The Championship has become one of the most watched leagues in the world over the last few years. That is from the stands and on the TV. The money being spent, teams now at this level and unpredictable nature have all played their part, and this season will produce highs and lows of gigantic proportion for the fans of football clubs up and down the country. Here is where I think they will finish, and why, who they have signed and who to keep and eye out for.
Last season I got one horribly wrong but the rest were all there or thereabouts. I tipped Fulham to go down…whoops. I also tipped Blackburn and Burton to go down, Burton flirted and Blackburn did go down. I tipped Newcastle to win the league which they did and Brighton to be up there. Surprisingly I said Huddersfield may surprise us, but I didn’t expect them to go and win the play-off final…painful. Anyway, here are the others in the league this season.
Aston Villa – Steve Bruce – Play-Offs
Bruce and Villa were an up and down team last season, under Di Matteo they had an awful start and have spent so much money since to try to rectify the problems. The question is can they play as a team? Kodjia and Hogan will play as a front two, almost £30 million worth of players, McCormack clear to leave after proving all Leeds fans right about his greedy temperament. Villa should on paper make at least the play-offs but I don’t personally think Bruce will get the team in the top two, he couldn’t do it at Hull when it should have been nailed on.
Danger Man – Scott Hogan – A top striker at this level but his move from Brentford didn’t work out great last season, goals not really coming and Kodjia taking the limelight. Hogan will want to prove his price tag was justified.
New Man – John Terry – Can’t look beyond John Terry. An unbelievable signing at this level despite his age and occasional vulnerability. Will be the key man this season for Villa.
Barnsley – Paul Heckingbottom – Bottom Half
Barnsley have had a rough ride in terms of players leaving since promotion to the Championship. Alfie Mawson, Sam Winnall, Conor Hourihane all left last season, Marc Roberts has joined Birmingham this summer for £3.4 million and both Josh Scowen and Marley Watkins turned down new deals to join other Championship clubs. The recruitment has been based on young players, and not spending much money at all. Liam Lindsay is a decent signing from Partick Thistle but it’s a huge step up. Adam Armstrong has also returned to Newcastle after a loan, and then joined Bolton.
Danger Man – Alex Mowatt – Mowatt has to re-discover that form he was in at Leeds a few years back. He could be the main man at Barnsley with so many departing. Fitness his main issue.
New Man – Cameron McGeehan – A midfielder who knows where the net is. If he can find his feet at this level it will be good business, very much an attacking player, could be a key player for Barnsley this season.
Birmingham – Harry Redknapp – Just Outside Play-Offs
I think Birmingham may just fall short this season but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did just sneak into that top six. Redknapp is a wonderful appointment for Birmingham who royally messed up last season by sacking Garry Rowett. He was over achieving with that team and Gianfranco Zola did a wonderful job of proving that point. Made some clever signings, but I think the lack of a goalscorer is going to cost them, although they may look to rectify that in the coming weeks, but they are leaving it very late. Stockdale on a free was a classic Redknapp signing, free and a coup.
Danger Man – Clayton Donaldson – A very poor season for his standards last year and key for Birmingham and Redknapp this season will be getting him back amongst the goals.
New Man – Marc Roberts – The Barnsley captain is a very good signing at St. Andrews, a solid and comfortable player at this level. At £3.4 million it is a fair bit of money to spend but it seems worth the money given the prices for players these days.
Bolton – Phil Parkinson – Relegated
A Bolton teamsheet at the weekend had 9 trialists on it, and a winding up order has recently been issued against the club. Promoted comfortably last season in the end, Parkinson leaving his safe and steady job at Bradford to take on the role. They may start ok but as the season goes on and injuries and suspension come with fixtures around every corner I think their troubles will catch up with them. Hopefully Leeds can take advantage on Sunday, although I expect a very tough game.
Danger Man – Adam Le Fondre – A player who has been fumbling around for a few years and has returned to Bolton where he is considered a key player, and with him feeling important it breeds confidence.
New Man – Adam Armstrong – A coup in all honesty and a shock that he chose to go to Bolton with other clubs probably interested. A player more than capable at this level, getting the service to him may be the issue for the newcomers.
