Ten games into a season is usually the first meaningful barometer of how a team will fare throughout the remainder of a season, so since ten games of the 2016/17 EFL Championship season have been played, it seemed like a good juncture to assess how things stand so far.
There has been one major surprise, and it concerns the team sitting top of the tree. Backed by the bookies in pre-season to struggle to survive, West Yorkshire side Huddersfield Town have stunned punters by being the early pace setters.
Manager David Wagner is undoubtedly working wonders, but, with a limited budget in comparison to other big-hitting Championship sides and a much thinner squad, one feels it is plausible that they could be sitting mid-table by the new year.
Then again, everyone said that about Leicester last season until they were 10 points clear with a handful of games to go, so who knows? There have been other shocks, but these have been at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Derby and Cardiff’s relative slow starts to the season have been a surprise to say the least. Backed to have another stab at returning to the Premier League for the first time in eight years, Derby have barely scored a goal, never mind picked up many points. Cardiff, also expected to have a strong season, have been in similarly insipid form, failing to hit the back of the net in six out of their first ten games. One must stress, however, that it is still very early in the season and fortunes can change very quickly.
In terms of predictions for May and the end of the Championship season, with the sheer weight of both budget and squad, Newcastle are expected to finish top of the table. Champions League winning manager Rafa Benitez has Premier League class throughout his team, and their thrilling last gasp comeback against fellow promotion hopefuls Norwich in mid-week perhaps suggests a change to a more positive, never-say-die attitude that wasn’t there last year.
The race for the other automatic promotion and play-off places, however, is anyone’s guess. Brighton are in for another strong season, they have a cracking and underrated manager in Chris Hughton, and a solid squad of quality with one stand out in wing-wizard Anthony Knockaert.
However, I believe they’ll get very close, like last year, but ultimately miss out on 2nd place to Premier League – Championship yo-yo team Norwich. They have a sensible, no nonsense manager in Alex Neil, a lot of firepower, and enough tactical nous to get themselves back up to the Premier League.
The race for the play-offs will go down to the last day of the season, of that you can be almost certain. It’s close every year, but this season it’s impossible to split any number of team’s from fourth down to mid-table.
Of the team’s going for places in the inaugural end of season play-offs, I believe that, with Brighton finishing third as suggested, Sheffield Wednesday, outsiders Bristol City and Aston Villa, making a late season charge, will make the cut.
Dark horses Bristol City have a superb young manager in Lee Johnson as well as someone who will consistently get goals in young on-loan Chelsea starlet Tammy Abraham. 18-year-old Abraham has amazingly already got himself into double figures for the season, just ten games in.
The problem for the Robins is that Abraham will surely be turning heads and attracting considerable interest from other clubs, and if he were to be recalled by Chelsea and loaned out to a Premier League side, one feels that their promotion challenge would be almost over, such has been Abraham’s influence.
Aston Villa making the play-offs is a big call, granted; but their squad has undoubted quality. If Roberto di Matteo can remove the scars of last season’s horror show, they have it in them to produce a successful late surge.
I also predict that Derby County, a club currently in relative turmoil with the mysterious ‘suspension’ of Nigel Pearson following a terrible start to the campaign, as touched on earlier, will turn it around but not quite enough to secure a play-off spot.
Whatever happens, you can sure of one thing; that it’s going to be yet another season of late twists and turns in what is consistently one of the most exhilarating leagues in world football.
Words by Joe Robinson
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