League One and League Two clubs are on FA Cup duties this weekend, but there is a full billing of action in Championship Gamweek 11, from which EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton selects his best bets.
Double Chance: Draw/Middlesbrough
Brentford v Middlesbrough
Brentford missed their chance to move into the Championship’s top six on Tuesday night with a 1-1 draw at home to Swansea.
The Bees needed David Raya to be on top form. The goalkeeper made numerous excellent saves, but his teammates did not truly stretch the opposing stopper.
Instead, they were guilty of overplaying when they got into good areas. They looked reliant on clinical finishing from Ivan Toney and individual magic from Bryan Mbuemo.
The West Londoners are without key defender Pontus Jansson and midfield metronome Christian Nørgaard, which is having a big impact.
This is a convenient time to face Brentford, then, for Middlesbrough. They produced an impressive performance in midweek at Blackburn, where they applied a lot of pressure and created the better chances in a 0-0 draw.
That clean sheet means Neil Warnock’s side have conceded just five goals in their first 10 league games and, if they can maintain anything like this defensive form, they will have one of the best ‘goals against’ records the Championship has ever seen.
Clearly, the three-man defence Warnock has introduced is having a lot of success. And not just because of how it keeps things tight.
The extra number at the back also hands Paddy McNair the extra freedom to carry the ball forward and join up with the midfield as he likes to.
26 of McNair’s 61 touches at Ewood Park were beyond the halfway line, so while Warnock has a reputation for direct, old-school tactical methods, his work on Teesside suggests flexibility.
The 71-year-old is getting the best out of young talents like Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson and Marcus Tavernier. So, although Warnock won promotion with a more experienced squad at Cardiff, maybe the style and age of the group available to him might not be as big a factor as some suspected.
Perhaps Warnock’s man management qualities mean he can adapt effectively to the personnel he has – and his fine work could continue in West London.
Neil Warnock on Nathan Wood:
“I asked him if he slept last night, he said ‘yeah’, I said, ‘well I didn’t thinking about you playing tomorrow, son.’” 😂
— EverythingMFC (@EverythingMFC) October 31, 2020
Middlesbrough are unbeaten since the opening day and deserve their place in the current top six, so to get quotes so close to evens on them avoiding defeat this weekend is fantastic.Gabriel Sutton
Norwich City v Swansea City
Norwich drew 0-0 with Millwall in midweek but their failure to win was not for want of trying.
The Canaries mustered 27 efforts at goal – of which 10 were inside the box – and hit the target seven times. Meanwhile, their opponents had seven off-target attempts, highlighting their territorial dominance.
Some of the first half openings Daniel Farke’s side created came after a firm slide tackle, with Oliver Skipp in especially tenacious mood.
Skipp is an important player for Norwich because, while the likes of Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and even Teemu Pukki link up neatly between the edge of the final third and the 18-yard line, he will make penetrative runs deep into the final third.
Skipp might not get involved in the link-up play himself. But he does detract opponents that creates more space for Buendia, Stiepermann and Pukki to combine as well as they do.
This will therefore be among the toughest games of the season so far for Swansea City, who moved second in the Championship after a 1-1 draw last time out at Brentford.
Head coach Steve Cooper was very happy with what he saw from his side. They controlled proceedings for long periods with Andre Ayew, Kyle Naughton and Connor Roberts all hitting the target, while Freddie Woodman was untested.
Cooper is primarily a possession-based coach. But his side this season has that knack of knowing when to be patient and when to get the ball into that fluid attacking trio of Ayew, Jamal Lowe and Yan Dhanda.
Swansea could pose a counter-attacking threat at Carrow Road in a game starring two likely promotion contenders.
#swans more than deserved at least a point. Thought Smith played well Cooper has realised subs can make a difference and they did again. Positive that. Brentford not the team they were last season but they will be up there so decent result 👍🏻
— SjacK (@only1keogh1972) November 3, 2020
It is hard to envisage the ultimate Championship top six not having both Norwich and Swansea in it and this game will give us some clues as to whether either can challenge for automatic promotion.Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 Match Goals
Sheffield Wednesday v Millwall
Sheffield Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Bournemouth was arguably the most important result of their season so far, especially given the news that followed within 24 hours of full-time.
The 12-point deduction that was dished out in pre-season has since been halved. So, having been 10 points off safety following defeats to Luton, Rotherham and Wycombe at the end of October, the gap is now a mere three points.
That win over Bournemouth came thanks to a penalty from Barry Bannan. His sublime long range passing opened the game up for quick attacking players like Josh Windass and Kadeem Harris, though the latter is suspended after a late red card.
That strategy worked against the Cherries, who operated with a high line. But the South Yorkshire outfit can struggle to open teams up, which is a concern for them against Millwall.
The Lions are trying to eke out enough points to keep themselves within sight of the Play-Off places, while they are missing forward recruits Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore.
Manager Gary Rowett is hoping Parrott will return after the international break next week. Meanwhile Zohore will be sidelined until late December, so Jon Dadi Bodvarsson led the line at Norwich last time out with Tom Bradshaw rested.
Bodvarsson and Bradshaw are both hardworking. But the former will not provide much of a goalscoring presence, while the latter lacks physicality.
Matt Smith, by contrast, has height and physicality but his lack of mobility means he has struggled to establish himself as much more than a Plan B. Millwall are unlikely to start posing a regular goal threat until they can call upon at least one striker who has a wider range of qualities.
For that reason, we can expect a conservative approach here that would force Wednesday to play long and Millwall centre-back Jake Cooper will dominate Windass in the air.
Similarly, the likes of Dominic Iorfa and Julian Borner can pocket anyone Rowett names up top. As both sides are set to play three at the back with just one out-and-out striker, the vast majority of efforts at goal are likely to come from outside the box.
HUGE news for @swfc 🤯
— Quest (@QuestTV) November 4, 2020
Wednesday are the division’s joint-second lowest goalscorers while Millwall are without a goal in two and missing key forwards. Best to oppose goals here.Gabriel Sutton