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Pre-season Roundtable 2018/19: How do we see the Championship playing out this year?

Our annual pre-season roundtable continues with our staff’s view of the Championship from promotion and relegation to the sack race and breakout players.

Stoke City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Pre-Season Friendly
Gary Rowett and recently relegated Stoke City are our staff’s most popular pick to go up as champions.
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

We’re back with the second of three parts of the 7500 to Holte staff’s annual pre-season roundtable. Catch up with yesterday’s part 1 if you missed it.

Today, we shift to the Championship, which is fitting, given the season starts today with Reading v Derby County.

As a reminder, this year, we’ve conducted our roundtable in our Slack channel, encouraging some discussion. Starting from the top…

Who will win the Championship? What other teams will win promotion?

Jake Fenicle: Think Stoke have the best squad, and genuinely looking at it, we should grab that 2nd spot for auto-promotion with the side we still have right now. Playoffs is hard to call, I think Derby and Boro will be back in it with Leeds and someone like Forest, and I guess I’ll have to go with Boro winning promotion alongside us and then yea, Stoke winning the league.

Matt Booher: If Villa get their act together, I don’t see why they couldn’t win one of the automatic promotion spots. Hopefully Steve Bruce learned his lesson last year and doesn’t play for the lottery that are the playoffs. But I could also see Villa finishing 10th. Stoke clearly has the best side. Boro, Forest, Derby, and Leeds should all also be in the mix.

Sean Evans: I’m with Jake as well as Matt, Stoke still hold the best squad and I rate Gary Rowett. Villa should win promotion, but I am not optimistic. I’ll say Boro and Derby get it done behind Stoke. That Marriott is not a bad place to stay.

James Rushton: It’s unknown as to exactly how well Stoke will rebound after last season. There is still work to be done. That applies to West Brom as well. For me, I’m looking at Derby, Villa, the aforementioned two, maybe Leeds as well. Brentford are BOUND to come good this season as well. They’ve been massively unfortunate over the past few seasons. I really think we’ll also see a surprise as well, and maybe Preston could be that - and Boro. I’ll look at Boro for the title, Brentford to sneak in via the playoffs and Villa to go up 2nd.

JR: I’ve just remembered Nottingham Forest. They could well be a threat, but Karanka is a right anomaly.

Phil Vogel: I really, really want to say Villa. But I just can’t. I’ll put Middlesbrough up top. Stoke in second.

Alex Carson: I think Stoke City do have the best team (and perhaps crucially can withstand a late departure or two better than the relegated sides), but all three relegated clubs seem pretty stable, in contrast to recent memory — IMO, we might be overlooking Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion as big players this season. Darren Moore looked like a really good manager when he oversaw WBA’s late push for survival, while it’s hard to argue against what new Swans manager Graham Potter did at Östersund, taking them from Sweden’s fourth tier to a Europa League knockout tie with Arsenal. So yeah, I’m taking the easy way out and sending all three relegated sides back up this year, with Stoke as champions, WBA in second and Swansea through the play-offs.

PV: Swansea are tough because that may be a total rebuild in alot of ways. They were trash at the end of the year. I hope I’m wrong because I have a good friend who supports them, but I think mid-table for them.

AC: I would like to reserve the right to alter my Swansea prediction once the transfer window closes. If they end up selling a combination of Alfie Mawson, Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Bony without really replacing them, I’m probably going to back off and think about throwing a flyer on Derby County or joining James on Brentford.

Which teams are you backing for relegation this season?

AC: So, I was talking about this with James earlier, and I think I see Bolton Wanderers and (especially) Rotherham United as a cut behind the rest of the division, so I’ll back both to go down. Unlike Rotherham, I think both Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic have enough quality to stay up (though I think the 9/1 odds you can get on Wigan to drop are a good punt), and while I consider Birmingham City here, I still think there’s just enough talent in that team as it is. Reading have been genuinely awful the last two seasons on a stats/xG basis, so like last year, I’ll pick them for the drop.

JF: First three that came to my mind were also Rotherham, Bolton and Reading.

JR: Hull are screwed, Reading have ripped up their foundations. There’s genuinely a train of thought here that shows them two going down. Bolton are in serious trouble. I’m thinking that every promoted side has a good shot of staying up. Rotherham are the weakest, but if they can boss a few sides about, they’ve got every chance. We don’t know the extent of the growing catastrophe at Birmingham City just yet, but if it’s as bad as feared, they have got issues. I’m going to go for Bolton, Hull, Birmingham.

