It is the most lucrative competition in world football and for one of Brentford, Swansea City, Bournemouth or Barnsley the promised land of the Premier League awaits. After a gruelling 46 game Championship season the teams who finished between third and sixth are now three matches away from joining Norwich City and Watford in the 2021-22 Premier League.
Here is all you need to know about the EFL Championship playoffs as Brentford advance and Barnsley try to overturn a first leg deficit:
All matches are streaming on ESPN+
Monday May 17
Bournemouth 1, Brentford 0
Barnsley 0, Swansea 1
Saturday May 22
Brentford 3, Bournemouth 1 (3-2 on aggregate)
Swansea 1, Barnsley 1 (2-1 on aggregate)
Saturday May 29
Brentford vs. Swansea (10 a.m. ET)
Brentford: A constant presence in the top half of the Championship since their promotion from League One in 2014, this is the second season in a row where Brentford finished just outside the top two and missed out on an automatic spot in the Premier League, though this season they did not push the top two quite as close.
Thomas Frank's side are masters of reinvigoration, after losing Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins to Premier League clubs last summer they replaced them both internally, Sergi Canos rediscovering his best form after suffering with injuries, and through the signing of Ivan Toney, whose 31 goals this season is a record for the second tier.
This has looked like a top flight squad in waiting for some time and will be able to call on the experience of last season's run to the final where they were beaten by London rivals Fulham. Aston Vila, West Ham and Leicester have all responded to the heartbreak of falling short one year to win the playoff final the next and it would be a bold person to bet against Brentford following in their footsteps.
Swansea: A rock solid defensive side with a pair of deadly strikers in Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe, Swansea have been in the mix for promotion throughout this year. But crucially they have wavered as others have risen up the table, an ill omen for a run of games where momentum carried over from the regular season tends to play a heavy role in who is successful in the play offs.
Steve Cooper's side have won just three from 11 and went on a four game losing streak in March and April. According to Experimental361 they are also the only side who do no belong in a top six based on expected goals, with their model suggesting the Welsh side have benefited heavily from a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping to push them up the table.
Barnsley: The Tykes entered this season looking to build on their great escape from the Championship relegation zone in 2019-20. They could never have imagined that they might have been within three games of a first season in the top flight since the late 1990s. Since the turn of the year they have been in irresistible form. They have one of the league's most in-form players in US international Daryl Dike, a midfield playmaker in Alex Mowatt and a solid defense. But underpinning all that is a team spirit allied with a defined style of play that has taken the division by storm.
Club CEO Dane Murphy told CBS Sports last month: "When you go on a run like this and you see a young group of men, led by Valerien and his staff, have this attitude that we are a band of brothers and we are growing up together and we are taking the next step in our career, in our lives together, the positive attitude and the smiles and the laughs become infectious." With a record of 13 wins, three draws and three defeats to their name since the start of February, Barnsley arrive at the playoffs with momentum. It is often the most vital component in any run to Wembley and beyond.
Bournemouth: On paper there is perhaps no more talented squad than Bournemouth's. They may have lost the likes of Nathan Ake, Callum Wilson and Josh King since dropping out of the Premier League but Jason Tindall and his managerial successor Jonathan Woodgate have been able to call on the likes of Jefferson Lerma, Dominic Solanke and the excellent Arnaut Danjuma for a promotion bid which only really caught fire in April.
Six players scored six or more goals throughout the campaign for the Cherries but it is in defense where they could come undone; they conceded a goal a game during the regular season and kept only three clean sheets in 15 games after Woodgate's appointment. Pitting a leaky backline against Toney, it is perhaps no wonder the Bournemouth manager insists his expensively-assembled side are underdogs against Brentford.
Odds and Prediction
Promotion odds: Brentford +150; Bournemouth +275; Barnsley +333; Swansea +450 (via William Hill Sportsbook)
Brentford's firepower should send them past Bournemouth whilst it always pays to back the team in better form in play off races, meaning Barnsley deserve to be favored over Swansea. That would set up an intriguing clash of styles between a pre-season promotion frontrunner and a team who could never have imagined their season might end at Wembley.
It promises a close fixture and both sides will surely take heart from the fact they won away to the other in the regular season. In the end it might just be that the experience and quality of the Bees pays off. PICK: Brentford to be promoted