Brentford (3rd) – 7/4
- Championship top scorers with 79 goals
- Top of the league form guide over the last eight games (18 points)
- The second-best second half record in the division, with champions Norwich in first. Also, 59.49% of their goals scored came in the second half.
- The Bees has earned the highest points in the league after conceding the first goal of the game (W6, D5, L5)
- Only runners-up Watford netted more goals in the first 15 minutes of games.
- Brentford have recorded the joint-highest number of goals in the 75th minute and beyond.
- Games involving Thomas Frank’s side finished the season with the joint-most number of games seeing both teams score, alongside Bournemouth and QPR.
- Third-strongest xG (1.53), only behind Norwich and Blackburn. Third-best xGA (1.14), only behind Barnsley and Middlesbrough.
- Second-fewest number of yellow-cards in the Championship.
Top 6 record: W4, D4, L2
Fun fact: Brentford hold the record for reaching the most play-off finals without winning (9).
Star player: Ivan Toney – After netting 31 Championship goals in the regular season, Toney broke the Sky Bet Championship goalscoring record last set by then Brighton striker Glenn Murray in 2004. Five of his last eight goals came when opening the scoring (Toney to score first goal in the first leg, 23/5 Unibet).
Swansea City (4th) – 9/2
- Third-best defensive record in the Championship.
- Ranked only behind Watford and Stoke for highest amount of league clean sheets.
- Only Blackburn and Norwich have netted a goal in each halve of the game more than Swansea.
- Steve Cooper’s team were drawing at half time in 50% of their league contests, a number only bettered by Coventry and QPR.
- Swansea possess the third-strongest second half record in the division.
- Achieved the best points per game figure when scoring the first goal of the game (W20, D1, L1).
- Only positioned 15th in the Championship based upon their xG (1.3)
- Just under 70% of their league clashes featured under 2.5 goals.
Top 6 record: W4, D3, L3
Fun fact: Swansea have been promoted in one of their previous five play-off appearances; beating Brentford in the semi-final and Barnsley in the final in 2006.
Star player: Andre Ayew – The 31-year-old has netted 45 goals for the club in 138 appearances, whilst four of the most recent six of those he netted from the penalty spot. (Ayew to score a penalty in first leg, 7/1 Bet365).
Barnsley (5th) – 7/2
- The best xGA record in the league (1.08).
- The worst defensive record out of all four play-off teams.
- Unbeaten in league action when leading at half-time (W12, D4).
- Failed to score in 78.57% of their league defeats this season.
- Scored the joint-second most number of goals from set pieces in the Championship.
- Conceded the third-highest amount of goals from set pieces in the Championship.
- Ranked fourth in the league based upon number of attempts on goal.
- Best in the league for number of ball recoveries in opponents half, 101 more than Rotherham in second!
Top 6 record: W3, D1, L6
Fun fact: Barnsley achieved the joint-highest play-off semi-final away victory when beating winning 4-0 at Birmingham City in 2000.
Star player: Daryl Dike – The striker, on loan from MLS side Orlando City, has scored seven of his nine goals since joining the Tykes in the second half of games. Also, all seven games he has scored in saw Barnsley win the game. (Barnsley to win first leg and Dike to score anytime, 10/3, Bet365).
Bournemouth (6th) – 3/1
- Positioned 5th based upon their xG (1.46).
- Third-highest scorers in the Championship.
- Just over 40% of league goals scored did so after the 60th
- Lost only one of 24 Championship encounters after scoring the first goal (W18, D5, L1).
- Ranked joint-first in the league for number of games seeing both teams score.
- Only second to Norwich in terms of average ball possession.
- Just three more teams have lost the ball inside their own half more than Bournemouth.
- Second-fewest number of crosses produced in the league.
Top 6 record: W5, D2, L3
Fun fact: This is Bournemouth’s first play-off appearance in exactly ten years, when they lost to Huddersfield Town on penalties, after also finishing the regulation season in 6th place.
Star player: Arnaud Danjuma – The former Club Brugge winger has netted 15 Championship goals this season across 14 games. 12 of those would see Bournemouth emerge with three points, one draw and a solitary defeat which came against Barnsley. (Bournemouth to win first leg and Danjuma to score anytime, 11/2 Bet365).
I’ve probably changed my mind quite a bit over the last few weeks since it become obvious which four teams would be positioned in the play-offs. I did initial write off Barnsley’s prospects as I just felt it may be one bridge too far and they lack experience in these type of occasions. However, I actually fancy them to get past Swansea over two legs, although it’ll likely be tight.
Bournemouth have fallen off a cliff over their last three games and have looked a shadow of what they looked prior to that. This is clearly a concern, but we can’t doubt their undoubted talent on paper and surely they’ll improve on recent showings. They say form means nothing going into the play-offs, and to a degree I agree with that, but it is tough to ignore.
Brentford at least have the experience of what happened last season under their belts, and Thomas Frank will be looking to use that to their advantage. They’ve done exceptionally well to get to this point considering they lost some key players from last season, but I think they’re a stronger all-round team this time around.
The bookies tend to agree as they’re favourites to win the play-offs outright. They did the double over Bournemouth in the season and head into this having won four in a row. Everything looks good for them, but their price is not so appealing.
Swansea also reached the play-offs last season and Steve Cooper has made no secret of the fact that they’re done incredibly well to get to this stage again considering how much they’ve spent. That is true, but the Swansea we saw in the first half of the season compared to that in the second just looks too vast to me.
My worry about Swansea is that keeping a clean sheet is clearly such a big part of their game plan, so often they would go 1-0 up and invite pressure in the second half of the season, and it cost them. We can’t rule them out completely, and they do have the second leg at home, but I think the match-up with Barnsley may not necessarily suit them.
Brentford head into the play-offs in the best shape, but the club do seem have a bit of a curse in this end of season lottery. Bournemouth have the best attacking unit in the league when they click, but they haven’t done in recent times. Swansea do have the game management to be a success and they can win ugly, but you just want a bit more out of them sometimes.
Barnsley is the team which interests me the most. I do think it is a bit of a now or never kind of moment for them, and stranger things have happened. This is the play-offs, anything can happen.