This weekend sees all 72 EFL clubs start their campaigns, full of hope and optimism, for now anyway. What sets the EFL apart, all three leagues, from the Premier League is the competitiveness from top to bottom. Of course, certain teams have much more substantial budgets than others but I’m of the belief a top manager and tight-knit squad will take you far. Examples of this in recent years are Huddersfield, Shrewsbury and Accrington Stanley to name a few. Those teams didn’t have the biggest budgets but managed to produce very successful football teams at their respected levels. That isn’t to say money doesn’t help but it does bring an added pressure and usually, more ego’s.
Coming down from the Premier League are Stoke City, West Brom & Swansea City, having all been stable clubs at the top level for 7 years (Swansea), 8 years (West Brom) and 10 years (Stoke City). The fact they all haven’t been at this level for a long time means it may prove a struggle for these teams to adapt but they all have some very good players to call on, but will they be up for the long slog when they are still picking up very nice wages? Another issue for these 3 is that all 3 managers, Gary Rowett, Darren Moore and Graham Potter have never been promoted at this level with the latter 2 being completely inexperienced in the Championship. However, that did not stop Nuno Espirito easing to the title last season at Wolves, albeit with an incredibly good team.
Also back in the Championship this year are Wigan, Blackburn & Rotherham. These three clubs bounced back from relegation to League 1 at the first time of asking and have, as expected, all stuck with the managers that achieved promotion a few months ago. All three will initially be focusing on safety but Sheff Utd and Millwall showed last season the effect of momentum so I wouldn’t rule out a run at the top half for one or two of these clubs. Rotherham did capitulate a couple of years ago when they were last at this level so I would be surprised to see them pull up too many trees this time around.
Managerial changes are never-ending in the Championship, as is common at all levels of football in the modern day and this summer has seen plenty of new faces at various clubs. Arguably the most talked about is Frank Lampard at Derby who is taking his first job in football. He talks well and has contacts in the right places so I would suspect he will do well. In contrast to Lampards inexperience, Leeds have managed to bring in Marcelo Bielsa who brings with him a wealth of experience at the top level but recent jobs haven’t gone to plan so I wouldn’t like to call this one, either way, it should be entertaining. Eyebrows were raised when Ipswich parted ways with Mick McCarthy last season but Paul Hurst has been brought in from Shrewsbury and is highly rated for the job he did at Shrewsbury and Grimbsy. It’s a step up for him but I would expect him to do well without the need for heavy backing in the transfer market. QPR have appointed Steve McLaren who is undoubtedly a great coach but his man-management isn’t the best so I think he will struggle this year. I will go over the 3 relegated Prem teams new gaffers later.
Team By Team Low-Down
A lot has been written in the press since the play-off final defeat to Fulham but I’m not convinced Villa will struggle this year. Rumours of Thierry Henry taking over from Steve Bruce didn’t materialise and I believe this gives them a good chance of challenging again this season. Henry has never managed at any level whereas Bruce has one of the most successful CV’s at this level. John Terry has gone but he was well past his best and forces the whole team to play deep to compensate for his lack of pace. Grealish may or may not go but in the likes of Chester, Hourihane, Adomah and Kodija they have some quality players who will be focused on pushing for promotion again this season.
Predicted Finish: 1st-6th
Top Scorer: Kodija
Did You Know? One time ‘wonderkid’ Micah Richards is still contracted to Villa for one more season and is only 30 years old. Rumour has it he’s on around £35k a week but he’s unlikely to play for the club again.
The club has been struggling ever since Gary Rowett was sacked despite pushing for a play-off position back in 2016. Gianfranco Zola was brought in but he had a torrid run of 2 wins in 24 before resigning just in time for Harry Redknapp to carry out a rescue act by winning 2 from the last 3 games. That short-term form didn’t last and Harry was sacked 8 games into last season. Steve Cotterill followed but he also struggled so it was down to another replacement, Garry Monk to keep them up. Monk had a successful spell at Swansea in the Premier League and also at Leeds at this level so the club would expect to do well in nornal circumstances. However, the club is rumoured to have breached FFP rules and without bringing in some new players, Monk will do well to avoid a relegation battle.
Predicted Finish: 16th-21st
Top Goalscorer: Lukas Jutkiewicz
Did You Know? 27 year old Jota is the club’s record signing at over £6million but he only managed 5 goals in 32 league games in his debut season for the club last year.
