Blackpool v Watford
After a run of three defeats in four winless games, Blackpool’s league position looks an uncomfortable one. The Tangerines sit 21st ahead of this weekend, just two points above 22nd place West Bromwich Albion and the start of the relegation zone. Such is the congestion in the bottom half of the table however, that a win at Bloomfield Road for Blackpool could see them climb as high as 16th. Just four of Blackpool’s 12 points have come at home though, an opening day 1-0 win over Reading and a dramatic 3-3 draw with Bristol City.
There were plenty of frustrations as Watford reverted to type at the end of September. Head coach Rob Edwards, recruited in the summer as part of promising change and sustainability for managers, was dismissed after just 11 matches. His immediate replacement, Slaven Bilić, does not have previous experience with Championship promotion though. A late, midweek defeat to Swansea City was frustrating, but Bilić’s first Watford game, away at Stoke City last Sunday, saw the Hornets run out 4-0 winners with Ismaïla Sarr, Ken Sema, Keinan Davis and Vakoun Bayo all on the scoresheet.
There is undoubted firepower in this Watford side, with the Hornets scoring two or more goals in four of their last seven league matches, and failing to find the net in just one of those games. Up against a Blackpool side sat just outside the relegation zone, Slaven Bilić will be keen for a repeat of his team’s last trip away from Vicarage Road. Watford are a serious problem when able to break at speed.
Blackburn Rovers v Rotherham United
Blackburn were very poor at Cardiff on Tuesday and yet almost escaped with a draw. However, George Hirst missed his last minute penalty, and, what’s more, despite looking absolutely crestfallen after the miss and walking around with his shirt over his head there were very few signs of on-pitch consolation from either teammates or management. This may well have happened behind closed doors, surely it did, but it does set some question marks.
Rovers continued their recent WLWL trend and here they are back at Ewood Park where their record is better. However, even at home their xG supremacy across their six matches there is only 0.05xG per 90, in other words, the value of chances created is about equal for Rovers and their opponents. In more cases than not, they have managed to convert more chances than their opponents but an average of 0.83xG per 90 means that they aren’t bashing the door down even at home.
Rotherham’s away record is abysmal. This is the main reason that despite being low on Rovers, it is difficult to oppose them against The Millers. Rotherham have lost all but one of their xG battles on the road and average a paltry 0.38xG per match in doing so. Matt Taylor will have had a little more time with his squad in preparation for this match and his Exeter City sides were always much more expansive, but he will still be circumspect in making widespread changes to the game model after only a few training sessions.
When looking at both teams across the last four Championship fixtures they are both averaging under 2xG total per game. So whilst neither attack is firing, both defences are at least organised. It seems likely to me that Jon Dahl Tomasson switches his team back to a 3-4-3 formation for this match for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are able to construct their possession better in this formation with Scott Wharton back on the left of the back 3, Cardiff pressed them too easily with Ayala in that role. Also, Rotherham will probably play with two forwards and this will allow Blackburn a spare man defensively.
This will also potentially slow the game down a bit and allow Rotherham to play in a low block to make it difficult for Rovers to take the lead in the game. Either way, unless there is an early goal, this match looks destined for low goal threat and the likelihood is, in my opinion, one of the teams will fail to trouble the scorers.
West Brom v Luton
Time is surely running out for Steve Bruce at The Hawthorns. I do believe that The Baggies are in something of an unfortunate position given their performances. WBA are still sitting there at or near the top in whatever performance metric you might like to use to gauge how well a team is playing. However, of course, football isn’t decided on that, it’s decided on which team scores the most goals in 90 minutes and Bruce has seen his men do this only once in the league this season.
Therefore, to get an almost even money quote about them not being able to win again here seems something of a gift. Even more when one considers that the opponents in question are Luton Town. The Hatters are one of the teams that you can usually rely on to know what they have to do and to put in a performance that demonstrates that fact.
Elijah Adebayo finally looks to be back to last season’s form and the midfield is ticking along very nicely. Some would’ve watched their home match at the weekend against Huddersfield and wondered how they didn’t manage to get the win. Luton generated far more and better quality chances than Huddersfield, apart from the penalty, and yet Huddersfield had three shots in total for a piece of the 3-3 scoreline and the spoils.
If Luton are able to continue their recent top six form in terms of both results and performance levels then the bookmakers’ quotes are surely too generous. West Brom are continuing to be a top forward player short of a decent side but Luton are not going to give them an inch to play the type of football that they will need to to breach the Hatters defence.
Swansea v Sunderland
There’s been a change at Swansea. I feared a lot for The Swans at the beginning of the season and, indeed, I picked against them on a few occasions in this column. However, there has been a clear change of emphasis from Russell Martin and his side.
Last term Swansea were very possession dominant and began the 22/23 season in similar fashion. Whilst it is still important for them to play the ball well it is no longer a necessity in their style and, indeed, the results and performances have improved alongside this change. Swans are in the top six in xG supremacy at home, expected points over the last four games and winning xG battles, 7 out of their 11 matches they have generated more xG than their opponents.
That translates to four out of six home games as well and in recent home fixtures against Hull (2.19xG vs 0.28xG) and QPR (2.3 vs 0.45) the differences have been stark. With Martin being able to call upon a re-focused Michael Obafemi again now, the resources that Swansea have to use going forward look better again. Olivier Ntcham has been rejuvenated of late as well so to play them in conjunction with Joel Piroe who knits things together so well at the top of the pitch the signs are positive for goals in the team.
Meanwhile, Tony Mowbray is still trying to solve a problem of having no fit senior centre forwards. This worked very well in the match in which it occurred vs Reading, but consecutive 0-0 draws at home really does illustrate the difficulty of playing in The Championship without a recognised forward player. On the plus side, the resilience of the Black Cats defence has also been on show.
With Swansea generally getting enough chances in their matches, especially their home matches, to get at least one goal that could be enough for them to have a really good chance to take the three points.
Millwall v Middlesbrough
This is a clash of two of the least entertaining sides in the division on recent form. Millwall’s last four matches have averaged 1.7xG but Boro’s have been down at 1.54xG per match.
Millwall began the season in an uncharacteristically generous mood defensively. That has been curbed somewhat of late with four out of the last six matches seeing The Lions keep their opponents under 1xG. However, the reduction in chances created against them hasn’t seemed to have been reflected yet in the actual goals conceded. The data suggests that this should turn at some stage.
And why not against Middlesborough? The Boro are under the temporary control of Leo Percovich, a very popular figure at the club from the days of Aitor Karanka. Percovich was initially brought in as a goalkeeper coach so has done well to rise through the ranks to be in this position and his temporary reign got off to the best start with a 1-0 win.
However, it has been something of a theme of Middlesbrough’s season that they have found it difficult to finish their chances and take teams down. None of Boro’s forwards are in form or look confident. Rodrigo Muniz, Marcus Forss, and Matthew Hoppe, all of whom brought in by the club in the summer, have really failed to hit the ground running and it is left to forgotten man Chuba Akpom to come in from the cold and lead the line. Akpom has actually done that well when he has been available though but Millwall away is possibly the least likely game for a big targetman to be successful.
With both sides highly likely to be taking to the field in 3 at the back formations it could easily become one of those games that both find it difficult to dominate the other and without dominant forwards on the pitch I expect there to be a shortage of goals available.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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