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Bettered only by the Premier League, it’s up there in the most exciting and exhilarating leagues in world football. 46 rounds of pure tension, local pride, and life changing moments, and then even after the league season ends, we have the joy of the playoffs, in which anything can happen, proven by Huddersfield Town dismaying all the odds by reaching the Premier League for the very first time. And this year, it looks like this league is going to be better than ever with pretty much half the division setting their sights on Premier League promotion, which can only be achieved by three teams. Here is how we, at Fanalysis, think the season will pan out:
1st – Aston Villa
Villa are the bookies’ favorites for the Championship title, and they should achieve exactly that with the squad that they have. They had a horrid start to last season, with Roberto Di Matteo failing to rejuvenate a side that had performed terribly in the Premier League in 2015/16. But Steve Bruce has come in and given the place a bit of a lift. The former Hull manager knows what it takes to gain promotion from this league, and they’ve made some very good signings over the summer. The most noticeable, unarguably, is former Chelsea captain John Terry, who knows how to win titles, and will hopefully stop what has been a dismal defensive last few years for Villa. Other players such as Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane know the division very well, while the added experience of Glenn Whelan and Ahmed Elmohamedy will not do any harm to Villa’s chances at all.
2nd – Middlesbrough
Middleborough’s problem last season in the Premier League was scoring goals, so as a result, they’ve changed their entire attack force ahead of an expected return to the top flights. Out have gone Alvaro Negredo, Cristian Stuani and Jordan Rhodes, who have been replaced by Martin Braithwaite, Britt Assombalonga and West Ham’s Ashley Fletcher. Further back in the team, Jonny Howson and Cyrus Christie are more than Championship-proven, to add a bit more bite into this Boro side. New manager Garry Monk is a young manager who not only deserves this move, but also deserves to manage in the Premier League, following a very positive season with Leeds last season, who nearly qualified for the play offs, only to be denied in the closing weeks of the season. They have one of the best squads in the Championship and they should get an instant return to the Premier League.
3rd – Sheffield Wednesday
They’re always the nearly men when it comes to the Championship. Beaten in the play off final two seasons ago by Hull, it looked like another trip to Wembley for the Owls, only to be cruelly beaten by Huddersfield Town on penalties in the semi-final stage in May. A big plus was hanging on to manager Carlos Carvalhal, who has changed the fortunes of the club since his arrival in 2015. Jordan Rhodes should perform better than he did last season following his £10 million permanent move to Hillsborough, while George Boyd is also a coup on a free transfer from Burnley. Sam Winnall’s goals will also be crucial with regards to Wednesday’s promotion bid, while keep an eye out for the creativity of Barry Bannan in the heart of their midfield.
4th – Brentford
No bias here at all, but Brentford are widely acknowledged as the dark horses for promotion this season. After three successive top 10 finishes since their promotion from League One in 2014, they arguably have one of the best attack forces in the division – only Leeds’ Chris Wood scored more goals in 2017 in this league than Spanish winger Jota and Danish international Lasse Vibe, while the Bees also have the tricky Sergi Canos and Florian Jozefzoon to rely on for goals. Creative number 10 Alan Judge isn’t too far away from full fitness either, which will be a massive boost for the Bees, having missed the capped Irishman for nearly 18 months. Dean Smith has also added depth to his attack, with Exeter’s Ollie Watkins, Saint Etienne’s Neil Maupay and FC Twente midfielder Kamo Mokotjo all wanted by Premier League sides over the transfer window, but all joining the promotion push at Griffin Park. Watch out for the Bees!
5th – Hull City
No one really knows what to expect from new manager Leonid Slutsky. However, Hull did show a lot of fight and character last season in the Premier League, and were unlucky to be relegated in the end. Frazier Campbell is a very good signing for them, who knows the Championship well having led Cardiff to promotion in 2013. They should make the play offs at least, and with the former Russia manager at the helm, I think they have the experience to do exactly that.
