Championship promotion race: will Leeds or West Brom be caught?

As the festive period draws nearer, we assess the state of play at the top of the Championship.

Leeds United

Why they will go up:

They are certainly due promotion, having been in the mix for much of the last three seasons and reaching the Play-Offs last year.

There is a lot of creativity in that side and in Patrick Bamford, they have a striker with plenty of confidence.

Why they might not:

The pressure.

The sheer size and prestige of Leeds United often means that there is a certain level of expectation; in the past, that may have contributed to late declines at the business end of their campaigns.

Verdict:

Champions – a 10/13 football bet for top spot.

West Bromwich Albion

Why they will go up:

Their work in possession is more cohesive this year.

While Albion scored 87 goals last season, it was largely down to moments of individual quality from various players.

This year, they have the same individual quality and in Romaine Sawyers, they finally have somebody to knit all their play together to exert greater control on games.

Why they might not:

The defence.

Kyle Bartley has not been a good defender at this level since his Leeds days while the athletic but erratic Semi Ajayi is arguably better as a holding midfielder.

The Baggies have kept just five clean sheets – the same number as strugglers Middlesbrough.

Verdict:

Automatic promotion.

Fulham

Why they will go up:

Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The super Serb has scored 15 goals through his sheer force and quality in the opposition penalty area which means, even in games in which Fulham are not better than their opponents between the boxes, they are often the more clinical and that can prove decisive.

Why they might not:

Fulham are yet to identify a long-term replacement for Kevin McDonald, which has seen Scott Parker field Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen – who both like to play off the leash – in deep roles, which can lead to a lack of protection.

Verdict:

Too much individual quality to miss out on the top six, but not enough cohesion to challenge Leeds or West Brom.

Nottingham Forest

Why they will go up:

Forest have conceded more than one goal on just three occasions this season and Joe Worrall has been excellent at centre-back, in front of top stopper Brice Samba.

The Reds pose a threat down the wings and in Lewis Grabban, they possess a strong front-man at this level.

Why they might not:

When Sabri Lamouchi’s side cannot dominate via the flanks, they are sometimes left short of a touch of creativity in central areas, especially when Tiago Silva is off his game.

Struggled to generate high-quality shooting opportunities in the 1-0 home loss to Cardiff.

Verdict:

Could make the top six for the first time since 2011.

Bristol City

Why they will go up:

Adaptability.

Bristol City have shown top six potential for much of Lee Johnson’s reign, but their poor runs of form have come when they struggled to introduce a more combative side to their game.

In the last two seasons, the Robins have improved their work without the ball and demonstrated the capacity to go direct when required, which keeps their opponents guessing.

Why they might not:

City average 1.19 Expected Goals For per game (xGF) and 1.20 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 49.95%, giving them only the 13th-best shot data in the Championship.

Verdict:

They have not finished in the top six at this level since 2007-08, so a Play-Off finish would mark a good season.

Preston North End

Why they will go up:

North End have been on an upward curve for the last half-decade thanks to excellent recruitment and top coaching from Alex Neil, who has tactically evolved the team.

They possess a strong centre-back in Ben Davies when fit, the Championship’s best ball-winner in Ben Pearson, as well as a direct runner on the right in Tom Barkhuizen.

Why they might not:

Short of a reliable goalkeeper, a left-back to provide width and a complete striker. Those are key areas they are short in when every player is fit, so when they have injuries – as we saw in Monday’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom – and when Pearson is suspended, they could really struggle.

Verdict:

May just fall short of the top six, but this could be their strongest challenge since promotion from League One in 2014-15.

Brentford

Why they will go up:

The recent 7-0 thrashing of Luton – the biggest Championship win in over five years – was a huge statement of intent.

The attacking movement of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbuemo and Ollie Watkins is an obvious threat and Josh Da Silva has gone up another level lately too, while Pontus Jansson’s arrival means the Bees are no longer being dominated in their own penalty area.

Why they might not:

Automatic promotion would be a stretch, with a 10-point gap to 2nd-placed Leeds.

Verdict:

Strong performance data suggests the Bees can elevate themselves into the top six.