The four-team English Championship playoffs begin Thursday to determine which team will join Leicester City and Burnley in earning promotion to next season's Premier League and the accompanying prize of more than $100 million. Let's get to know the two teams that will be a part England's top flight next season, along with the four teams vying to join them:
Leicester City ran away with the Championship, earning 102 points and automatic promotion to the Premier League. Leicester is back in the top flight for the first time since finishing 18th in the 2003-04 season. The Foxes rebounded after spending one season down in League One in 2008-09. Leicester won 14 games away from home this season, three more than any other side and more than eight other Championship sides won overall.
Burnley returns to the Premier League for the first time since the 2009-10 season, after earning promotion through the playoffs last time. That was the Clarets’ first time in the Premier League (since 1992-93), and it lasted one season when they finished 18th. Burnley allowed 37 goals in 46 matches this season, including 14 in 23 home matches, both of which were the fewest in the Championship.
Derby County looks to return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2007-08 season, which was one of the worst seasons by a club in the Premier League era. Derby won just one match and earned 11 points, each of which are the fewest in Premier League history. Derby had a goal differential of minus-69, and the Rams’ relegation was confirmed by March 29 of that season, the earliest a club has ever been relegated. Things were different in the Championship this season, as Derby scored 84 goals, most in the league. Derby faces Brighton & Hove Albion in the two-legged semifinals beginning Thursday.
Queens Park Rangers is looking to return to the Premier League on the first try after finishing at the bottom of the Premier League last season. QPR had a two-year stint in the top flight after finishing atop the Championship in the 2010-11 season, which was its first appearance since 1995-96. QPR’s first-leg match is on the road; its eight away wins were the fewest among the teams in the playoffs. However, it suffered just two home defeats, tied for fewest in the league. QPR faces Wigan in the two-legged semifinals beginning Friday.
Wigan is also looking to come back to the Premier League on the bounce after finishing 18th last season. It was the first time Wigan had ever been relegated from England’s top division after making its first appearance there in 2005. Wigan also became the first team to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season. The Latics face Queens Park Rangers in the semifinals; Wigan did not score in either match against QPR this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion is seeking its first appearance in the Premier League and its first season in England’s top flight since 1983, after falling short in the semifinals of last season’s playoffs. Brighton made the playoffs thanks to a 92nd-minute winner in its final match of the season, capping off an eight-match unbeaten streak to close the season. Brighton’s 55 goals scored were the fewest among the playoff participants, but its 40 goals allowed were the second fewest in the Championship. Brighton conceded just 19 goals in away matches, fewest in the league.