Championship Predictions: 2018/19… Who will finish where?

I would not recommend trying to predict a league that is as unpredictable as the Championship to anyone… No doubt I’ll have made some dreadful miscalculations and no doubt I’ll leave this insurmountable task looking like a complete fool whilst upsetting a few opposition fans along the way. However, after compiling my evidence and doing some extensive research, I present to you my Championship Predictions for the season ahead. Bear with me whilst I put on my tin hat and prepare for the onslaught of criticism… That’s if you stick with it and make it to the finish line.

Stoke – 1st: Despondent is the word I’d use to describe Stoke’s pathetic slump to relegation last season, as after ten years of mid-table mediocrity in the top flight, they finally came crashing down. Well, why have I predicted them to be Champions you may ask? Simple, they have appointed a proven manager in Gary Rowett and have done some shrewd business in the summer transfer window. They’ve retained the core of their squad and although they have lost arguably their best player in Xherdan Shaqiri, they have added some real quality to their ranks. Tom Ince, on his day, can be brilliant and Benik Afobe is another solid addition to help fill the void left by Shaqiri. If Stoke start the season strongly and make The Bet365 Stafium a fortress (I mean it doesn’t sound exactly like a bear pit but still…) then they will go on to finish the season as Champions. They will be hard to beat and a team I imagine others will not look forward to facing. The fans will probably be relishing a new challenge in one of the most competitive Leagues in Europe.

West Brom – 2nd: After seven consecutive seasons of Premier League football, West Brom tumbled back into the Championship, despite a desperately late fight for survival under the leadership of novice tactician Darren Moore. Moore was the only redeeming feature for the Baggies during a torrid season that saw them fall ten points adrift at the bottom of the table, before Moore took over as caretaker boss. Moore had an instant impact as manager, guiding a very poor side to some excellent, well crafted victories against the likes of Manchester United, Newcastle and Spurs. He definitely deserved the gig, but will he able to continue that winning mentality into this season and get his side into immediate promotion contention? He’s certainly capable, especially with the squad of players at his disposal. However, have the Baggies seriously addressed the reasons why they were relegated last season? There’s not an awful lot of creativity in that side and whilst they won’t concede too many, they need a winger with a bit of pace and a no. 10 who can create and score goals… Easier said than done, admittedly. Yet, I still think they have enough to bounce back if they retain their current squad and Moore can get them playing some free flowing football.

Nottingham Forest – 3rd: Forest have clearly set their intentions towards promotion after a decade of Championship football and Aitor Karanka is certainly the man with the right credentials to do the job. He is an experienced tactician with a proven track record after he took Middlesbrough to the promised land with a simple but effective setup back in 2016. Forest have dusted off their cheque book and made some big money signings, most notably Joao Carvalho from Benfica and Lewis Grabban from Bournemouth; Grabban spending successful loan spells at both Sunderland and at playoff finalists Aston Villa last season. Dawson is a solid defensive addition and they definitely have plenty of depth across the pitch. Their a side with an experienced core surround by a glut of Portuguese talent… Ring any bells? Big season ahead for Forest who believe it’s time for a gamble.

Leeds – 4th: The club we all love to hate, their fans love us to hate and they often hate their own club too while they’re at it. It’s like a bizarre love/hate triangle. With a very qualified manager at the helm on a two month… sorry, two year deal, Leeds will make vast amounts of progression this season and are worthy promotion candidates with a manager who has been idolised by the likes of Pep and Poch. Bielsa manages teams at a great intensity and will inject a lot of drive into a squad who often looked lost under Heckingbottom. Last season, Leeds showed plenty of frailties at the back and they have done well to address these problems in the close season. They’ve brought in a new keeper who could help sure things up and I must admit that Barry Douglas from Wolves is a real coup for the Yorkshire outfit. Bielsa certainly isn’t a conservative tactician and could elevate those Leeds players to new levels and get them playing with passion and potency. Bamford will provide goals, but he’s not exactly what you’d call prolific. However, if he gets the service he needs from the likes of tricky midfielder Saiz and pin-point-passer Hernández, Bamford could thrive and easily surpass double figures. It’s all or nothing for Leeds.

