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The most competitive league in the World?

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Is the EFL Championship the most competitive league in the World?

 

The Most Competitive League in the World?

In short, YES! However, looking at other articles about this, the general consensus is that the Premier League is the one to watch.

This article will take a different approach. It will argue that the Championship is far more competitive than the Premier League, and every other league in the world.

The main reason this argument is not more widely supported is the higher viewing figures for the Premier League. The Championship therefore does not get the exposure it deserves owing to a lack of prime time TV coverage and less marketing and promotion.

The Premier League has stars such as Harry Kane on show.

The glamorous teams with their “galacticos” and multi-millionaire tales dominate the headlines. For the genuine football fan, the cut and thrust of 90 minutes of Championship football is much more attractive.

Watching committed and determined footballers literally playing for their professional lives makes the Championship unbeatable in this regard!

 

The higher the stakes, the harder the fight

Because the Premier League is the top division in English football, it is where every club wants to be. As a result, the battle to get there creates a hugely competitive league. Every team in the Championship shares the same aim of reaching the Premier League.

Globally considered to be the top league in football, the Premier League represents ‘the promised land’ to many a club. Part of the ‘promise’ is the immense financial benefits for anyone who manages to secure a place.

Every year, 24 teams compete in the Championship knowing that only three can earn a Premier League place next season. This means that the stakes are high for the entire season.

In the 2019/20 season it was shown how tight the Championship can be. With three games of the season remaining, not a single team was guaranteed to be playing in the same league next season. All 24 teams could still gain promotion or relegation.

The race for automatic promotion

The race to finish in the top two is constantly changing. No team feels secure in an automatic promotion place until it is mathematically confirmed.

Leeds United falter last season

In the 2018/19 season Leeds United had been in the automatic promotion places for 79% of the season with only four games remaining. They ended up finishing 3rd, behind Norwich City and Sheffield United. They then went on to lose in spectacular fashion in the play-off semi-finals to Derby County.

Elland Road saw Derby County overturn a 2-0 deficit on aggregate in the play-off semi-final.

A team that was tipped for promotion throughout the season fell right at the last hurdle. In another league they may have escaped and still managed to secure the promotion. Just one loss with three games to go gave Sheffield United their chance to beat Leeds to the prize.

Fortunately for Leeds United fans they were able to secure their automatic promotion spot this season and earn a place in the top tier after a 16 year absence.

 

Brentford the unlucky stutterers this year

In comparison, in the 19/20 season Brentford were in 3rd place with two games remaining. West Bromwich Albion failed to secure results, meaning that Brentford could have gained automatic promotion with a single win from either of these games.

These two games were against Stoke City and Barnsley, who were both in the bottom six of the league at the time. Beforehand, Brentford had won eight league games in a row and were top scorers in the league. It was a complete shock for them to lose both games and to fall short of the automatic promotion places.

Bristol City’s crippling capitulation

Another example of just how brutal the Championship season can be is Bristol City’s 2017/18 season. At Christmas they were 2nd, looking certain to finish in the top six and with strong hopes of automatic promotion.

After losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers, the eventual champions, the true stature of the Championship was shown as they endured a spectacular slide to finish the season in 11th.

The Premier League’s equivalent

The Championship does not have a ‘title race’ so to speak, as teams value finishing 2nd just as much as finishing 1st because either position results in the prize of Premier League football.

The race for the title and the top four in the Premier League is why many consider it the most competitive league in the world.

The race for automatic promotion, on the other hand, is just the tip of the iceberg in the Championship. Drama takes place up and down the league for the duration of the season.

Race for the playoffs

The four teams that finish between 3rd and 6th in the Championship earn the right to compete in the play-offs for the last available promotion spot.

This spot is determined in the play-off final at Wembley. It is the most lucrative match in world football, worth approximately £170 million.

The play-offs are effectively a knockout tournament which only adds to the pressure on those fortunate enough to have qualified.

The most colossal of falls

Every season the race for the playoffs takes cruel and unlikely turns, for example in the 19/20 season Nottingham Forest missed out on the playoffs on the last day of the season to Swansea City.

