Jake Osgathorpe uses data to assess the Championship promotion race
Jake Osgathorpe uses data to assess the Championship promotion race

Sky Bet Championship: Who will get promoted and who will make the play-offs

The Sky Bet Championship season is in full flow, and now we have a decent sample size to work from, Jake Osgathorpe looks at the data trends of the league's promotion chasers.

With two slots available for a smooth passage to the Premier League, the competition at the top of the Championship table is always fierce.

This season, it is even more so given the dominance of Fulham, with the Cottagers looking a class above the rest and looking set to win the title, leaving one other automatic promotion spot.

Fulham at unprecedented levels

Marco Silva’s side have been rampant, scoring 73 goals in 27 league games, producing some incredibly clinical finishing. Their monstrous goal tally has come from chances equating to 58.2 expected goals for (xGF), seeing them overperform by almost 15 goals.

Usually, this would be a red flag of unsustainable finishing, but the fact they are overperforming and boasting the league’s best attacking process at 2.16 xGF per game means it shouldn't get in their way of securing promotion back to the top flight.

For context, they are generating on average 0.34 xGF per game more than next best West Brom, highlighting the gulf between them and the rest.

They also possess the league’s best defence, allowing just 0.92 expected goals against (xGA) per game.

Championship - Best team per season by xGD/game

Fulham on are on track to be statistically the best team Infogol has seen in the Championship since it started collecting data in 2014.

Their expected goal difference (xGD) of per game +1.24 means they are, on average, around a goal and a quarter better than their opponents on a week-to-week basis.


Rovers need to improve to make top two

Blackburn currently occupy second spot in the Championship table having played a game more than most of their rivals, but Tony Mowbray’s side are in a false position.

Based on expected points per game (xP/game), Rovers rank as only the 11th-best team this season.

This metric is as good as any when looking at team performances, as it takes into account their chances of winning each game based on the quality and quantity of chances (expected goals) created and conceded.

The fact that Blackburn so far down this table suggests they may have been afforded the rub of the green in plenty of close contests.

Unless they improve their underlying numbers, it is unlikely they will continue to pick up points at a rate that would see them finish in the top two.

Their xGD per game of +0.13 demonstrates that they have been, on average, only slightly better than their opponents, and that level of dominance isn’t usually enough to see a team promoted automatically.

Based on the data we have, the average xGD per game of a team to finish in the top two of the Championship is +0.60.

xGD/game of CH top 2 since 14/15

The lowest we have seen is Burnley in 2015/16, who averaged +0.27 xGD per game, with 13 of the 14 teams in the sample averaging +0.40 or better.

R's and Terriers in danger of falling away

This will likely be the same reason why both QPR and Huddersfield fall away in the race for automatic promotion – and possibly even the play-off chase.

At the very least, Blackburn are posting a positive xGD per game, showing that on average they are out-creating their opponents – QPR and Huddersfield aren’t even doing that.

The R’s should sit 13th based on xP/game, with an xGD/game of +0.0 which tells us that, on average, they concede chances equating to the same value as those they create.

Huddersfield sit 12th on xP/game, but hold a marginally negative xGD per game of -0.03.

Since 2014, only four of 42 teams to finish in the top six at the end of the Championship season have held an xGD per game average of +0.0 or worse.

If either QPR or Huddersfield are to make the play-offs, they will either need a lot of luck, or an improvement in their underlying process.

xGD/game of top six since 14/15

It can be done with luck. Reading 16/17 (-0.35 xGD per game), Derby 18/19 (+0.0), Swansea 19/20 (-0.03) and Cardiff 19/20 (-0.07) have managed to sneak into the play-offs with processes way below the standard required – though none have gone on to win promotion.

Boro, Forest and Blades right in the mix

In terms of the finishing in the top six, Bournemouth and West Brom have performed at the levels we would expect to see from a top-six side.

Despite recent wobbles from the pair in terms of results, their underlying numbers have remained consistent, with the Cherries running at +0.59 xGD/game and the Baggies at +0.82.

current xGD per game in CH

Valerian Ismael’s West Brom side are currently on a bad run of form, winning one of their last six, but they have won the xG battle in four of those contests.

Despite their solid process over the course of the campaign, their season could be defined by the next five games, as they face four play-off chasing rivals.

Bournemouth have a nice six-point cushion to the chasing pack, also holding a game in hand on many teams in the division as well has having what appears a kinder upcoming schedule than some of their rivals.

Of the chasing pack, the team most likely to climb into the play-off places is Middlesbrough.

Chris Wilder has been in charge since November 7, overseeing 10 Championship matches. While that isn’t a great sample size, the improvement has been undeniable.

Since Wilder’s arrival, only Fulham (2.14) have collected more xP/game than Boro (1.91), while only Fulham (+1.48) and West Brom (+0.95) can boast a better xGD/game than Boro (+0.84). Only the current league leaders have been better in attack than the Teesiders.

Warnock v Wilder

Boro weren’t a bad side before Wilder took over, occupying a false position in 14th, but he has improved them markedly.

If they continue performing to the same level as they have so far under Wilder, Boro will more than likely finish in the play-offs.

Nottingham Forest also come into the same category, with a change in manager completely turning their season, and xG process, around.

Steve Cooper was brought in with Forest second bottom of the table, ahead of only Derby (who had 21 points deducted), but since his arrival, only Fulham have collected more points than the Tricky Trees.

Their xG process has improved by +0.75 xG per game, with their current xGD/game figure of +0.33 under Cooper ranking them as the sixth-best in the league since his appointment.

Forest ranks under Cooper

That bodes very well for Forest, who really do look to be heading in the right direction, and possibly towards a top-six finish.

The joker in the pack, an unknown entity with bags of potential that could come out of nowhere and sneak into the play-offs, is Sheffield United.

The Blades were very slow starters under Slavisa Jokanovic, but there was no question that they had quality within their squad.

Paul Heckingbottom is now the manager, and since taking over at the end of November his side have played only six Championship matches due to postponements.

SHU under Heckingbottom

They rank fourth for both xP/game (1.75) and xGD/game (+0.69) since Heckingbottom arrived, operating at the level required to finish in the play-offs.

Six games is an incredibly small sample to work with in order to try and predict future results, but what we have seen from them in that time is promising.

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Luton and Coventry ones to watch

Luton have been unfortunate with results to date, sitting fifth based on xP/game and xGD/game (+0.42).

The Hatters are six points off the top six with two games in hand, and if they were to continue performing in the same manner as they have been, a play-off berth would be a real possibility.

Their consistency whether at home or away could prove key.

Nathan Jones’s side rank as the sixth-best home team in the Championship based on xP/game, and the fourth-best away team according to the same metric.

xP per game in CH

Coventry are a place above Luton and are also rightly in the mix for a top-six spot, ranking seventh on xP/game and xGD/game (+0.26).

They too have shown consistency at home and away, so don’t expect the Sky Blues to fade from the challenge facing them.

All in all, the Championship - arguably the most competitive league in the world - is perfectly set up once again for a thrilling finish.

The data would suggest that at least 11 teams have a realistic chance of securing a top-six berth, and it will be fascinating to see how things play out, both on the pitch and in the spreadsheets.

Bournemouth are this weekend's Saturday Seven Nap
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