Friday, 2 August 2019

Preview: Championship 2019/20 Season

The most unpredictable league in world football is back. Yes, the Championship returns with plenty of sides feeling that this could be there year to shine. Cardiff and Fulham are straight back after a sole Premier League season and are joined by Huddersfield who are back after two seasons away. Meanwhile, Luton, Barnsley and Charlton have made triumphant returns after securing promotion. The Championship is going to be as competitive as ever this season with some much at stake for many clubs.

Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield are back in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League. Cardiff and Fulham are back after just one season in the Premier League. Neil Warnock and Cardiff ultimately fell short with Premier League quality lacking in their squad but the Cardiff has dusted down and added fresh faces to begin a promotion bid once again with Warnock a serial winner in the Championship. Fulham's £100M experiment backfired severely and along with going through 3 managers, relegation seemed inevitable for some time. But the Londoners have reflected over the summer and have fully backed Scott Parker to lead Fulham back to Premier League having overseen their relegation. Fulham have had a very good summer so far adding Ivan Cavaliero and Anthony Knockaert to their attack but a crucial move was tying Aleksandar Mitrovic to a new long term deal and the big Serbian striker is determined to lead Fulham back to the Premier League. Huddersfield finished with the second-lowest points total in Premier League history last season but despite that, there is optimism around the John Smith's Stadium with the club heading into a new era. Jan Siewert begins a first full season in charge while long-term owner Dean Hoyle has sold the club to Phil Hodgkinson who is hoping to bring the good times to the club once again. The play-offs would represent a good season for the Terriers and anything above that would be magnificent. Siewert has scouted the lower leagues and brought hungry players in Reece Brown and Josh Koroma to the club but also added experience in Tommy Elphick who arrives after helping Aston Villa to promotion.

Momentum is a huge factor in the Championship and the three promoted sides will bring plenty of it as they gear up for their returns. Luton, Barnsley and Charlton are gearing up for a season of battle and excitement. It has been a magnificent two years for Luton who secured back to back promotions to get to the Championship. Despite losing Nathan Jones to Stoke midway through last season, club legend Mick Harford steered the club to promotion and the League 1 title. Harford has returned to his usual role at Luton and Graeme Jones has arrived as the club's new manager. Jones has been Roberto Martinez's right-hand man at several clubs but this will be his first management job. Jones has been busy adding experience to a young, vibrant Luton squad by adding the likes of Callum McMananman and Martin Cranie. However, the club has lost prized assets James Justin and Jack Stacey to the Premier League. Despite that, optimism is high at Kenilworth with the club breaking their transfer record to sign Simon Sluga. It was a fantastic first season in English football for Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel. The German delivered an instant return to the Championship and has spent the summer moulding a squad capable of competing at this level. Like Luton, Barnsley have also broken their transfer record as Barnsley snapped up defender Bambo Diaby from Belgian club Lokeren. However, the club have seen key players Adam Davies, Liam Lindsay, Ethan Pinnock leave the club while Kieffer Moore is also expected to go. A huge transition of players from the Tykes but the fans are excited ahead of the new season. It's fair to say Lee Bowyer's reign at Charlton has been full of difficulties especially off the pitch with disliked owner Roland Duchatelet struggling to find a buyer. Bowyer even left Charlton during the summer after struggling to agree on a new deal but they managed to resolve that issue and the Addicks will head into the new season hoping to consolidate themselves and avoid the drop. Lyle Taylor will be vital to them this season with the striker aiming to make the step up to the Championship and deliver the goods.