MB: Bolton, Reading, QPR. Bolton and Reading barely escaped and I think the relegation battle always grabs someone unexpected. For me it’ll be QPR.

SE: My first match at Villa Park was a 5-1 victory over Bolton in the Premier League. How they have fallen and will continue to do so. I also think Rotherham will go back down. The last and if there is a deity, the Bluenoses.

PV: Bolton, Hull, Birmingham.

Perhaps related, but who will be the first Championship manager sacked this year?

JR: Awfully on brand, but Steve Bruce always wobbles for Villa at the start. He’s had a patchy spell at Villa and if we don’t get going, there’s a very real chance he could get canned. However, he’s got a chance and he’ll fight. More realistically, I think Marcelo Bielsa could blow up at Leeds at any time. And Garry Monk is probably only a step away from the sack as well. It depends how much these managers get on with their employers, than how much of a good job they can do. For my answer, I’m inclined to go with Paul Clement at Reading. The owners are impatient and ready to gamble.

AC: I think you’ve identified the most likely targets, James, though I could see Monk leaving on his own terms before he’d get sacked. I’d probably go with Clement at Reading, too (combination of a bad manager and a bad team), but I think Daniel Farke is a bit of a dark horse candidate to get an early sack. If Norwich get off to a poor start, I could see them making a change, particularly as Farke’s contract is up in the summer.

SE: Steve Bruce has the better part of 10 matches to keep his job. Mind whatever rumours there are about Sawris and Arsenal, Wes Edens gave Jason Kidd his first professional coaching role.

PV: Gary Monk may he will walk away so not technically sacked. I’ll go off the wall and guess Wednesday struggle early and can Jos Luhukay.

AC: Yeah, Luhukay will be interesting, though with Wednesday’s FFP issues (and maybe transfer embargo?), I could see their leadership being more patient.

Who will be the Championship’s leading goal-scorer?

JF: Grabban

SE: I’d love to say any Villa striker, but I won’t. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Jack Marriott might take the honours under Lampard. He looked the part when Peterborough visited Villa Park last season.

JR: Yeah, I can’t look past those two names. I’d also look at Vydra, Bobby Reid and Weimann as well. The latter could wreck it in Bristol’s system. Let’s see.

PV: Benik Afobe.

JR: Yup, Benik is almost nailed on to hit double digits. Wonder if Kodjia can light it up?

AC: I’m not sure how many will stick around, but at least there are other forwards at Stoke City who can get goals that could take some away from Afobe. Like Jake, I think it’s Lewis Grabban at Nottingham Forest — he bangs in goals in this division, and he’s joining a team on the rise where he’ll be a key part of the attack.

What player(s) do you have an eye on from around the league?

SE: If Andreas Wiemann scores for Bristol City against Villa...

JR: Sean mentioned Weimann. I’m really intrigued as to how he’ll get on in a better system. He looked downright scary for Derby at points. Callum Robinson is also growing well at Preston.

PV: Going away from former Villans — I’ll be interested in how Lewis Baker plays for Leeds.

AC: I’ll be keeping tabs on Oliver Burke at West Brom -- I think he could have a huge season for the Baggies.

SE: I’ll be keeping an eye on João Carvalho at Forest. They have brought in a host of players and he is one of the more intriguing Championship signings of the window.

AC: Forest are gonna be really interesting. They’re built in a similar way to Wolves last year, but I’m not quite sure they have as much raw talent. Carvalho and Grabban are a big part of their chances though, I think.

What is the most compelling story line in the Championship this season?

JR: The only real answer is how Bielsa is going to do at Leeds. Hipsters will look at Swansea, but no — there’s only one dramatic story here.

AC: I’m gonna go the complete opposite direction from James just for the differentiation -- imagine this: It’s April and three teams are competing for two automatic promotion spots: Middlesbrough, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. Tony Pulis goes head-to-head with two former employers.

JR: Oh hot damn. The ninth circle of hell.

JF: I’m ready to love me some Lampard at Derby headlines.

AC: Would’ve been great for that narrative if Villa did opt for Thierry Henry, Jake.

JF: That Derby-Villa game woulda been something else that’s for sure.

PV: If Villa keep all the stars and don’t sell — then it has to be what kind of axe FFP will hold for the club.

SE: I’m with James, Bielsa at Leeds is definitely intriguing. Could be a disaster, could be great. I suppose that statement probably also applies to the Lampard appointment at Derby.

AC: I do think this showdown between Birmingham City and the EFL is really intriguing, too, especially given Villa’s well-publicized FFP concerns. We might actually move toward setting some sort of precedent here.