Who are the main pretenders to come back to the Premier League?
The English Football League Championship, which is the second-tier football competition in England, coming behind the top-tier Premier League, will see the second legs of its promotion playoff semifinals being played on Wednesday and Thursday. In the first semi-final, Brentford will take on Swansea City while in the second one, Fulham will play hosts to Cardiff City. In the first leg of the first semifinal, Swansea City had prevailed over their opponents by a slender 1–0 margin after the visitors were hit by left-back Rico Henry being sent off. The goal for the Welshmen was scored by Andre Ayew, set up by Jay Fulton. Although he had missed a penalty earlier, Ayew made amends by driving home a left-footed strike.
In the first leg of the second semifinal, played at the Cardiff City Stadium, the visitors Fulham edged out their rivals by a 2–0 scoreline. Joshua Onobah and Neeskens Kebano were on target for the side from London and they will take heart from their strong performance in Wales when they host Neil Harris’s side at Craven Cottage on Thursday. They will be helped by the fact that they now have two away goals under their belt and this will give them a lot of peace of mind. There is going to be a tough battle between the sides when they meet again, and one can assure the fans, spectators, pundits, experts and aficionados who will be tuning in from the comfort of their homes that the football on offer is going to be exhilarating.
BRENTFORD VS SWANSEA CITY: THE HOSTS APPEAR STRONGER
In the second leg of the first semifinal, Brentford, who will be without the services of Henry, will be at a slightly more disadvantaged position than their opponents because of the goal they conceded away from home. However, it is only a slender margin and one that can be bridged effortlessly. All they need to do is pull up their socks and try to look Swansea City in the eye. In the league, Brentford had finished third with 81 points to their name while Swansea City had ended in the sixth position with 70 points in their bag. However, it has to be noted that out of the six games recorded between the two sides so far, Swansea City have been victorious on four occasions while Brentford have only won two games, the last of which came in the Championship in December 2019.
Brentford will rely heavily on the services of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins to provide them with some attacking inspiration, who have scored 57 goals between them this season. That is a phenomenal effort by Brentford’s attackers, and manager Thomas Frank will undoubtedly be looking up to them on Wednesday when they host Swansea City at Griffin Park. For their opponents, Andre Ayew, Connor Gallagher and Rhian Brewster are some of the key players.
Ayew is the top goal-scorer for the Swans with 15 strikes to his name, and Brewster, who is on loan from Premier League winners Liverpool, has scored ten times this season and is second on that list. Matt Grimes and Connor Roberts are also a couple of players manager Steve Cooper knows he can rely on for strong performances from time to time. Although Swansea City put up a brave performance at home against Brentford in the first leg of the playoff semifinal, we do not see them repeating the performance on Wednesday.
Brentford have been fantastic this season and we expect them to find a way out of this rut and get back to where they belong. We can expect them to beat the Welshmen and book a spot in the playoff final.
FULHAM vs CARDIFF CITY: SCOTT PARKER’S SIDE LOOK MUCH BETTER PLACED
In the second leg of the second semifinal, Fulham will take on Cardiff City at Craven Cottage in what we fear is going to be a lopsided contest. As the hosts finished above their opponents in the league table (Fulham were fourth with 81 points while Cardiff City were fifth with 75), we do not see the table turning on Thursday. Cardiff City have been quite good this season but overturning a two-goal deficit, that too away from home, is going to be quite a tough ask for Neil Harris’ side. It is strange to note that their leading goalscorer is attacking midfielder Lee Tomlin with just eight strikes to his name. Nathaniel Mendez Laing, Robert Glatzel and Joe Ralls have all contributed in their own small ways, but the lack of attacking prowess in the side from Wales is worrisome.
If Cardiff City fail to get on the scoresheet on Thursday, and they must, at least twice to make a match of it, then it is going to be a walk in the park for Fulham.
Managed by the astute Scott Parker, Fulham will look to do everything within their power to come back to the Premier League a year after they had been relegated. Cardiff, too, will be looking to spend the least amount of time in the Championship but sadly, the odds are heavily loaded in Fulham’s favour for this one. Leading their lines is Serbian centre-forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is also the leading goalscorer in the competition with 26 hits to the back of the net. It is going to take a lot for Cardiff City to stop the Fulham juggernaut, although Mitrovic also has the likes of Tom Cairney and Ivan Cavaleiro to help him out in times of trouble.
WHO ARE THE MAIN PRETENDERS, THEN?
The race for the third Premier League promotion berth is getting hotter and we are excited to see the teams rally to earn their spots. However, we feel that Brentford and Fulham are two of the most likely contenders to challenge for that one spot. Although the former have been fantastic in the league this season by putting in consistent performances, Scott Parker’s Fulham too have not been half as bad.
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