The 2015/16 football season kicks off this weekend – and you can warm-up for the new campaign with our comprehensive guide and prediction piece for all 24 of the Sky Bet Championship teams.[separator type=”thin”]
1st – Middlesbrough
After relegation from the Premier League in 2009, Middlesbrough have had a tough six seasons falling into mid-table Championship obscurity. However, under Aitor Karanka, the Boro have a new lease of life and fully believe that this season might just be the one.
It was a heartbreak season for the Smoggies, but one which they hope will just make them stronger. After such an impressive season, it didn’t finish the way that they had wanted. After making the playoff final pretty easily, seeing off Brentford in the semi-finals, they found themselves outplayed by Norwich. It wasn’t to be, but Boro will hope that this year they can take these experiences to help them gain promotion without the hassle.
They arguably now have one of the best squads in the league. Alex Baptiste joined on a free from Bolton Wanderers, although he had a nightmare start to life at the Riverside, breaking his leg on his pre-season debut against York City. After impressing on loan last season in the North-East, Chelsea defender Thomas Kalas rejoined the club on loan once again, also signing on loan was Southampton defender Jack Stephens. Watford attacker Diego Fabbrini who had found first team opportunities hard to come by at Vicarage Road signed for a season long loan and striker Christian Stuani was recruited in from Spanish side Espanyol to lead the line, but the most attractive deal of the window surely came in West Ham midfielder Stewart Downing rejoining the club that he began his career at.
Young defender Ben Gibson is at the heart of the defence, and the centre-back was an integral member of the team last year. At just 22 he clearly has a lot of potential in the game, and a promotion to the top flight would only do wonders for his growth.
Tricksy winger Albert Adomah has impressed during his two years at Middlesbrough, and he will hope that this year is the year where his goals and assists finally help the team in their ultimate quest. The ex-non league man possesses pace, skills and a final product, which Karanka will hope will be vital this season.
New boy Stewart Downing will be at the heart of all things Boro this year, having come through the youth ranks at the club and being a boyhood fan, he departed in 2009 for Aston Villa, and few expected his return six years later. A player of his calibre will surely excel at Boro in the Championship, after he was impressing at West Ham last year. His impressive crossing and passing ability combined with his pace and his will to go at defenders will hopefully be the quality needed for the promotion push.
If Boro can resurrect the performances that they produced last season to stay consistently at the top, and add some much needed resolution, then they may well be in the running for automatic promotion. With the squad they have, the least expected of them would be challenging for automatic, but after the experiences that they will look to draw on from last season, and a more experienced Aitor Karanka at the helm, The Boot Room can see Boro storming the league, and hence finishing as champions.
2nd – Queens Park Rangers
After a bitterly disappointing relegation from the Premier League last year, Chris Ramsey and Queens Park Rangers find themselves with a tough rebuilding task on their hands. Consolidation is key for the West London side, however with a strong Championship squad being assembled, promotion is certainly on the cards.
Last season proved to be one to forget for the hoops. Finishing bottom of the Premier League and dropping down to the Championship was certainly not ideal. Even with 18 goals from frontman Charlie Austin, he could not save them from the dreaded drop. And with Harry Redknapp’s sudden departure in February, Chris Ramsey arguably inherited a sinking ship. The R’s find themselves in the second tier once again, and with the duo of Ramsey and Les Ferdinand, the new philosophy being implemented might just be what the doctor ordered.
Rangers were quick to get the turnaround started, releasing a host of players including Richard Dunne, Bobby Zamora, Rio Ferdinand and captain Joey Barton. Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy left the club for Crystal Palace and Adel Taarabt’s contract was mutually terminated, before he joined Portuguese giants Benfica.
The most important thing, however, was shipping out these 30-Something players that have hung around the club like a bad smell. The new method of young players with something to prove might actually prove successful for the club, and the club have the perfect man to channel the potential of these youngsters into productivity.
In terms of arrivals, first to come through the Loftus Road doors were Swindon duo, Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin, both highly rated young midfielders that will certainly look to impress in the Championship. They were followed by fellow League 1 star, attacker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who joined on a free from champions Bristol City. Fans favourite Jamie Mackie rejoined the club after two years away, signing on a free from Nottingham Forest, having spent last season on loan at Reading. Next up was German striker Sebastian Polter, who signed from Bundesliga club Mainz, after scoring 14 goals in 29 games for second division side Union Berlin on loan last term. Arguably the most exciting signing of the season came in the form of Dutch attacking midfielder Tjaronn Chery, who rejected Aston Villa to join the R’s from Eredevisie side FC Groningen. The seventh signing of the window was Wigan defender and captain James Perch, who completed his move to Loftus Road a week before the start of the season.
Following Joey Barton’s release from the club, the captain’s armband was gifted to ex-Manchester City centre-back Nedum Onouha. The 28 year old has been through two relegations and a promotion with Rangers, so knows what life at Loftus Road entails. He possesses an incredible amount of pace and strength, and will be key for QPR this season.
New signing Tjaronn Chery seems to be the real coup for Rangers. A pacey playmaker that is known in Holland for his set-piece expertise and his ability to find the back of the net from long-distances, R’s fans will be hoping that he can provide the flair needed to bolster them back up to the top flight.
