Brentford favorites in the Premier League lottery
Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion have already secured their place in the Premier League. The final berth will be determined by five playoff games in the space of 10 days.
The tight turnaround and lack of recovery time, at the end of an already grueling post-lockdown run, means injuries and fatigue could play an even bigger role than normal in some of the toughest matches. important in football.
Brentford have narrowly missed out on automatic promotion, but third-placed teams have had the most success in recent years, winning 4 of the last 10 Championship play-offs. The sixth-placed team last won the playoffs at Blackpool a decade ago, but Swansea City have momentum for the next three games where anything is possible.
Swansea City will play Brentford on July 26e and 29eand Fulham face Cardiff City on July 27e and 30e. The Championship play-off final will be played at Wembley on August 4e.
‘Moneyball’ is a term used all too easily in sport, but if there is one football club it applies to most, it may well be Brentford. The west London club used analytics and statistics as the expected targets to find high resale value bargains. They finished third this season on a much lower budget than some of their promotion rivals. Brentford have scored the most regular season goals in the Championship.
Key to their success has been their ‘BMW’ front line of Said Benrahma, Ollie Watkins and Brian Mbeuno, who have all managed at least 15 league goals each this season. They cost a combined total of $13 million and no matter what happens in the playoffs, Brentford will likely get at least that kind of fee for one of the top three. At the other end of the field, goalkeeper David Raya looks set to win this season’s Golden Glove award to help Brentford have the tightest Championship defense outside West Yorkshire.
Behind the scenes, the ‘spare parts’ have been invaluable, with Brentford running a unique ‘B team’ system, where their second string don’t play in a reserve league, but instead travel around Europe playing friendlies against any opponent who fancy a game. .
Brentford are a growing team, and even if they fall short in the playoffs this season, all the pieces are in place for future success. Next year they will leave Griffin Park, their home for over a hundred years, and move into the new community stadium in Brentford. It’s the sign of a new era for the Bees, one that could begin in the Premier League.
But (spoiler alert), in the movie ‘Moneyball’, the Oakland Aces fail in the playoffs. Brentford got their big automatic promotion shot after West Bromwich Albion dropped points in their last few games but they lost their lines, losing 1-0 to Stoke City and 2-1 to Barnsley. Having good expected goals stats helps in the long run, but in a one-off game it’s less relevant.
Fulham moved on to promotion two years ago, beating Aston Villa in the 2017/18 playoff final, and that style of play has proven effective for them this season too. They topped the Championship charts for passing accuracy and were second only to Leeds for possession.
Fulham have been in the promotion mix all season while playing decent football, and although Leeds and Brentford have won most of the plaudits, Fulham boss Scott Parker thinks his side “probably don’t have the credit it deserves”. After a disastrous Premier League season, Fulham have shipped or loaned most of their expensive flops and, more importantly, managed to retain key players like Aleksander Mitrovic and Tom Cairney, as well as add some solid Championship additions. like Antoine Knockaert.
Given the strength of the Fulham squad it would be easy to say they should be right at the top of the table but so often relegated sides with bloated squads end up struggling so manager Scott Parker deserves probably some credit for keeping Fulham in the promotional mix.
But for all of Fulham’s attacking talents, they are more reliant on one man for goals than any other team in the league. Aleksander Mitrovic is the league’s top scorer this season with 26 goals, around 40% of Fulham’s total goals.
Much like Fulham, Cardiff City reached the playoffs playing a type of football similar to the style that promoted them. In the Championship there is more than one way to skin a spade, and Cardiff are bottom of the Championship in possession but top of the league in aerial duels won.
When they do win the ball, they attack very quickly and often push their opponents high up the pitch to try and capitalize on their mistakes, earning them two goals in their recent win over Derby County. Cardiff are also a real danger from set pieces, scoring more goals from dead ball situations than any other team in the league.
Manager Neil Harris knows what it takes to win the playoffs, taking Millwall out of League One in 2017 after finishing 6e in the league. Cardiff City was 14e when Harris took over in November, and were still in 11th place at the start of March, but have only lost two games since then. But above all, one of those defeats was against Fulham.
Swansea City’s season changed overnight with the loan signing of Rhian Brewster in January. The Liverpool striker showed his potential at the Under-17 World Cup in India in 2017, but injuries have slowed his progress.
Swansea boss Steve Cooper coached Brewster in India and seems like the perfect coach to know how to get the most out of the highly rated youngster. Rhian Brewster has scored almost a goal in every two games since joining Swansea, propelling them from the mid-table within three Premier League games.
Players are never expected to return to their former clubs, but Swansea will make an exception for Andre Ayew who has returned from loan to Turkish side Fenerbahce to play his third spell in South Wales. Ayew has scored 15 goals and assisted 6 goals so far this season, and brings some experience to what is a very young squad (10 of their 15 most-used players are 25 or younger).
Swansea were 11th at the start of June, but the Championship is such a tight league that despite only playing 5 of their 9 games since the restart, they managed to climb into last place in the playoffs with a 4-1 win over Reading on the last game of the season.
Swansea City lost 3-0 and 3-1 to Brentford earlier in the season but they have the momentum ahead of the playoffs.