Leeds United, West Brom Or Aston Villa: We Pick Out The Only Team Of That Trio That Can Bag Championship Promotion This Season
If you weren't following the Championship closely you would have no clue whatsoever that Norwich City are flying high at the top of the second tier table.
Five wins on the spin for the Canaries has catapulted them to the summit, but the rise of Norwich has been brushed under the carpet somewhat with most of the focus in the Championship being aimed at footballing heavyweights Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa.
Leeds are currently the highest in the table of that trio, as they sit in third place, while West Brom are fifth and Villa are 11th in a league that sees nine points difference between the teams in the top-half of the table.
So, with all eyes on that aforementioned triumvirate then it's about time we put all three teams under the microscope and assess if any of the three can gain promotion to the Premier League this season.
Blistering out of the traps at the start of the season, Leeds have just struggled to maintain their high levels of performance under Marcelo Bielsa and only two wins in their last five Championship games has seen them slip off top spot. Significant injuries has plagued Bielsa's squad in the first few months of the season, and that could be a reason for their drop in form, but their crushing 4-1 loss at the hands of West Brom last weekend just highlighted their frailties.
Bielsa prides himself in having a squad that are up for the fight and willing to put everything on the line - as is shown with this sensational clip below of an army of Leeds players defending - but ultimately while they ooze the desire to produce the goods in the second tier, they just lack that element of quality to get you over the line. A play-off place could be secured, but the Whites may just find it tough to earn a return to the Premier League and their current favourite tags is wrongly judged by some bookmakers. Play-off exit awaits.
West Bromwich Albion
After a shaky run of results in late October, early November that saw West Brom fail to pick up a win in four Championship matches, many felt the Baggies' quest for an immediate return to the Premier League was over, but their above-mentioned annihilation of Leeds United at the weekend saw them propel back into contention and a surge should be imminent from Darren Moore's side.
It was never going to be easy to deal with the absence of star striker Dwight Gayle, who missed a couple of games through injury, but the classy attacker returned with an exquisite goal (see below video) against Leeds and if he can remain fit then the Baggies will be a tough act to stop in their tracks. With an abundance of attacking talent (37 goals in 17 matches), West Brom are also set to welcome back defensive midfield rock Gareth Barry to the squad after injury and he will be an integral part of their progression.
With Premier League quality oozing throughout their squad then West Brom could well be the side that pull clear in the New Year, and the Baggies should be boing boinging all their way back to the top-flight. Champions.
Another squad packed with Premier League talent, Aston Villa have somewhat of a tougher job than their West Midlands counterparts to try and bag a Premier League return as they are trying to produce the goods under new manager Dean Smith. Smith has brought a sense of positivity to Villa Park following the exit of Steve Bruce, but the former Brentford boss will take some significant time to get the players playing in his preferred style and it could need the summer for Smith to bring new faces in before he can challenge for promotion.
A dominant 3-0 win over Derby County showed what Villa's squad can do when on form, but consistency has been the issue in the opening third of the season, and while they are sure to outclass a number of sides in the Championship this season, defensively and offensively they will have off-days, which will ultimately culminate with them missing out on a Premier League return.
Likely to start favourites for the title next season Villa need more time to allow Smith to flourish and work his magic, and come 18 months time they could be a squad on the up, but this season could prove beyond them. Finish just outside play-offs.