The Championship season is upon us and, well, there are a lot of intriguing story lines heading into the season. Which teams will fight for promotion? Who’s a dark horse? Which teams are set up for a relegation battle?
Here’s the idea: 24 previews, each of them 50 words or shorter. There are two purposes here: (1) to provide a quick overview of the league and (2) to force me to write concisely. I struggle with that sometimes. (BTW, yes, I know the season started yesterday.)
Let’s jump in with the club we know well, then move alphabetically from there.
Will Jack Grealish stay or will he leave? That’s the key question that will inform who, exactly, Aston Villa are this season. With him in the fray and Jonathan Kodjia returning from a near season-long injury, Villa should be a top-two contender. If Grealish leaves, Villa are fighting for sixth.
Blues are a bit of a mess thanks to FFP. They’ve had restrictions eased in the last few days that have allowed them to register left back Kristian Pedersen (actually a really nice signing), but they haven’t yet been able to make other additions. Another relegation scrap is likely.
Rovers had a really nice year last season and won promotion comfortably from League One. They’ve largely stood pat, though, and may end up banking on the crises at returning Championship clubs to keep them up. Chelsea loanee Kasey Palmer is a player to watch.
Bolton enter 2018/19 having made their first cash signing in 3.5 years as part of a busy summer that’s seen 11 players join up. Only one of them was signed for a fee, though, so have they actually gotten any better? If not, they’ll probably drop.
Advanced metrics love these guys — they averaged 17+ shots per match last term, by far most in the Championship, while conceding fewer than 11, fourth-lowest. They may lack in talent, but make up for it in tactics. Can Dean Smith deliver a play-off spot for the first time since 2015?
Last year, they played the role of “plucky underdogs who get off to a good start, then remember in January they aren’t actually very good.” The Robins became further linked with Villa by signing Andi Weimann this summer. Realistically, they’re a likely mid-table side.
The Rams are always thereabouts, but not quite there, and that feels like a fair expectation for this season. Frank Lampard takes over as manager, which will be interesting. Jack Marriott was brought in from Peterborough after banging in 33 goals across all competitions, likely replacing Matej Vydra.
Villa’s first opponents have seen a number of players leave on free transfers this summer, which is bad, Abel Hernández is the highest-profile one. They weren’t very good last year and probably got worse. Former Villa man Eric Lichaj joined from Nottingham Forest.
Ipswich’s opponents took five more shots per game than Ipswich did last year, yet somehow the Tractor Boys finished mid-table. If they don’t improve — and their lower-league signings don’t really suggest they did — they could find themselves in the middle of a relegation scrap.
After bringing Marcelo Bielsa in as manager, Leeds are now the most intriguing club in the Championship. It will probably go poorly, but if it doesn’t, Leeds genuinely have the talent to contend. They missed out on Vydra, but brought Patrick Bamford and Barry Douglas in with the money instead.
Given how talented Boro were last year, they really should’ve done better. They are similarly talented this year, though centre backs Aden Flint and Paddy McNair are their only signings. With a full summer to implement his system, Tony Pulis will be looking to contend for a top-two spot.
The Lions were an overall average team last year who caught fire at the end of the season to go from a fringe relegation candidate to a fringe promotion candidate. Expect them to settle somewhere in the middle this season.
Norwich are in this weird spot where even with the departures of James Maddison and Josh Murphy, they’re likely more talented than most mid-table sides, but aren’t as talented as the top promotion contenders. Can year two of the Daniel Farke experiment go better than year one?
If you liked Wolves last season, then you’ll love Forest this season! The two-time European Cup winners have had a bold off-season, bringing João Carvalho in from Benfica as the headline star in a busy summer. Lewis Grabban joins as well — can Mendes’ influence win another team promotion?
Preston North End
The advanced metrics were pretty decent fans of Preston last year, but they still sit far behind the main contenders when it comes to talent. They’ve got a strong ex-Villa connection with Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson, plus new signing Graham Burke. Expect another mid-table finish at Deepdale.
Queens Park Rangers
QPR have most notably been in the news recently for their Financial Fair Play fine, and their only incoming business this window has been signing ex-Union Berlin centre back Toni Leistner on a free. If they’re not careful, QPR could slide into the bottom three this season.
The xG figures have hated the Royals over the last two seasons — only in 2017/18, their league position actually reflected it. Sam Baldock’s joined from Brighton to help provide goals, while David Meyler could help in midfield. Reading may need to improve this year to avoid relegation.
Rotherham were awful two years ago in the Championship and they haven’t really gotten better in the couple of summers since. 21st place would be an extraordinary finish for them this year.
On the back of a strong 2016/17 promotion season, Blades had a strong first season back in the Championship last season. Ben Woodburn’s loan arrival has gotten the headlines. They’d do well to flirt with the top six again and finish top half.
Wednesday are a cautionary tale for clubs who go all-in to win promotion. They did so financially two years ago, and because they didn’t go up, now they have FFP issues. Jos Luhukay’s side should be good enough to avoid a relegation scrap, but not much better.
The Potters are probably promotion favourites and it’s not hard to see why — they have the best squad in the division, pairing that with a strong manager in Gary Rowett. Benik Afobe joins and should bang in goals, while Jack Butland is the best Championship keeper if he stays.
Swansea have seen some significant departures this summer from a team that wasn’t great in the Premier League. Alfie Mawson, Łukasz Fabiański, Sung-yong Ki and André Ayew have all departed, with Jordan Ayew likely on his way somewhere. There’s still good talent though, and Graham Potter’s CV is impressive.
West Bromwich Albion
If Darren Moore is in fact a good football manager — like it looked he was in his short stint as caretaker at the Hawthorns last season — then the Baggies will be a strong promotion contender. Sam Johnstone joins to give a Villa connection beyond Gareth Barry.
The Latics are probably good enough to avoid relegation this season, but 9/1 odds should still be tempting. They bossed League One last season, with Nick Powell (who Villa have been linked to if Grealish leaves) the key man, but have largely stood pat this summer.