6th – Derby County
Derby have an excellent manager on their hands in Gary Rowett, who should really be managing in the Premier League, and he showed his worth by bringing the Rams back up into the top half last season, after a slow start to the campaign under Steve McLaren. They’ve added well to last year’s side as well with Premier League experience in Tom Huddlestone, Craig Davies and Andre Wisdom, who returns to Pride Park on a permanent deal. The losses of Tom Ince and Will Hughes to top flight clubs will be a slight dent in their pre-season plans, but if they invest well with the money recuperated, they could mount a serious promotion push.
7th – Norwich City
The yellows at Carrow Road had a very disappointing season last year, which led to the removal of Alex Neil as their manager. They’ve attempted to follow the footsteps of Huddersfield by hiring an unknown German manager in former Dortmund II boss Daniel Farke. This has led to a fair few signings from Germany, but, like Derby, it’s the losses of Jacob Murphy and Jonny Howson which will be a big blow, and that’ll prevent them from finishing higher up the table. They have cult hero Wesley Hoolahan to rely on for creativity, but is that enough for a top 6 finish? I think they’ll just miss out.
8th – Reading
Beaten in last year’s play off final, Jaap Stam had an encouraging first season in the Championship in 2016/17. However, a defeat on penalties like that can do a lot to a team’s confidence and the Royals will find it much more difficult this time around. While Jon Bodvarsson look like a clever signing for them, Danny Williams played a huge role in their promotion push last season and his move away to Huddersfield will certainly hurt the side.
9th – Leeds United
A lot of fans (even the Chelsea and Manchester United ones) were really hoping to see Leeds return to the Premier League and just as we were starting to see a team capable of achieving promotion, the resignation of Garry Monk has put a cloud over those proceedings. New gaffer Thomas Christiansen from the Barcelona academy will provide a new style of play at Elland Road, and a host of foreign signings calls for a sense of intrigue with regards to how they will fare this season. However, these things don’t just click overnight and it may take some time for these Championship players to adapt. Holding on to Chris Wood (so far) has been a plus point, however, so a top half finish is most likely.
10th – Wolverhampton Wanderers
It just doesn’t make sense at Molineux. New manager Nuno Esperito Santo has managed both Valencia and Porto in Europe, but not only has he moved to the English second tier, but has also taken the £15 million Porto captain Ruben Neves with him (who, coincidentally, became my Juventus captain on my recent Football Manager save). I guess that’s what some rich Chinese owners can do for you, but Tony Xia at Aston Villa couldn’t immediately turn around the fortunes in this league, so it’ll take more than a few heavy cheques to gain Wolves an upturn in form.
11th – Fulham
After nearly getting relegated two seasons ago, Fulham stunned the league by finishing in the play off positions last time around, before stumbling at the semi-final stage against Reading. You would have expected them to push on from there, but lack of transfer activity due to a change of scouting policy has even led to doubts of manager Slavan Jokanovic’s future at the club. A plus point is hanging on to teenage sensation Ryan Sessegnon, but how long until he follows fellow Fulham youth prodigy Moussa Dembele out of the Craven Cottage door?
12th – Nottingham Forest
Forest too were almost facing the prospect of League One last year, needing a final day victory to spare them over Blackburn Rovers. New manager Mark Warburton is very familiar with this division though, so it’s unlikely they’ll be down near the trap door again this time around. They lost key striker Britt Assombalonga to Middlesbrough for £14 million but replaced him well with Daryl Murphy of Newcastle. His goals will be crucial in Forest’s campaign, but it’ll need much more than that to start thinking about the play off spots.
13th – Preston North End
Preston have been flirting with the prospect of finishing in the play offs over the last two seasons but Simon Grayson’s departure to Sunderland is a big shame, as North End were making progress. They’ve found a good replacement in Alex Neill, but a focus on the current squad that they have, and therefore a lack of key signings will mean a mid-table finish is once again most likely.