Nottingham Forest were almost certain to go through with a play-off spot after occupying a play-off spot for over 200 days.

Instead, they lost by three goals and Swansea won by three in their final game. This mean that Swansea overtook them after an incredible six goal swing.

This is a perfect example of how nothing can be taken for granted in the EFL Championship. There are very few leagues in the world that even come close to the Championship’s competitive atmosphere. Even then, there are none which match the Championship across the whole league.

An epic rise

Another example of the unpredictable nature of the race for the playoffs is Aston Villa’s 18/19 season. That year, they were the eventual winners of the playoffs and now hold a valuable place in the Premier League.

After 35 games of the season Villa had won just ten games and stood 11th in the Championship table. After that, they went on a ten game winning run at the perfect time. Villa ended up finishing 5th before beating West Brom and Derby in the playoffs.

There’s no doubt that there are other leagues, such as the Premier League, with a big focus on finishing in the top six or in the top four in other leagues. However, the Championship always has more contenders for the play-off spots, and the table changes almost every week.

Aston Villa gained promotion via the play-offs after missing out the year before.

 

Relegation Battles

Just like with any league, the Championship has its fair share of relegation battles. The 19/20 season had its fair share of drama, after 36 games the bottom four teams were Luton, Barnsley, Middlesbrough and Stoke. Following the eventual resumption of the season after the Covid-19 lockdown, all four sides managed to survive.

They were admittedly assisted by a points deduction for Wigan. Nonetheless, it is still astonishing that teams at the bottom of the table can create such a swing in such a short period of time.

A recurring theme

In recent times, points deductions have been more frequent in the Championship. Wigan Athletic were told that if they finished outside of the relegation places that they would receive a 12-point deduction. This was due to the club entering administration under questionable circumstances.

This majorly mixed up the relegation battle and resulted in Wigan being relegated to League One, with Barnsley staying up.

Points deductions are unfortunate for any club and they only add drama to already fierce battles to stay up. With that in mind, Sheffield Wednesday’s 12-point deduction for next season is already heating up tensions between rivals for relegation.

Other leagues obviously have relegation battles that could even be considered more competitive than the Championship’s own relegation fight. However, the points deductions and drama across the whole league, which involves literally every team, contribute to making the EFL Championship the most competitive league in the world.

It is certainly deserved of more viewers, particularly through better television coverage.

Any team has a chance

In many leagues there are so-called ‘mid-table’ teams; sides who are not considered as title challengers or relegation battlers. In the Championship, that is simply not the case as every team could  go up or down.

In the 2019/20 Championship the eventual champions, Leeds, were the only team to average over two points per game (2.02) and Hull City who finished 24th were the only team to average under one point per game (0.98). Statistics like these further demonstrate how tight the league is, with 22 teams averaging between one and two points per game.

Looking further afield

Whilst we have mainly compared the Championship to the Premier League, it is important we take into account the world’s other leagues.

Juventus have won Serie A for nine years running.

What becomes a common theme is that where there may be a tighter competition for the title in other leagues, there is usually a divide between the real competitors for the top spots and those that are there to fight for relegation.

In comparison, the Championship does not have such a divide. Even the relegated teams from the Premier League often struggling to compete for promotion. In 2018/19 for example, West Brom, Swansea City and Stoke City came 4th, 10th and 16th.

Money cannot buy everything

The teams relegated from the Premier League receive ‘parachute payments’, which provides a much stronger financial situation for them than the rest of the Championship teams. Even with the extra funds it is extremely difficult to gain promotion. Not even money can guarantee promotion from this division.

Not only does the EFL Championship have a strong claim to being the most competitive league in world football, it has one of the most physically draining schedules with teams playing upwards of 50 games per season.

Ultimately, the prize of Premier League football creates a hugely competitive atmosphere across the whole division making any predictions very tough to get right. They are likely to be wrong come the end of May and the conclusion of the season.

The real question which this article has raised is why do so many people not pay attention to the EFL Championship?

 

We hope you enjoyed the article, ‘The most competitive league in the World?’. Which league do you think is the most competitive? Let us know!

 

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