This is the Opta Warm-Up, where ahead of every weekend we’ll give you all the need-to-know information and key EFL stats across the Championship, League One and League Two.

Edition 4: 2 November 2023

Hoop Dreams

With Queens Park Rangers struggling near the foot of the Championship table, the London club’s board were finally forced to act following yet another defeat last weekend, sacking Gareth Ainsworth as manager.

Following his arrival from Wycombe in February 2023, QPR won just 19 points from his 27 Championship matches in charge – the lowest of all 18 ever-present clubs across both 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons.

He’s been replaced by Spanish coach Martí Cifuentes, who left his role at Swedish side Hammarby IF to take the job in west London.

Since the start of last season at Hammarby, Cifuentes won 98 points in 58 league matches, which was the fifth best tally in the Allsvenskan across that period. Hammarby were one of the most possession-based sides in the Swedish top-flight, averaging 447 successful passes per game and a possession figure of 55.6%, both of which were the third highest. That is some departure from Ainsworth’s style at QPR, where his side were one of only four clubs to average under 40% possession (39.6%) and averaged just 208 completed passes per match.

Swedish Allsvenskan Playing Styles 2023
Championship Playing Styles QPR

Luckily for QPR, this weekend will see them face the only team to average a lower share of possession than them in in Championship games this season – Rotherham (34.7%). The Millers have had the fewest 10+ open-play passing sequences in the competition this term (20), with QPR registering the fourth fewest with 54.

Cifuentes has a job on his hands to help QPR recover from their second-worst start ever to a league campaign, with their eight points from 14 games being below only that of their dismal Premier League season in 2012-13 when they won five points and ended up bottom on the way to relegation.

Electric Youth

Sunderland exceeded all expectations last season by reaching the Championship play-offs, just a year after winning promotion via that same route from League One.

In 2022-23 they had the youngest average starting XI age in the second tier at 24 years and 165 days old. Had they won promotion in the play-offs last season, they would’ve been the youngest team to do so from the Championship since Wolves in 2008-09 (24y, 110d).

They are continuing that trend of being the youngest side in the Championship this season, and it’s producing results, too.

Youngest Teams in the Championship

As it stands, their side is even younger than last season, with an average starting XI age of just 23 years and 33 days – over a year younger than Leeds United (24y, 79d). They are eighth in the table, but only three points off Leeds in third.

Seventeen different players have started a league game for Sunderland this season, and only five of those have been over 23 years old. Two teenagers have started for them (Jobe Bellingham and Luís Semedo), while Abdoullah Ba, Mason Burstow, Dennis Cirkin, Trai Hume, Pierre Ekwah and Daniel Neil are all 21 or younger.

At the other end of the spectrum, only two Championship teams have had an average starting lineup age of over 28 years old this season. West Brom are the oldest at 28 years and 319 days, followed by bottom-of-the-league Sheffield Wednesday (28y, 135d).

Giantkillers at the Ready

Arguably the best weekend of the year for non-league clubs is the first round of the FA Cup. Across the 40 round-one ties, 32 non-league clubs will attempt to edge closer to the dream of drawing a Premier League side in the third round, while League One and Two teams will hope to navigate their way past potential banana skins.

We’re guaranteed at least seven non-league sides in round two this season, with 14 clubs from outside the EFL paired in the first round, while two teams from outside the top five tiers will make it past this stage with National North side Alfreton Town hosting National South’s Worthing, and Southern Premier South outfit and Taskmaster-sponsored Chesham United hosting National South team Maidstone United.

FA Cup Non League Clubs

Last season saw 11 of the 32 non-league clubs progress to round two, while three of those – Boreham Wood, Chesterfield and Wrexham – made it to the third round. Wrexham progressed past eventual Championship play-off final losers Coventry City before losing to Sheffield United in a fourth-round replay at Bramall Lane.

Wrexham’s exploits were nothing on Lincoln City in 2016-17, however, with the fifth-tier side making it to the quarter-finals after beating Premier League club Burnley in the fifth round, eventually being knocked out away to Arsenal. They were the first non-league team to make it to the FA Cup quarter-finals since 1914.

The lowest-ranked sides to remain in the FA Cup this season are eighth-tier clubs Sheppey United, Cray Valley Paper Mills and Ramsgate, who, astonishingly, all play in the same competition: the Isthmian League South East.

No eighth-tier side made it through to round one last season, while AFC Sudbury were the only team to do so in 2021-22 – they lost 4-0 at home to Colchester United. 2020-21 saw two teams from the eighth level of the English football pyramid progress past round one, with Canvey Island and Marine making it though, with Marine landing a dream tie at home to Tottenham Hotspur in the third round, losing 5-0 after previously overcoming both Colchester and Havant & Waterlooville in earlier rounds.

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