Set the Championship mixer to frappe this weekend
Background: Pommes104, CC BY-SA 3.0
This season’s Championship deserves to be remembered as the most competitive ever, no matter who eventually wins the title. The top six places that offer direct and playoff promotion to the Premier League change hands faster than a baby with an unchanged diaper. Last season's relegated Premier League teams were expected to dominate the race but have struggled. Only West Brom harbour any hope to return to the top flight at the first asking. Swansea and Stoke sit 13th and 17th respectively.
The Baggies are fourth but can just as easily drop out of the top six as consolidate a playoff position. That is how tight the Championship is this term. This weekend, This weekend, the pressure rises. Four of the current six sides face off with three points the only guarantee their position will remain safe. Norwich host Bristol City at Carrow Road. West Brom host Sheffield United at the Hawthorns. Meanwhile, Leeds and Middlesbrough could exploit the head-to-head matches when they face bottom-half sides.
Norwich City v Bristol City
Victory consolidates the Canaries' hold on the top spot. Defeat is not an option for Bristol City. A Robins' loss gives Derby County the opportunity to move back into the playoff places with a win over Nottingham Forest on Monday evening.
Bristol is a resurgent side riding excellent form. The Robins won all their league games in 2019 and picked up their only defeat against Premier League club Wolves in the FA Cup. This is the form manager Lee Johnson wants to see from his team during the season's business end. This is the kind of form he needs to face the top team in the division. It's the kind of form that will keep their Premier League hopes burning brightly.
Daniel Farke's Norwich will be tested at home. They should be up to the challenge after responding to a shock 3-1 defeat at Deepdale against Preston North End with a resounding 4-0 triumph away to Bolton.
This match will tell us a lot about where both teams are.
West Brom v Sheffield United
Going into the weekend, three points separate the top four clubs. This clash can lift Darren Moore's Albion into the direct promotion places and drop Chris Wilder's Blades into the playoff mix. On the other hand, a draw could lift Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds past both. The Peacocks face floundering Bolton.
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough host 18th-place Queens Park Rangers. A draw or a West Brom defeat can add Tony Pulis' Teessiders to the mix.
West Brom's form is mixed. They lost to Blackburn on New Year's Day. Since then, they've picked up four Championship wins, two draws and another defeat, this time in a more testing affair against Boro on 2 February. After losing on the first day of the first month and the second of the second, Darren Moore can be thankful his squad is idle on 3 March.
The Blades will test Albion. Chris Wilder's side is on song in the New Year with five wins, two draws and a single, shock defeat to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. United outscored opponents 16-6 over that stretch with five of the conceded goals coming in ribald affairs against Aston Villa and Norwich. Simple math tells you Wilder's side isn't only scoring, they're keeping clean sheets in the majority of their matches.
Even at home, West Brom has it all to do to produce a result against Sheffield United.
With the EFL Cup final between Manchester City and Chelsea and a North West Derby clash at Old Trafford on the Sunday slate, the Championship is the competition to watch today. Whether you pick Norwich v Bristol City or West Brom v Sheffield United, you can't go wrong.