The international break is over and the real business of the English football league begins again this weekend.
The Championship is the most unpredictable and competitive division in all of English football, 16 teams can make a reasonable case for being able to mount a playoff push and unlike last season, there doesn’t look to be on runaway team that is head and shoulders above everybody else.
Leeds United are currently in pole position with four wins and two draws from their opening six games and last time out were held 0-0 by their closest rivals Middlesbrough. They travel to Millwall which will be a battle and a real test for Marcello Bielsa’s fluid moving style of play against the gritty Lions of South London.
Middlesbrough are hot on their heels with an identical record and the best defence in the division currently on a five game streak of not conceding. They face an easier task on paper, travelling to struggling Norwich City with the Canaries and former Boro striker Jordan Rhodes hoping to kickstart their seasons.
Sheffield United currently occupy third place and travel to Bristol City. Both teams had impressive campaigns last season before fading in the final stretch and missing out on the playoffs while Derby County in fourth on a three game winning streak look to make it four at newly promoted Rotherham United. Frank Lampard’s Rams look to have finally settled into a winning formation and shape after some indifferent early performances.
Perennial Championship dark horses Brentford entertain Wigan Athletic who are making a decent fist of their return to the second tier. After beating Nottingham Forest last time out, the Bees will want to continue to press their own play off credentials. Always there or thereabouts, they are certainly a team on the up and one to watch.
Swansea are surprisingly the best performing of the relegated clubs and welcome Aitor Karanka’s big-spending Forest to the Liberty Stadium. Striker Oli McBurnie is on a fine run of form further enhanced with a call up to the Scotland squad this week while Forest must be hoping that some of their number of imports settle down and start to make an impact. Defensively resolute as any Karanka team would be, they haven’t found a formula to get goals at the other end with regularity just yet.
Bolton Wanderers fine start to the campaign looks like it could be coming unstuck with news that the Trotters could be about to enter administration with an automatic 12 point penalty. This would take them straight to the bottom of the pile on -1 but still within striking distance of Reading who are currently anchored down below. They hope to beat Steve McClaren’s QPR and give themselves more of a cushion should the worst happen.
Birmingham City are another team that would have no luck at all if it wasn’t for bad luck when they near neighbours West Brom to St Andrews on Friday night. The Baggies have looked solid if unspectacular on their return to the Championship but retain a core of experienced premier league players to call on. Garry Monk had made a promising start with the Blues but they face a threat of a points deduction under Financial Fair Play rules themselves which could leave them even worse off than Bolton.
Elsewhere Aston Villa look to start their journey back to the top of the league at Blackburn Rovers while misfiring Stoke City visit Sheffield Wednesday. Preston North End host Reading and Hull City face Ipswich Town in a match already being dubbed as a relegation battle in September.
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