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With the drama and the madness of the World Cup well and truly over, it’s time for normal service to resume, with the EFL returning next weekend, signalling an end to the longest 3 weeks in the footballing calendar. Expect drama, goals, controversy, thrills and spills as football returns for yet another season.
Here at the Football League Scout, we are previewing what to expect for the upcoming season, beginning with one of the most difficult leagues in the world, the Sky Bet Championship.
Among the early pre-season favourites for promotion is inevitability the three relegated clubs, who all come into the season with new managers, with two of those clubs putting their faith in relative unknowns.
Swansea arrive back in the championship with new manager Graham Potter, whose impressive spell with Ostersunds over in Sweden has earned him the opportunity to get the Swans back in the big time. With Joel Asoro from Sunderland being the only real addition so far, the remaining two weeks of the transfer window will be vital for the club. With the likes seasoned Premier League stars Jordan Ayew, Wilfred Bony, Jefferson Montero, Sam Clucas and Alfie Mawson all still at the club, it will be interesting to see what develops in South Wales. Should they manage to keep hold of these, then promotion looks like a real possibility, and should they leave, they will need to be replaced, as Swansea will be left with a very young and thin squad. Graham Potter will be desperate to prove that he belongs at this level, so Swansea will be an interesting prospect to watch next season.
Likewise West Brom will going into the season under the management of Darren Moore, who has done a great job at galvanising and regrouping the squad following the calamities of last seasons taxi-gate.
The additions of Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley provide solid championship quality, and with Jay Rodriguez, Salomon Rondon and Nacer Chadli expected to leave, West Brom will be a strong financial position to add to their squad. Relegation was imminent for a few seasons for the Baggies, and it should be used as a time to clear out, regroup and get youngsters playing, and with highly-rated young talent such as Rakeem Harper and Jonathan Leko in the ranks, West Brom will also be a difficult side to face, and should be up there challenging for promotion.
There is also free-spending Stoke, the bookies’ pre-season favourites for an instant return to the top flight. They’ve taken a different approach in their managerial recruitment, appointing Championship veteran Gary Rowett, who came so close to promotion last season with Derby.
Backed by the Premier League parachute package, and the money for the sale of Xherdan Shaqiri to Liverpool and the potential departure of Jack Butland, Stoke have spent big money so far, bringing in James McClean, Tom Ince, Peter Etobo and Benik Afobe, as Gary Rowett looks to build a side fit for the Championship.
The era of Barcelona-lite is well and truly over, as Rowett looks to transform Stoke into the hard to beat, physically organised side they known as for so long. After impressing at Birmingham City and Derby County, Rowett hopes that it will be third club lucky as he bids to join the managerial elite.
A little tip, I reckon this could be the year Saido Berahino rediscovers his goalscoring form too, as a drop down a level will allow him to phase his way back into the game, should Rowett provide the opportunity.
Other clubs who will surely be there or there about include Rowett’s former club, Derby County, who have turned to a legend of the game to help them fire their way up.
Step up Frank Lampard, who will make his managerial debut this season. His early movements into the transfer window have been impressive, as he has added pace, youth and flair to an already play-off standard squad. The additions of loanees Harry Wilson and Mason Mount and the permanent additions of Florian Josefzoon and the Sky Bet League One top goalscorer Jack Marriott may well see Lampard’s side battling away at the summit of the table.
Other clubs who will no doubt be within play-off contention are Middlesbrough, backed by veteran Tony Pulis who did a great job at guiding them to the play-offs last campaign, and Aston Villa, who are reportedly out of financial difficulty following their takeover and kept their faith in Steve Bruce, a man who has three Championship promotions to his name of course.
Throw in Wolves 2.0 into the mix, Nottingham Forest, who with the arrivals of youngsters Joao Carvalho and Diego Concalves from Benfica, Gil Dias from A.S. Monaco and Tobias Figuerido on a permanent basis, combining with the experience of Adlene Guedioura, Jack Colback and Lewis Grabban, they too could be outsiders. Of course, manager Aitor Karanka knows exactly what it takes to get promotion from this division.
The rest of the chasing pack will be looking to push on too, with Daniel Farke and his Norwich troops now more equipped to the Championship, and the arrival of seasoned Championship goalscorer Jordan Rhodes, potentially we could see the Canaries making a play-off charge.
Preston and Millwall came desperately close last time out and have strengthened well, likewise Sheffield United will be looking to go one further.
And of course, I haven’t even mentioned the fact that one of the best managers in the world, and the inspiration behind Pep Guardiola’s managerial career, a certain Marcelo Bielsa will also be in the Championship next season, taking the over the helm at Leeds United. Whether he will see the season through remains to be seen, but he certainly arrives with a pedigree to be well equipped to make a real fight for promotion.
Finally, we saw a very un-fancied Cardiff achieve promotion from virtually out of nowhere last season, and Huddersfield the season before, so who the surprise package will be this season remains to be seen. Potentially Dean Smith’s young and talented Brentford side? Or will Paul Hurst continue his meteoric rise through the footballing ladder with his newly acquired Ipswich side?
One thing for certain is that the Championship remains one of the most unpredictable, difficult and challenging leagues in the world, where realistically you could make an argument for any one of about 15 sides to be promoted, and I wouldn’t like to say who my predicted top six is. One thing I will say though, is that I cant wait to see how the action unfolds over the course of the season.