The English Premier League is often billed as “the best league in the world”, owing to its global reach, star-studded teams, and clubs that have become global brands. However, in terms of competitiveness, unpredictability, and spread of quality between clubs, it’s the English second-tier, the Championship, that takes the cake.
The 2022-23 season has seen no let-up in the traits which make the Championship such an engrossing watch for viewers both casual and diehard, and once the league returns from its four-week break for the World Cup, expect the unexpected in every single game as the 24-team competition thunders towards its conclusion in May.
In a season that has already thrown surprises and curveballs aplenty, 10 of the 24 sides have already seen a change of manager, with the latest to do so, Wigan, yet to point a successor to Leam Richardson. As ever, the vast majority of sides are separate by a meagre number of points, and with every side rested and refreshed ahead of the restart, we could soon see plenty of teams climbing several places at once, and vice versa. This is best shown by the fact that just 11 points separate Watford in fourth, all the way down to second-bottom Blackpool, in 23rd.
It’s a long campaign though, with the 46-game campaign only 21 games old for most of the teams, with Coventry City having only played 19 fixtures so far. 29 Championship players have been picked for their countries in Qatar, the sixth-most of any league across the world, and with the term “fine margins” applicable to this competition more than most, it’s going to be a fascinating second half of a unique season in which everything is still to play for.
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While the first full round of Championship fixtures post-World Cup break will take place from Saturday, December 10 to Monday, December 10, the first fixture back in England’s second-tier will take place on Saturday, December 3 at 12.30 p.m. GMT as Sunderland take on Millwall at the Stadium of Light. This is the only Championship match this entire weekend before all 24 clubs play on the following one, which kicks off with a Lancashire Derby between Blackburn and Preston, kicking off at 12.00 p.m. GMT on Saturday, December 10 at Wood Park.
🇵🇹 @Cristiano doing what he does best! 😍
How many goals will he add to his tally at #Qatar2022?@SelecaoPortugal | #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/UmvWHgO43q
The three sides relegated from last season’s Premier League have wasted no time in mounting a serious challenge to get back to the promised land. Burnley are the best example of this, and currently lead the way in first place, ahead of Sheffield United by three points. Vincent Kompany’s new style of football has been a stark but successful departure from the Sean Dyche years, and he’ll be hoping for more of the same as the Clarets travel to QPR on Sunday, December 11 in their first game after the World Cup.
Sheffield United are chasing hard though, with the Blades, relegated from the top-flight in 2021, beating Burnley 5-2 in their penultimate game before the World Cup break. Paul Heckingbottom has been hired, replaced and re-hired in the space of two seasons, but now has his side playing an exciting brand of football that the remaining core of the Blades’ 2019 promotion side are excelling at. Their first game back is a Yorkshire derby, against bottom side Huddersfield Town.
The surprise package amongst the promotion favourites is certainly Blackburn. Rovers sit third, and have won 12 of their 21 games, the most of any side in the division. They’re also the only side yet to draw a match in this season’s Championship, but have lost nine times, more than 21st-placed West Bromwich at the other end of the table. They face a Lancashire derby against Preston in their first game back, before heading to fellow promotion hopefuls Norwich the following week.
Below Blackburn by one place and three points are relegated Premier League side Watford, who have recovered from a poor start to march into the play-offs under the guidance of the recently hired Slaven Bilic. The Hornets’ return from the World Cup sees them face two sides in the bottom five, as they welcome 20th-placed Hull before travelling to Huddersfield, and they’ll be hoping for two wins to restart their season in the best possible way.
Norwich City have also started strongly in their campaign to win promotion for a third straight season in the Championship. The ultimate yo-yo side, Norwich have been promoted and relegated in each of the last four seasons, and if successful in getting out of the second-tier this season, that’ll make it five on the bounce. They return from the World Cup with a trip to Swansea, before welcoming Blackburn to Carrow Road the following week.
All games on Sky Sports’ Football channel can also be streamed via NOW TV.