Since being relegated from the Premier League in 2012 the club has been run poorly and despite a decent couple of years under Gary Bowyer (2013-2015) this led to relegation to League 1 in 2017. Tony Mowbray was appointed to bounce the club back at the first attempt and he did so with key signings Bradley Dack and Richie Smallwood proving vital. This summer has been fairly quiet but, with a very strong centre back pairing in Charlie Mulgrew and Darragh Lenihan, a good season should be achievable. New boy Kasey Palmer comes in with proven Championship pedigree and the Chelsea loanee should shine. A lack of striker options apart from Danny Graham could be Rovers downfall.
Predicted Finish: 10th-15th
Top Goalscorer: Bradley Dack
Did You Know? Blackburn Rovers are the only club to have won the FA Cup 3 years consecutively.
Despite being in all kinds of trouble off the field over the last few years, Phil Parkinson has managed to get things moving in the right direction on the pitch by winning promotion from League 1 at the first time of asking back in 2017 and avoiding relegation in dramatic style as they came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 on the last game of the season. A friendly against St Mirren was cancelled during pre-season due to a rumoured late payment of wages so things are looking to be tough again this season. Parkinson has brought in the likes of Erhun Oztumer, Jason Lowe and Clayton Donaldson to try and help avoid another relegation battle but I think they will struggle again.
Predicted Finish: 20th-24th
Top Goalscorer: Erhun Oztumer
Did You Know: Oztumer is only 5ft3 but he knows where the goal is, netting 30 goals in 75 starts for Walsall and being dubbed the ‘Turkish Messi’.
Since their return to this level 4 years ago, Brentford have managed to achieve a top 10 finish every year. Dean Smith has been in charge since 2015 and is one of the more underrated managers in the division. Despite regularly selling some of their better players, they recruit well and in the likes of Ollie Watkins, Ryan Woods and Romaine Sawyers they have a talented bunch of players. Alan Judge was a star for Brentford 2 years ago and is now back from a serious long-term injury, if he can reproduce his best form he will be like a new signing for The Bees.
Predicted Finish: 5th-10th
Top Scorer: Neal Maupay
Did You Know? Brentford are one of only 5 current Championship clubs not to have played in the Premier League (’92 onwards).
Bristol City are a club I can’t quite work out, people outside the club, specifically in the media, big up Lee Johnson as the next best thing but the fans don’t seem to quite agree. He has had some horrendous runs but he also had the team pushing the top teams earlier on last season. He has brought in Mohamed Eisa, Jack Hunt and Hakeeb Adelakun this summer. Hunt is a solid Championship acquisition and the other 2 are young hot prospects from lower down the EFL ladder. Eisa is a player I like the look of and think he could prove to be a bargain at around the £1million mark. He’s raw but knows where the goal is and is a skillful pacey player, if he can step up his value will rocket.
Predicted Finish: 7th-12th
Top Scorer: Famara Diedhiou
Did You Know? Bristol is the biggest English city not to have a Premier League (’92 onwards) club.
For years Derby have been on the cusp of a return to the top flight but a combination of bad luck and a horrific loss of form on the home straight has resulted in the Rams missing out on each occasion. Gary Rowett was highly thought of at Pride Park but they again fell away last season and fell short in the play-offs. Now they have Frank Lampard in charge it will be interesting to see if they can go all the way. He has made some good signings including Jack Marriott, Harry Wilson (loan) and Mason Mount (loan). Marriott was top scorer in League 1 last season at Peterborough but is expected to step up, the main question mark is whether he has the all-round game for a promotion chasing Championship team. Mount and Wilson are very highly rated young players who will be expected to produce at Championship level.
Predicted Finish: 3rd-8th
Top Scorer: Jack Marriott
Did You Know? It has been over 10 years now since Derby were relegated from the Premier League back in 2008 only winning 1 game all season!
It’s been an eventful few years for Hull who have experienced Premier League football on 2 separate occasions but now find themselves in the unpredictable Championship. They struggled to 18th last time out with Nigel Adkins coming in to steady the ship late in the campaign. Adkins has been promoted from this level in 2012 with Southampton but has struggled since at Reading and Sheff United. Reece Burke has signed from West Ham and is a promising young defender but he may take time to adapt and the other signings have been cheap or free. They have lost Michael Dawson who will be a big miss so I think mid-table would be a good season for Nigel. Jarrod Bowen is a good young player and his goals will be vital again this year. The fans don’t like the owner and there is always the chance it could affect things on the pitch if we see protests off it.
Predicted Finish: 17th-22nd
Top Scorer: Jarrod Bowen
Did You Know? Todd Kane has joined Hull on loan this summer from Chelsea making it the 8th loan move of his career. He will be 25 at the end of this loan move and has never played for Chelsea’s first team.
