The new Championship fixtures have just dropped. Here’s how difficult each side’s opening schedule is.
There is an entire summer of signing, selling and speculating ahead of us but regardless of what happens off the pitch, nothing will be decided until the season starts again. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Leicester City and Leeds United were sent back down to the Championship on the final day of the season. Sheffield Wednesday are still pinching themselves over their miraculous promotion play-off win over Barnsley. They will be joined by Plymouth Argyle and Ipswich Town, who went the route of automatic promotion, which is always better for blood pressure.
The emotions might still be raw but we already have the fixture list for next season. So, how kind is the opening schedule to your team? Using the Opta Power Rankings, we can answer that question objectively.
As a reminder, these Power Rankings rate a frankly enormous number of teams (19,008 from 391 domestic leagues) across the globe based on a system that scores the current strongest side 100 and the weakest zero.
Those scores are then used to rank the teams in order of strongest to weakest.
Focusing on the Championship, we looked at the average Opta Power Ranking of each team’s opponents to measure fixture difficulty.
These ranged from Leicester City (the 126th ranked team in the world and therefore the hardest to play against in this division) to Queens Park Rangers (ranked 2,189th in the world and therefore the ‘easiest’ team to play against).
Here’s how things shake up.
West Brom finished just three points outside of the Championship play-off spots last season. Their manager, Carlos Corberán, has the toughest task to start the season out of all 24 head coaches in the league. They play Blackburn Rovers, Swansea City, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town in their opening five games.
Sheffield Wednesday won’t have to pinch themselves for much longer because the fixture list will serve as a perfectly adequate wake-up call. They play two of the three recently relegated teams to start the season in Southampton and Leeds United. They also face Hull, Preston North End and Cardiff City. Wednesday parted ways with manager Darren Moore, taking some of the good vibes out of their promotion, and they still haven’t found a replacement. The new boss will get a baptism of fire.
It’s two of the three sides relegated from the Premier League teams who have the easiest starts.
Southampton will want to get right back into things after such a dismal season in the top flight last season. They had spent every season since 2010-11 at the top table and got quite comfortable there, only to be sent tumbling down to the second tier last term. They play Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich City, Plymouth, QPR and Sunderland to in their first five games.
Leeds are another team on the search for a manager after parting ways with Sam Allardyce, whose Houdini-esque ability to escape from tight relegation battles deserted him. They play Cardiff, Birmingham City, West Brom, Ipswich and Wednesday as they launch another promotion offensive.
As mentioned previously, Southampton and Leeds have the two easiest schedules to start the season. Leicester have the fifth-easiest. They play Coventry City first up, before travelling to Huddersfield. They’ll also tussle with Cardiff, Rotherham United and Hull.
Plymouth will be a particularly long away day for visiting fans and it will be Huddersfield’s turn to make the trip first. Plymouth’s start to life in the Championship, the highest they have ever climbed up the football pyramid, is of average difficulty according to our Opta Power Rankings.
Ipswich avoid some of the biggest teams in the league for their opening run of games in the Championship. It’s their first season back in the second tier since being relegated during the 2018-19 season. They haven’t been in the top flight since 2001-02.
It will be a big ask to get back there this season, but their opening slate might get them off to a decent start with games against Sunderland, Stoke, QPR, Leeds and then Cardiff.
Other Notable Teams
Coventry were a penalty shootout away from starting next season in the Premier League. Instead, they will have to gather the troops and go again in the Championship. They don’t have it easy either, with the third-trickiest fixture list to start the season. They have to play Leicester, Middlesbrough and Swansea straight up. It does get a lot easier from there, but that opening run of games will ask a lot of them.