The Championship: Europe’s most underrated and exciting league
It’s the league that relegation-threatened Premier League clubs fear dropping in to, and the one that League One’s leading clubs dream of reaching, but is the Championship a league that’s worth keeping an eye on?
This season, there are seven clubs in with a genuine shot at winning the league as only 10 points separates first from seventh. Leeds United are the title favourites at 7/5, but Norwich City (2/1) and Sheffield United aren’t far behind (9/2).
In recent seasons, there have been runaway league winners, citing Wolves and Newcastle as examples in recent years. But this year, something about the league is different.
Young footballers are being given leading roles in their clubs, managers are setting their sides up to play attacking football and win games rather than sit back and take a point. It’s a league where on any given week, anyone could potentially beat anyone else.
For years, the Championship has been the place for Premier League clubs to send their ‘elite’ youth players to further their development. Clubs relied on Premier League talent to boost their chances of promotion, but that’s no longer the case.
The Norwich starting XI regularly features three or four youth players from their academy. Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons have held down the full back roles since matchweek six, with Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey regularly featuring too.
Swansea City have Ollie McBurnie scoring goals for fun after being thrown into the first team this season by manager Graham Potter.
Che Adams started his development at Sheffield United, but it’s Birmingham City that are now reaping the rewards of giving him game time. He’s only three goals off the league’s top scorer and has forged a formidable partnership with Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Hull City struggled at the start of the season, but their form has picked up recently, and Jarrod Bowen has been at the heart of everything they’ve done. He’s still only 22, and destined for a bright career in the Premier League.
Of course you still get the odd Premier League youth loanee that lights up the league. Harry Wilson and Mason Mount at Derby, Tammy Abraham at Aston Villa and Harvey Barnes half season spell at West Brom jump out as the obvious candidates, but we can’t let that take away from Championship clubs own talent.
Exciting managerial appointments
June 2018 saw Leeds appoint a new manager that didn’t only excite their fans, but it got the whole league talking. It was the first managerial appointment that seemed too good to be true.
Marcelo Bielsa has a reputation of being able to make even the dullest of sides play beautiful, fast-flowing, attacking football. It seemed like quite the coup for Leeds at the time, and after his last few jobs didn’t work out the way he’d hoped, it was a big risk too.
So far this season, it’s a gamble that has proved to be worth taking. Sat top of the league, playing some Premier League quality football and blowing other sides away, they’re taking huge strides to getting back to their best.
When Norwich appointed their first non-British coach in the summer of 2017, it was deemed a huge risk. In the summer of 2018, it was thought that the gamble didn’t work and they’d be looking for another new manager.
They stuck by Daniel Farke and they’ve been playing some of the best attacking football the league has seen along with Leeds.
Swansea boss Graham Potter was raved about last season when his Ostersunds side hosted Arsenal in the Europa League. He’s starting to get his tactics across to his side too, which may require a season of transition this year, but could stand them in good stead next season when they look to get back to the big time.
Darren Moore couldn’t save his West Brom side from relegation last season, and usually those that get relegated struggle in their first season back in the Championship. But Moore has managed to get his side fighting for promotion, being resilient and scoring goals for fun in the process.
Ugly relegation battles too…
Not every league is filled with teams playing complete football which is easy on the eye, and of course the Championship is no different.
The bottom five have really struggled at times this season, and have rarely played football that spectators would be happy to pay to watch, but the contrast of the way the top sides play in comparison to those at the bottom is enthralling.
Ipswich have only won three games all season, Bolton have had off-field matters to deal with which hasn’t helped their side on the pitch. Rotherham and Reading have struggled to find a spark to kick start their season, although the Royals recently signed Nelson Oliveira on loan from Norwich, which could save their season.
Millwall have crashed back down to earth after last season’s unexpected highs. Outside of the current bottom five, QPR have lost five in a row and seem eager to get involved in a relegation scrap.
There’s no way that the Championship can make a claim to be the best league in world football. That’ll never be the case as it’ll always be playing second fiddle to the Premier League. But football is all about excitement, competitiveness and being in an environment where there is genuine belief that every team can beat the other on their day.
The traditional ‘top-six’ in the Premier League kills most of that excitement, with it mainly being a battle to be best of the rest. The same goes for other European leagues.
PSG usually win the Ligue 1 title.
Juventus tend to dominate Serie A.
La Liga is contested by three teams every year in terms of league winning capabilities.
Germany is dictated by Bayern’s financial prowess and how well they spend in transfer windows (although this season seems to be more competitive).
The Championship gives you everything you want to see as a football fan, and that’s why it deserves far more credit than it ever gets. If you’re looking for a title race this season, don’t look anywhere other than England’s second tier.
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