Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
With the Championship about to return following the international break, we’re taking a look at how the table is shaping up. Six games in to the season, contenders are starting to emerge. While it’s obviously far too early to be certain of the main teams in the mix, the bookies seem to have a solid idea of what to expect.
We’ve see four favourites emerge in the title race, seemingly suggesting those sides are a cut above. We have four sides priced between 4/1 and 6/1, with the fifth favourites out at 12s. With that interesting dynamic, we’re looking at the starts made by the four contenders; Middlesbrough, Leeds United, West Brom and Brentford.
Boro boast the best defence in the division as it stands, letting in just two goals in their six games to date. However, they’re also the lowest scorers among the current top six. Their sale of Patrick Bamford and Adama Traore at the end of the transfer window damaged them going forward, and that may limit their hopes of making the top flight.
However, they’re brilliant in defence. There are few sides in the division capable of shutting down Leeds in the manner Boro did at Elland Road before the international break. They’re a very organised unit, which isn’t a surprise given that they’ve had over eight months under Pulis. The Welshman guided them in to the play-offs at the end of last season, but their two meetings with Villa showed they’re not built for play-off football. Automatic promotion has to be the goal for Boro, and they’re well on their way so far.
Leeds are the leaders, pipping Middlesbrough on goal difference after their opening six games. They’ve also got an unbeaten record so far, with four wins and two draws to their name. That’s an incredible turnaround, which has come from Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at Elland Road. He’s turned them from huge outsiders in the early betting back in May to 4/1 joint-favourites after just over a month of the season.
Bielsa’s arrival has galvanised a club which has been middling in the second tier for too long. He hasn’t done it through big spending or by ripping up the playing squad, he’s used the players at his disposal and got them playing his brand of football. They’ve been the best team on the ball so far, alongside playing a dynamic style with a side packed full of goals.
Leeds have emerged as early favourites, and the hype around them is building. The only issue for them to worry about is late season fatigue. We’ve previously detailed how Bielsa sides do tail off as the campaign goes along, given how demanding El Loco can be on the training ground. It could be the style which has energised them will ultimately exhaust them before the finish line, especially given the monster 46 game season in the Championship.
Read More: Will Leeds Run Out of Steam?
Things looked quite bleak in the aftermath of their season opener, which they lost at home to Bolton. However, things have turned around of late, and a strong run of results has put them forward as potential promotion chasers. While not quite in the mix yet, the quality on show at the Hawthorns makes the Baggies one to watch.
They certainly pack a punch going forward, with Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez, Matty Philips and Harvey Barnes looking strong in attack. The Baggies have a decent defence built by Tony Pulis, and turning that in to a back three with a potent attack gives them balance. That will obviously mark out Moore’s side as a threat to the top teams. The only concern for West Brom is that their back three switch may only be a temporary boost, given how Sheffield United’s form in a similar system dropped when their rivals exposed their weakness.
The Bees are possibly the most exciting side on this list, given how they’ve built themselves up to become a force in the Championship. After years of stabilising following promotion form the third tier, Brentford are now a reliable force at this level. They’ve got a defined style, and the football they play is fantastic. They’re only just behind Leeds in terms of passing and possession stats, and they could be a real threat to Bielsa’s side.
One thing we’ve seen is that their recruitment is brilliant. They have a habit of buying gems and selling them on at a profit. One of their more mixed moves had been the signing of Neal Maupay, who didn’t have a great first season at the club. However, he’s started his second season in fine form, hitting five goals to make himself the league’s top scorer.
The only real worry for Brentford is their lack of depth up front. They don’t have much beyond Maupay as a number nine, and his recent suspension affected them. They lost 1-0 at Blackburn in his absence, their only defeat so far. Should he be ruled out for a longer period, then the Bees may find their promotion push hampered.
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