Updated:Aug 3, 2021 11:28 pm
Hull City did what very few sides relegated to England’s third tier has done of late- return to the Championship at the first time of asking. Solidity and consistency spring to mind upon reflection on their stint in League One.
Worryingly, early in pre-season, the club released a statement confirming that they were subject to caps on wage and transfer fees due to restrictions imposed on them by a loan they had taken out off the back of the pandemic. Evidently, this news does not bode well for the Tigers’ survival hopes, as the requirement to strengthen upon promotion is paramount.
Whilst the team from Humberside are yet to lose the nucleus of their first-team squad, the issues may lie with the quality of their recruitment or lack thereof. It may well be a long, long season for Hull…
Definitely a campaign to forget for Derby last time out, marginally escaping a potentially catastrophic relegation to League One on the final day. Yet, the Rams began pre-season with a cloud of uncertainty lingering above their heads. The implications of the club’s financial misdealing’s mean they have been placed under a stringent transfer embargo, and prior to 4 weeks ago, there was still prolonged doubts about their status as a Championship side. Combine the prospective economic ramifications and limitations on transfers with the latest edition of the misadventures of manager, Wayne Rooney and even the most optimistic of fans may struggle to eek a morsel of positivity from the current climate at Pride Park.
The Derbyshire club is yet to make a signing this summer, after recently receiving EFL approval to sign free agents on 12-month contracts and/or loan players on 6-month contracts. Wayne Rooney confirmed earlier this week that some new signings were in the works.
In conclusion, it’s easy to foresee a turbulent season for the Rams, and with Wayne Rooney, the bookies favourite to be the first manager to leave- it may leave Derby in all sorts of trouble.
After reaching the lofty heights of the Premier League a decade ago, Blackpool’s demise was rapid. Like so many clubs in the football league, the Lancashire side has endured their fair share of financial and on-the-field hardship; this will be the Seasiders first Championship season in over 6-years.
Manager, Neil Critchley is a man whose coaching pupillage was spent overseeing the Liverpool Under-23 set-up, under the masterful leadership of Jurgen Klopp. Last season saw the tangerines gather expeditious momentum, losing just 3 times in 26 games in their run to play-off glory.
As a newly promoted side, it’s usual to be one of the bookie’s favourites to get relegated. However, after some savvy business, including the acquisition of Championship veteran, Richard Keogh- whose presence will add some much-needed Championship-level experience. Blackpool may well avoid immediate relegation if they can get a few more through the doors at Bloomfield Road before the bell rings on deadline day. As it stands, they face an arduous task ahead.
The Posh forged themselves a formidable reputation in front of goal last season. Scoring 87 goals in 46 games on the road to sealing promotion. Jonson Clarke-Harris was foremost in those efforts, converting an unparalleled 31 goals in the league.
The Championship poses its own challenges to the Cambridgeshire club, having twice been relegated from the division in the past 10-years. Peterborough’s transfer business has been comparatively modest, with several players sourced from non-league football. The likes of Clarke-Harris and Sammie Szmodics will be aiming to reignite the form of the previous campaign, and with the reintroduction of Jack Marriott who has demonstrated championship quality, the Posh will be looking to circumnavigate a potential relegation battle.
Huddersfield has had a torrid time since their relegation from the Premier League in 2019. Teetering above the relegation zone in successive seasons is not what the Terriers would have anticipated upon their descent from the old first division.
38-year-old, Carlos Corberan’s first season in charge was a baptism of fire at the John Smith’s stadium. Going into a new campaign, the West Yorkshire side will be looking to progress and climb the table. With a staggering 13 departures at the end of last season, Corberan and co have overseen a large-scale rebuilding job at the club, having already brought in 8 new players.
In spite of considerable recruitment, attempting to gel the newbies may prove to be a tall order, as has been the case historically for clubs who’ve done the same.
The Tykes had an unforgettable campaign last time around. Guided under the leadership of manager, Valerian Ismael, the South Yorkshiremen’s colossal rise from a final-day relegation dogfight, to be within 3 games of playing Premier League football the following season, is testament to the enthralling, and unpredictable nature of the Championship.
Ismael brought a philosophy and identity, that treasured high intensity, high-pressing football. Teams would often be smothered, boxed-in by Barnsley- giving even the most tactically astute managers a headache. Success inevitably attracts interest from those above. Sides more capable of flexing their financial muscle- newly relegated, managerless West Brom did just that. Poaching Valerian Ismael from Barnsley’s grasp, the Baggies have left the Yorkshire side without last season’s talismanic figure at the helm.