Massimo Luongo will be relishing the chance to impress in the Championship after attracting so much attention whilst at Swindon. The player of the tournament at the Asian cup in January, the box-to-box midfielder could be just what Rangers need in the centre of midfield.
The Boot Room can see QPR being towards the top of the division yet again, putting up a serious bid for three promotions in three consecutive seasons in the Championship. If they are to enjoy any sort of success their defence certainly needs sharpening up, and they’re new look youth based side might just provide the flair and energy needed to elevate them straight back up. We see them just scraping into the automatic places in 2nd, but with the Championships infamous unpredictability they could well finish pretty much anywhere.
3rd – Derby County
It has been a really tough few years for Derby County. Ever since the diabolical top flight season in 2008/09 where they racked up just 11 points, infamously the lowest ever points tally in Premier League history, things haven’t gone to plan for the Rams. Sinking into mid table obscurity and even flirting with relegation on occasions, it’s been a dull few years in the East Midlands. However, now with ex-Real Madrid coach, Paul Clement, at the helm, Derby have had an incredibly successful transfer window and find themselves one of the favourites for automatic promotion.
Last season was one to forget, on the back of a play-off final defeat to QPR the year before, Derby were heavily backed to achieve promotion at the second time of asking, and it looked as if they were not going to let anyone down either, rising to the top of the league in the opening weeks. However, as key players sustained injuries, the side began to plunge down into the playoff places, sinking lower and lower with each week. Whether it was nerves that got to them, or the injuries, or maybe even too much pressure being piled on them, Derby fell out of the playoff spaces on the last day of the season, after a 3-0 loss to Reading.
The squad certainly needed sharpening up following the two disappointments, and midfielder John Eustace departed the club, along with Zak Whitbread and Jamie Ward, who left to join local rivals Nottingham Forest. However, it was the incomings that caught the eye of many. Darren Bent made his stay at the club permanent since impressing on loan from Aston Villa last season. Defender Chris Baird was brought in from West Brom, and goalkeeper and ex-England international Scott Carson joined from Wigan Athletic, to give Lee Grant some competition. Alex Pearce was recruited from Reading, which they will hope will give the defence some steel. Like Bent, young winger Tom Ince joined permanently from Hull City after an immensely productive loan period. Defender Jason Shackell was bought from Burnley and most interestingly, forward Andi Weimann signed from Aston Villa.
Defender and skipper Richard Keogh will once again play a huge part in this season. Since joining from Coventry in 2012, the 28 year old has own over the Derby faithful with his whole hearted performances and know-how in the heart of defence, and will hope that his displays will be key to the promotion push.
Another player who has been a part of the Derby set up for a while now is midfielder Will Hughes, since coming through the academy at the club, he has become an integral part of the midfield at Pride Park. In the midst of Premier League interest however, the 20 year old looks to be staying with the Rams, and this would he some boost for their own push for Premier League.
Many were certainly surprised when Austrian striker Andreas Weimann dropped down a division to join Derby, but first team football called out to Weimann, who might not have been a continuous starter at Aston Villa. The Austrian international has pace, time on his side and knows where the goal is, and some time in the Championship might be exactly what he needs to bolster his confidence.
There’s no doubt that Derby will be in and around the automatic promotion places throughout the season, but whether they have the teeth to secure their place come May remains to be seen, they have tough competition in Middlesbrough and QPR for example, and The Boot Room reckons it will be a tough battle between the three for the two prized places. We see Derby just missing out, but who better than Paul Clement to prove us wrong?[separator type=”thin”]
4th – Ipswich Town
It’s been 13 years for Ipswich in the second tier of English football, and for Ipswich fans – it’s been 13 years too long. With Mick McCarthy at the helm, however, things are looking better than they have done for many years, and it actually seems like they are touching distance away from promotion to the promised land.
Last season was very bitter-sweet for the Tractor Boys, whilst they succeeded in their main goal in achieving a playoff position, losing to long-lasting local rivals and eventual winners Norwich in the semi final, was not ideal. There were certainly positives to take, and they will try and draw from these positives to replicate the form they showed last season.
Tyrone Mings was sold to Bournemouth for a tasty £8 Million, and otherwise, the club have done well to keep hold of their prized assets that impressed so much last term. In terms of incomings, 17 year old Ainsley Maitland-Niles joined on loan from Arsenal, and Town secured a loan deal in Ryan Fraser from Bournemouth. Danish international left-back Jonas Knudsen joined to replace the departing Mings and Jonathan Douglas signed on a free from Brentford. Giles Coke and Larsen Toure also joined the club to add some depth.
Ryan Fraser’s loan deal to the club is a big addition to the side, a player with bundles of pace and ability, he’ll surely cause some championship full backs some problems.
A huge boost for the club is that star striker Daryl Murphy looks to be on board for this season, after a tremendous effort last year racking up a spectacular 27 goals and boasting the top scorer accolade by an impressive 6 goals, Ipswich will be hoping that it was not a one season wonder.
It’s a big season for 19 year old Teddy Bishop. After coming through the youth academy and breaking into the first team last season, it’s important for the highly rated midfielder to stake his claim in the centre of the park and prove exactly what he is capable of.
