Norwich currently lead the way by 10 points at the head of the table, but there is little to split the teams directly behind them.
Watford are the team in possession of second place prior to this weekend’s games. But Swansea and Brentford – both with a game in hand – could overtake them with victories.
Behind them, Reading have remained consistently near the frontrunners all season, having topped the division for a spell early on. Barnsley, in sixth place, have won seven out of their last eight games.
With each of the top half sides having either 11 or 12 games left to play this campaign, we’re going to assess the teams that currently occupy the top six places, and their chances of gaining automatic promotion:
Norwich (1st – P34, PTS 76)
Barring a major collapse, Daniel Farke’s side look destined to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Armed with a season’s experience in the top flight, the Canaries have dominated the division so far. The likes of Emiliano Buendia, Max Aarons and Teemu Pukki have all put in consistently strong performances.
Many of Farke’s summer and winter signings have also made major impacts. Such has been the impressive form of Tottenham loanee Oliver Skipp that Spurs are reportedly set to hand the 20-year-old a first team role next season.
Buendia’s 10 goals and 11 assists, meanwhile, make him the league’s best-performing player according to WhoScored.
Should Norwich seal a Premier League return, keeping hold of the Argentinian is surely a priority.
Watford (2nd – P35, PTS 66)
Watford aren’t a club known for giving managers large amounts of time, and Vladimir Ivic became the 12th full-time manager to depart the club in six years when he was sacked in December 2020.
The Hornets were fifth in the Championship, but had won just three of their previous nine games.
In came Xisco Munoz, who was part of the double-winning Valencia side under Rafael Benitez in 2004.
He has turned the side into a more formidable outfit in attacking areas, with Watford recording six victories in their last seven games.
Brazilian forward Joao Pedro has nine goals to his name, whilst the pace and creativity of club-record signing Ismaila Sarr is always a threat. Expect Watford to be in a strong position come May.
Swansea (3rd – P34, PTS 66)
After an impressive first season that resulted in reaching the play-off semi-finals, Steve Cooper has taken Swansea to another level this season.
They made good use of the loan market in the summer, with Wolves’s Morgan Gibbs-White, Chelsea’s Marc Guehi and Newcastle’s Freddie Woodman all joining the club for a second consecutive season. Conor Hourihane was loaned from Aston Villa in January.
Forward Jamal Lowe, signed from Wigan for a nominal fee, has also been impressive.
The Swans share the second-best defensive record in the Championship with Norwich, having conceded just 25 goals.
Their reliance on penalties in recent weeks may perhaps be a concern to Cooper – four of their last six goals (in four matches) have come from spot kicks.
Swansea’s next three games against Luton Town, Bournemouth and Cardiff could determine the extent of their Championship automatic promotion challenge.
Brentford (4th – P34, PTS 63)
The early season form produced by Thomas Frank’s Brentford didn’t quite match their barnstorming run of results from the second half of the previous season.
The Bees won seven games in succession to propel them into automatic promotion contention, but lost their last two games to finish third. Frank’s men then lost to Fulham in the play-off final.
Two big-money sales were to follow, with top scorer Ollie Watkins joining Villa and influential winger Said Benrahma moving to West Ham. The Algerian initially left on loan, but that deal was turned permanent for a fee of £20 million plus add-ons in January.
Brentford then won four of their first 12 games this season. A 0-0 draw with Wycombe in November saw them slip to 11th place in the league.
Since that result, the side have quickly pushed back up the table. Ivan Toney, signed from Peterborough as Watkins’ replacement, has scored a sensational 25 goals in 33 starts, and contributed nine assists.
A current run of four losses in six games represents a blip. But don’t be surprised if this club goes one better than last year and seals automatic promotion from the Championship. They’ve got the talent in the squad to do it.
Reading (5th – P35, PTS 60)
Reading’s early season form was one of the big talking points in the Championship.
They won seven of their opening eight games to stretch out a seven-point gap at the head of the division, with their exceptionally clinical nature in attacking areas a key attribute of their play.
Veljko Paunovic’s side then went five without a win, including back-to-back 3-0 home defeats to Preston North End and Stoke City.
But with quality all around the pitch, including the likes of forward Lucas Joao, creative midfielder Michael Olise and full-back Andy Yiadom, the Royals quickly bounced back.
Joao’s tally of 18 league goals is only bettered by three other Championship players, whilst 19-year-old Olise has caught the eye of Premier League clubs with his range of passing, offensive play and ball-carrying abilities.
The Royals have won their last three games, and their next three fixtures sees them face sides that are currently in the bottom half of the table.
Barnsley (6th – P35, PTS 58)
Barnsley have received huge plaudits for their approach both on the pitch and in the transfer market in recent seasons.
A lot of their signings arrive from the lower leagues, whilst the club also dipped into the American market in January with the signing of forward Daryl Dike.
What has been notable this season is the age of their squad. In their 0-0 draw with Derby County on Wednesday night, not a single player that featured was over the age of 26.
They also spread the goals consistently around their squad, with Cauley Woodrow (10), Alex Mowatt (6) and Carlton Morris, Callum Styles and Michal Helik (4) all producing solid numbers.
Valerien Ismail’s side have won seven of their last eight Championship fixtures.
They perhaps lack the experience of other teams in terms of being at the deep end of proceedings at this stage of the season, although a number of players remain from the side that gained promotion from League One two years ago.
Reaching the play-offs would certainly be an exceptional achievement for the club.
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