Last night, Lionel Messi broke his duck against Chelsea to rescue a draw for Barcelona. With a precious away goal, Barcelona will surely qualify for the next round.
But enough about that. I want to talk about the Championship this morning.
I’ll confess, I don’t always follow lower division football in England. It’s like a whole new world to me that so different to so-called elite football. Football at the top is consistent – the best players and the best teams stay the same, usually. At Football League level, the landscape is so volatile, which makes it both exciting but difficult to acclimatise to.
It’s nuts to me that Hull City, who were in the Premier League last season, are 21st and battling relegation to League One. Last night they lost 3-1 to Middlesbrough, who have adapted to relegation this season far better. They, along with the likes of Birmingham, Sunderland, Norwich, Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Bolton, who I still associate with the Premier League, are struggling in the bottom half of the table. These are sizeable clubs who were sampling the big time not too long ago but are now mediocre.
It really highlights the extreme effect luck can have a team. All it takes is for one fortunate season for a team to receive the bountiful prize of Premier League football, even if that team isn’t good enough to play at that level. Similarly, all it takes is for one unlucky season for a team to find themselves in League One. The stakes are so high on either side, and clubs aren’t totally in control of their own destiny.
11 points separate second from tenth with 14 games remaining. This is the point in the season where a great run of form could see a team shoot from mid-table to the play-offs or beyond. Who’s going to be fortunate enough to go on such a run? It’s a really compelling question to think about.
Wolves are obviously going to return to the Premier League. Cardiff and Aston Villa are well-placed in second and third, but on a personal level, I’d rather neither came back up. I always love seeing new teams come into the Premier League, so would fully back Bristol City, who were so enjoyable to watch in the Carabao Cup this season, or Preston or Brentford.
On that note, the big game today is Bristol City vs Fulham. Fulham have been in sparkling form, and have a reputation for playing very attractive football. City have stumbled a bit after their cup heroics. They’ve one win in their last six. Defeat tonight could spark the dreaded downward spiral. A win, though, might see that dramatic turnaround in fortune. Who knows? I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it amid the Champions League madness.
Manchester United travel to Sevilla where it’s a nice 24 degrees centigrade at the moment. It’s hot in the city, and it’s bound to be even hotter in the stadium. The Sanchez Pizjuan is one of the best stadiums in Europe for its atmosphere and can be a tough place to play for visiting teams. They’ve lost just once there all season and as Liverpool discovered, a hostile environment can have funny effects on teams.
Nonetheless, I expect United will cope with it and come away with a good result. Beyond all the noise is a Sevilla side that aren’t that strong at the back and can give up cheap goals. They don’t have a great deal of pace back there, either, so United should relish any counter attacks they get. I suspect they’ll get a positive result, in the end.