The Boot Room sees Ipswich mounting yet another challenge for top six, and with the squad and manager they have at their disposal, theres no reason why this isn’t going to happen again. Maybe not quite good enough for the automatic spaces, but playoffs is surely what is expected of Mick McCarthy’s men.
5th – Brentford
Many found it astounding the way that Brentford manager Mark Warburton was treated last season. The man who got the team promoted to the Championship and then sustained them a playoff position in their debut season in the second tier was treated appallingly, told that he would be out of the job months before the end of the season, even if he eventually got them promoted. They didn’t get through to the play-off final and Warburton was replaced by Marinus Dijkhuizen, a completely inexperienced manager who was plucked out of nowhere, it is going to be a tough season for the Bees to replicate what Warburton did, and they may well struggle with this new manager.
Last season was a superb one for Brentford, Warburton had built a team with a mixture of lower league stars and Premier League loanees, which ultimately worked superbly. Automatic promotion looked like it may well happen mid-way through the season, but the four teams that would go on and ultimately rule the top end of the division raced away, leaving Brentford to finish in a very respectable 5th place. Losing to Middlesbrough in the semi-final however, Mark Warburton’s reign at Griffin Park had come to an end.
With star man Alex Pritchard returning to parent club Tottenham and Moses Odubajo, Andre Gray, Stuart Dallas and Jonathan Douglas nearing moves away from Griffin Park, the squad is set to be unrecognisable from the formidable team set up by Warburton and co. However, Josh McEachran signing a permanent deal from Chelsea, and Dijkhuizen bringing in a host of players from abroad, including Yoann Barbet from Niort, Akaki Gogia from Hallescher, Jan Holldack from Koln, Konstantin Kerschbaumer from Admira Wacker, Andreas Bjellend from Twente, Phillip Hoffman from Kaiserslautern and Lasse Vibe from Goteborg.
Jota will play a huge part in Brentford’s season similar to the crucial role he took on last term, and it looks like he will be playing his football at Griffin Park for at least another season. The spaniard can light things up from midfield and can be the spark needed for another promotion push.
New signing Phillip Hoffmann has scored 9 in 17 for the German U21 side, and he looks to be a real coup for the Bees, if he can make the transition into English football as quick as he would like then he surely can be a huge benefit for Brentford this season.
Speaking of transitions, Andre Gray made the transition from non-league to the Championship look easy, bagging 19 goals in the Championship last year. However, with clubs like Hull and QPR interested in the forward, it remains unclear whether we will be watching Andre Gray bless the red and white stripes of Brentford this season. If they are able to keep the frontman, then they have a very tidy goalscorer on their hands, and the season will no doubt be more successful.
This season all depends on how quick the manager and the new foreign players can adjust to English football. If the adjustment is quick, then Brentford have a superb squad that is no doubt capable of achieving a playoff spot again. However, if things don’t go to plan in the opening months of the season then we may well see them slipping down the table. Here at The Boot Room, though, we hold high hopes for them, and firmly believe that a strong playoff push will be mounted by Dijkhuizen’s men.
6th – Nottingham Forest
Once the biggest club in the country, Nottingham Forest have been adjusting to life in the lower leagues in the 21st century. The club deserves to be playing top flight football, and that is no doubt the goal for this season. With a new manager, too, it could be the season for Forest.
Last season started so well for The Reds, with forward Brit Assombalonga hitting blistering form. All was looking well for Stuart Pearce’s men, but as injuries hit and form dropped, Pearce was shown the exit door and Dougie Freeman came in to ensure mid table security. However, this isn’t enough for a club like Forest, and surely playoffs is the minimum expectation this year.
It hasn’t been an extremely busy window for Freeman’s men, experienced defender Matt Mills was signed from Bolton and Jamie Ward joined from Derby. However, Greg Halford and Danny Collins both departed for pastures new at Rotherham and Jamie Mackie rejoined recently relegated QPR.
If Forest can keep hold of Michail Antonio then this will be a massive boost for the club. The winger possesses pace in abundance and grabs goals from midfield, however with Premier League interest for the ex-Sheffield Wednesday man we could well be seeing Antonio making a move away from the City Ground.
Henri Lansbury has been an ever-present member of the Forest side over past seasons since joining in 2012 from Arsenal. The midfielder will be crucial for any sort of promotion push and this season could be a huge one for the 24 year old, who has found himself a fan favourite with the Forest faithful.
New signing Jamie Ward will no doubt be looking to impress at his new club. The pacy forward had a successful spell at Derby and made the short journey across the midlands to join up with Dougie Freeman’s side. He’s certainly one to look out for this season and his goals might just be what fire Forest into the high position that they so crave.
To reach the playoffs would be considered a success this season, but automatic promotion is probably a tad unrealistic. Whilst they have a decent squad and manager, the squad perhaps isn’t quite good enough to challenge the very top sides in the league. The Boot Room sees a battle for the bottom couple of playoff spots for Forest.
7th – Bristol City
Bristol City will be delighted having spent two years in League One to be back in the Championship and will hoping that as comfortable champions last season that they will be able to make an impact this year and re-establish themselves as strong Championship side and follow in the footsteps of Brentford and Bournemouth in doing so.
