Championship – The Most Competitive League In Europe
So, what is the most exciting league in the world? The Premier League? Chelsea are 1/16 to win the title. Serie A? Juventus are 14 points ahead of their nearest rivals and might as well be given their fourth consecutive title now.
How about the Bundesliga? Nah, Bayern Munich are 11 points clear having lost one game. La Liga? Perhaps. Although the usual suspects Barcelona and Real Madrid are separated by a point as normal order is restored following Atletico Madrid’s triumph last season.
No, the English Championship is where it’s at.
With eight games to go, just eight points seperate first place from seventh,
…with the lead changing hands more times than a particularly unwanted rescue dog’s.
Following last night’s matches, Watford lie in pole position, but only just. Middlesborough’s win at fifth place Derby County mean they trail the Hornets by goal difference – of just one goal.
Bournemouth’s draw at Cardiff City means that Eddie Howe’s much-admired, and top-scoring, side drop to third while fourth place Norwich City’s resurgence under Alex Neil was stymied somewhat by a draw at Hudderfield.
Brentford’s comeback at Blackburn Rovers ensures they lie in the final play-off place, one point ahead of Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town who were victors over Bolton.
Even Wolves, in eighth place, can harbour slightly realistic ambitions of an automatic promotion. They lie 10 points off the top two, but such is the see-saw nature of this division and the inconsistent form of its chief protagonists that anything could happen in the next couple of months.
With the new TV deal, a seat at the Premier League’s top table is more lucrative than ever. Despite the fact that last season’s three promoted sides are favourites for a swift return, even one campaign in the top flight can ensure a club’s medium-term financial future.
But despite this, is it really worth going up? Would fans of Leicester City trade last season’s Championship-winning season for their present campaign, which encorporates just four wins? Can the excitement of a Championship tilt, where a team really can beat anyone else, be replicated by grinding out the 35 or 40 odd points required to remain in the top tier?
As it stands, Watford are the in-form team and are 11/4 second favourites to go up. They’ve accumulated 25 points from their last ten games, in contrast to rivals Derby who’ve garnered just 13. Favourites Middlesborough have remained steady, but their three defeats in the last ten games point to the competitive nature of this league.
If the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United can replicate their recent form in the remaining matches they could even be in with a shout of the play-off places.
Indeed, the division is so cutthroat that whoever is relegated from the Premier League will not find it easy despite parachute payment and typically stronger squads. Of last season’s bottom trio, only Norwich City have prospered, and only after a mid-season change of manager. Only the mediocre Blackpool, Millwall and Wigan might save Fulham from a second consecutive demotion, while Cardiff City hover in mid-table.
Since the play-offs were introduced 29 years ago, less than a quarter of relegated sides bounce back from the Championship at the first attempt.
And, on average, in their second season, they drop a place in the second tier.
While it may be argued that the Championship is not the most glamourous, most monied league in the world, it’s surely one of the hardest to escape from. And this year’s run-in will be more exciting than any else on offer across Europe’s elite divisions.