Ipswich have been a stable Championship club since 2002, they are the team with the longest active spell in the Championship, 16 years and counting! Mick McCarthy had done a very respectable job over the last few years including reaching the play-offs in 2015 and just missing out in 2016. He did all this on a shoestring budget but a cautious style of play led to a conflict with the fans and he left the club last season. Paul Hurst is the new gaffer and he has made some shrewd signings in Gwion Edwards and Ellis Harrison. Edwards is a talented winger and Harrison is a striker that has pace and an eye for the spectacular. Jordan Roberts is a free transfer from League 2 Crawley but don’t be surprised to see him perform as he is another talented flair player. Goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski is arguably the best in the division in his position. Adam Webster has moved onto Bristol City for £4million so they may have some money for a late flutter in the market if needed.
Predicted Finish: 10th-16th
Top Scorer: Martyn Waghorn
Did You Know? Both Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson have statues outside Portman Road. Both managed Ipswich and England.
It’s a long time since Leeds were in the Champions League semi-final in 2001 and even longer since they last won the top flight in 1992. The focus now is getting back to the top flight and the fans are quietly hopeful about their chances this year. Marcelo Bielsa is a good coach and has made some positive moves in the market. Barry Douglas is a fantastic acquisition from Wolves at left back, he performed brilliantly last year and will undoubtedly carry that form into this campaign. Patrick Bamford is an interesting one, he’s a quality forward but sometimes you question his desire, Leeds fans will hope that Bielsa can get the best out of him. Jack Harrison has just joined on loan from Man City, he will be new to this level but is very highly rated and I expect big things from him.
Predicted Finish: 5th-11th
Top Scorer: Patrick Bamford
Did You Know: Former Leeds star Harry Kewell is now managing League 2 Crawley Town. They started poorly but finished comfortably in 14th place last season.
Last season Boro just fell short of an immediate return to the Premier League as they fell victim to the play-off lottery. Garry Monk wasn’t given much time and Tony Pulis was brought in midway through the 17-18 campaign. Pulis has a reputation for playing direct football based on a solid back line that can accrue clean sheets regularly. When you combine that with the attacking talent of Adama Traore and Britt Assombalonga you have a recipe for success. Aden Flint is a Tony Pulis player if ever I saw one and will be useful at both ends of the pitch. Paddy Mcnair is a bit of a gamble as he hasn’t shown much during his career bar a brief spell of form last season in a dire Sunderland side.
Predicted Finish: 1st-4th
Top Scorer: Britt Assombalonga
Did You Know? Current Boro player Stewart Downing was in the Boro 11 back in 2006 for the UEFA Cup final v Sevilla. Boro were hammered 4-0.
One of the surprise packages last season, Neil Harris almost snuck his club into the play-offs but they just fell short in 8th place. A key component of that run was Ben Marshall but his short term has ended and he is now at Norwich City. No other major departures means the core of the squad stays together. Millwall don’t have too many star players but veteran captain Steve Morison is a true leader and George Saville is a midfielder with an eye for a goal. I would be surprised to see them struggle this year but it would be an amazing achievement for them to equal last year’s points tally on such a small budget. Murray Wallace has joined from Scunthorpe to bolster the defensive ranks but they need more if they want to kick on this year.
Predicted Finish: 12th-17th
Top Goalscorer: Lee Gregory
Did You Know? Millwall have only ever spent 2 seasons in the top flight of English football, between 1988 and 1990.
It proved to be a disappointing season for The Canaries last time out (14th) as Daniel Farke struggled in his first year in England. He had impressed at Dortmund Reserves and the Norwich board saw enough to stick with him and have backed him in the market ahead of the new campaign. Farke has brought in Jordan Rhodes on loan and Teemu Pukki to help out at the top end of the pitch and has also brought in players from abroad as well as Ben Marshall to add some quality to the midfield. James Maddison and Josh Murphy have moved on for a combined £35mil plus which is great for the finances but a big blow on the field. Maddison in particular showed his class regularly last season so the new boys have big boots to fill. I think they will do OK without ever threatening the top teams.
Predicted Finish: 8th-13th
Top Goalscorer: Teemu Pukki
Did You Know? Norwich City were the first English team to beat Bayern Munich at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. They won 2-1 in the 93/94 UEFA Cup.