Steve Cotterill’s men enjoyed a memorable season which saw them record a League One and Football League Trophy double. The Robins won the league by 8 points finishing on 99 points total, having only lost 5 games all season as well as recording 20 league clean sheets. They were also strong in the scoring department netting an impressive 112 goals in all competitions. These figures could well put City in good stead for the upcoming season.
The Robins have only acquired one player this transfer window in form of Jonathan Kodija from Angers. As it stands the club have actually postponed their team photo as they are short of players with first team experience until new signings arrive. However, Kodija could prove to be a very good investment as his goal scoring record could be very helpful to the Robins as they aim to move their way up the table.
Aden Flint – A massive part of Bristol City’s campaign last season and was a rock at the back of the Robins’ 3-5-2 set-up. He also contributed greatly going forward scoring some huge goals last season on his way to contributing 15 goals last season. Flint will again have to play a huge role in City’s campaign as they look to establish themselves in the Championship after a two year absence.
Jonathan Kodija – A pacey forward with an eye for goal which saw him finish in the top three scorers in the French second tier last season. The Ivorian could be crucial for the Robins if they are to be successful in the Championship this season as his pace and finishing ability could cause great number of issues to defences this campaign.
Aaron Wilbraham – If there is one thing any team needs, it is goals. Wilbraham finished top of City’s goal-scoring charts with an impressive 21 goals in all competitions. Goals are like gold dust to newly promoted sides as they see their defences tested more than the previous campaigns and this is what Wilbraham brings.
Many fancy Bristol City to be a surprise package this season following in the footsteps of many League One sides that have followed up their promotions with strong Championship campaigns. The Robins don’t boast the largest of squads but are tactically strong and should they keep their players fit and add some depth in key areas with the remainder of the transfer window and in January if need be – it could be a very productive return campaign to English football’s second tier.[separator type=”thin”]
8th – Birmingham City
Birmingham at one stage had gained a reputation as a bit of a yo-yo club, flicking between the top flight and Championship. However, the Blues will now be spending their 5th consecutive season in the second tier, which while is not the direction the fans were hoping to see the club go in – they will still be pleased for some stability following financial trouble. They will be hoping to improve on their previous efforts and will be hoping Gary Rowett can build on his already productive work.
The start of last season was not one to remember for Birmingham as they struggled following the final day heroics at Bolton under Lee Clark. Gary Rowett arrived and revitalised a squad lacking in confidence and form and managed to push them to an impressive 10th placed finish. Clayton Donaldson was the only player to break double figures for Rowett’s men notching some big finishes on his way to 16 goals.
Birmingham have utilised the free transfer market to good effect over the last couple of seasons which is no surprise given the financial issues that have recently surrounded the club and this season has been no exception to this trend so far. The Blues have added 5 players so far, including the likes of Jacques Maghoma, Adam Legzdins, Alex Jones, Tomasz Kuszczak, and Maikel Kieftenbeld.
Demarai Gray – A tremendous young talent with great pace and trickery. Gray was easily one of the most outstanding young players in the Football League and certainly warranted the interest of the Premier League sides he was linked with. However, Gray has agreed to stay at St. Andrews for the time being and will no doubt be a key part of the 2015/16 campaign.
Clayton Donaldson – A tall and powerful striker with a great aerial presence and a good eye for goal. Donaldson has bags of experience and decided to stay at St. Andrews despite a number of rumours linking him to the other sides and this would have only gone to endear him further to Birmingham City fans. His 16 goals were vital in the Blues’ turnaround following the arrival of Gary Rowett and he could again play a key role in the upcoming campaign.
Maikel Kieftenbeld – The Dutch midfielder could be a great acquisition for the Blues as the former under 21 Netherlands international has loads of experience playing in the Eredivisie for Groningen and often showed a good ability to read the game and contribute a great deal defensively. Kieftenbeld could be key in maintaining a rigid defensive unit and could prove to be key in Gary Rowett’s plans this season.
Birmingham ended last season in good form and with wise investment in the squad it could prove to be another positive campaign for Gary Rowett’s men. There will be a good deal of confidence throughout the squad at St. Andrews following the retention of Donaldson and Gray and this could only see the Blues improve on their efforts of last season under the mentorship of former Burton man Gary Rowett.
9th – Reading
The Royals have spent the last two seasons outside of the Premier League and this will be their third consecutive season in the Championship. The club has seemingly lived to tell the tale after an ownership saga that saw them nearly go into administration in the summer of 2014. They will be hoping for a return to form as they will certainly be harbouring ideas of returning to the Premier League for a third term.
It was a mixed bag for the Royals last season, the league campaign was hugely disappointing and was seen as a great underachievement as far as the fans were concerned. Reading only managed 50 points all season and only scored 6 home league goals in 2015. However, they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they cruelly lost to Arsenal following a mistake from player of the season winner Adam Federici.
The Royals have invested strongly this summer in the transfer market bringing in Orlando Sá, Ali Al-Habsi, Jonathan Bond, and Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane from Hull. The new owners at the Madejski have also promised more acquisitions before the end of the transfer window which will be a relief to Royals fans who saw their side in a lot of trouble following an injury crisis at the start of last season that saw a great deal of academy products get considerable playing time.