Brentford – Dean Smith – Play-Offs/Automatic Promotion
Brentford are going to be arguably the most exciting and dynamic team this season for me. Recruited well and under the radar as they normally do and kept the majority of their side together. The young and fast players seem to be getting better and they grew as the season went on last year. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they challenged for automatic promotion. What Brentford need to worry about is a bad run, especially at the start. If things don’t go well do they have the experienced heads to pull them through? For me, serious contenders.
Danger Man – Jota – Looks like Jota will be staying and with a full pre-season combined with his form last year we should expect him to be one of the players of the Championship this season. Clever, direct and has end product in shed-loads.
New Man – Kamohelo Mokotjo – The partner to Mateusz Klich in the successful central midfield of FC Twente last season. The South African and Klich were one of the best partnerships in the Eridivise during the campaign. Like Leeds did, took advantage of the poor money situation at the Dutch club.
Bristol City – Lee Johnson – Bottom Half
I think Bristol City may struggle again this season. They have spent big money on one player, effectively to replace Tammy Abraham, and he has a lot to do to match that man. They have signed Nathan Baker to replace the inevitable departure of Aden Flint, to what looks like Birmingham. Shocking at the back and without their main man up front I think they will struggle but do just enough to avoid the drop in the end. I can’t see Lee Johnson lasting a full season.
Danger Man – Jamie Paterson – One of the underrated players who kick about in the Championship. Very clever and almost goes unnoticed at times during games. Has the ability to unlock defences and was key in the survival of Bristol City last season.
New Man – Famara Diedhiou – A huge gamble but one that may pay off. Spending £5.1 million on a striker is bold from a club who haven’t really spent anywhere else. Unknown and a big lad, physically looks the part but that’s a lot of money to spend on someone who hasn’t scored goals in this division before.
Burton Albion – Nigel Clough – Bottom Half
I do think Burton will survive and probably improve on last season. They ended up good value for their Championship status but they need to sort out their away form this season if they are to push on. Very good recruitment this summer, Hope Akpan, Luke Murphy and Stephen Warnock all arriving to add experience, as well as Jake Buxton and Matty Lund from Rochdale, a sought-after talent from League One. Will have enough to get the job done in my eyes.
Danger Man – Jackson Irvine – Leeds, Derby and other clubs are apparently chasing the Australian international who proved that gems are in Scottish football if you look in the right places. A goal scoring midfielder who is more than capable of playing for most teams at this level.
New Man – Liam Boyce – Arrived from Ross County, but don’t turn your nose up as the man above came from the same club. A player who may well make the step-up the same as his now team-mate once again, Jackson Irvine. Northern Ireland international.
Cardiff City – Neil Warnock – Battle For Play-Offs
I think Cardiff will be one of the success stories of the season led by Mr Championship himself. Warnock has slowly recruited some players who will do the job he wants to be done and I can only see them improving on what wasn’t a bad finish in the end last season. Lee Tomlin is the big buy of the summer for Warnock and they will look to him to create in the final third. they rarely concede and will be very difficult to break down. One of the most difficult games of the season.
Danger Man – Kenneth Zohore – A striker that seems to be going from strength to strength at Cardiff City. A powerful and bullish striker who will be aiming for 15+ this season, more than capable.
New Man – Danny Ward – A quality player at this level who managed to shine in one of the worst Championship teams of recent history, Rotherham United. Another who will want 15+ goals, could be a prolific partnership.
Derby County – Garry Rowett – Battle For Play-Offs
Derby are a side who have failed with the spend spend spend policy, failed emphatically. They spent money on average Championship players and paid the price, with two poor seasons since and now a project where they aren’t spending much may actually work out better. A manager who knows the league and knows how to get the best out of his players, exactly what Derby need. Tom Huddlestone will be a good signing but he won’t make the difference when it comes to the big games, others have to step-up at the top end of the pitch. Maybe the ego of Tom Ince departing will help the club, but maybe his ability not being around will cost them.
Danger Man – Matej Vydra – A flop so far in his Derby career after costing around £6 million. A big fee and a representation of a failed era at Derby County. Yet his class is still there, and if he finds it then they have a quality player on their hands.
New Man – Curtis Davies – Derby’s centre backs aren’t great and Davies may well give them the stability and consistency needed to build solid foundations at the back. A priority for Rowett.