For such a huge club to have not been in the top flight for coming up to 20 years is astonishing. This is the club that won back to back European Cups back in ’79 & ’80 under Brian Clough. Forest only managed a 17th place finish last time out but Aitor Karanka has won promotion from this division before and with strong financial backing he will fancy his chances this term. Karanka has spent around £25million this summer with the bulk of that being spent on Joao Carvalho (£13mil) and Lewis Grabban (£6mil). Carvalho is meant to be a top attacking talent and Grabban is proven quality at this level up front. Michael Dawson has joined on a free from Hull City, the experienced centre back will be vitally important if Forest are to mount a serious challenge. Jack Colback on loan from Newcastle will add some bite to the midfield with previous Premier League experience.
Predicted Finish: 1st-6th
Top Goalscorer: Hillal Soudani
Did You Know? Remember Chelsea hot prospect Michael Mancienne? He’s now 30 and was a regular for Forest last season.
Preston North End
Simon Grayson did a very good job in getting Preston promoted from League 1 back in 2015. He consolidated the club back in the Championship for 2 years before moving on. Alex Neil came in last summer and carried on the good work of Grayson finishing just outside the play-offs in 7th. This was all done on one of the lower Championship budgets with the likes of Ben Pearson and Sean Maguire impressing. Greg Cunningham has been one of North Ends best players over the last couple of months and will be missed following a £4million move to Cardiff City. Ryan Ledson is a very highly rated young player who has joined from Oxford United and will hope to earn a place in the starting 11 quickly. Neil will use the foundations of last season and I expect another good season from Preston.
Predicted Finish: 4th-9th
Top Goalscorer: Sean Maguire
Did You Know? PNE have not been in the top flight for over 55 years (1961).
Queens Park Rangers
The last week has seen the news that QPR have received a heavy fine and transfer embargo for failing to adhere to FFP rules. Steve McLaren has been tasked with managing the team this season and I think it will be a real struggle. The quality of the squad compared to the rest of the league isn’t very good and Mclaren has failed more often than he has succeeded in recent years. Matt Smith is a good target man and will be hoping for the likes of Luke Freeman to play off him to good effect but will that be enough to beat the drop?
Predicted Finish: 20th-24th
Top Goalscorer: Connor Washington
Did You Know? QPR were the highest placed London team in the first Premier League season (92/93), finishing 5th.
Following penalty play-off heart break in 2017, Reading had a season to forget last time out as they just about stumbled to safety. Jaap Stam went from hero to zero and Paul Clement took the managers hot seat. Despite working as an assistant to some top manager at top European clubs, Clement is yet to probe himself as the main man. He has brought in Marc Mcnulty from Coventry after he shone in League 2 last year but it is a big ask for him to step up 2 levels and carry on banging in the goals. Sam Baldock joins for around £5million but he hasn’t showed his best form for a while and is nearing 30. John O’Shea and David Meyler have joined on free transfers and although they bring experience, they aren’t going to fill the Reading fans with too much confidence. George Evans will be a miss as he moves to Derby and I believe Reading will be in for a tough ride again this year.
Predicted Finish: 20th-24th
Top Goalscorer: Sam Baldock
Did You Know? Clement has been sacked from both his previous managerial roles. Derby (2016) & Swansea (2017).
Last time Rotherham were playing in the Championship in 16-17 they were the divisions whipping boys and finished bottom by some distance. However, they did manage to bounce back at the first attempt under Paul Warne. They will be the underdogs this term and the sole focus will be on survival. Billy Jones is a great signing with plenty of experience at a higher level but it is a case of whether he can stay fit. Other signings Kyle Vassell & Clark Robertson have never played at this level so have it all to prove. I would be surprised if Warne can keep this squad of players in the division beyond this season.
Predicted Finish: 21st-24th
Top Goalscorer: Jon Taylor
Did You Know? Gaffer Paul Warne played over 250 times for Rotherham as a striker but only found the net on 34 occasions. Prolific he was not!
The Blades spent 6 long years from 2011-2017 in the third tier of English football before local lad Chris Wilder guided his club back to the Championship. Wilder managed to keep the feel good factor going and last season they flirted with a promotion push before fading into a respectable 10th position. With a huge fan base and the signings of John Egan, Dean Henderson (loan) and Ben Woodburn (loan) they will be aiming even higher this time out. Bringing in David McGoldrick on a free could prove to be a shrewd move as he has undoubted quality if they can keep the 30 year old fit. David Brooks has been sold to Bournemouth for a fee in excess of £10million. They will be disappointed to lose him but it is good money for a young player with a lot still to prove.
Predicted Finish: 6th-11th
Top Goalscorer: David McGoldrick
Did You Know? Both Chris Wilder (manager) and Billy Sharp (captain) were born in the borough of Sheffield and are lifelong fans of the club. Two of their own.
