Gaming Editor Kyle Moffat analyses where the West Midlands football clubs stand as they enter the rescheduled season’s final stretch
Several West Midlands football clubs still have much to play for in the closing stages of the 2019/20 Premier League and Championship seasons following football’s restart. Aston Villa are battling to remain in the Premier League, while Wolves and West Bromwich Albion will be aiming to finish their fantastic seasons in style. Finishing on a high note for all three clubs will be crucial for their plans going forward.
Wolves are undoubtedly the best West Midlands club currently, sitting in sixth in the Premier League. Despite a lack of squad depth, key players have remained fit and perform to a consistently high standard in England’s top division.
Raul Jiménez is perhaps the most well-rounded striker in the country, with 15 goals and six assists to his name in the league alone. Meanwhile, Adama Traore is in the form of his career; his blistering pace and strength allowing him to get past defenders and earn regular free kicks, whilst also contributing in front of goal, with four goals and nine assists so far this season. Other players such as Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio, and Matt Doherty have also been superb, rarely putting a foot wrong for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
Regarding Champions League qualification, Wolves will have to put up a strong fight. Six games remain in their campaign, including fixtures against the likes of Arsenal at home and Chelsea away. They will need around 13 points if they are to contend with the teams above them, particularly Manchester United who currently sit a place higher than them in what is likely to be the final Champions League spot, due to Manchester City’s ban from the competition.
United’s fixture list benefits them in the race for the top four (or five) but one poor result can certainly make the difference at this stage. If Wolves continue their fantastic form, they are unbeaten since the restart and are yet to concede, Champions League qualification could be on the horizon. If unsuccessful in securing fifth place, Wolves must look forward to the last-16 of the Europa League, as winning that would serve as an alternative route into Europe’s top club competition.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa will have plenty to play for, but unlike Wolves it will not be for glory, merely for Premier League survival. Villa have had a torrid time this season, winning just 27 points from 32 games, though injuries to Wesley and Tom Heaton have not helped. To stay up this season, they will be looking to hit the 34-point mark as a minimum, especially with things being so tight at the bottom of the table.
However, earning eight points in the matches they have left may prove too difficult a challenge. Upcoming trips to Liverpool and Everton, on top of a home match against the red-hot Man United, does not help to raise hopes, and their final day contest with relegation rivals West Ham will be crucial. Led by skipper Jack Grealish, Villa must turn up to every remaining game with confidence and composure if they hope to secure another season of top-flight football.
In the Championship, Birmingham are winless since football returned and have fallen to 17th, only six points clear of the drop. However, with just six games left to play and a large number of teams between themselves and the bottom three, Blues should stay well clear of relegation, barring a spectacular collapse.
It is at the other end of the table that is most intriguing from a West Midlands perspective. West Bromwich Albion have been in poor form since the Championship resumed, but fortunately they had already created a gap between themselves and third-place Brentford. Despite losing to the London outfit last week, the Baggies still have a five-point cushion in the final automatic promotion spot.
With just six games remaining, West Brom do not need to be perfect to secure promotion. However, they do require better performances than in their most recent matches. Fixtures against the likes of Hull and QPR will be prime opportunities for Slaven Bilic’s men to earn the necessary points. However, considering Brentford’s recent form, Albion may need to come away with the three points in home games against Fulham and Derby to maintain the gap.
In terms of capturing the title, West Brom fans may feel like the opportunity is starting to slip away, with Leeds sitting a point above them and with a good run of games ahead. All of Leeds’ last three home fixtures come against bottom seven opposition, while the West Midlands side play just two of these teams.
Expect West Brom to return to the top-flight, but it may not be as convincing as Baggies fans would have hoped for. Nevertheless, second place, and automatic promotion, would be just fine for Albion.
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