Fulham – Slaviša Jokanović – Automatic Promotion
I messed up last season. The departures of Dembele and McCormack were in my eyes the end for Fulham at this level and I predicted a struggle. They powered their way into the play-offs and despite falling short will almost certainly come back stronger for it this season. I expect them to finish either top or in second place, a strong squad and a very good manager at the helm. Retaining the likes of Aluko, Cairney and Sessegnon has been the best business they could possibly do.
Danger Man – Tom Cairney – Every time I do a match preview I say he will score against us and he does every time. Top player at this level, and they key to Fulham success this season.
New Man – Aboubakar Kamara – Signed for around £5 million the striker has a big price-tag to live up to. Fulham needed to replace Chris Martin who returned to Derby and they have splashed out on this man to do just that.
Hull City – Leonid Slutsky – Bottom Half
This looks like being a tough season for Hull City and their uncertain direction. Most of the team has departed, some have stayed and some faces have appeared. Russian Slutsky has taken over and what that means is anyone’s guess. They have started bringing in players, but late in the window. They have also lost the majority of their squad. Curtis Davies, Harry Maguire, Tom Huddlestone, Shaun Maloney, Andy Robertson, Elmohamady all departing, with Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass already departing at the start of the year. It looks like being a very tough season for Hull in my opinion, and they could be sucked into a battle at the bottom if they aren’t careful.
Danger Man – Kamil Grosicki – The Polish winger was a key player in their fight against relegation but he and Hull fell just short. Quick and very direct, and a player that Hull may well lose before the end of the window. If not, they have a player playing below his level.
New Man – Kevin Stewart – I don’t really know much about the Liverpool central midfielder but the deal could rise up to £7 million which seems like a huge amount for a player who hasn’t really played much football. Hull seem confident anyway.
Ipswich Town – Mick McCarthy – Relegation Battle
This is probably my biggest call at the bottom. They may well escape and to be honest they may make it into mid-table safety knowing Mick McCarthy but I’m tipping them for the drop. They have no money, little ambition and a very average squad. What they have is fight and desire, but I don’t know if that will be enough for them this season. Brett Pitman has left, Tom Lawrence won’t be returning and the signings leave much to the imagination. It’s all about the graft for them, and the fans don’t always like that. I have a feeling they may turn on McCarthy again this season, and how long he will hold on for I don’t know.
Danger Man – Freddy Sears – Tough one really as nobody really stands out but finally Sears maybe the main man at the club after playing second fiddle to others in the past few years. Needs to be playing up front again, the wing doesn’t suit him.
New Man – Joe Garner – Garner is a capable player but he hasn’t scored goals on a regular basis for a few years now. Rangers didn’t work out and now he’s back. Needs to focus on his game rather than trying to fight with defenders, his major flaw.
Middlesbrough – Garry Monk – Automatic Promotion/Play-Offs
Painfully I do think this will happen simply because of the players at his disposal. Randolph, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Clayton, Assombalonga, Braithwaite, such a strong spine. Monk won’t romp the league as his squad should because I believe he has some major flaws, stubbornness one of them. The Boro fans won’t stand for scrappy defeats either, not after spending so much money. On paper they will go up for me, but a bad start may see them struggle. Tough call. I would love to see them struggle after spending so much money thinking they cam just but their way out of this league.
Danger Man – Britt Assombalonga – On his day he is one of the best strikers in the league. Boro have overpaid massively for him, no doubt but he is a key player for them. Explosive and capable of winning games in a flash.
New Man – Jonny Howson – Arguably the best central midfielder in the division in my opinion. Knows how to get out of the league and a key player for any side at this level. Fair price for the player at around £6 million.
Millwall – Neil Harris – Relegation
Millwall will be a tough place to go, it always has been. They are organised and will work extremely hard in every game but I think they lack quality in the creative areas of the park, something you need in the Championship. I also think they lack a back-up plan and can only really play one way. Made some good signings but not ones that will guarantee them safety. Player that are top end League One and bottom end Championship, somewhere where they may well find themselves for most of the season.
Danger Man – Steve Morison – Believe it or not he is the main man. After a disastrous spell with Leeds he returned to London and Millwall where he is a bit of a local hero at the club and his confidence means goals. Will be aiming to get 10+.
