23rd)
It is going to be a tough ask for Sheffield Wednesday to stay up, because they had a points deficit to content with, as well as the obvious competition from the other 23 teams in the league. However, overall, I think many would have expected better from them, given the quality they have in the team. Former Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris is a goalscoring winger, while Barry Bannan is the creative player in the middle of the pitch, and these players have been supplemented by the likes of attacking midfielder Josh Windass and utility player Callum Paterson this summer, both of whom bring quality in the final third.
However, for one reason or another, perhaps because of the pressure of their situation, they just haven’t got going this season yet, which is a worry. Players such as Steven Fletcher, Fernando Forestieri and Atdhe Nuhiu, all strikers, left over the summer, and haven’t been adequately replaced. All brought goals to the team when in form, and all three gave Wednesday an edge over their opponents when at their best.
We mentioned their results, and only three wins and three draws in their opening 11 games has not been the start they required, as they needed to pick up as many points as possible to get out of the relegation zone as quickly as possible. However, those results, coupled with the huge collapse last season that saw them win just four games between January and July, led to the sacking this week of Garry Monk and his staff. Survival is clearly been the board’s priority now, with Tony Pulis, Nigel Pearson and Paul Cook all linked with the job; all are experienced survival campaigners.
Whichever comes in, I think they need to make the right signings in January, which include one or two strikers to score the goals they are currently missing, and they just need to be tougher to beat overall. They have the players to stay up, but they need a few extras with experience of fighting releagtion battles, as well as a manager who knows how to get results in this situation.
Derby County (currently 24th)
I did not expect to be analysing Derby as a struggling team when the season began, but here we are, with the Rams at the foot of the table, unable to get going this season. They have the same coach, they added squad depth, the squad overall hasn’t massively changed, so it is very odd why they have collapsed so spectacularly. There is no denying that they have the players in their team to get themselves out of this mess, with experience in players such as Craig Forsyth and Curtis Davies, whilst younger players such as Max Bird and Louie Sibley have all shown a lot of promise since they broke into the first team last season.
However, I don’t think we have seen enough of their key players, such as Tom Lawrence and Duane Holmes, who have both gone missing for most of their games so far. When these two are in form, Derby look completely different, and can create chances from anywhere on the pitch. However, that is not the case at the moment.
They haven’t held back in the transfer window, bringing in plenty of new faces, but I always felt they were bringing players in for the sake of it. Polish winger Kamil Jozwiak has come in to add more quality and creativity in the final third, whilst Dutch defender Mike te Wierik came in to shore up the backline; those were both good signings, even though neither has really played at their best yet. Others such as Colin Kazim-Richards and Jordon Ibe were available, but I don’t quite see what Derby see in them as players to come in and change their fortunes around.
There are strong rumours of a takeover at the club, which has apparently been approved by the EFL, so this may bring new investment, but also a new manager, with the players reportedly thinking that Phillip Cocu might not last the international break. Given their current form, and their seeming inability to get themselves out of trouble, they might not be wrong. Fans of Hull City and Sunderland will remind Derby supporters that, no matter how big a name you are, the drop to League One will not spare you if you simply aren’t good enough.
This article has looked to show why the top three and bottom three clubs are where they are, by looking at their transfer business, overall squad quality, results so far, and other factors. There are certainly surprises at both ends, with Reading not expected to be fighting for promotion, whilst virtually no-one expected Derby to be propping up the table after 11 games, having won once and scored just five goals. There is still plenty of the season to go, and we all know how unpredictable the Championship can be – everything could be turned on it’s head before it finishes, and that is why we love it.