The Championship is renowned for changes in the summer and plenty of clubs have changed managers over the summer. Birmingham controversially sacked Garry Monk despite having an excellent season at the club. A nine-point deduction ended their play-off hopes but there was plenty of happy Blues fans at the end of last season. Monk's replacement is his assistant Pep Clotet whose only previous number 1 role was a disappointing spell at Oxford United. The Blues have lost Jota and Che Adams to the Premier League so goals and creativity are missing for the Blues so Clotet needs replacements fast. Derby also have a new manager following Frank Lampard's move to Chelsea. His replacement is former Dutch international midfielder Philip Cocu who arrives in the East Midlands after a disappointing stint at Fenebahce but a tremendous few seasons in charge of PSV Eindhoven. Derby fell short in the play-off final but with Cocu at hand, they will be hoping to go one step further this season with chairman Mel Morris looking for an emphasis on players the club are producing to bring the success. A real astute appointment from Derby and Cocu is well aware of the challenge ahead. Hull also have a new manager after failing to agree on a new deal with Nigel Adkins. His replacement is Grant McCann who arrives after a terrific spell in charge of Doncaster in League 1. McCann wants to bring success to the KCOM this season but any success hinges on the club keeping Jarrod Bowen. A tremendous season for him last time out and he wants to prove himself at the highest possible level but will be hoping to help his boyhood club return to the top flight. Middlesbrough have gone down the sentimental route after Tony Pulis left the Riverside. Jonathan Woodgate steps up from the coaching set up into the top job at the club he served well as a player. He is determined to bring exciting, attacking football to the Riverside after Tony Pulis's style was heavily criticised in his 18 months at Middlesbrough. Woodgate is gonna need time and players to fit his style of play but the Boro fans are excited ahead of the new season. Seems to be a recurring theme at Nottingham Forest, starting a new season with a new manager. The new man this season is Sabri Lamouchi who arrives after managing Rennes and the Ivory Coast national team. Lamouchi replaces Martin O'Neill who was sacked at the end of the season. Lamouchi is tasked with getting Forest back into the Premier League. Forest have challenged in recent seasons but fallen short but could this finally be their year to break into the top 6? QPR also begin the new season with a new manager in Mark Warburton who replaces John Eustace who was in caretaker charge at the end of last season. It has been a big summer of transition at QPR with Warburton arriving and a whole host of changes and new signings. 13 players have left QPR while 13 have arrived at the club. Warburton has also emphasised the importance of QPR's academy with many youngsters expected to be involved this season. Eberechi Eze is the star at QPR and he will be hoping to sparkle once again this season. Sheffield Wednesday will also begin the season with a new manager after Steve Bruce left for Newcastle United. Wednesday are yet to name Bruce's successor so for now, goalkeeping coach Lee Bullen is in charge of the team but they hope to announce a new manager soon. Wednesday's pre-season has been disrupted but they will be hoping a new manager will bring the necessary stability. Swansea have also been forced to change managers after Graham Potter left to take over at Brighton. His replacement is former England Under 17s manager Steve Cooper who arrives determined to carry on from where Graham Potter left off. Cooper believes Swansea can be promoted but he needs a good start and a few new faces with the club on a limited budget this summer. A tough season could arrive in South Wales but Cooper believes Swansea can challenge and the fans will hope they can do the same. The final club to charge their manager is West Bromwich Albion who have confirmed Slaven Bilic as their new manager replacing Jimmy Shan who was in caretaker charge at the end of the last season following Darren Moore's sacking in March. Bilic arrives tasked with bringing Premier League football back to the Hawthorns. Bilic is building a good squad to compete but the loss of Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle is hard to replace with those two notching over 20 goals each last season. Bilic has brought in Kenneth Zohore from Cardiff to add goals and he is expected to add another before the transfer window closes. Bilic wants a vibrant team built on solid foundations which West Brom lacked last season conceding too many goals ultimately costing them.

The promotion battle is going to be exciting this season with plenty of clubs believing they can reach the Premier League. Bielsa begins a second season in charge at Leeds after seeing their season dwindle away in the final weeks of the season. Leeds missed out on automatic promotion to Sheffield United and lost in the play-offs to Derby despite having a lead after the first leg. Can they go one better this time around? Derby and West Brom are also aiming to go one better after losses in the play-offs. Bristol City, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Middlesbrough also fancy their chances of at least finishing in the play-offs. The relegated clubs are also expected to challenge with expectations high at Cardiff and Fulham. Could unfancied clubs like Blackburn, Birmingham, Hull and Swansea gatecrash the playoff picture? Only time will tell but this is going to be one of the most intense promotion battles the football league has ever seen.

The most unpredictable league in the world is upon us and excitement is building for the new season. Quality football, brilliant goals and the odd few twists and turns are certainly gonna be on offer because that is what the Championship brings.

My Predictions:
Champions: Leeds
Automatic Promotion: Fulham
Play-Offs: Cardiff, West Brom, Derby, Stoke. West Brom to win the play-offs.
Relegation: Reading, Barnsley, Millwall

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