New Man – George Saville – A clever central midfielder who has fallen foul of the millions being pumped into the Wolves squad. May well be the man to look to control games for them, those around him not as naturally talented.
Norwich City – Daniel Farke – Play-Offs
Norwich are quietly undergoing a huge era change at the club, very much like Leeds United. From the outside it looks like a standard summer but new faces, new ideas and a foreign feel have gripped the club, like Leeds United. Leeds are Spanish, Norwich have gone German. The new manager is unknown, the players much the same and yet there is a positive feeling and one of optimism. I like what Leeds are doing and I also like what Norwich are doing, not spending unreasonable money on player for the sake of it and looking long-term. Could be a good season for the Canaries.
Danger Man – Nelson Oliviera – Chris Wood, Jonathan Kodjia and Nelson Oliviera, the three best strikers in this league in my opinion. Oliviera has it all, power, pace and a wonderful ability in and around the box. Will want 20+ this season. Habit of scoring at Elland Road.
New Man – Marley Watkins – There was a tinge of disappointment for me that Leeds didn’t go for Watkins after he turned down his new Barnsley contract. A very good a tidy player, won’t set the league alight but will always do a job and likely to grab an important goal or two.
Nottingham Forest – Mark Warburton – Bottom Half
Forest were very very lucky to get out of the hole they found themselves in last season. Warburton just about got the job done on the final day and he will probably build on that this season. They haven’t done great business but steady, adding to some talent that has underachieved for a few years. Zac Clough, Matty Cash combined with new signings Barrie McKay and Darryl Murphy certainly sounds like a decent attacking force, and Warburton at the helm will certainly help. I think they will be a mid-table side capable of upsetting the bigger teams and flopping against some of the poorer ones. A project that Forest fans will have to be patient with, but one much better than what they have recently been watching.
Danger Man – Zac Clough – Another player I was gutted Leeds didn’t go for. A very similar style of player to Lewis Cook in the way he moves and plays. Needs to be aiming for more goals this season now he’s settled at Forest, a quality player.
New Man – Jason Cummings – One of the most interesting players to come out of the scrap in the second division of Scottish football. Hibs, Hearts, Rangers and Dundee United have all been involved in recent times and Cummings has made a name for himself. Keep an eye on the striker.
Preston North End – Alex Neil – Mid-Table
I rate Alex Neil as a coach but I can’t help feel he lost a lot of respect at Norwich last season. He struggled and didn’t come through it and really leaving before it got as bad as it did may have looked better on him, eventually getting sacked. Preston won’t be in trouble but I can’t see Neil working magic there and mid-table will probably follow. Some decent players but none that will take them up another level. Steady and will provide a difficult game both home and away for most teams. Neil is a great replacement for Grayson who has worked wonder at that football club since he arrived.
Danger Man – Tom Barkhuizen – A quality striker that I’m surprised hasn’t attracted more interest this summer. A good and clever signing by Simon Grayson and a player capable at making an impact against all teams in the division.
New Man – Josh Harrop – Signed from Manchester United the attacking midfielder will want to make his mark at this level having left the development squad. The only signing of note for Preston so far, adding to a couple of highly rated Cork City arrivals.
Queens Park Rangers – Ian Holloway – Relegated
A struggle awaits Ian Holloway this season for me, FFP has finally caught up with the Hoops who will have to do with just a handful of signings and what they had last season, which was just about enough. I think they could possibly go down, and I don’t expect them to get much higher than they did last season. Between Ipswich, Millwall and Queens park Rangers I think one of the three will go down, and Queens park Rangers are the ones who haven’t strengthened the most. Years of spending money and huge wages will eventually cost the club, and this could well be that year.
Danger Man – Idrissa Sylla – Sylla is a striker who I actually think should have played much more last season at QPR. Matt Smith and Conor Washington are the favoured front two but Sylla always had a goal in him. They need to utilise his strengths especially away from home.
New man – Josh Scowen – A good player at this level. Careful with the ball and feisty without it he is a player that will compliment Luke Freeman well in the middle of the park. It isn’t a big signing but one that will be well worth the wages.
