The Championship has long been seen as one of the most difficult divisions to escape, with unprecedented riches awaiting any successful team in the Premier League.
It’s a grueling 46-game schedule padded with domestic cup duties, only made more competitive by the brand of football coming up through League One each season as well as three teams from the top flight.
This season, anyone could look down as far as mid-table to find an eventual league champion if the selected team goes on a good run of games.
As we pass through the first set of fixtures of November, however, West Bromwich Albion moved to the top of the pile once more with a win over Stoke City to the tune of 2-0, with Preston North End, Leeds United, and Swansea City all being within one win of leapfrogging the Baggies.
The residents of the Hawthorns are flying high, scoring for fun, and picking up points. As it stands, however, they aren’t the favorites to hold their place at the summit by the time their 46th Championship game has heard its final whistle; but maybe they should be.
Baggies ready to boing back up
Through the first 15 games of the season, West Brom lost only one game, 1-0 to Leeds at Elland Road, with Slaven Bilic’s system looking to take hold. With 28 goals for, there’s no denying the team’s unrelenting attacking power.
The club’s recognized central strikers, Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore, aren’t commonly among the scorers – as you’d expect from the big center-forward Zohore, but not notorious Championship scorer Austin – but they have enough firepower in Matt Phillips, Matheus Pereira, Hal Robson-Kanu, and Grady Diangana to more than compensate.
Known over the last few seasons as somewhat of a negative and lethargic team, quite possibly the most influential change coming into this campaign has been Romaine Sawyers. Picked up from Brentford for £2.88 million ($3.71 million), the St. Kitts & Nevis international has been a revelation in the middle of the park with his powerful runs on the ball and forward passes as though played with foresight.
However, only getting their first league clean sheet in their ninth matchup, with just two coming over the following six games, has hampered their chances of taking the crown. In the Championship betting, West Brom trail Leeds with odds of +250 to +110, respectively, which is primarily down to WBA conceding 17 goals to Leeds’ only allowing eight through the first 15 games.
A need to solidify at the back
The West Brom squad is teeming with talent, particularly going forward, but the defensive frailties are there for all to see. That said, it shouldn’t have been expected for the team to gel all over the pitch so quickly given how many are new to the team.
Diangana, Pereira, Zohre, Austin, Sawyers, Filip Krovinovic, Semi Ajayi, and Darnell Furlong are all new, as is manager Bilic, with Kyle Edwards and Nathan Ferguson having their first prolonged experiences in the first team.
Building a strong defense takes time, and as the regular average age of the starting back four is 24 years old (Furlong, Bartley, Ajayi, Ferguson) with three of them being new to the club, there was always going to be an adjustment period.
The quartet simply lacks a bit of rehearsal and experience, with Bilic’s preference for passing out from the back perhaps making things a little bit more difficult at times. It has been noted several times, such as against Charlton Athletic earlier this season, that Kyle Bartley has been very consistent, which is helping the defense get through the teething pains.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Leeds currently has the upper hand thanks to their defensive structure. However, if it starts to click for the West Brom backline, as the team becomes more and more familiar with Bilic’s tactics, they could quickly move ahead of the West Yorkshire club in the forecasts.