Michael Hector – A strong and powerful player that reads the game immaculately for a player of his age. A fan favourite among Reading fans for his consistent performances and was voted third in the 2014/15 player of the season vote and is the only player in the top three that Reading managed to retain. In what was largely disappointing season Hector was a standout performer and capped it off with a terrific campaign with the Reggae Boyz in the Gold Cup which they unfortunately lost in the final.
Danny Williams – A hard-working and efficient player who’s strong performances at club level have seen him rewarding with a number of caps for the United States. Williams’ passion and commitment on the pitch along with his likeable character have seen him become a fan favourite among the Reading faithful. Williams will be crucial for the Royals if they wish to enjoy a better season than last this time out.
Garath McCleary – Another Jamaican international among the Royal ranks who has gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous wingers in the division when fully fit. McCleary has lightning quick feet and also has an eye for the spectacular scoring a number of great long-range goals for Reading since his arrival in 2012. He is currently side-lined through a knock picked up at the Gold Cup, but should he return to full fitness – he will no doubt be a key player in Reading’s campaign.
Reading have strengthened and manager Steve Clarke will no doubt have made the most out of his first pre-season in charge in Berkshire. It is safe to say that the Royals greatly underachieved last season and with Clarke installing his own style into the club and investing well in the off-season following the departures of a few long-term players – it could be a return more familiar territory for Steve Clarke’s men.
10th – Hull City
Having spent two years in the top flight, it was Second-Season Syndrome that caught up with Hull as they returned to the Championship. They won automatic promotion from the second tier back in 2013 and will be hoping to repeat the achievement as they look to satisfy their owners and fans. They will be hoping to return to the top flight and gain a part of the new TV deal which they narrowly missed out on due to relegation last season.
Hull were somewhat harshly relegated from the Premier League last season after an injury-ravaged campaign and a shortage of goals saw them go down on the final day in 18th place. The season started very positively with the club’s first European game and a transfer splurge but soon the season started to unravel and Hull only notched in half of their league games and only 33 goals in total. Steve Bruce was big enough to admit his own shortcomings last season and that is perhaps why he is still at the helm at the KC Stadium.
Steve Bruce had invested heavily at the start of last season and having already a number of key players leave Hull in recent weeks they have made some good investments again this year. The arrivals of the much sought after Sam Clucas and Ryan Taylor will provide a boost along with the arrivals of Moses Odubajo and Chuba Akpom.
Michael Dawson – It could be a huge season for the veteran centre-half following the departures of Paul McShane and James Chester as he will have a lot of responsibility of leading the backline in a tough division. The former England international has showed a statement of intent in staying with Hull for this season and could be a huge part of any success they may have this time out.
Andrew Robertson – The young Scottish full-back has proven to be an absolute steal at £2.85m since his arrival from Dundee United in 2014. Steve Bruce has so far managed to keep Robertson away from any potential suitors and this could prove to be a masterstroke as Hull look to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Tom Huddlestone – Another England international who has bags of Premier League experience and was one of the many players to fall foul of the injury curse that struck Hull City last season. He is currently fighting back to fitness and seems to be working his back into some form of inclusion as the new campaign starts. Huddlestone could be a crucial player in the heart of the midfield and could be one of the best midfielders in the entire division if he remains fit.
Hull have invested well this season and may have made a good move in retaining Steve Bruce as he has previously led the team out of the Championship before. While a number of key players have left the KC Stadium, many have remained and should these players remain motivated it could be a strong campaign for the Tigers. This season could also prove to be unpredictable as they again accustom themselves to the second tier.[separator type=”thin”]
11th – Cardiff City
After their relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2013/14 season Cardiff did not really challenge the playoffs but did finish in the top half. They will be hoping to improve on their previous effort having spent the last few years as one of the stronger sides in the second tier having lifted the title in 2013 under Malky Mackay.
Cardiff were widely tipped to make an immediate return to the Premier League following their relegation in 2014, but fell short of the mark only managing to finish 11th after heavy investment and on and off the pitch issues. The Bluebirds started off the season with under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjær before his sacking in September and eventual replacement by Russell Slade. Slade divided opinion upon his arrival and continues to do so as his style is often criticised as a long shot from the Premier League.
After a few seasons of heavy investment following the arrival of Vincent Tan but this summer has had very little transfer activity of which to speak of. After Slade stating that he was targeting a big recruitment drive, the arrivals so far have been Jordan Blaise, Semi Ajayi and Newcastle winger Sammy Ameobi on a season long loan in what could prove to be a valuable move for both parties. A lot of players have vacated the Cardiff City Stadium this summer but with the recent investment the club has shown, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cardiff were to splash the cash once again.
David Marshall – The Scottish international has made himself a point of stability at a club that at times has lacked any with his consistently strong performances. He is a top goalkeeper in this division and Russell Slade and Cardiff faithful will be desperate for their captain to remain in South Wales despite the attention of Premier League suitors.
