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EPL news 2021, Championship promotion race, table, fixtures, results, state of play, playoffs, latest

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It’s dubbed the richest race in football.

The Championship as a division is an odd one. It’s the Premier League’s recycle bin, full of discarded teams the top tier has no need for anymore, each climbing on top of each other to get out and back into the big time.

Some bounce straight back, like Fulham and West Brom, who have been tossed away for a season only to return immediately. Others don’t, like Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest and Derby County, who are more like an ordinary stick when compared to their Premier League-seeking, boomeranging rivals.

This season, the Championship has two clubs at the top riding that boomerang back to the wealth and riches of the Premier League.

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Premier League Matchday 31 wrap up | 01:52

Norwich City are the runaway leaders at the top and look set to become only the sixth break 100 points in a Championship season. They’ve won 27 of their 41 games so far, boasting the second best attack and the second best defence in the league.

They’re eight points clear of second-placed Norwich and 15 clear of third-placed Swansea, who have a game in hand knowing that anything less than a win will secure the Canaries’ return to the Premier League. In fact, by the time Norwich next play, in a game which only 12 months ago was a Premier League fixture against Bournemouth, they could already be up.

Watford behind them don’t quite have Norwich’s Thanos-level inevitability yet, but still look a very safe bet to return automatically after a huge swing over the last five games between themselves and chasing Brentford.

The Bees, who just missed out in the play-off final last year, were just two points behind their Vespidae family members Watford five games ago on 67 points. But while the Hornets picked up 13 points over that period, Brentford were stung with just seven to all but condemn them to the play-offs.

Neither Watford nor Norwich saw any of their top players pillaged from them upon their relegation, with both managing to keep the majority of their Premier League squads together to come straight back up.

Watford even managed to restrict themselves to just the one managerial sacking this time around, having terminated three head coaches in the previous season.

Brentford, on the other hand, were the classic case of a well-oiled machine malfunctioning at the final moment last season and seeing all of their key cogs bought from them, as the likes of Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma moved to Aston Villa and West Ham respectively.

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The Bees’ Moneyball-esque recruitment combined with their manager’s “no d***head” policy got them incredibly close last year and they’ll be favourites to go up via the play-off route again this time around.

However, just two points behind them is a team even more Moneyball than them, on account of one of their owners being the guy who made it famous at the Oakland Athletics in baseball and was portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie.

Billy Beane is part of the international consortium who took over Barnsley when they were relegated to League One two seasons ago and implemented a recruitment strategy based on statistics, efficiency and youth to see them promoted back to the Championship, survive relegation last year and mount a play-off challenge this time.

Barnsley can mathematically still claim automatic promotion, as unlikely as it is, and have a five-point buffer from those still hoping to steal a late place in the top six, with just five games remaining.

This time of the season is all about form and there is always one team who surrenders their seemingly-cemented play-off position to latest of the party gatecrashers.

The team that looked like they’d have that fate this year is Swansea, who up until the weekend had lost four games on the spin to go from level on points with Watford to 10 points behind them. They narrowed it to seven with a victory overnight and while their players will be craning their necks to look up the table at what could have been, perhaps they should be aware of what is happening below them.

West Brom make it two wins in a row | 01:33

Bournemouth are currently the team with the most momentum and have got into the top six with that gatecrashing intention we mentioned earlier.

The Cherries, who struggled at the start of the season to come to terms to life without long-term manager Eddie Howe, are on a run of five consecutive wins to overhaul seventh-placed Reading.

After a strong start to the season, Reading are paying the price for some poor form which has seen them pick up just one win in the last five games.

It is unlikely anyone else will get involved in the conversation from here on in, with Cardiff and Milwall 12 and 13 points off the playoffs now, although crazier things have happened, right Nottingham Forest fans?

Sorry, too soon.

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