Despite the Premier League being known as the ‘best’ league in the world, the Championship is certainly the most competitive and, arguably, even more exciting.
The 24-team division, which is harder to predict than an English summer, is back for the 2015-16 season. And with 17 of the clubs having already tasted top-flight football, guessing the standings come May is close to impossible.
Trying to work out the teams that will find themselves in the ‘promised land’ come August 2016 is difficult but we’re backing Middlesbrough and Derby to finish in the top-two.
Boro will be determined to go one step further than the play-off final they reached in May, and with the signing of local hero Stewart Downing will have that extra creativity needed in tight matches. Although they’ve lost Patrick Bamford, boss Aitor Karanka is expected to replace him before the window shuts; Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes being heavily linked.
The Rams have a fantastic squad to choose from and have sealed Darren Bent and Tom Ince’s permanent transfers this summer. Paul Clement is our the only question mark. Despite being the number 2 at Chelsea and Real Madrid he lacks managerial experience. You only need to ask Terry Connor or Carlos Queiroz that being an assistant is a lot easier than being the chief.
Two of the three-relegated sides – Burnley and Hull – will fancy their chances of an immediate return to the top flight having kept their managers and most of their squad. However, the loss of some key men (James Chester, Robbie Brady, Danny Ings, Kieran Tripper) will see the duo challenging for a top-six place at best.
QPR, the third side to come down, could find things a bit tougher. They’ve had a good summer bringing in some talent from the Football League, and with Chris Ramsey in charge they will start to blood more youngsters. However, this means patience is needed and a mid-table finish beckons, but, in the long-term, it will benefit the R’s.
Now to the three coming up. Bristol City haven’t added many bodies but with a great team spirit and many talented players they have enough to get in the top half and, with the right momentum, could even do what Brentford did by making the top-six.
Fellow League One successes Preston North End and MK Dons will both find it a bit tougher than the Robins but, with Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford in their ranks, expect the former to have enough to survive.
The Dons, however, may find life in the second tier tough going. Their fantastic passing game will play many opponents off the pitch but it’s to be seen whether they have enough steel and firepower to keep their status.
Staying at the bottom and Rotherham, Huddersfield, Bolton and even Blackburn could all find themselves in a scrap. The latter may be a surprise but the Venky’s seem to be taking the money this summer and haven’t replaced adequately in such a tight league. Rhodes could also yet depart which would leave them in big bother.
However, Charlton and Birmingham, who are tipped to struggle, could be surprise packages this term if they can hit the ground running.
Last year’s play-off semi-finalists, Ipswich and Brentford, could have contrasting seasons. Mick McCarthy is such a good manager in this league and has added very well after selling Tyrone Mings for £8m so expect them to challenge the top-six again.
Brentford though could have it a lot tougher. They still have a good squad but with a new manager and structure in place I can see them hanging around mid-table.
Replacing the Bees in the top-six could be west London rivals Fulham, a new-look Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves – despite losing Bakary Sako – who have had decent off seasons.
This leaves Nottingham Forest, Brighton, Leeds, Cardiff and Reading. As like the other 19 sides, they could be play-off contenders, mid-table or relegation candidates. Your guess is as good as ours.
Welcome to the Championship.
Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Play-Offs: Hull, Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Relegation: Rotherham, MK Dons, Blackburn, Player to Watch: Stewart Downing – Middlesbrough, Young Player to Watch: Zach Clough – Bolton