Derby County – 5th: With new man Frank Lampard at the helm, Derby will start the season strongly and certainly be difficult to read in terms of tactics. Rowett lacked versatility in his plans during the latter stages of last season and this is something Lampard will improve upon as a managerial rookie. However, a few losses on the bounce could burst the Lampard bubble. The Rams have a solid back line and have made some real marquee signings in the form of Jack Marriott and Florian Jozefzoon, meaning they will certainly attack with more pace this season, however, many of their new signings lack experience at this level. Attacking play under Lampard will be constructed from deeper runs and an increase in width, but Derby will continue to be the ‘nearly men’ for another year, whilst Lamps adapts to life in the technical area; trading Adidas Predators for Clarks’ finest. Yes, they will finish in the playoffs, but they will fall at the final hurdle once again.

Preston – 6th: Now people may call me biased as I know for a fact that we are still considered real underdogs in this league, but make no mistake, Preston mean business this season and they have made the transfer business to match. With a season at the club firmly under his belt, Alex Neil has had the chance to bring in some more of his own additions and get the squad prepared to fight for promotion once again. We have a sustainable transfer policy and a young group who are hungry for success. Finishing just two points off the playoffs last time round will stand us in good stead and our squad is only progressing year on year. Neil has brought in the likes of Ledson, a real terrier who will fight alongside Pearson and bully the opposition. Equally and perhaps most crucially, the club have tied down the services of the likes of box-to-box midfielder Alan Browne and stalwart servant Tom Clarke; the future looks bright for PNE. My only concerns are a lack of depth up front. With the recent announcement that Seani Maguire and Billy Bodin will be spending a large portion of time on the sidelines, Preston must act fast to bolster their attacking options before the transfer window slams shut. Big season ahead for the Lilywhites, who remain under the radar. Fail to reach the playoffs and we could see the big boys swarm round us like vultures trying to pick off our better players.

Middlesbrough – 7th: If I’m honest, I’m not at all convinced by the Smog Monsters, despite the fact that they registered a 5th place finish last season under the guidance of straight-talking Tony Pulis. Poor would be an understatement when describing their playoff performance as they failed to muster up a single shot on target in the ‘must win’ second leg at Villa Park. However, it is undeniable that they are a very accomplished team defensively and have only improved that during this window, signing Aden Flint and McNair to further bolster an already stalwart defence. Yet, there are a few questions about their attacking options, especially if they lose speedster Traore who was frightening at times going forward and provided much of their attacking impetus in an ageing midfield unit. The Spaniard carries much of the creative burden and this is an issue that has not been addressed by Pulis. Assombalonga was bang average last season and Bamford’s departure means they lose another attacking dimension. In reality, Boro are relying on the likes of Ayala to lead the line… from defence. Out of the smog and into the fire.

Bristol City – 8th; Brizzle City showed flashes of sheer brilliance last season, but equally had the ability to be dire, hence why their promotion campaign fizzled out in a pitiful fashion. Weimann is a solid addition from Derby, who will work hard, but he certainly isn’t an out and out goalscorer to replace the loss of Reid, who netted 19 times last season. With Flint heading North to Middlesbrough, that’s another another big character gone from the dressing room. They’ve made a couple of signings including Jack Hunt and Adam Webster to bolster their defensive unit, but I’m not sure where the goals will come from next season. Mo Eisa, that Cheltenham star every man and his dog seemed to be in for, is an unknown quantity and therefore the Robins will need to bide their time before they see any return on their investment.

Aston Villa – 9th: Following the huge gamble that backfired horrendously, Villa were in turmoil after their slim loss against Fulham at Wembley, courtesy of Tom Cairney. Owner Dr. Tony Xia was seriously struggling with his cash flow, however,Xia does now have the backing of two new partners who have taken over a combined 55% of the club. Whilst the pair’s cash may flow further than Dr. Tony’s, Villa’s financial woes are only temporarily solved. FFP still looms large over the club, who need to break even in the 2018/19 season to simply avoid breaking FFP regulations; this follows two seasons of serious losses under the Xia regime. Basically, Villa will still have to sell their prize assets in a desperate attempt to claw back some cash in order to fill the £50 million financial Black hole. The future of Bruce seemed uncertain, as rookie Thierry Henry looked destined for the managerial hot seat at Villa Park. Bruce has kept his seat, much to the dismay of many Villa fans, however, the future of players such as crown jewel Jack Grealish remains unknown. Villa will have to do their transfer shopping in the bargain basement, with free agents and loans being the most they can hope for, realistically.