Kenwyne Jones – Jones finished top of the Cardiff goal-scoring charts last season bagging 13 goals in 36 appearances last season. A dangerous aerial presence with plenty of Premier League experience will play a big part in leading the Bluebirds front line this coming season and will hope to at least repeat his goal-scoring exploits of last season.
Peter Whittingham – The former England under 21 international has become a fan favourite in South Wales since his arrival from Aston Villa in 2007. He started all but 3 of Cardiff’s league games last season and if they are to improve on their previous efforts Whittingham’s form will be very important as one his day he can be a very influential player in the proceedings of any match.
Due in large part to what many would call a lack of investment this summer in Russell Slade’s first pre-season in charge in South Wales it could well be a similar season to the last for Bluebirds fans. However, the pre-season would have given Slade the opportunity to really start to apply his own style and see some players move on allowing the squad to become more streamlined – so some improvement could come tactically and in terms of team morale. However, it is the opinion of many that Cardiff still need to invest in order to improve the squad as a whole but the side at the moment is full of quality with the likes of Bruno Ecuele Manga and Declan John and could certainly be a positive season at the Cardiff City Stadium.[separator type=”thin”]
12th – Burnley
Burnley have enjoyed relative success in the past few years having achieved two promotions and two seasons in the Premier League. They have retained Sean Dyche in charge as he led them out of the Championship in 2014 and will hope that despite the lack of funds the squad will be able to continue in the positive direction that the Lancashire outfit have been moving in in recent years.
Another side that saw themselves relegated from the Premier League last season following the accumulation of 33 points and finishing 5 points shy of safety. The lowest scorers in the entire division with just 28 goals scored, 11 of which were by now Liverpool man Danny Ings. Sean Dyche’s men never really got going in the Premier League and despite going unbeaten in their last three games of the season, it was not enough to steer them away from relegation on this occasion.
Burnley have seen top goal-scorer Danny Ings move on along with Kieran Trippier and Jason Shackell, however, it is isn’t all doom and gloom for the Lancashire side as they have added Jelle Vossen, Fredrik Ulvestad, Chris Long, Daniel Agyei, Tendayi Darikwa, and Matthew Lowton has also signed on. This marks good investment by Sean Dyche in terms of replacing the talent that has left the club, and could prove to be very useful as the club attempts to return to the top flight.
Tom Heaton – The former Manchester United youngster enjoyed a strong debut season in the Premier League last time out and will enter the Championship as one of the top stoppers in the division. His form did not escape the attention of Roy Hodgson and his team and Heaton was called up to the England senior squad last season. Heaton will be hoping to take his good form from the Premier League into the Championship and could prove to be a tough man to beat between the sticks.
George Boyd – The Scottish international scooped up both the player and goal of the season awards at Burnley last season and could again prove to be key factor in any success they hope to have this season. Boyd is a tireless and hard-working winger and these traits will serve him very well in the Championship which is a league he has plenty of experience playing in.
Sam Vokes – The Welsh international cruelly suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in March 2014 and missed a great deal of the Premier League season and was unable to recreate his goal-scoring form of the season prior. However, Vokes now has a pre-season under his belt and the 6ft 5” forward will be a big part of Sean Dyche’s plans should he stay fit and replicate the goal-scoring form that saw him become one of the Championship’s most dangerous strikers.
Burnley have invested pretty effectively in the off-season and like the other two relegated sides have retained their manager. This could lead to them enjoying a productive season back in the Championship following their brief stint back in English football’s top flight. Burnley will be one of the stronger sides in the division but could feel the effects of having lost key players Ings, Trippier, and Shackell and this could lead to them finding some hardship in the upcoming season.[separator type=”thin”]
13th – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves have been out of the Premier League for three seasons now, finishing bottom in the top flight, before finishing second bottom in the Championship. Luckily for them, that’s as far as the slump went and they were able to arrest the decline by winning the League One title.
The bounceback continued last season, as Wolves narrowly missed out on the play-offs. They started the season strongly, with manager Kenny Jackett winning manager of the month in August. A few stutters as the season progressed, particularly a tough November and December, saw Jackett’s side miss out on a run at promotion on goal difference alone.
Wolves have brought in former Liverpool youngster Conor Coady and former Reading striker Adam Le Fondre this summer. Le Fondre joins after disappointing spells at Cardiff and Bolton, and will be looking to get his career back on track. That he does will be important to his new team’s fortunes next season, after Bakary Sako – joint top scorer in the last two seasons – let his contract expire and moved on to pastures new.
Last season’s Player of the Season Richard Stearman will be another key player this term, the defender was a rock for Wolves last season, and they will need him to be a consistent performer again this time around. Up front, Le Fondre and Nouha Dicko will need to be in the goals if Kenny Jackett’s side are to stand any chance of making a run at the play-offs.
If all things go well, Wolves may find themselves in the mix again, as they were last season – however, the Championship is a competitive league, and they have done little to strengthen so far this summer. Unless they find a new edge, they may be languishing in mid table come next May.[separator type=”thin”]
14th – Fulham
Fulham have become a bit of a basketcase in recent seasons, having been a stable Premier League side for so many years under the somewhat flamboyant stewardship of Mohammed Al Fayed. New owner Shahid Khan has been through four managers in the last two seasons. Oh, for some of that flamboyant stability down by the river.
