Season-defining: Bilic faces testing period that could shape West Brom’s destiny – opinion

This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…

West Bromwich Albion return from the international break as the front-runners in the Championship, but the division this season appears to be fiercely competitive as just ten points separate second-placed Preston North End to Derby County in 16th.

The Baggies themselves only have a two-point cushion over the chasing pack, so one slip up could see them dragged back into the playoff mire.

Slaven Bilic’s side have amassed 33 points from 16 matches, which if they manage to keep up, could see them achieve automatic promotion – it would mean they surpass a total of 92 points, and that has been enough in four of the last five seasons.

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The winter months are also a hectic period in the English football calendar, hence much wider calls for there to be a break, similar to that in leagues across Europe and now in the Premier League.

It is also a timeframe that is potentially season-defining for most teams.

This is no different for Albion, and their incoming fixtures could be the test they need to prove whether or not they have genuine title chances.

Per Infogol, their strength of schedule for the next six outings is the fifth hardest in the division – it starts with Sheffield Wednesday this weekend before facing Preston, Bristol City, and Swansea City.

All four teams are in and around the playoff mix.

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By contrast, Leeds are perceived to have the easiest incoming fixtures, so they could well be hot on the heels of the Baggies come the middle of December.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men are the only team to have beaten West Brom this campaign, which should bring Bilic confidence heading into such a tough run of matches.

Even in that game, they were somewhat unlucky to lose, having only been defeated by the single goal despite averaging 67.3% possession in the second-half.

As already mentioned, the table is just so tight, so one poor run of form could see any side drastically slip from one spectrum to another.

Therefore, the task ahead provides a barometer for Albion’s promotion chances – if they can come out the other end still intact, then you have to fancy them to go all the way.

Norwich City were sat just one point behind Leeds on Christmas day last year before going on to win the title so that only shows that holding a strong position through the festive period can only bode well come May.

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