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The Championship Play-offs; Four Teams, One Place in the Premier League

Those who are not the most avid football fans would quite reasonably assume the Premier League or Champions League to be the most lucrative prize in club football. But no. Instead, it's the £165 million Championship Playoff Final.


Four teams, having finished between 3rd and 6th in England's second tier, go hammer and tongs at each other in a bid to earn passage to the promised land; the Premier League.



This year, the prize is a familiar one to the four clubs, as all four have not only been promoted to the Premier League before, but have all competed in the play-offs. There is however a slight advantage for one of the four clubs.


Leeds United, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion have all competed in the play-offs before. But Norwich City have not only competed in the post-season tournament, but they've won it.


The Canaries won the trophy back in 2015, beating Middlesbrough 2 - 0 at Wembley to earn promotion to the Premier League having finished third in the Championship.


But third place is not the guarantee for Leeds United that it was at the start of the Premier League era; only nine of the past twenty teams to finish 3rd in the Championship have gone on to secure promotion to the top flight.


So which of these four sides is the favourite to return to the biggest league in world football?


Norwich vs Leeds (6th vs 3rd)

1st leg: Carrow Road, Sunday 12th May

2nd leg: Elland Road, Thursday 16th May


There's a strong case to back either side in this tie. Leeds will seem the obvious favourites having finished 17 points ahead of Norwich, but play-offs are not Leeds United's game. The Whites have never won promotion through a play-off; this is a record which stretches all the way back to 1987.


In five previous attempts, at all three levels of the EFL, Leeds have made the final three times, but lost all three, most recently being humbled 3 - 0 by Watford in 2006. Leeds' last play-off campaign ended in an even more heartbreaking defeat, blowing a 1 - 0 first leg lead to lose 4 - 3 on aggregate to Derby County in 2019.


It's entirely foreseeable that Leeds face similar struggles again, given their poor end to the season; the Whites blew their chance at automatic promotion with four defeats in their last six Championship games, including losses to relegation-threatened QPR and Blackburn.


Norwich City are not the ideal opponent for a team with a play-off record as poor as Leeds. The Yellows ended a four year streak of finishing top of the Championship and bottom of the Premier League last year with a disappointing Championship campaign; they have not made the same mistake again.



Despite a poor start, David Wagner has steered Norwich into the play-offs for the first time since 2015. Whilst Leeds have an atrocious record in these games, the Canaries beat Middlesbrough 2 - 0 in the final when they were last at this stage, and previously reached the final in 2002.


There is another twist however; Leeds United have won their last four games against Norwich; two were in the Premier League, but the other two were under former Norwich manager Daniel Farke in this season's Championship.


This is a tie that beautifully epitomises the unpredictability and chaos of the Championship play-offs. Fans from either side could easily see a handful of reasons their side should be favourites while neutrals can sit back and watch what should be one of the best, most ferocious Championship Play-off semi finals for years.



West Brom vs Southampton (5th vs 4th)

1st leg: The Hawthorns, Sunday 12th May

2nd leg: St. Mary's Stadium, Friday 17th May


Like the other Play-off semi-final, this tie features two teams who were quite a way apart in terms of points. Also like the other semi-final, the higher seeded team, Southampton, struggled at the end of the season. The difference here is that West Brom didn't end the season well either.


It's strange to say it, but this is a Play-off tie between two teams completely out of form. Both sides had three defeats in their final four matches of the season before winning on the final day of the regular season.


Momentum is vital in these Play-offs, as proven by the fact that less than half of the third place clubs have been promoted since 2004; often these sides have narrowly missed out on automatic promotion and can't get themselves fired up again for the Play-offs.


Southampton do have a key advantage though; they haven't lost to any of their potential Play-off opponents this season.


In six games against Leeds, West Brom and Norwich this season, the Saints picked up 14 out of 18 points. Russell Martin's side achieved a league double over both the Whites and the Baggies, drawing 1 - 1 and 4 - 4 with Norwich.


Of course these head to head records don't decide anything before the tie, but at the very least it offsets Southampton's comparative lack of Play-off experience to West Brom.


Much like Leeds, West Brom don't have too many good memories of the Play-offs. Most recently they were beaten on penalties by rivals Aston Villa.


Aston Villa are a good example of just how good these Play-offs can be. Having beaten Derby 2 - 1 at Wembley in 2019, the Villains, having used the huge winnings effectively, are just one win away from securing Champions League football five years after their promotion to the Premier League.


That's not to suggest that any of these four teams are playing for a place in Europe in a few years, but it's certainly possible. At the same time, plenty of teams are promoted and come straight back down, as is the danger for all three clubs promoted to the Premier League last season.


Which of these clubs earns promotion to the top flight is genuinely a lottery. Daniel Farke is probably the most experienced manager out of the lot but his Leeds side face a Norwich side who have been there and done it in the Play-offs. The Canaries are also the only team on decent form having lost only two of their last ten.


Leeds and Southampton were so far ahead of West Brom and Norwich in the regular season that it would be seen as a huge disappointment for either club not to reach the final at Wembley. Really it'll be hard to swallow not to go all the way to the Premier League.


But the path to Wembley is far from straightforward. Norwich are an altogether chaotic team and that always makes for a tough game, while West Brom had a superior defensive record to Southampton, conceding 16 less goals in the Championship season.


A combination of Leeds' poor end to the season and Southampton's win at Elland Road on the final day of the season have put Southampton as slight odds favourites, but Norwich City are our dark horse pick to become the first sixth place side to win promotion to the Premier League since Blackpool in 2009/2010.

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