Reading – Jaap Stam – Top Half
I think Reading over-achieved last season and I can’t see them getting quite as high this term. I think they may finish just outside the play-offs but could be one to sneak it, they will be part of a bundle of clubs fighting to break in and stay in. The style of football may not work as well as teams know what to expect. they also can’t come from behind as many times as they did last season, it seemed to keep happening and going a goal behind will eventually catch up with them if they keep allowing it to happen.
Danger Man – Jon Swift – A classy player and one that will only improve with more games. Would be interesting to see him in a more advanced role because he does have an eye for a goal.
New Man – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – The Iceland striker is exactly what Reading need. Kermogant is a very average in terms of what he brings to the side although he did score a few goals last season. Bodvarsson isn’t prolific either but can be the focal point.
Sheffield United – Chris Wilder – Bottom Half
Sheffield United should be ok this season but I can’t see them having it all their own way. They haven’t really put money into the squad since promotion and that may cost them Home form will guide them to safety in my opinion but if they can’t get a run together at Brammall Lane I think relegation would be almost certain. The organisation is their biggest strength especially at home and they will be on a high after romping League One last season, not an easy task.
Danger Man – Billy Sharp – It didn’t work for him the last time he was at this level, failing to hit the standards required to make it at Leeds. He was very poor during his time, but he’s the main man at Sheffield United and he knows it.
New Man – Ched Evans – Evans re-discovered his form in League One last season and if he is fully fit he is capable od scoring goals in the Championship. A powerful player at times, can cause problems even if he isn’t always in form.
Sheffield Wednesday – Carlos Carvahal – Battle For Play-Offs
FFP has well and truly caught up with Sheffield Wednesday this year. George Boyd is the only player to sign so far, Robert Snodgrass apparently turning down the chance of a loan. They aren’t a great team but they know how to win games. They dig in and players like Forristieri and Bannan can create things out of nothing. I do think if they do lose that winning mentality it could all go wrong, and a mid-table finish could await them, but maybe the strength off the bench can bail them out.
Danger Man – Jordan Rhodes – One of the best strikers at this level in many years but was a disappointment last season and you have to think he may have lost his hunger whilst sitting on the bench at Boro. Huge season in his career, a lot to prove.
New Man – George Boyd – The Scotland winger is one of the underrated players from a Burnley era which is coming to an end now they are spending some serious cash. Always a handful and technically very gifted.
Sunderland – Simon Grayson – Bottom Half
I honestly believe that if Sunderland hadn’t got Simon Grayson in then they could have gone straight down into League One. They still have a lot of work to do, a 0-5 thumping off Celtic led to a drunken video being released of Darren Gibson slating some of the players. True but it is exactly what Sunderland didn’t need. Loans are all Grayson has to go on and a beaten, deflated squad. A very long and tough season awaits, but Grayson will keep the ship afloat.
Danger Man – Aiden McGeady – The Irish winger finally found a home at Preston last season but obviously he feels like it was due to Grayson and not the club. On his day lethal in the Championship.
New Man – Lewis Grabban – Barring a handful of loanees, mainly from Everton Sunderland haven’t really done anything in the market this summer. Grabban probably stands out. If he plays regular he should score goals at this level again.
Wolves – Nuno Santo – Battle For Play-Offs
I have no real idea about the manager or most of the players Wolves have brought in this season, but I do know they have spent a fortune in doing it. Ruben Neves is the obvious player, costing the club £16 million. That wasn’t a typo by the way. He isn’t the only signing but probably like fans are looking at Leeds from the outside, nobody knows much about who these players are and how they will turn out. It’s a huge season now and they have put massive pressure on themselves by spending so much.
Danger Man – Heldar Costa – Another big money signing, costing over £10 million. Quality winger but needs to be more consistent.
New man – Barry Douglas – One player who won’t get much attention with the multi-millions being spent but a clever deal. The Scottish left back has a wand of a left foot and has been playing abroad for a few years.
The obvious question here will be, where are Leeds United? I don’t need to give Leeds a write up here because I do that three or four times a day. I think we will be amongst the chasing pack for play-offs but just miss out in the end. Brentford are my surprise package, I can see them upsetting the odds, as well as Cardiff City. QPR to go down arguably the biggest call for relegation, although it can’t possibly be as bad as my shout for Fulham last season.