Swansea – 10th: The past seven years of Premier League football have been some of the best for the South Wales outfit. The 2011/12 season was Swansea’s first time back in the top flight since the early 80s, yet it has often been a labour of love during the seasons between 1983 and 2011. Swansea fans have experienced both the ugly and the beautiful side of the game, sinking as low as League Two in 2004/05, but since then it has been a steady sail to stardom for the Swans. Can they bounce straight back into the big time this season? For me, they will just fall short and this is something lots of their fans seem to agree with judging by their forum activity. 33.6% believe the Swans will sink to a bottom half finish and whilst pre-season doesn’t really indicate much, Swansea have won just one of these dress rehearsals. They have or will inevitable lose a lot of their big names and many fans seem disgruntled with the lack of meaningful transfer action. Graham Potter has been given little backing at the helm and the club definitely look a bit thin on the ground if they fail to make a few more additions. However, Swansea do have a solid nucleus and a new manager with a clear direction. They’re strong enough to mount a playoff push, but they are just lacking a bit of depth. Under Potter, patience is required. Unfortunately, modern day football seems to ignore this virtue.

Norwich – 11th: In recent seasons, the Norwich transfer policy has become increasingly frugal and this is no surprise considering their expensive past. Parachute payments don’t keep a club afloat forever and costs ultimately need to be cut. Norwich have had to rebuild following a policy of small-scale investment in a younger, foreign crop of players. I had a quick peruse through the Norwich fans forum and many of the Canaries don’t seem too optimistic for the season ahead. This will be their third season in the Championship and whilst I think they will progress from last season’s 14th place finish, losing the likes of Maddison and Murphy will not help their cause. They have a very balanced team across the pitch and a large German contingent, but it remains to be seen as to whether many of their signings will adapt to life in the Championship. Only five teams scored fewer goals than Norwich last season and I can’t see this changing too much, even with the addition of out-of-form Jordan Rhodes on loan.

Brentford – 12th; Brentford have always played with plenty of flair and therefore been an impressive side to watch; producing some sumptuous football. They’ve come close to the playoffs on a few occasions, including last season as they kept pace with the top six for the majority of the season. They just never quite make the cut. Jozefzoon will be a big loss this time round and I still feel like the need for a clinical edge has gone unresolved. The Bees and their honey will miss out on the big time promotion money once again.

Sheffield Wednesday – 13th: On paper, the Owls have a group of players capable of swooping into playoff contention, yet despite some great inidividuals, they seem to lack in spirit and desire. I had a quick flick through their forum pages and it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon some stern criticism from the Wednesday faithful. Many of them feel they are lacking depth in a few areas and if they don’t achieve promotion this season, they will definitely be in for a miserable time come next season. Again, there was plenty of talk among the Owls about that taboo term doing the rounds at the minute… FFP. They’ve been unable to sign anyone and therefore I struggle to see past a mid-table finish for the team from the wrong side of the Pennines. An injury crisis like last season and Wednesday could see their season swiftly derailed.

Millwall – 14th: Millwall’s simple system provided the surprise package in a league constantly evolving into a more complex tactical battleground. After finishing just three points outside the playoffs following a late surge last season, Millwall and Neil Harris will be looking for similar heroics this season. On paper, I don’t think they will challenge for promotion, but they will certainly achieve a mid-table finish. They have a solid defence and a fearless, full-blooded approach that is very much out-of-fashion these days, yet for Neil Harris, it has worked wonders. However, going forward they need to be much more clinical if they are to achieve anything meaningful this time round. Many teams will know how to nullify the bite of the Lions this season and with them sussed out, they could struggle. I think most Millwall fans would be satisfied with a mid-table finish, considering the budget they have, but no doubt they will continue to establish themselves as a solid Championship side.

Sheffield United – 15th: Last season was the Blades first back in the Championship since the 2010/11 season, so to finish 10th and to have been in the playoff race must be considered a good starting point for their return to the second tier. Boyhood Blade Chris Wilder is an honest, merciless manager who gets the best out of the players at his disposal, but for me, other than signing John Egan from Brentford, United look like a side lacking creative depth going forward. Young prospect David Brooks left for Bournemouth for a whopping £9.5 million and it’s questionable as to how long Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp can retain their quality at the ages of 33 and 32 respectively. The pair scored 32 goals between them last season which is a very impressive return, but if either drops off the pace, the goals will have to come from somewhere else. Sheffield United are probably at least two creative players away from being firmly within playoff contention this coming season.

Blackburn Rovers – 16th: Following an impressive season in League One last year and a well deserved promotion, Blackburn and Tony Mowbray will have plenty of momentum along with a winning mentality ahead of this season. How far this will take them remains to be seen. Again, they’ve had just three incoming signings and whilst they have plenty of steady operators, this will be a season of consolidation for Blackburn. They have a solid midfield and a decent defence on paper, but I’m not at all convinced by many of their attacking outlets, other than Dack who has definitely earned a chance to prove himself at this level. They’ve got experience and some industrious players, but I have a feeling they will struggle unless they bring in some proven Championship forwards. At this level, their straight forward system could be found out.