Dutchman Jos Luhukay has been in charge since January this year and guided The Owls to 15th place in the table. He has mixed results from his time in Germany in recent years and has never managed in England before. Wednesday have been contenders at the top of the table in recent years but are currently rumoured to be struggling with FFP rules which could hold them back this year. When you look through the squad you see quality aplenty in the likes of Lucas Joao, Fernando Forestieri and Keiren Westwood. However, with a rumoured embargo limiting further options, I can’t see past a similar season as last year for Wednesday.
Predicted Finish: 13th-18th
Top Goalscorer: Lucas Joao
Did You Know: Jordan Rhodes loan move to Norwich is rumoured to be a total package (wages and loan fee) of approximately £4million for the year!
Here we have the bookies favourites who will be confident of bouncing back at the first time of asking under new gaffer Gary Rowett. A point that needs noting is Rowett has never been promoted as a manager despite showing in all of his previous jobs he knows how to challenge at the right end of the table. However, he inherits a very strong squad with the likes of Jack Butland, Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher being far too good for this level. Shaqiri will be missed but by bringing in Benik Afobe, Tom Ince, Oghenekaro Etobe and James McClean they have arguably improved overall. Etobe looked a talented, energetic midfield player for Nigeria at the World Cup and the likes of Ince and Afobe are proven at this level.
Predicted Finish: 1st-4th
Top Goalscorer: Benik Afobe
Did You Know? Club captain Ryan Shawcross (30) has been at Stoke City for over 10 years and was part of the team that achieved promotion back in 2008.
Not many will have heard an awful lot about Graham Potter when he was appointed Swansea manager this summer but he isn’t one to be underestimated. He joined Ostersund in the Swedish 4th tier back in 2010 and left them in the top tier this summer having had Europa League football. The problem Potter has is the likes of Lukasz Fabianski, Ki Sung-Yueng & Andre Ayew (loan) have left the club and apart from Barrie Mckay they haven’t brought in much Championship experience. Bersant Celina seems a real talent and the midfielder has joined on a permanent basis from Manchester City, keep an eye out for him. Overall I feel Swansea are one of the hardest teams to call this year, they could struggle due to the outgoings but on the other hand Potter could prove to be a gem and anything could happen then.
Predicted Finish: 8th-13th
Top Goalscorer: Oliver Mcburnie
Did You Know? Leon Britton only ever played for one club, Swansea City, but aged 16 West Ham paid a then record fee of £400k to buy Britton from Arsenal. He failed to ever break through to West Hams first team leading to his move to South Wales.
West Bromwich Albion
It raised an eyebrow with most when West Brom sacked Tony Pulis last season and again when Alan Pardew was appointed as his replacement. Darren Moore did his best to save The Baggies but they were relegated and he now has the task of bringing them back. It’s his first managers job at first team level but he is a hugely popular figure with the players, staff and most importantly, the fans. His task won’t be easy as he has seen Jonny Evans, Ben Foster and James Mclean, amongst others, leave the club. But, he has signed a top goalkeeper in Sam Johnstone and is closing in on highly rated Yeovil defender Tom James. He still has to deal with some high earners that want out and that may be what holds them back from a real title push. Jay Rodriguez and Nacer Chadli are still West Brom players but both won’t want to play Championship football if at all possible.
Predicted Finish: 3rd-8th
Top Goalscorer: Hal Robson-Kanu
Did You Know: Darren Moore won promotion with West Brom twice as a player, in 2001-02 & 2003-04 and was seen as a rock at the heart of The Baggies defence.
After relegation in 2017 to the third tier, Paul Cook was brought in as manager and guided The Latics to the League 1 title. After such a fantastic season the aim will be to carry the form into the new season and have an outside shot at the play-offs. In the likes of Nathan Byrne and Nick Powell they have genuine quality but the main strength of this side is they all give everything they have for each other and the gaffer. Christian Walton resigns on loan and is a highly regarded goalkeeper while Callum Mcmanaman offers an outlet on either flank if he can stay focused. Will Grigg lived up to the hype again in League 1 but he has struggled to step up in the Championship previously and Paul Cook is ruthless enough to look elsewhere if he fails this time around.
Predicted Finish: 7th-12th
Top Goalscorer: Nick Powell
Did You Know: Wigan Athletic have a limited history having only joined the Football League in 1978.
So that’s my thoughts on the coming season but the beauty of The Championship is anything can happen and inevitably a big club will be fighting for their lives and a club will come from nowhere to challenge the club’s fighting it out at the top. Luckily, football isn’t decided on paper, it’s on the grass where every clubs fate will be decided and that’s why we all love it.