In spite of Ismael’s departure, the Tykes acted promptly, replacing him with Austrian, Markus Schopp. Another manager acquired from the Austrian top flight. Yet, after last season’s successes, and with one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, Barnsley may struggle to replicate the same level of vigour in their performances.
Preston North End
Frankie McAvoy had been Alex Neil’s assistant until Neil’s untimely sacking back in March after an inadequate set of results. Since then, McAvoy took over as caretaker manager, before being offered the job on a permanent basis- after an impressive stint.
Preston begins the new season at home to newly-promoted Hull, and while unlike their opponents they’ve been able to operate efficiently in the transfer market, quality of personnel may well be an issue.
While Izzy Brown will be seen as a coup, North End have gone overseas to do their business, bringing in Graham Burke, Adam O’Reilly and Jack Baxter from the Irish Premier League and first division respectively. With that, comes unproven records in English football and in a league, which is notoriously difficult- it may take some time for the players to settle.
Coventry is on an upward curve. Following promotion in 2020, the Midlands club has been quietly going about their business, building a side fit for purpose, and ensuring a return to their home, the Ricoh Arena, after a 2-year hiatus.
The Sky Blues have acted swiftly and incisively in the transfer market, bringing in Martyn Waghorn on a free from Derby as well as Simon Moore. Both of which have vast amounts of championship experience.
With fans onside with the return to the Ricoh Arena, it’s now down to the manager, Mark Robins and the players to deliver on the pitch.
Millwall is a club that’s consistently punched above their weight in the last 3 out of 4 seasons. Finishing in the top half in consecutive campaigns.
With one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, Gary Rowett always seems to maximise the resources available to him. The Lions have recruited astutely already, and will no doubt be adding further reinforcements to their squad over the next few weeks.
Since the sacking of Gary Monk in 2019, the Blues have gone through three different managers, including current manager, and ex-City player Lee Bowyer- who goes into his first full season as head coach.
The men from St Andrews will be looking to kick-start a new dawn of sustainability both on and off the pitch. Bowyer has proven pedigree when it comes to promotion pushes; with his Charlton team in 2019.
Dion Sanderson from Wolves, Manchester United’s Tahith Chong and Juan Familia-Castillo from Chelsea have all been brought in to consolidate the present crop. Sanderson was peerless at the back for Sunderland last season, and Tahith Chong has come through the ranks at Carrington, having made a number of first-team appearances, including in the Champions League.
The Blues will be yearning for some long-overdue stability at the club this campaign, and with the additions of Lee Bowyer as manager, and the business undertaken in the loan market, Birmingham look set to attain a comparably steady campaign.
Reading bolted out of the traps last season, topping the Championship in the opening weeks. The Royals suffered a slight dip in form thereafter but continued to occupy a playoff spot until the penultimate month of the campaign- when they dropped out of the top 6.
Highly sought-after, Michael Olise has been snapped up by Crystal Palace and left-back, Omar Richards is headed for pastures-new in the Bundesliga at Bayern Munich. Leaving the Berkshire side without two of last season’s standout performers. Alarmingly, manager, Veljko Paunovic and the recruitment team at Reading are yet to obtain replacements for the aforementioned- or indeed, any signings whatsoever. That being said, while the season starts this weekend, the Royals have time aplenty to recruit, and teams will be wary of infamous “panic” buying.
When Stoke dropped back into the Championship in 2018, few would have foreseen that 3-years later they are still playing second-tier football.
The Potters have possibly had the biggest post-season clear-out of any side in the football league. 15 have left the doors at the Stoke City departure lounge- with 13 new players coming in the other way.
This is very much a transitional period for Michael O’Neil’s side, and it is going to take some time for Stoke to really bed in the new recruits. However, once this happens, Stoke may well be a force to be reckoned with.
Swansea was 90-minutes away from Premier League football last term, only to be edged out by favourites, Brentford.
Manager, Steve Cooper called it quits last week, just two weeks shy of the Championship curtain raiser, leaving the Swans without a head coach. Over the weekend, Russell Martin, brought in from MK Dons, was appointed as Cooper’s successor.
Andre Ayew, Declan John, Freddie Woodman and Marc Guehi have all flown the nest, leaving the South Wales side a little thin in a number of key departments. It’s been a slow transfer window for Swansea, with only three signings so far- no doubt Russell Martin will be getting the chequebook out in coming weeks.
