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Championship play-off preview: Who will claim football’s richest prize?

With one game left of the 2020-2021 Championship season, there are scores to be settled up and down the table. However, there will be no last-day play-off-chasing drama as all four teams have already confirmed their places.

Brentford, Swansea, Bournemouth, and Barnsley will be the teams to battle it out for the final place in the Premier League for next season.

Each team has endured a long, hard season in the Championship and have one final league game before all concentration turns to the journey to Wembley.

Tom Cairney of Fulham lifts the trophy as the team celebrates victory after the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final match between Brentford and Fulham at Wembley Stadium on August 04, 2020. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Will Brentford finally break their playoff curse?

Will Swansea or Bournemouth secure a Premier League return after short absences?

Or will the remarkable underdog story see Barnsley promoted?

Let’s look at each play-off team and preview the exciting play-off picture starting on May 17th.


(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

League position: 3rd

Points: 84

Record: 22 – 15 – 7

Manager: Thomas Frank

The Bees are on course for back-to-back third-place finishes in the Championship. Arguably the most consistent side in the league over the last two years, Frank’s men will be looking to go one better than last year. The heartbreaking play-off final loss to Fulham last May will still be fresh in the minds of many. It is now time for Brentford to use that agony to help them make sure it doesn’t reoccur this year.

Last year’s loss in the final ultimately led to the departure of Ollie Watkins & Said Benrahma to Aston Villa & West Ham respectively. This led many to believe the Bees would be less competitive this year after losing so many goal contributions. However, the signing of Ivan Toney from Peterborough has eradicated that argument entirely. The English striker has 30 goals and 10 assists in the league this season and currently leads the chase for the golden boot. The success of Toney has further added to the impressive reputation of Brentford’s recruitment team and business model. The club made £50m from selling their two stars, and just £5m was spent bringing in Toney.

The West London club will certainly be amongst the favourites to win the play-off tournament, especially with Toney leading the line. They have the biggest point to prove and with the new stadium also now open, there is a lot riding on the team reaching the top tier.

With the current standings, Brentford would face 6th place Barnsley in the semi-finals. Both sides have one win against each other this season, but on paper, the Bees would be confident of reaching the final against the underdog side.

Prediction: Brentford to reach Wembley again.

Swansea City

(Photo by Nur Photo via Getty Images)

League position: 4th

Points: 80

Record: 23 – 11 – 11

Manager: Steve Cooper

The Welsh side have had an up and down season but also find themselves in the play-off places for the second season in a row. Similar to Brentford, the Swans will have the pain of defeat fresh in their minds. A semi-final loss at the hands of the Bees led to another long season in the Championship. They will be looking to go one better and reach the Wembley final under the helm of exciting coach Steve Cooper.

The Swans have spent the last few years rebuilding their side entirely after Premier League relegation in 2018. After losing Graham Potter to Brighton in 2019, the board again opted to appoint a young English coach in Steve Cooper. The club was clearly trying to incorporate youth and they have now built an extremely exciting young squad. Veterans like Andre Ayew provide balance in the squad and the Ghanaian’s 16 league goals this season have been a huge help.

The signing of Jamal Lowe has also proved to be a success with the winger contributing 14 league goals in this first season. Swansea are particularly impressive defending the goal, mainly down to the impressive performances from England U21 internationals Marc Guehi & Freddie Woodman. Guehi’s loan move from Chelsea has been instrumental, with Woodman having just won the golden glove with 20 clean sheets. Where the team may lack goals it certainly makes up for it with solid defending.

The current standings would set up a semi-final clash between Swansea and Bournemouth. Remarkably, Swansea have not beaten Bournemouth in a league game since 2007, but every fan knows the record books go out the window in a play-off tournament.

Prediction: Will fall short in the semi-finals again

AFC Bournemouth

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

League position: 5th

Points: 77

Record: 22 – 11 – 12

Manager: Jonathan Woodgate

The Cherries find themselves in 5th place and looking to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. The COVID hit 2019-2020 season ended with Bournemouth’s relegation to the Championship after five seasons in the top flight. The key to Bournemouth’s success this year was keeping a lot of the core squad together. The loss of long-term boss Eddie Howe led to an adjustment period and now under Jonathan Woodgate, the South coast side seems to be heading in the right direction.

The relegation of last summer led to four key players leaving the club. Nathan Ake, Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson and then Joshua King all left for Premier League sides. Despite that, the rest of the relegated squad was kept together they have been able to rebuild a promotion challenging side from those who remained. The departures left Dominic Solanke with an opportunity to cement himself as Bournemouth’s main man. 15 goals and 11 assists this season have certainly helped carry the load.

The emergence of Arnaut Danjuma has been a revelation and is another example of departures providing opportunities for players. The Dutch winger was coming off the bench last season and has since transitioned into the first-team picture. 15 goals and 7 assists in the league this season has made Danjuma one of the first names on the team sheet. His fine form in recent weeks could be vital in any hopes of play-off success.

The current standings would set up a semi-final clash between Swansea and Bournemouth. The aforementioned head-to-head stats will make Bournemouth many people’s favourite going into the two legs

Prediction: Will outscore their semi-final opponents to reach Wembley.


(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

League position: 6th

Points: 77

Record: 23 – 8 – 14

Manager: Valérien Ismaël

The story of Barnsley’s season is nothing short of incredible. A side that escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth last season now sits just three games from the Premier League. The Tykes have become one of the most consistent and tough teams to beat in the entire division. Since February they have won 14 out of 18 league games. The form is promotion-worthy and far from the wildest dreams of fans going into this season.

After seven managerial failures in the last three years, it seems the board finally found the man for the job. Frenchman Valérien Ismaël has changed the outlook of the club completely. The most impressive part is the squad is very much unchanged from the side almost relegated. On top of that, any additions were minimal and the entire current squad is valued at £23m. This is one of the true underdog stories which makes the Championship so special. The cliche is true that in this league, anyone can beat anyone on their day. Barnsley will be taking this mentality into the playoffs. Although many would’ve already written them off, the players and fans will thrive off of that and use it to their advantage.

Goalscoring is still an issue with ex-Fulham forward Cauley Woodrow leading the way with 13 league goals. The Yorkshire side rely on the whole squad chipping in for goal contributions. This is something that may work in their favour or be the downfall of the season. In terms of form this calendar year, there are few better than the Tykes, and who is to say they cant cause an upset.

With the current standings, Barnsley would face 3rd place Brentford in the semi-finals. Again both sides have one win against each other this season. The Bees will play the prettier football, but never rule out an underdog.

Prediction: The fairytale season will end at the semi-final stage.

May 17th is the date for the diaries as the chaos that is the Championship play-offs gets underway.

Whatever the outcome, fans are guaranteed a rollercoaster ride filled with drama, heartache, and elation.

Only one side will prevail in the bid to reach the Premier League with the £150m+ prize money waiting for whoever comes out on top.

The Bees, Swans, Cherries and Tykes will all be hoping it is them lifting that famous trophy on May 29th.

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