The final match of the EFL Championship season is in less than two months and every football fan will be intrigued by which teams come out on top. Just three clubs can escape to the riches of the Premier League but it promises to be a highly competitive last few weeks of the season. Three or four teams are in contention for the two automatic slots while any side in the top nine can realistically reach the playoffs.
The EFL Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in European football which would be impressive even if it wasn’t England’s second tier. Everyone knows of the riches and attention which Premier League promotion can bring in. That number is now estimated at £170 million and is only increasing as the seasons go by. That sort of money not only transforms the clubs but can very often change the entire town or city. This perhaps explains why the race to reach the top flight is usually so fierce and why this season has been no exception.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have led every other side in the league since October and are showing no signs of slipping. It’s been a strange few years for the Midlands side. After a couple of mid-table seasons in England’s second tier, Wolves were taken over by the Chinese investment group, Fosun in 2016. The club went through five managers in less than a year before a summer of quite incredible investment and significant change in 2017.
A host of new signings arrived to work under manager Nuno Espirito Santo including Ruben Neves. The 20-year-old arrived from Porto for £15.8 million, a record for both the club and the league. A host of other players arrived from some of the biggest clubs in Europe but perhaps the most surprising thing about the whole situation is how well the team has performed. How often have teams invested huge sums of money on signings only for many to disappoint and hurt the side? Wolves are an exceptional exception and are currently seven points clear of third place and three clear of second with two games in hand over some of their rivals. In fact, they are 1/100 to get promoted to the Premier League next season on Betway as of 8 March.
With top spot seemingly locked down by Wolves, the race for runner-up and the second automatic promotion slot is heating up. Cardiff City are four points clear of their rivals and are in an excellent run of form in the league. The Bluebirds haven’t been outside of the top four all season long and will be hoping to secure automatic promotion considering the club’s disastrous record in the Championship playoffs in the last decade.
Hoping to catch Neil Warnock’s men are Aston Villa and Fulham. There are some distinct similarities between the two clubs in terms of how their seasons have gone. After relatively slow starts, both sides looked set to join mid-table obscurity but both have raised their performance levels in the last few months. The two clubs have only lost one match between them in 2018 and that only happened when they met at Craven Cottage in February.
With just one other automatic place on offer, two of those three teams will have to be content with a playoff place where another test awaits. There are half a dozen other clubs wanting to secure a top six place and the chance of a Wembley showdown. Derby County spent all of January in second spot but their season is coming close to self-destruction after a run of six Championship matches without a win.
Looking to gain ground on Gary Rowett’s men are a pack of four or five clubs led by Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough. The inconsistent Boro have just gone four league matches unbeaten for the first time since September and will be hoping that Patrick Bamford’s return to goalscoring form can help take them all the way to victory at Wembley.
Very often, the side which ends the season with the most momentum will come out triumphant in the playoffs and there are some potential candidates for that. Millwall currently sit six points off the top six in 11th but have won four out of their last five and haven’t lost since New Year’s Day. They may not topple the likes of Fulham and Aston Villa in the playoffs but are 33/1 to simply reach the top 6 which could be worth a punt.
There are so many uncertainties as we enter the final two months of the EFL Championship season. Wolverhampton Wanderers’ place at the top of the table is certainly the likeliest result of the season but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. Cardiff City are on course to beat the likes of Aston Villa and Fulham to second place but don’t be too shocked if either of those sides clinch an automatic promotion spot. After that, Derby could well slip out of the top six and if they do there are a host of other clubs waiting to take their place. Anything can happen with less than two months to go.