Ross McCormack was the £11 million story of last season. The league’s top scorer with Leeds the season before, he scored a creditable 17 goals under first, briefly Felix Magath and then Kit Symons. Magath was shown the door after just one point from the first eight games of the season. After a start like that, a 17th placed finish wasn’t such a bad result.
This summer has seen the squad thinned out at Fulham, with a several big names departing – including Hugo Rodallega and young talent Patrick Roberts who has head north to Manchester City. Symons has moved to bring in some experience, with players such as Andy Lonergan and Jamie O’Hara joining the side.
Captain Scott Parker is a workhorse in the centre of midfield, and his ability to marshall a game and lead by example will be valuable once again next season. Elsewhere, McCormack will be expected to keep paying back that substantial transfer fee.
After last season’s slow start, 17th in the league was a good result. They can’t afford to start slowly again this season, but they probably lack the depth of quality needed to challenge the play-offs.[separator type=”thin”]
15th – Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn are another side who have lost their way recently, out of the top flight for three years are eleven consecutive years in the Premier League. The ghost of Steve Kean still stalks the corridors, his long and drawn out demise hanging over current manager Gary Bowyer.
The winter was long and dark, with just two wins in December and January. The rest of the season was solid, and Rovers finished 9th, eleven points of the play-offs, but top of the following pack.
The door marked exit has been the only one open at Ewood Park this off-season. Tom Cairney, Josh King and Rudy Gestede all found greener grass elsewhere.
Blackburn are significantly weaker this season than last, unless they strengthen before the close of the window, mid-table obscurity is the best they can hope for.
16th – Charlton Athletic
The Alan Curbishley years must seen a very long time ago. Charlton have been out of the top flight for nearly ten years, and after a brief foray into League One, have spent the last four years in the Championship.
12th was a creditable finish, when you consider Charlton were without a win between the 8th November 2014 and the 14th February 2015. That’s a long time to go picking up a few points here or there. When that won did come though, they won seven of the next ten and that recovered their position to mid-table.
Centre back Joe Gomez left the club this summer, for a useful £5 million fee, and several experienced players have departed. No big names or big money signings have come the other way at The Valley, and it will be interesting to see how those brought in bed into the side.
Can former Frnech international Alou Diarra find his feet after a loan spell last season? That remains to be seen. Towering Palermo striker Simon Makienok, on a season-long loan at The Addicks, is another who coul have a big impact.
Charlton look to lack that spark that can see a side make the jump in what is a competitive league. It might all click and pick up momentum, but it feels like this season won’t be the one.[separator type=”thin”]
17th – Brighton Hove Albion
Brighton and Hove Albion haven’t troubled the top flight in quite some time, and the recent history of the side has been their enforced purgatory of the Withdean Stadium, before landing at their purpose-built Amex Stadium.
Brighton finished 20th, which would’ve been 21st were it not for the three point deduction suffered by Rotherham. Manager Chris Hughton prevented a further slide, but their problems last season were summed up by the fact centre-back Lewis Dunk was their top scorer last season.
That lack of goals is the main thrust of Brighton’s work this summer – the coup de grace being the return of local hero Bobby Zamora to the club where he made his name. Can it be a fairytale return?[separator type=”thin”]
18th – Huddersfield Town
Huddersfield are relatively new entrants to the Championship, having joined the league for the 2012-13 season. Their rise up from League One was on the boot laces of now-Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes, and they are yet to find what they need to kick on.
The club parted ways with manager Mark Robins just one game into the season – the board perhaps horrified at the prospect of losing 4-0 at home to a newly promoted side…even if that newly promoted side turned out to be eventual title winners Bournemouth. Chris Powell arrived in early September and guided the Terriers through a largely unremarkable season.
Last season’s Young Player of the Year Conor Coady made a £3 million move to Wolves this summer, and he is a presence that will be missed. Experienced midfield leader Dean Whitehead has been brought in, as have australian international Jason Davidson and promising youngster Jordy Hiwula from West Brom and Manchester City respectively.
Player of the Season Jacob Butterfield will be required to turn in more top notch performances this season, his creative influence was an important part of the emergence of Nahki Wells, who finished last season as Huddersfield’s top scorer last season.
Huddersfield look destined for another season in the middle of the Championship table, but a slow start could see them get dragged into the relegation battle in the second half of the season.
19th – Leeds United
20th – Bolton Wanderers
21st – Sheffield Wednesday
Next season will be Wednesday’s fourth back in the Championship, and the previous three have resulted in 18th, 16th and 13th placed finishes. After a rather uneventful campaign last time out, most Wednesday fans would probably take that again, well in the knowledge that if they are going to threaten either side of the table it would most likely be the bottom.
Wednesday finished last season in 13th place, 18 points off the play-offs and 19 points off the relegation zone. Adthe Nuhiu top scored with 8 goals, in a season where the Yorkshire club struggled for goals throughout. Their 43 goals in 46 games was the lowest of any side outside the relegation zone.
The club have made 9 new signings this summer, most notably Ross Wallace, Lewis McGugan and Rhoys Wiggins, all of whom have proved themselves in the division.