Tony Mowbray enters his fourth year in charge of the former Premier League Champions.
Blackburn finished 15th last time out, a disappointing season for the Lancashire club who had started the season so brightly. Serious injuries to midfield maestro, Bradley Dack who sustained another ACL tear will see him miss the best part of half of the new season, as well as defender, Scott Wharton who is expected to return by October.
Rovers are yet to make a signing this summer despite their injury woes, with Mowbray exclaiming that new signings are the priority over the next few weeks. Even so, Blackburn need to get a move on.
There are several sides in the Championship you associate with consistently being on the cusp of a playoff spot in recent years; Bristol City is one of them. This airspace is the equivalent of footballing limbo- and these sides seem incapable of escaping it.
The Robins have a new manager at the helm in Nigel Pearson, who will be striving to break that play-off place hoodoo at Ashton Gate. A 12-man clear-out leaves the West country boys short on strength in-depth, yet the arrivals of Andy King and Matty James who link up with the former boss, Pearson, will add both experience and calibre.
With a little over four weeks remaining for clubs to do business in the transfer window, Pearson and Bristol will be busily and diligently shipping in reinforcements- hoping to go one step further this season.
Mick McCarthy seems to be a manager that is endlessly recycled by Championship clubs. Now at Cardiff City, the former Republic of Ireland boss is embarking upon his first pre-season with the Welsh side.
The Bluebirds have a strong squad, and there is still remanence of the team that competed in the top flight in 2018/2019. James Collins has been brought in to supplement the aerial prowess of Kieffer Moore.
Cardiff will fancy their chances of snatching a play-off spot.
The Hatters have gone from strength to strength, season after season. Back-to-back promotions from League Two, League One, and then to the Championship. Last time out, Luton finished in their highest position in the footballing pyramid since 2006.
Gone are the days of Luton Town’s “Manager Idol”. Other than a brief and unsuccessful spell at Stoke, manager Nathan Jones has been an ever-constant in the Hatters revival. The Welshman has been a revelation, continuously cracking the enigma that is Luton Town. The acquisitions of free agents, Henri Lansbury, Cameron Jerome, and Amari’i Bell are real statements of intent. The purchase of highly sought-after, Carlos Mendes Gomes further adds weight to Luton’s play-off pursuit.
The bookies have Luton at 6/1 to finish in the play-off places, and 4/1 to be relegated. Has there ever been such a fine line between potential promotion and relegation? One thing is evident and that’s that Luton Town divides opinion.
It’s common knowledge that Neil Warnock holds the record for the most promotions in English football, with a total of 8. At the ripe age of 72, the Yorkshireman doesn’t seem to be slowing down in his unrelenting pursuit to get to the pinnacle of the English game.
As has been so symptomatic of his career, Warnock was brought in by the Teessiders the season before last to turn around the fortunes at the club, as they sat hovering above the drop zone.
Since then Warnock has performed his formulaic renaissance of a struggling side, and last time out, Boro just fell short of the play-offs. This season brings renewed hope that Middlesbrough could well reach the promised land, and with several shrewd acquisitions, in the form of exciting striker, Uche Ikpeazu and the vastly experienced, Sammy Ameobi the North-east side will be aspiring to do just that. A number of new signings are still required through the doors at the Rockliffe training ground in order to really cement themselves as promotion contenders. However, combine some of the squad’s talent with Warnock’s in-depth comprehension of the football league and how to launch a profitable promotion-push, and the Boro fan-base may begin the season with a sense of optimism.
The Bookmakers seem to really fancy Forest’s chances at a playoff surge at 3/1. Hardly surprising, considering Chris Hughton’s promotion record- having directed three different clubs to Championship glory.
Couple Hughton’s renowned promotion credentials, with the quality he has at his disposal all over the pitch; from Lewis Grabban, Lyle Taylor and Joe Lolley leading the line to Joe Worrall and aptly named new signing Cafu and Forest are more than capable of ceasing a play-off place come May.
The accuracy of pre-season friendlies for gauging how a team will fare in the upcoming season is something that is divisive. For those that believe a solid pre-season campaign is truly conducive with a prosperous season ahead, Queens Park Rangers may well be set to clinch the Championship crown. Wins against Manchester United and a 3-3 draw with Leicester City have some fans believing a propitious season may lie in wait for the hoops.
