With the table starting to take shape now we’re a third of the way through the season, we looked at the latest Championship predictions for promotion and relegation.
Before a ball was kicked in anger across the 2023-24 EFL Championship campaign, we analysed 10,000 season simulations via the Opta supercomputer to assess the teams most likely to win promotion, finish in the top six or be relegated to League One. We’re now over a third of the way through 2023-24, so after 192 matches of ‘real data’ was fed into the supercomputer, how do the projections look now?
Back on 31 July, the Opta supercomputer tried to predict the seemingly unpredictable, with the 10,000 pre-season simulations showing that only one of the 24 sides never won automatic promotion, while every single team was relegated at least once. Early season results suggested this Championship season could be one of the most unpredictable yet, with Preston North End leading the league at the first international break and Middlesbrough bottom after five games.
With all teams now 16 matches into 2023-24, we all have a better picture of where each team is at and their chances of success or failure. Here, we run you through the key results of the Opta supercomputer Championship 2023-24 simulations as they stand in mid-November, during the third international break of the season.
Who Will Be Promoted from the Championship?
Leicester City can put the champagne on ice. Well, maybe not, because it’ll melt between now and May, but you know what we mean.
Enzo Maresca’s side have enjoyed an exceptional start to the Championship season, despite losing their final two games before the November international break versus other top-six contenders Leeds United and Middlesbrough. Nevertheless, they still sit top of the table on goal difference with 39 points from a possible 48. Importantly, the gap between them and third-place Leeds is eight points.
Ipswich Town are also on 39 points after an exceptional start to life back in the Championship following their League One promotion in 2022-23. Kieran McKenna – the second youngest coach in the Championship – is making waves as one of the most impressive managers in the English Football League. Much of Ipswich’s potential success in the remaining months of the season hinge on him staying in Suffolk, you feel. Could he be tempted by a Premier League position, should one arise?
The good news for both Leicester and Ipswich is that winning as many as 39 points from your opening 16 games in a Championship season means you’re likely to get promoted – unless you are Watford. Only two of the 23 teams to have won 35 points or more from their first 16 games in a second-tier season since 1989-90 have failed to win promotion – both were the Hornets in 2000-01 and 2007-08. Of the other 21 sides, 19 won automatic promotion and the other two were promoted via the playoffs.
The Opta supercomputer is very strongly predicting Leicester will get a top-two finish to achieve automatic promotion (94.8%), and they ended the season in first place in 79.9% of the 10,000 simulations. Despite being level with them on points, Ipswich only won promotion in 54% of the simulations. That’s partly down to team strength, but some of the difference we’re seeing is due to the underlying performances across the opening 16 games.
Our expected points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in each match based on the expected goals (xG) value of every shot taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss), with each game run through the model 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in every match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose. This is of course not an exact science, as xG data doesn’t include a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots.
According to our expected points model, which essentially distils the underlying numbers into an ‘expected’ league table, Ipswich and Leicester’s nearest rivals in the table, Leeds United, have accrued a points tally that matches that of their performances on the pitch. However, both Leicester (eight points) and Ipswich (nine) have significantly outperformed their expected points totals from their 16 games, based on underlying performances in attack and defence. Has luck been on their side, and will that luck run out? Conversely, Leeds’ actual points tally of 31 is running alongside expectation.
Daniel Farke’s side are the form team in the Championship since the start of October. They have won six of their last seven league games and have averaged the most points (2.57) across this period, while they became just the second team this season to defeat Leicester when they secured a 1-0 win at the King Power Stadium on 3 November. They’d already beaten Ipswich away this season, too. That 4-3 win at Portman Road in August ended the Tractor Boys’ 19-game unbeaten run at home in all competitions.
Of course, these three clubs are the most likely to end the season in the top six of the Championship, but which other sides might want to start planning trips to Wembley in May for the playoffs?
It seems six clubs will battle it out for the final three places in the top six, as it stands. Russell Martin suffered a mixed start as Southampton manager, going unbeaten in his first four games in charge (W3 D1) before hitting a rough patch of four successive defeats. Since then, however, Saints have won six and drawn two of their eight matches and have won more points than any other club over their last eight games (20). While automatic promotion might be a stretch too far (8.8%), a top-six finish feels likely with the fourth-highest chance of such an achievement across all Championship teams (66.8%).
Middlesbrough were our pre-season favourites for the title (19.9%) and automatic promotion (33.4%) from the Championship, but their dreadful start – in which they accumulated just two points in their opening seven games – has reduced those chances to 0.2% and 2.9% respectively. Nonetheless, a run of one defeat in nine league games, including a six-game winning streak, has boosted their chances of a top-six finish; they placed sixth or better in 40.7% of the 10,000 simulations run across this international break. Even when their results weren’t positive, their underlying data was impressive and our expected points table still shows them as one of the biggest underperformers for points (-5.7), behind only Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday (both -10.6).
Sunderland were knocked out of the play-offs by eventual winners Luton Town last season, but Tony Mowbray’s youthful squad are impressing again in 2023-24. Despite having the youngest average starting XI in the competition at 23 years and 24 days old, they went into the November international break sixth. Their chances of finishing in that spot or higher are currently at 53%; West Brom (44.8%), who are also on 26 points but just outside the play-off places on goal difference, are next.
Preston took an early lead at the top of the Championship, but their form nosedived at the end of September, going winless for seven games. Their chances of a top-six finish are now at 32.5%, but this is much higher than their pre-season prediction of 13.9%. Hull City round off the serious contenders for the play-off places as they quietly go about their business, with 26 points from 16 games (level with Sunderland and West Brom). They were last in the Premier League back in 2016-17, but with a 30.4% chance of making at least the play-offs, they might sneak back in for next season.
