14 Championship teams will go into Championship Gameweek 46 not knowing their divisional status next season and Gabriel Sutton previews the drama.
Barnsley to win
Brentford v Barnsley
Barnsley were outstanding at Elland Road on Thursday. They lost 1-0, but they also doubled the shot count of their Yorkshire rivals, who went on to secure the title the following weekend.
Barnsley’s style could be described as “inverted total football” in which, rather than the extreme positional rotation happening in possession, it happens out of possession – there is no one player leading the press from the front but rather, almost anyone could do it at any one time.
In most setups, a player closing down an opponent to force them backwards would be asked to retreat into their orthodox position, but in Barnsley’s system the player in question has the licence to continue to chase the ball down.
Alex Mowatt, typically their deepest midfielder and intelligent right-back Kilian Ludewig were among five different players who did that job at various points at Elland Road.
The Reds were rewarded for another positive, front-foot performance against Nottingham Forest on Sunday when Patrick Schmidt’s 93rd-minute winner gave them a 1-0 win that keeps alive their hopes of staying up.
If, as seems likely, Wigan Athletic’s appeal against their 12-point deduction is rejected, Barnsley can beat the drop with a win at Brentford followed by two of the following four outcomes:
Wigan fail to beat Fulham, Luton fail to beat Blackburn, Charlton lose at Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday are deducted 12 points.
— Shaun Dooley (@shaundooley) July 19, 2020
For Brentford, the situation is simpler: if West Brom beat QPR, their match becomes irrelevant to the automatic promotion race.
If Albion draw, however, a win would secure the Bees a historic promotion while a home loss at the Hawthorns would allow Thomas Frank’s side to go up with a win – or with a draw if Fulham fail to beat Wigan.
Brentford could be in a more favourable position, but their run of eight consecutive victories was interrupted just when they threatened to take the initiative, losing 1-0 at Stoke.
Although Josh Da Silva missed the target from close-range and Ethan Pinnock was denied by a fine stop from Adam Davies, the potent ‘BMW’ attacking trio of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbuemo and Ollie Watkins was unusually quiet – just when Brentford needed them most.
The odds for this game imply an assumption that the Bees will dominate play here – but it’s worth noting that Barnsley’s three most attacking players managed a combined 276 touches against Leeds and Nottingham Forest, in comparison with 191 for their opponents.
Considering that Struber’s side cannot be content with a point, we can expect them to be aggressive in the press once again and 7/1 looks a fantastic price for the away win.
West Brom to win -2 handicap
West Brom v Queens Park Rangers
West Brom breathed a huge sigh of relief on Saturday. Their 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield on Friday appeared to have handed in-form Brentford the initiative, but the subsequent slip-up from their rivals meant the promotion race remains in Albion’s hands.
— emma🌙✨ (@mfergx) July 18, 2020
Part of the reason Slaven Bilic’s side have underperformed since the restart, with 12 points accrued from a possible 24, is because they have not always had good attacking full-backs.
Darnell Furlong and Kieran Gibbs have both had injury issues, so Bilic has had to start Dara O’Shea at times, a centre-back by trade and Conor Townsend, who has limitations.
Furlong, though, managed 31 minutes from the bench on Friday and if he were to start against his former club, he would give them the pace and width they have been missing at times.
Additionally, Furlong coming in for O’Shea would mean that Albion would not need a direct runner in Matt Phillips on the right of their attacking quartet, so Matheus Pereira could shuffle across to make space for Filip Krovinovic to start.
The Croatian has a delightful first touch, a keen eye for a through ball, but also the presence of mind to retain possession in the opposing half if that killer pass is not on, meaning Albion sustain attacks well when he plays.
Krovinovic has been an excellent squad player this season and, if he comes in, he could really unlock the team’s creative potential against a defensively questionable QPR side.
QPR have conceded 74 goals, which is the third-most in the Championship – they have a manager in Mark Warburton who gives his players high levels of creative freedom, which can be a major strength, but might be a weakness against a side possessing more individual quality and with everything to gain.
The omens aren’t kind, either: QPR have been defeated in four of their last five league trips to the Hawthorns, conceding 17 goals – including seven in this August fixture last season.
Both teams to score
Wigan v Fulham
Fulham’s 5-3 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, combined with results elsewhere, has allowed them to go into the final day as part of the automatic promotion equation, although they are very much outsiders:
The Whites need to win at Wigan and hope West Brom lose to QPR whilst Brentford fail to beat Barnsley – stranger things have happened, but it’s unlikely.
Scott Parker’s side looked great going forward in their previous game, as winger Neeskens Kebano caught the eye with a brace.
Ivan Cavaleiro twisted his hamstring earlier this month, so if Fulham are to enter the Play-Offs, it would help them to enter them with a left-sided forward like Kebano in good form.
It would be difficult to find better form than that of Wigan Athletic, who have accrued 38 points in 20 games since the turn of the year – and recently beat Hull 8-0.
The likely 12-point deduction would leave the Latics on 46 points: in the relegation zone but above Hull by a point and well above Barnsley on goal difference.
If they beat Fulham, they can stay up through either Charlton or Luton failing to win or a 12-point deduction for Sheffield Wednesday.
Momentum is fully behind Paul Cook’s side, who have responded to the adversity of administration with incredible defiance – and in tenacious midfielder Sam Morsy, they have the perfect captain to lead them into the final day.
Cardiff to win to nil
Cardiff v Hull City
Barnsley’s victory on Sunday means Hull go into this final day showdown bottom of the division, some 16 places lower than they were on New Years’ Day.
Technically, they could still stay up with a victory if three of the following four outcomes occur: Barnsley fail to win at Brentford, Wigan fail to beat Fulham, Luton lose to Blackburn and Wednesday are deducted 12 points.
There is no optimism though, among supporters, who have seen their team take a paltry six points from their last 19 league games. Grant McCann is bearing the brunt of criticism and justifiably so, because the team has been organized poorly in the second half of the season – and the Northern Irishman’s in-game management has been questionable too.
Whether McCann’s allegiance to 4-3-3 is his choice or dictated by the ownership regime, it has left Hull unable to adapt to the losses of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki. When the dangerous duo were present, McCann gave them the freedom to stay high up the pitch, even out of possession, so Hull could always carry that threat in transition because they had so much quality. This, in turn, made opposing teams warier of them tactically. Without Bowen and Grosicki, Hull have still played with theoretically the same system but nowhere near the same quality, which has meant two things:
Firstly, that the Tigers have not been as dangerous going forward and secondly, that opposing teams have been tactically braver and have thus exploited the weaknesses of their system, notably the gaps in midfield.
If there is one team primed to exploit weaknesses, it’s Cardiff City, who have been very efficient since Neil Harris took charge: the Bluebirds have picked up 49 points from 29 games under the former Millwall boss, giving them the same tally in that period as promotion favourites West Brom.
🗣 Harris | “Ultimately, we’ve got Hull City at home on Wednesday. And we know we need a point. But we’re going to want to win the game."
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) July 18, 2020
Cardiff can pose a significant threat from set-pieces and long throws while Josh Murphy proved, in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough, that they can be deadly on the counter-attack, too.
The capital club can now secure a Play-Off berth by merely avoiding defeat against Hull, or courtesy of Swansea failing to win at Reading.