The Sky Bet Championship table is beginning to take shape, with Swansea and Charlton leading the way and Stoke and Huddersfield struggling at the bottom.
But which teams have caught Andy Hinchcliffe’s eye? Here, the Sky Sports pundit gives us his thoughts on the first part of the 2019/20 season…
Can Swansea and Charlton sustain their starts?
You can’t say Swansea and Charlton have over-performed in their first six games, but it is fair to say that both sides have been clinical. They haven’t always dominated but they are winning games.
What Charlton have done so far is incredible after getting promoted, and for Swansea it is really great to see them move on so swiftly after losing Graham Potter, Dan James and Oli McBurnie in the summer.
- Championship fixtures
- Championship table
But is it sustainable? Neither side started the campaign as promotion contenders, Charlton would just have been hoping to survive and Swansea probably could have had an outside look at the top six, but at the moment their styles are working well.
From here it is about making sure you do enough to keep winning games. Their respective Expected Goals (xG) statistics so far this season suggest they aren’t quite dominating games as others are and after a while it may see their results level out a bit.
I can’t see either keeping up a push for automatic promotion, but the fact they have started so well really does give everyone else belief.
Expected goals (xG) – Opta definition
Expected goals (xG) measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance.
Adding up a player or team’s expected goals can give us an indication of how many goals a player or team should have scored on average, given the shots they have taken.
The tables below show how many goals each Championship side would have been expect to score and concede so far this season.
Are Leeds the strongest side?
They may have lost at home to Swansea but they absolutely battered them at Elland Road. The Swans then got one chance at the end and took it, which sometimes can happen.
For me Leeds are the strongest team in the Championship and are a lot better than last season. It is as simple as that. Their performance at Bristol City on the opening day was one of the best away displays I’ve seen in the Championship. They absolutely dominated them.
I wondered which way it would go with Leeds after what happened last season. They could tire again towards the end of the campaign but right now they look stronger than ever. Everyone knows their roles and they look a year wiser under Marcelo Bielsa. They could easily have won every single game they have played.
Patrick Bamford has a few this season and Pablo Hernandez remains a vital player, but Eddie Nketiah and Helder Costa – who are being eased in – will both eventually have a key role to play in making them more clinical.
I’m not saying they are going to romp it but their xG stats this season (below) suggest they will keep dominating games, and if they do they will win a lot more than they lose like they did against Swansea. They should finish in the top two.
Will Fulham be too predictable?
You know what you’re going to get with Fulham. They have got such a big threat going forward but Cardiff and Nottingham Forest have both shown there is a way to keep them at arm’s length.
Their starting XI won’t change a huge amount and they could become predictable to defend against. Anyone organised and with a real plan has shown they can stop them.
In terms of ability to dominate a game I would put them just below Leeds, even though they probably have better individuals in their squad. But they have such a rigid gameplan at the moment.
When Fulham lost at home to Forest they dominated on paper, but 12 of their 20 shots were from outside the box. It was easy for Forest to defend against.
Stoke and Huddersfield to improve?
At this stage just because you are in the bottom two places it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have been the worst two teams in the league.
Huddersfield have been unlucky to lose a couple of games, while Stoke haven’t quite got their formation working yet under Nathan Jones. They have created a lot of chances that they haven’t taken and let in some really soft goals – Jack Butland, in particular, has had a very tough time.
For Stoke, who have some really tough games coming up, it could get worse before it gets better. It could only be a matter of time for Nathan Jones if they keep on this run, regardless of how they play. Things need to improve for them at both end of the pitch.
Are Brentford and Reading underachieving?
It seems to be the same for Brentford year after year. They always have some of the best performance statistics but they struggle to take their chances and end up falling short.
It doesn’t help either how often they have to chance their personnel, and Neal Maupay and Romaine Sawyers were both big losses for them. Ollie Watkins is playing through the middle now.
Sometimes they play like how they did against Derby and you wonder how they aren’t higher up the table. If they could turn dominance into results then they will challenge for the top six.
Reading were tipped by some for relegation but George Puscas could really help fire them up the table. They are performing well as a team and he could easily be good for 15 goals for them. I saw him at the Under-21 tournament in the summer for Romania and he was outstanding, like a young Alan Shearer with his workrate, strength and aerial ability.
I would keep an eye on them as well.
Are Derby set to struggle?
Where do you start with Derby. The pressure will be on after what happened last season, but there has been a huge turnaround at the club.
Phillip Cocu will need time but I’ve not been impressed with them so far. He talked about the arrogance of his side after they lost at Brentford and it’s unusual to hear a coach talk like that. Maybe it will be a wake-up call for them and they will need to apply themselves a lot better because their performances haven’t been good enough.
It is time for them to roll up their sleeves and show a bit of character.
Derby vs Cardiff
September 13, 2019, 7:00pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Is it Preston’s year?
For the resources at their disposal Preston have been overachieving for a while, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Alex Neil does a great job there, they are a coach, team and club working perfectly in unison.