14th – Sunderland
The Black Cats were awful in the Premier League last season, and when you lose so many games in a single season, as Villa proved last year, it’s very difficult to get used to the idea of winning football matches again, no matter how good your squad is. Recruitment has also been a struggle for Grayson and his new side, with it being very difficult to be motivated by the signings of James Vaughan and Aiden McGeady. It’s more likely to envisage Sunderland suffering a second successive relegation fight over an immediate return to the top flight.
15th – Birmingham City
‘Arry’s magic hat worked again last season as the Blues’ Zola nightmare was saved in the closing weeks of the season. But it’s very hard to see Birmingham achieving anything substantial this campaign. With Redknapp in charge, and rumours circulating about sensational moves for Ashley Cole, Robbie Keane and Stewart Downing joining St. Andrews, it just seems like a 2007/08 ‘Premier League Years’ tribute act. Mid-table.
16th – Sheffield United
The Blades are back in the Championship after a very long time down in League One. Fan favorite Chris Wilder has created a really positive atmosphere at Bramall Lane, and his side look very capable of dealing with the pressures of the second tier and don’t seem likely to suffer an instant return to the third. The signing of Richard Stearman from Fulham looks like a real coup, and the return of Ched Evans to United can be a success considering his goal-scoring prowess for Chesterfield last season, despite the off-field distractions that he may bring. Can’t see them threatening to break into the top half though.
17th – Cardiff City
Cardiff aren’t a bad side, but I can’t see them pulling up any trees this season. Lee Tomlin is a good signing for this level, but I wonder if relying on goals from him, Craig Noone, and Anthony Pilkington week-in, week-out can serve them well over 46 league games. They’re in need of a spark, and Neil Warnock is more of a very blue flame.
18th – Queens Park Rangers
QPR are currently a club going backwards. They’ve gone from being the moneymen of the division to not spending a single penny on transfers this season, with their only summer additions, Josh Scowen and Charlie Owens, arriving on free transfers. I’m also not sure Ian Holloway is a good enough manager for the Championship anymore, which is a shame as he’s a really likeable character. How long he’ll last as Rangers boss, I don’t know, as they’re looking destined for a relegation battle.
19th – Bolton Wanderers
It’s always nice to see a club surviving after a winding up order, and for Bolton to achieve promotion last season from League One is a big moment in the club’s history. I also like Phil Parkinson as a manager, and it’s a shame he had to move from Bradford to a slightly bigger club to fulfill his potential. However, with money problems on the horizon once again at the Reebok, this might limit their potential and cause off-field distractions. Keep an eye out for Adam Le Fondre’s contributions this season, his goal-scoring record at this level may well keep them up.
20th – Ipswich Town
Mick McCarthy’s men are another side who are heading in a downwards spiral. Their play-off campaign of 2015 seems like a lifetime ago, and it’s very difficult to see if McCarthy can take this team any further. The signing of Joe Garner is a step in the right direction though, and this should just save them from relegation, but only just.
21st – Bristol City
Bristol City’s survival last season was mainly down to the goals of Tammy Abraham but with him no longer at Ashton Gate, it looks like the club are looking for Famara Diedhiou to play the Abraham role (and the Kodjia role before him). I think he will, and that’ll be enough for survival – by the skin of their teeth.
22nd – Burton Albion
I had Burton to stay up in my predictions up until yesterday, partly beacuse of the influence of Nigel Clough, but mainly due to the signing of Liam Boyce. However, a serious knee injury to Albion’s record signing will rule him out for most of the serious, which is a major blow due to the serious investment put into him by the club. Can Clough’s men recover in time? I’m not sure.
23rd – Barnsley
Barnsley got off to a good start last season, but the sales of Sam Winnall and Conor Hourihane meant that they ended last season in a bit of a slump. It was enough to keep them up last season, but considering they still haven’t properly replaced them yet, they looked doomed to a return to League One.
24th – Millwall
They’re back. But probably not for long. Looking at their side, they’re just not a Championship level team, and got very fortunate in the League One play off final against a much better Bradford City side. Their fans will also cause a lot of off-field distractions over the course of the season. I really can’t see any hope for them.