Sunday, 5 August 2018

Championship Discussion 3: Ipswich, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Millwall

It is a new start for the tractor boys under the leadership of Paul Hurst. Mick McCarthy’s 5 and half years at the club saw plenty of ups and downs but owner Marcus Evans clearly wants something different this season and has pinched Paul Hurst from Shrewsbury. Hurst has had a very solid managerial career in the lower leagues guiding Grimsby back to the football league and taking Shrewsbury to within inches of the Championship last season having been relegation favourites. However, this will be his first time managing in the Championship and he may find difficulties but one thing throughout his managerial career is that his teams come the end of the season are fighting to achieve something and he will install that mentality at Ipswich if given a sustained period of time at the club. There is plenty of talent at Portman Road including Joe Garner, Andre Dozzell, Grant Ward and Martyn Waghorn. They will be hoping to keep the latter at the club with strong interest from some of their Championship rivals. Paul Hurst has flexed his muscle in the transfer window and has gone to the lower league to sign talented players like Jordan Roberts, Gwoin Edwards, Ellis Harrison and Janoi Donacien who he believes can make the step up to the Championship. Paul Hurst has stuck to his transfer philosophy and there is no doubt he will be looking for further additions should players like Waghorn leave the club. The Ipswich fans will head into the season with some optimism and a cautious approach because there will be excitement in terms of a young, hungry manager however, he is unproven at this level and signing players yet to taste the Championship could also be a concern. A mid-table finish would certainly represent an excellent first season in charge for Paul Hurst and anything above that would be sensational. Paul Hurst has ambition and he will hope the board and fans follow his ambitions.
I think it could be a very long, difficult season for Ipswich with the club going through a serious transition of players and coaching staff. The club need a goalscorer and without Martyn Waghorn it could be a real struggle to score goals because although they have Joe Garner, his injury record is poor, and they need him should Waghorn depart. The fans are going to have concerns and rightly they should as they will be involved in the relegation battle.

My Predicted Finish: 22nd

It was a very disappointing season for Leeds in end despite the season starting so magnificently. They were a force in the opening months of the season under Thomas Christensen but a poor run cost him his job and his successor Paul Heckingbottom didn’t do much better and Leeds finished in the bottom half. However, the club will head into the new season in unknown terrority due to their highly surprising appointment of Marcelo Bielsa. The highly regarded Argentinian has admirers including Guardiola and Pochettino and Leeds will no doubt be excited about their new boss. However, he comes with controversy after being suspended by Lille after a horrendous run of form, he quit Marseille just one game into a new season and last only 2 days in charge of Lazio, so it is a case of which Bielsa will Leeds get because he was very successful in charge of Athletic Bilbao and that is the Bielsa Leeds will want. The Argentine is described as a master of football by many of his admirers and Leeds have done brilliantly to convince him to manage in the Championship and the Leeds fans will want instant success from their charismatic new leader. Bielsa is very much a tactician always changing his ideas and formations to get the best results out of games and his pressing style has won plenty of admirers and he will have to quickly adapt to the Championship because it is a very unforgiving league to new managers in the English game as many have found out. There will be plenty of optimism around the whole football club and promotion will be the main goal this season. Leeds were competitive for parts of last season and they do have talented players including Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Allioski, Pontus Jansson and Kalvin Phillips. A team of underachievers and Bielsa must quickly get the best out of them to have any chance of making the play-offs which would be the minimal expectation this season. Bielsa has flexed his transfer muscle to sign the likes of Jamal Blackman, Lewis Baker and Patrick Bamford. The latter is very well travelled, and he must find a home rather than constantly moving clubs and he will be hoping Leeds provide him with that stability. He is a proven goal scorer and Bielsa will be hoping to get the best out of him. The pressure will on Bamford and Bielsa to succeed and Bielsa will be looking for consistency from his team this season.
I think Bielsa is an exciting appointment from a Leeds’ fan perspective they will want the successful Bielsa not the one who failed at Lille and left Lazio after 2 days. It could be a very exciting season but like Derby, I think they will just miss out on the play-offs this season, but they will be battling hard should Bielsa last the season because his habit of not lasting long could come into play if they have a poor start.

My Predicted Finish: 8th

It was a solid season back in the Championship for Middlesbrough. Garry Monk’s surprise sacking was the only shock in a relatively comfortable season for the club following Tony Pulis’ appointment. Although they didn’t achieve promotion, the goal will be the same this season. Pulis installed a solid defence but at times they lacked a spark in the attacking areas and it did cost them in the play-off semi-finals. Pulis will be looking to strengthen his Middlesbrough team but the loss of key assets like Ben Gibson and potentially Adama Traore means Pulis will have to act quickly to replace what he has lost. Aden Flint is an excellent signing for Middlesbrough and Pulis would off hoped to play him and Gibson together but with Gibson off to Burnley, Pulis will have to assess and find a replacement. Flint will also have to adjust because success is vital at Middlesbrough with Bristol City pushing but not desperate for success. Pulis will certainly be active because he is aware Traore will probably leave and even if he does stay, Pulis has made his intentions to add attacking quality to Boro clear. Middlesbrough finished 5th last season and their ambition will be to improve on that and plenty of talent in the Boro squad including Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite, Stewart Downing and Jonny Howson but they certainly need some creative flair, and this will intensify should Traore leave. If Pulis gets the players he wants and Boro gain consistency in their play, it could a very exciting season in the North East and there is no doubt the Middlesbrough fans will expect to be in the play-offs as a bare minimum, but automatic promotion is not out of their reach.
I think Pulis will certainly get Middlesbrough going and should he get the players he wants and keep the core of their side from last season, Middlesbrough will be a force to be reckoned with and automatic promotion could be calling for Middlesbrough and celebrations a plenty in the North East

My Predicted Finish: 2nd

What a brilliant season it was for Millwall last season. Following their promotion from League 1, the lions just missed out on a play-off spot by 3 points and Neil Harris will be have belief that Millwall can compete for a play-off spot once again. Neil Harris has done a wonderful job at his football club and he will be dreaming of guiding Millwall into the top flight but with the bigger teams in the league getting better squads, this will only intensify the desire to do better and they are difficult to play against in particular at The Den and this will be integral once again should Millwall have any chance of finishing in the top 6. They certainly overachieved last season with the likes of Steve Morison, George Saville, Aiden O’Brien and Jed Wallace and this is no disrespect to them because they were all brilliant for the club last season and they will be determined to do better this time around and it is an exciting team to watch at times even if they aren’t household names on the pitch. A mid table finish would be a disappointment but realistically it would still be an excellent season for the club, but one thing Neil Harris will not want is second season syndrome because it will be difficult to top the brilliance of last season and he will not want their levels to drop to a point where they are dragged into the relegation battle. Millwall will have a quiet confidence and belief that something special could happen this season.
I think Millwall had a brilliant season last year and they will find it difficult to top that and due to the improvements of the arguably the bigger clubs, I think Millwall will be comfortable in mid table and this would represent another good season.

My Predicted finish: 14th

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