Ross Wallace – Wallace has played almost 300 games in the Championship, and arrives at Hillsborough with a wealth of second tier experience. He was one of Burnley’s most consistent players for a number of years, recording nine assists in one season, and has a point to prove at Wednesday.
Atdhe Nuhiu – Austrian striker may have only scored 8 league goals last season, but in a team that only scored 43, that was still an important contribution. Wednesday will need Nuhiu to improve upon that if they are to have an impressive campaign.
Lewis McGugan – McGugan joined Wednesday this summer for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £500,000 after two loan spells at the club. He has bags of ability but has often flattered to deceive and a move to Watford which initially showed promise ended in failure, he is another player with a major point to prove, and needs to have a good season.
Wednesday have lost a lot of players. The likes of Lewis Buxton, Gary Madine, Joe Mattock, Kamil Zayatte, Chris Kirkland and Chris Maguire have all left the Owls. They have made signings but they will need time. Wednesday should have enough to keep their heads above the water, but they’ll do well to improve upon their 13th placed finish.
22nd – Rotherham United
23rd – MK Dons
24th – Preston North End
Goncalo Guedes and Andre Gomes would make Wolves top-six contenders
Wolves have been linked with a move for the Portuguese pair this week.
Wolverhampton Wanderers fans are getting used to seeing their team linked with big names. But two of the players linked in the last seven days would truly take the club to a new level. The Portuguese pairing of Barcelona’s Andre Gomes and PSG’s Goncalo Guedes are both being linked with moves to Molineux.
Of course, the common denominator is their agent. Jorge Mendes represents both players and has previously facilitated their moves to Valencia.
Now both players are said to be available at their clubs, who are trying to balance Financial Fair Play.
According to The Sun, the Barcelona midfielder Gomes is available for around £30 million. Guedes, who was chosen to lead the line with Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup recently, is set to be sold by the French champions who need to balance their books in the eyes of UEFA.
According to Get French Football, PSG need to raise around £53 million by July from player sales. The club wants a fee of up to €60 million (£52 million) for the player but there appears an acceptance that €45 million (£39.3 million) might get the job done.
If Wolves have that sort of money available from the Fosun group then spending nearly £70 million on the Portuguese dup would be a magical piece of business.
Both are excellent commodities who would walk into many of the top clubs in European football. If Wolves were to actually bring them in, with talk of Rui Patricio also abounding, then they would be serious contenders for the Premier League top six next season.
Should Uwe Rosler offer Pawel Cibicki a Leeds United escape route?
The Swedish forward has struggled to make an impact at Leeds United.
Last summer Leeds United beat off plenty of competition to sign Swedish attacker Pawel Cibicki from Malmo. As reported by The Sun the forward cost Leeds a fee in the region of £1.5 million and it seemed a wise deal. Capable of playing anywhere across the front-line the Malmo star was known to current Leeds star Pontus Jansson and looked something of a coup.
That has not been the case.
The 24-year-old played just 10 times for Leeds this season and despite impressing some fans, even bagging two assists, he was not given a prolonged chance under either Thomas Christiansen or Paul Heckingbottom.
Therefore, his future seems to be away from Elland Road and perhaps a return to Malmo would be the best option for the player.
If he did so he would be joining up with someone else who knows all about the brittle nature of a Leeds career. Uwe Rosler was recently appointed the new boss at the Swedish powerhouse.
The German lasted just 12 games as Leeds manager before being given the ceremonial axe by ‘manager-eater’ and former chairman Massimo Cellino.
Now he is being tasked with taking Malmo to the next level and fans at the club would love to see Cibicki back at the Swedbank Stadium. It could prove to be a match made in Leeds reject heaven.
Leeds United should target Marcelo Bielsa teacher’s pet Stephane Sparagna
Leeds United’s new boss was a big fan of Sparagna at Marseille.
Leeds United have completed one of the more eye-catching managerial appointments in Championship history, with the appointment of Argentine legend Marcelo Bielsa before the weekend.
The former Athletic Bilbao and Marseille boss is a cult hero in the sport for his revolutionary tactics and influence on some of the best young managers in the world today.
He also often sees things in certain players that others don’t. He can make a player thrive, who then falls away once he departs. Aurtenetxe at Athletic Bilbao a prime example. From playing in the Europa League final and being on the verge of the Spanish national team, to being released by Dundee.
Another player who fits this bill is French central defender Stephane Sparagna.
Bielsa plucked him from the reserves back in 2014 just as his Marseille career appeared to be dwindling away. Bielsa quickly turned him into a squad regular and soon Arsenal were snooping. When Bielsa left, Sparagna fell out of favour – with injuries also a contributing factor.
But Bielsa’s influence cannot be understated. Sparagna said so himself, telling Europe1 Sports that the Argentine was the ‘only one who believed in him.’
Nowadays the 23-year-old is impressing in Portuguese football with Boavista but Leeds need a new central defender. They need players Bielsa can trust, especially if a three at the back formation is implemented at Elland Road.
The former French youth international underwent corrective knee surgery in May but is expected back for the new season.
Considering he would be an affordable, trustworthy former Bielsa product in a position that Leeds need reinforcements, Sparagna would be a welcome recruit.
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