Championship Preview Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of my Championship Preview. You can read parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Nottingham Forest

Forest secured their Championship safety on the final day of last season, but the club have had a more positive summer and fans are feeling more optimistic about the season ahead. Unpopular owner Fawaz Al Hasawi has finally sold the club to Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis, and they have a proven Championship manager in Mark Warburton.

Star striker Britt Assombalonga has departed to Middlesbrough for a huge £15million, but only a limited amount has been reinvested in the squad so far. Experienced frontman Daryl Murphy has joined from Newcastle, midfielder Andreas Bouchalakis arrives from Olympiakos and Tendayi Darikwa looks like he could be a shrewd additional from Burnley. A number of fringe players have left, though given the Assombalonga sale there’s no financial pressure to shift out any more players. Forest should stay up more comfortably this time.

Verdict: Mid-table mediocrity

Preston North End

The Lancashire side had a positive campaign in 2016/17, finishing in the top half under the management of Simon Grayson. He has since joined newly-relegated Sunderland, and former Norwich man Alex Neil has been drafted in as the club look to establish themselves in the Championship.

It has been a relatively quiet summer so far. Goalkeeper Declan Rudd has joined from Norwich, Josh Harrop from Manchester United and right-back Darnell Fisher arrives from Rotherham. Only fringe players have departed so far, despite some speculation around the future of striker Jordan Hugill. Neil has a point to prove after being sacked by Norwich last season, and fans will be hoping his attacking philosophy can bring an unlikely play-off push.

Verdict: Mid-table mediocrity

Queens Park Rangers

Ian Holloway’s side endured a miserable end to last season, ending just two points above the relegation zone in 18th place. The club appears to be entrenched in the Championship and little has happened this summer to suggest they’ll be leaving the league in the right direction.

Holloway was a surprise appointment and lost more than half of his games in charge last season, so he’ll need positive results early this season to keep his job. Josh Scowen has been brought in from Barnsley, but other than that there’s little to report either in or out. There appears to be little optimism around the club heading into the new campaign, though some early wins and positive signings could change all that.

Verdict: Struggling to survive

Reading

Jaap Stam’s side were one of the surprise packages of the Championship last season, only missing out on promotion in the penalty shootout at the play-off final. Now that the Dutchman’s footballing philosophy truly embedded at the club, there’s optimism amongst the fanbase that they can go one step better this time.

Stam has taken the opportunity to have a thorough clearout, with 18 players departing either permanently or on loan, including Danny Williams and Ali Al Habsi. Vito Mannone has joined from Sunderland and Jon Bodvarsson will add depth to the strikeforce, but more additions are needed to give the squad the depth needed for the long season ahead. Nakhi Wells and Mo Barrow are among the players to be linked with a move to the Madejski.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Sheffield United

After six years in League One the Blades have finally returned to the second tier, and the expectation is that they will quickly establish themselves in the Championship. Their 19-match unbeaten run at the end of last season and strong pre-season form means that Chris Wilder’s side have momentum heading into the new season.

Wilder has used his lower-league knowledge to bring in a number of players from League One and League Two, including Portsmouth’s Enda Stevens, Oxford’s John Lundstram and Ched Evans from Chesterfield. Richard Stearman brings a wealth of experience to the three-man defence. Significant sell-on fees have been received after the Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire transfers, so there is scope to make further additions to the squad. They could be the surprise package this season.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Sheffield Wednesday

The Owls missed out in the play-offs for the second successive season, but they have opted for stability and handed manager Carlos Carvalhal a new contract as they prepare for another tilt at promotion, and the squad already looks capable of producing the required results.

The main arrival of the summer has been George Boyd, who joins from Burnley and should be an excellent addition at this level. Bids for Sean Morrison and Charlie Mulgrew have been rejected as Carvalhal looks to strengthen further. A handful of fringe players have been released, so Wednesday have one of the most static jobs in the league. They have an impressive array of strikers, including Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri, who should offer the firepower needed for another promotion push.

Verdict: Title contenders

Sunderland

After years of underspending and flirting with relegation, Sunderland finally fell through the Premier League trapdoor. David Moyes was unable to get the best out of his squad and decided to move on over the summer, but with Ellis Short unable to sell the club the fans are not expecting too much from the coming season.

Simon Grayson has plenty of Championship experience and is used to working to a small budget, so he could prove to be a very canny appointment. A number of first team regulars and fringe players have departed, including Jordan Pickford, Jermain Defoe, Vito Mannone, Fabio Borini and Victor Anichebe. Heading in the other direction on a permanent basis are James Vaughan from Bury and Aiden McGeady from Everton. A few loans have brought in too, including Lewis Grabban and Brendan Galloway. The fans may need to be patient as Grayson rebuilds the squad.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves have been one of the big stories of the summer, breaking the Championship transfer record as the Jorge Mendes link continues to pay dividends. Nuno Espirito Santo has also arrived from Porto, and fans will be hoping his spell is significantly better than Walter Zenga’s last season.

Over £15million was spent to bring in 20-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves from Porto with a number of other players brought in from the continent, most notably Diogo Jota on loan from Atletico Madrid. John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett have also arrived from Norwich City. A lot of players have headed in the opposite direction – George Savile and Jed Wallace have gone to Millwall, Bodvarsson to Reading, Mike Williamson to Oxford and Dominic Iorfa to Ipswich on loan. Fans and pundits alike are expecting a significant improvement on last season’s 15th place finish.

Verdict: Play-off hopefuls

Who do you think will win the race for the Premier League? And who will slide into League One? Let me know in the comments below.

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