The final set of predictions before the Football League fixtures start this weekend sees me take a look at the Championship. Who will be fighting for promotion? Who will be facing the drop? Let’s find out…
Norwich. Following relegation from the Premier League last season the majority of the Norwich squad has remained intact. The only notable departures are Robert Snodgrass and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, although I highly doubt the latter will be missed. A core of key players such as Gary Hooper, Alex Tettey, Nathan Redmond and John Ruddy have been retained amongst others and all should flourish at a lower level. Goals have been added to the squad in the form of Lewis Grabban who took the league by storm last season and he will be expected to do the same again. The quality throughout the squad is why I am backing Norwich to gain promotion as champions.
Wigan. After the appointment of Uwe Rosler, Wigan experienced a change of fortunes that saw them go on a fantastic run of results and almost reach a second successive FA Cup final. The squad looks as strong as it did last season but with more strength in depth after the summer signings of Jack Collison, James Tavernier, Martyn Waghorn and Oriol Riera. The one thing that is a slight worry is the lack of a major goalscoring talent up front but the combination of a balanced squad, strong backline and fantastic manager should see them return to the Premier League.
Derby. I’ve seen many people on social media backing Derby to either win the league or go be promoted automatically but for me they will just fall short and have to settle for the playoffs once again. Last season’s squad was very strong but it hasn’t really been built upon to enable them to go one step further. They have lost Andre Wisdom and Patrick Bamford after their loans expired and new recruit George Thorne, who showed promise whilst on loan at the end of last season, picked up an injury in preseason that will rule him out of most of the season. The signings that they have made I would describe as luke warm, Leon Best, Zak Whitbread, Lee Naylor, or unproven, Alefe Santos, Omar Mascarell, Ivan Calero, so I think it will be playoffs once again.
Cardiff. Despite losing a host of key first team players following relegation, the Cardiff squad still looks strong. They have purchased Adam Le Fondre who has scored goals, and lots of them, for every team he’s played for and should have no problem finding the net this season. In Kim Bo Kyung and Peter Whittingham, both proven Championship midfielders, Cardiff still have that quality in the middle of the park. The weakest area of the squad is currently the defence following the departures of Gary Medel and Steven Caulker with no replacements yet. They also have an unproven manager in English football and we will see if Solskjaer can handle the pressure of taking Cardiff back up at the first attempt. If the back line was stronger I’d tip them to go up automatically but at the moment I can only back them to finish in the playoffs.
Nottingham Forest. Forest have spent some serious money this summer, most notably the £5.5million splashed out on striker Britt Assombalonga. That sort of money is a gamble on a player who has only played one season in League Two and another in League One to date. He can score goals though and paired with Lars Veldwijk, another new signing who averaged three goals in four games in the Dutch league, Forest have a strike pairing that will strike fear into all opposition defences. Other notable new arrivals include the experienced David Vaughan, Chis Burke, Matty Fryatt and Danny Fox, and the exciting Michail Antonio who will no doubt be providing the assists for the two forwards. The only question marks are how strong is the defence and can manager Stuart Pearce improve his dreary managerial record.
Watford. Two seasons ago Watford almost made it to back to the Premier League only to be disappointed in the playoffs. Last season big things were predicted but the team finished way below expectations. This season however there are reasons to be more optimistic down at Vicarage Road. Key players from two years ago Matej Vydra and Daniel Tozser have rejoined on loan as well as the other annual loan signings from the other clubs owned by the Watford owners. Craig Cathcart and Keith Andrews will add steel to the defence and midfield, Lloyd Dyer brings pace and key players Forrestieri, Abdi and Anya all remaining. The big uncertainty is whether or not star striker Troy Deeney will stay at the club amid interest from the Premier League and his future could determine whether or not Watford can push for promotion.
Blackpool. A lot has been made of the complete and utter mess Blackpool have been in over the summer; around two weeks ago there were only eight players under contract, none of which were goalkeepers. In a football manager style transfer spree that number has now increased to 20 but that that doesn’t mean Blackpool are out of trouble just yet. The majority of those players are not true Championship quality or are unproven loans from whom you don’t know what to expect. All that mixed in with the uncertainty at board at manager level means it is looking like a season of misery for Blackpool supporters.
Birmingham. Last season Birmingham narrowly avoided relegation on the last day and over the summer manager Lee Clark has tried to build a squad with the ability to finish higher up. The trouble is he has replaced a bunch of unknowns, with a bunch of unknowns with the majority of the new arrivals being raw and unproven. Jordan Ibe on loan from Liverpool has been tipped to follow in Raheem Sterling’s footsteps but is nowhere near the finished article and other signings such as Wes Thomas, David Edgar, Stephen Gleeson and Clayton Donaldson don’t ooze Championship quality. I think it will be very tough for Birmingham over the summer.
Millwall. As much as Ian Holloway is loved by the majority of the footballing world he can at times be a bit of a maverick. He has a history of taking teams up but not being able to keep them there as he proved at Blackpool at would have probably demonstrated at Crystal Palace had he not bravely walked out. The trouble with that is Millwall have been a League One team punching above their weight in the Championship for a while now and need somebody to stabilise the ship and push them on to the next level. On the new signings front, Carlos Edwards and Ricardo Fuller are both has-beens and a lot of the others such as Magaye Gueye are unproven. It looks like it will be a tough slog for Millwall to stay in the league once again and I fear it will be goodbye come May.
Brentford. There are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between Southampton and Brentford. Both have very good academies, both like using younger players and both play an attacking passing game. Despite recently being promoted from League One, Brentford have recruited well by bringing in the top players from the lower leagues. Scott Hogan and Andre Gray were both top scorers in League Two and the Conference Premier respectively whilst Moses Odubajo had a stand out season at Leyton Orient. Their not a big name in the league but I have a feeling that Brentford will be a breath of fresh air next season and surprise quite a few people.