QPR have been bolstered by the incomings of Stefan Johansen and England under-20, Andre Dozzell. Additionally, accessions in the free-agent market have further augmented the QPR squad, with Charlie Austin, and Moses Odubajo brought in.
The West-Londoners squad is beginning to take shape, and with the calming influence of Mark Warburton at the wheel, QPR could well mount a serious play-off charge.
This time last year, Chris Wilder was preparing his boyhood club for their second consecutive season in the Premier League. Fast forward 365 days and Wilder was spotted at Heathrow airport boarding a flight with his wife and kids. Swapping the blood, sweat and transfer rumours of a pre-season in Sheffield for Club Med… a lot can change in a year.
With Slavisa Jokanovic newly-appointed, the Blades have retained the core of their squad that saw them excel and then plummet in their 2-season stint in the Premier League. Importantly, they’ve held onto Ollie McBurnie and Rhian Brewster, both of which are proven championship goal-scorers, and will be looking to redress a fruitless campaign in the top flight.
With several clubs sniffing around starlets, Aaron Ramsdale and Sander Berge- most notably, Arsenal. The Sheffield club will be desperately hoping to hold onto the services of the England and Norwegian Internationals. With a sparse number of new signings, as it stands the Bramall Lane club will be pinning this season’s aspirations on the current assortment of players.
Following a 5-year-stint as a top-flight club, Bournemouth had a somewhat underwhelming campaign on their return to Championship football last season. Successfully retaining a large proportion of their premier league playing staff, they were one of the bookie’s favourites to be promoted. Inconsistency in results proved detrimental and saw the Cherries knocked off their perch at the top, to only scarcely make the playoffs- only to be knocked out in the semi-finals against Brentford.
Scott Parker has since made the switch to Bournemouth, swapping West London for the Seaside. Having led Fulham to promotion in the 19/20 season, Parker has a track record in taking recently relegated teams back to the Premier League. The Cherries will be hoping he can do just that.
The emphasis will very much be on the retention of numerous key players, and while affective recruitment will play a pivotal role, holding onto the likes of Arnaut Danjuma, Philip Billing, and Jefferson Lerma will be crucial.
Having lost Asmir Begovic to Everton, Bournemouth will be working tirelessly on sourcing a goalkeeper. Newcastle’s, Freddie Woodman is top of that list, with proven Championship pedigree, Bournemouth is waiting in the wings to discover if Woodman will be surplus to requirements at Newcastle this term.
Overall, AFC Bournemouth looks secure ahead of the season’s advent, with supporters hoping their side, under the guidance of Scott Parker can regain their status as a Premier League club.
“Do bears shit in the woods?” – a response from a Baggies fan when asked if Sam Allardyce would keep them up last season. Unfortunately, the super-nanny for relegation-threatened teams was unable to perform his annual resurrection of a side deemed down-and-out by Christmas.
Allardyce was critical of the reputation that preceded him as a footballing dinosaur, an antiquated throwback- that sets his sides up to play “hoofball” to a big lad up top. Once relegation was confirmed, Allardyce with pint of wine in-hand and a mars bar in the other exited swiftly through doors at The Hawthorns never to be seen again.
Forward-thinking, Valerian Ismael brought in from Barnsley to instil a progressive brand of football may well be the answer to West Brom’s woes. There has been a mass clear-out at the West Midlands side this summer, the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Ivanovic, and Charlie Austin have been shown the door. The Baggies will be seeking to reinvent themselves as a footballing side under Ismael, high-pressing, high-intensity, and high reward, and with that a serious promotion challenge.
Succeeding a season full of disappointments, Fulham finds itself back in England’s first division. Defensive fragilities and an acute lack of a seasoned goal-scorer meant their time as a Premier League club was short-lived once again.
A new season brings a new horizon and with it, fresh hopes and opportunities. After Scott Parker’s exit, Marco Silva becomes the man that may bring renewed hope to the Fulham faithful. Despite having a questionable history with managerial sackings (Watford and Everton), Silva has enjoyed some successful stints that brought him much acclaim- namely at Olympiacos and Hull City.
Fortunately, Fulham has retained the vast majority of last season’s playing staff, as well as adding proven quality at both Championship and Premier League level in the form of Harry Wilson and Paolo Gazzaniga. If there’s one thing this Fulham side have developed over recent years- it’s resilience, and they certainly know how to bounce back.