EFL WATCH: CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFF PREVIEWS
AFC BOURNEMOUTH VS BRENTFORD
First leg: 17th May – KO 6pm
Second leg: 22nd May – KO 12:30pm
After five straight league wins saw AFC Bournemouth establish themselves as a play-off side, Jonathan Woodgate’s side stumbled to the finish line with three consecutive defeats. One of those losses is to their upcoming opponents, Brentford, as the Bees dominated the Cherries, even after going down to ten men. Bournemouth don’t struggle for the ball but have perhaps struggled in terms of doing things with it. They have had more possession than all three of the opponents they have recently lost to, but they do not even have a goal to show for it. Woodgate must solve this problem if Bournemouth want to join Watford and Norwich in recreating the 19/20 Premier League. He will look to the experience of Jack Wilshere and Asmir Begovic, as well as the likes of David Brooks and Arnaut Danjuma to help guide them back to the top division.
Brentford come into this game in great form, currently on a 12 game unbeaten run having overcome their run of draws early into the run. Thomas Frank has done a great job at Brentford this season, but will be disappointed to not get automatics, although the Bees have plenty to put right in the play-offs, having fell at the final hurdle last year against Fulham. The form of Ivan Toney has been nothing short of exceptional, and all eyes will be on the striker to see if he can deliver the promotion he has earned this season. While Toney deserves a lot of plaudits, Brentford being the best attacking side in the league is not just down to him, and the likes of Sergi Canos and Bryan Mbuemo should also get credit for their part in Frank’s fantastic attack. They aren’t half bad at the back either, only conceding six in their last 12, and if they can continue that form, a place at Wembley will be awaiting them.
While Brentford are certainly the favourites for this tie, you cannot count anyone out in the play-offs, and a lot of pressure will be on both managers in this tie. Can Woodgate adjust his tactics to make this side successful? Can Frank deliver the promotion Brentford have been craving for years? All to be answered in this exciting two legged affair.
BARNSLEY VS SWANSEA CITY
First leg: 17th May – KO 8:15pm
Second leg: 22nd May – KO 5:30pm
When Gerhard Struber left Barnsley in October 2020 to take over at the New York Red Bulls, many expected Barnsley to face a similar relegation battle to what they faced in the season previous. Barnsley acted quick to replace their outgoing manager, bringing in Valerian Ismael, who had previously been at LASK. It is safe to say this forced change has worked brilliantly for the Tykes, as they find themselves comfortably in the play-offs, and with the opportunity to earn one of the most unexpected promotions in Championship history. The recruitment policy at Barnsley in recent years has helped them into this position, with the likes of Michal Helik and the inspired January signing of Daryl Dike being just a few examples. You also cannot forget the consistent performances of Cauley Woodrow and Alex Mowatt, who have been just as important in helping them get to the play-offs, as they were in getting Barnsley into the Championship in the first place. There end of season form has been hit and miss, but Ismael’s side remain capable of beating any team in the league, and the lack of pressure may help.
After a great start, Swansea have fell away as of late. That being said, they still remain one of the top sides in the division with a squad capable of achieving promotion to the Premier League. With only three wins in their last 12, Steve Cooper will need to get his team back on track to beat Barnsley. The inconsistency has been a real downturn in the season for Swansea, with the level of performance seemingly changing each game, and not always for the best. Cooper does deserve credit for the team he has built however, with the strongest defence out of all four play-off teams, Swansea can be a tough team to break down, and with the likes of Jamal Lowe, Andre Ayew and Conor Hourihane, they are also dangerous in attacking areas. Although it is cliché, all form goes out of the window for the play-offs, and Swansea are more than good enough to beat any team in the Championship in a two-legged tie.
Both sides have ended the season in inconsistent form, and while Swansea hold a 4-0 aggregate lead in the head-to-head from this season, there is no clear favourite. Whatever happens, it is set to be an exciting two games between two sides who could start the 21/22 season in the Premier League.