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Is the gap between the Premier League and Championship widening or shortening?

The top three teams in the Championship at this stage: Leicester City, Southampton and Leeds United are coincidentally the three sides relegated from the Premier League last May. If they were all to get promoted back to the top flight at the first time of asking, it poses the question, is the difference in quality between teams in the first and second divisions increasing?

What has always made the Championship a great league is its volatility. Anyone can beat anyone on any given weekend. It gives 24 teams a chance to reach the big time. But, in recent years, there has been a general trend of the same teams going up and down. Too good for the Championship, but not quite good enough for the Premier League. They are in a no man's land in between. As a fan, it must be hugely frustrating to go from winning almost every game to losing most weeks.

So, the question is, why is this? Is the quality of the Premier League's best teams increasing, therefore creating a gap between the top and the bottom, where it is more difficult for teams near the bottom to compete? Or is the quality of the Championship decreasing, where mid-table sides and clubs coming up from League One are not at the standard they once were? Or could it just be anomalous, in which we are in a stage of transition where some teams have the money to invest in players of a higher standard?

The most suitable explanation appears to be the latter. There is a clear gap between the top teams in the Championship and those lower down in the table from a financial perspective. The outlier this season is West Bromwich Albion, who, under Carlos Corberan, have exceeded expectations. They currently sit in fifth place, after having a very limited budget all season, with stuff going on behind the scenes at the club with regard to ownership and a potential takeover. But, the top three, as previously mentioned, following relegation from the top flight last year, are receiving parachute payments, which aim to sustain the financial stability of clubs who are relegated. As a result, these sides have more money than the rest of the division, which they can then use to recruit better players, creating a deeper squad, which gives them an advantage over the rest. This is one of the reasons, but not the only reason, why Leicester are still on track to beat the record points tally, and Southampton went unbeaten from the end of September until this past Tuesday night.

So then, hypothetically, if Leicester, Southampton and Leeds were the three teams to gain instant promotion back to the Premier League, will they learn from their previous mistakes and stay up, or will they come straight back down again? To look at examples of teams that have cemented themselves in the Premier League after years in the Championship, you can look at the likes of Fulham, Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest, and Wolves. For the most part, these sides have steered well clear of the drop zone, and have remained in the Premier League for a few seasons now. In an incredibly competitive league, this is an outstanding achievement and is a testament to the clubs.

From a neutral viewpoint, it is more exciting when there are more teams in the playoff race and more teams in and around the relegation zone. It creates the opportunity for both heartbreak and jubilation. But if clubs are going into the season knowing that they are good enough to stay up but not good enough to compete against the top teams, then the season will be over by March, and the cycle repeats.

Only time will tell whether this trend will alter or not. Luton are quintessential of a team that have beaten the odds and gained promotion to the Premier League when no one deemed them capable. Will there be another team in the coming years who complete a similar feat, or was this just a one-off?

The Championship remains the most volatile and palpable league in the World. After all, the playoff final is the richest game in football for a reason. So, will the gap in quality between the Premier League and Championship begin to widen, or will things come back together?

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