Championship Preview Part 2

This is the second part of my Championship preview, introducing eight more details who will be chasing promotion – or hoping to avoid relegation – this season. Part one of the preview can be found here.

Derby County

Derby suffered a turbulent 2016/17 campaign, finishing in mid-table having had four different managers over the course of the season. Nigel Pearson was quickly disposed of after a dreadful start, Steve McClaren pulled them up the league but one poor run of form was all it took for him to be sacked by the club for the second time in less than two years. Gary Rowett took over for the last nine games and will be hoping to lead a promotion charge in his first full season at the helm.

Scoring goals was Derby’s big problem last season – no other side in the top half netted fewer. Chris Martin has returned for a successful loan spell at Fulham and may well lead the line in a 4-3-3 formation, with David Nugent waiting in reserve. The Rams have lost a few of their bigger names this summer – Tom Ince and Will Hughes have joined Premier League Huddersfield and Watford respectively, while Cyrus Christie has gone to Teesside. Tom Huddlestone makes a popular return from Hull, and the defence has been strengthened with the signings of Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom. On paper at least, this squad is good enough to compete for a play-off place.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Fulham

The Cottagers were one of the most entertaining sides of last season and were unfortunate to miss out in the play-offs. They have managed to keep hold of both their manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, and key players such as Tom Cairney and teenager Ryan Sessegnon, but they’ve had a slow summer in the transfer market with Jokanovic publicly expressing his displeasure with the club’s transfer policy.

The only regular first teamers to depart have been Scott Malone, who moved to Huddersfield, and Chris Martin after his loan expired. Fringe players such as Scott Parker, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Richard Stearman have also been shown the door. In the other direction, Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon have both rejoined from Chelsea on loan, and Oliver Norwood will add to the midfield options. The squad is looking a little thin so additions need to be made if Fulham hope to improve on last season.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Hull City

Hull made an immediate return to the Championship after a turbulent campaign. With owner Assem Allam looking to sell there was little money available for transfers, so Steve Bruce walked out before the season even began. After a poor spell under Mike Phelan, Marco Silva arrived and very nearly saved the Tigers, but their poor away form left them with too much to do at the KCOM Stadium.

Former Russia manager Leon Slutsky has taken over and has overseen a summer of change. Many first teamers have left the club – Andy Robertston and Harry Maguire in big-money moves to the Premier League, Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone to Derby, and highly-rared youngster Josh Tymon has joined Stoke. Allam appears to have no intention of re-investing the money, with fees only paid for Kevin Stewart from Liverpool and defender Ondrej Mazuch from Sparta Prague. Further additions must be made if Hull have any hope of bouncing straight back up.

Verdict: play-off hopefuls

Ipswich Town

The Suffolk side endured a torrid 2016/17 campaign, finishing just four points outside the relegation zone in 16th – their worst finish in 58 years – coupled with a humiliating televised defeat to Lincoln City in the FA Cup. Mick McCarthy survived but with little money to spend, the chances of a significant improvement this season are slim.

Fees have been paid for forward Joe Garner and midfielder Emyr Huws, who impressed in a loan spell last season. Tom Adeyemi rejected rivals Norwich City to join, with talented winger Bersant Celina joining from Manchester City on loan. Town fans will hope he can replicate the form of Tom Lawrence last season. Christophe Berra has returned to Hearts and Brett Pitman was allowed to join Portsmouth, leaving the forward options looking uncomfortably thin heading into the new season. A good start is needed to prevent the atmosphere becoming toxic, as it was at the back end of last season.

Verdict: Mid-table mediocrity

Leeds United

Despite losing manager Garry Monk in the close season, there’s a real sense of optimism around Elland Road. Massimo Cellino finally sold the club to Andrea Radrizzani, who immediately purchased Elland Road and has invested in the playing squad. A question mark hangs over the new manager, Thomas Christiansen, who has only previously managed in Cyprus, albeit with some success.

Most of the departures from the club have been fringe players, with the exception of Charlie Taylor, who joined Burnley after the expiration of his contract. A number of players have arrived from the continent – one of the stars of last season Pontus Jansson returns on a permanent deal, midfielders Samuel Saiz and Hadi Sacko join from SD Huesca and Sporting Lisbon respectively, and goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald has been signed from Werder Bremen. The form of Chris Wood will be key to their promotion aspirations – the Kiwi was the top scorer in the Championship last season with 27 goals.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Middlesbrough

The Teessiders long-awaited return to the Premier League fell flat, with the side only scoring 27 goals in a tedious and underwhelming campaign. The fans were disappointed with the overly-defensive tactics of then-manager Aitor Karanka, and will be hoping for more entertainment under Garry Monk.

The transfer policy appears very similar to Aston Villa last summer, splashing out over £30m on three strikers in an effort to blast their way to an immediate Premier League return. Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher will be expected to bang in the goals, but good signings have been made in other areas of the field. Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie and Jonny Howson are all excellent players at Championship level. Holding on to Ben Gibson is a priority, as is retaining Gaston Ramirez in a side still lacking in creativity and flair. Boro fans will be hoping for more consistent displays from Adama Traore after some impressive moments last season.

Verdict: Title contenders

Millwall

After losing in the play-off final in 2016, Millwall went one better last season to return to the Championship at the second time of asking. Club legend Neil Harris is in charge and has a challenge on his hands to avoid a relegation battle. It has been a quiet summer so far, with Harris working to a tight budget as he looks to strengthen his squad.

A few additions have been made from other Championship sides – midfielders George Saville and Jed Wallace have joined from Wolves, Ryan Tunnicliffe from Fulham and defender Jake Cooper from Reading. The back line has been further strengthened with full-backs James Meredith and Conor McLaughlin signing from Bradford City and Fleetwood Town respectively. Millwall will be hoping that Lee Gregory and Steve Morison will get enough goals to keep them afloat. A mid-table finish would undoubtedly be seen as a success.

Verdict: Struggling to survive

Norwich City

The Canaries had a disappointing 2016/17 season, finishing well outside the play-offs. They’ve become the latest club to bring in a manager from abroad, with Daniel Farke joining from Borussia Dortmund II, as sporting director Stuart Webber looks to replicate the success he achieved through the appointment of David Wagner at Huddersfield.

Numerous high earners were released over the summer, including Sebastien Bassong, fan favourite John Ruddy, Steven Whittaker, Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu. There have also been sales for significant fees – Jacob Murphy has left for Newcastle and Jonny Howson has joined Middlesbrough, clearing the decks for Farke to build his own squad. Marley Watkins has signed on a free from Barnsley and three players have arrived from Germany, including centre-back Marcel Franke. Expect more signings as Norwich look for a return to the Premier League.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

What do you think of the teams previewed above? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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