Who Will Be Relegated from the Championship?
Sheffield Wednesday fans, look away now. Across the latest 10,000 simulations of the final Championship table, Wednesday were relegated 96% of the time.
Making one of the worst starts in second-tier history hasn’t helped. Based on three points for a win, Sheffield Wednesday are one of just 10 clubs to have collected six points or fewer from their opening 16 matches of a second-tier campaign. Just two of those have come in the post-WWII era, with Swansea City in 1983-84 (six points) and Rotherham United in 2004-05 (five points) both ending the season with relegation to the third tier.
Out went Xisco Muñoz after 10 games and just three points won, replaced by 34-year-old coach Danny Röhl for his first managerial job. He took three games to do what his predecessor couldn’t: win a league match in charge of Wednesday. That’s his only win in his five league games, with the German unable to stop the rot as we head into the next chunk of the season.
Another struggling team to have changed their manager are Queens Park Rangers. Direct football aficionado Gareth Ainsworth was sent packing on 28 October with QPR on eight points from 14 games and above only Sheffield Wednesday in the table. Overall, across his tenure at Loftus Road, Ainsworth led QPR to just 19 points in 27 games – the fewest of all ever-present Championship teams in this period.
Martí Cifuentes replaced Ainsworth on 30 October and has since put a halt to a run of six successive league defeats, with back-to-back draws versus Rotherham and Bristol City. QPR need wins, though. With the west London side four points adrift of Huddersfield in that final safe spot (21st), they are currently the second favourites for relegation at 83.3%.
Recent recoveries in the Championship should give them some confidence of turning it around, however. Hull in 2021-22 and Barnsley in 2019-20 both had nine points at this stage of those Championship seasons and avoided relegation.
Rotherham are a point above QPR and have recently sacked their manager, too. Matt Taylor was dismissed after a 5-0 drubbing at Watford before the international break, and things don’t get easier for the Millers when action resumes – they face Leeds United in a Yorkshire derby on MD 17. They finished inside the bottom three in 74.6% of simulations by the Opta supercomputer, with the three sides currently in the relegation zone having much higher chances of staying there than Huddersfield (20.3%) or Plymouth (11.4%) do of being dragged into League One.
How Much Has Changed from Our Pre-Season Predictions?
It’s not all doom and gloom for QPR, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday fans. The Championship is one of the hardest leagues to predict, after all.
There’s been quite a bit of variance between the pre-season predicted points totals for each club and our revised predictions three and a half months later.
Ipswich are the biggest winners. Ahead of the campaign, the Opta supercomputer expected a season of consolidation and a lower-half finish for the promoted side. They averaged 56.6 points across the 10,000 simulations on 1 August, but with 16 games of the 2023-24 season in the database to add to the historical data, that average points tally is now 86.2 across the latest 10,000 simulations via the Opta supercomputer – a jump of 29.6.
Leicester were expected to be in the mix for automatic promotion, but the Opta supercomputer didn’t think they’d start as well as they have. With 39 points already, they are over halfway to their pre-season predicted points tally of 75 – a prediction that has now been adjusted to 96. Leicester are already one of just five second-tier sides to previously reach 100 points in a season with their 102 in 2013-14 (alongside Fulham’s 101 in 2000-01, Reading’s 106 in 2005-06, Newcastle’s 102 in 2009-10 and Burnley’s 101 points last season).
Sheffield Wednesday have had the biggest negative change from August, with their pre-season average simulated points tally of 54.1 now reduced to 33.2, while play-off runners-up Coventry City have struggled too. Performances on the pitch have been strong enough; their expected points total of 26.8 is the sixth highest in the division. But their actual points total of 16 represents the joint-largest underperformance of all 24 Championship teams (10.6) alongside Wednesday.
Mark Robins’ side were the third favourites for automatic promotion pre-season (25.3%), but the Opta supercomputer gives them next to no hope of achieving that now (0.02%). As a result, their average predicted points total for this season has fallen by 15 from August (73.9 to 58.9).
Opta-Simulated Championship Table
After simulating the Championship 2023-24 season 10,000 times, we’re able to average the points total of every club across those simulations and therefore rank teams positionally. Here’s the Opta supercomputer results from those simulations as things stand in mid-November:
1st: Leicester City – 96.4 average points
2nd: Ipswich Town – 86.2
3rd: Leeds United – 81.5
4th: Southampton – 77.0
5th: Sunderland – 73.9
6th: West Bromwich Albion – 72.7
7th: Middlesbrough – 72.1
8th: Preston North End – 70.8
9th: Hull City – 70.2
10th: Cardiff City – 64.7
11th: Blackburn Rovers – 64.6
12th: Stoke City – 63.2
13th: Swansea City – 62.6
14th: Bristol City – 61.4
15th: Watford – 60.7
16th: Millwall – 60.3
17th: Norwich City – 60.3
18th: Coventry City – 58.9
19th: Birmingham City – 54.4
20th: Plymouth Argyle – 51.9
21st: Huddersfield Town – 49.5
22nd: Rotherham United – 40.9
23rd: Queens Park Rangers – 38.8
24th: Sheffield Wednesday – 33.2
How Does the Opta Supercomputer Model Work?
• Opta’s League Prediction model estimates the likelihood of teams finishing in each position in the competition. We can therefore see how successful a team’s season is likely to be, whether it’s their relegation or title chances.
• The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) by using betting market odds and Opta Power Rankings. The odds and rankings are based on historical and recent team performances.
• The model considers the strength of opponents by using these match outcome probabilities and simulates the remaining fixtures in the competition thousands of times. By analysing the outcome of each of these simulations, the model can see how often teams finished in each league position to create our final predictions.