Hull – 17th: A slight improvement on last season’s 18th place finish, but it’s hard to see past another bottom half finish for Nigel and his team. Whilst the Tigers could be prolific at one end of the pitch last season, their defence at the other end was woeful, conceding 70 goals in the League alone. They’ve had a complete clear out so far, yet they’re still looking pretty thin on numbers and they are continuing to follow a policy of getting shut of their better players and replacing them with bargain basement replacements. I highly doubt they have bodged that dodgy defensive leak either… They do have a few quality players such as Bowen to lead the line, but they have replaced many of their experienced leaders with young academy graduates. Ex-physio Adkins has admitted that they need to sign a few more players if they are to have a chance at being competitive in this division. Obviously they have suffered from a few off the pitch problems too with regards to ownership and this has made the club quite a toxic place at times, which is a shame for the fans. If off the field tensions begin to mount, this young squad combined with a soulless ‘yes man’ at the helm could run into deep water.

Wigan – 18th: A solid bottom half finish is the most Wigan can expect despite a thrilling promotion campaign last time out. Fiery Liverpudlian Paul Cook is gradually adding more merit to his CV, however, there are questions about how his squad will adapt to life at a much higher tempo. Their creative influencers will have less time to flirt with the ball and marauding defenders like Nathan Byrne will struggle at this level.

Birmingham – 19th: The EFL have placed the Blues under a transfer embargo and therefore Monk has been able to complete a meagre one signing. In reality, they need reinforcements in most areas of the pitch. Monk did well to survive the drop last time round with an impressive win against Fulham, however, the novelty of a new manager will have worn off and Monk will be under a lot of pressure to get results. The Blues boast an abundance of battlers, but very few refined professionals. A bottom-half struggle beckons.

Ipswich – 20th: At the moment, whilst I don’t predict Ipswich to go down, I can’t see them progressing on last season’s 12th place finish. Paul Hurst did an excellent job with Shrewsbury last season, so nearly guiding them to promotion and therefore he is a shrewd appointment who can build for the future. However, with no experience at this level, this season will just be one of transition for Hurst and his squad after loyal servant Mick McCarthy departed last season. Hurst has inherited a solid spine and made a few additions from the lower leagues, but it will take time for him to implement his philosophy on a squad who played a much more closed way under McCarthy. If he does coax a bit of flair out of his players, Hurst could manipulate some exciting performances. Slow season for the Tractor Boys; 20th.

QPR – 21st: Whilst Steve McLaren is a good appointment for QPR and will play the players in their true positions, unlike Holloway, he is by no means a miracle worker. Although I have predicted that they will just about survive, it will be touch and go for the club. Their squad is in a weaker position with the loss of both keeper Smithies and defender Jack Robinson and due to financial restraints, they won’t see too many incomings before the end of the window on the 9th August. QPR are literally paying the price for their high spending during the Premier League era, so for them, it’s got to be about blooding lower league and home grown talent.

Reading – 22nd: Reading staved off relegation by just three points last season and when looking at their transfer business, I don’t believe they will avoid the drop this time round. Speedster Barrow was the only shining light in a glum season and even he wasn’t much better than average. The signing of John O’Shea says it all really… Slim pickings for Reading who will plummet if they string together a losing streak. Another struggle awaits the Royals who are a very unpredictable team at this level. Clement has still got a lot of work to do.

Bolton – 23nd: After a pretty dire season last time round, Bolton will inevitably continue the trend and slump to another lowly finish. Despite no longer being under a transfer embargo, the Trotters have simply brought in ageing freebies cast aside by their previous clubs. They’ve been one of the busier clubs during this transfer window, however, this is a squad that is in desperate need of a complete overhaul. Oztumer could be a crucial signing in the attacking midfield department and may well add a different dimension to their game. Yet, this diminutive maestro may fail to flourish in Parky’s slow defensive setup. Bolton have retained their stagnant defensive formula and sluggish attack connected by a midfield carrying an overbearing weight load.

Rotherham – 24th: Rotherham, oh Rotherham… In their last three seasons of Championship football, they have finished 21st, 21st and then were finally condemned to League One football once again with a horrendous season finishing on just 23 points at the foot of the table. Sorry for that reminder to any Millers fans reading this. This season they are back and whilst they will probably present a more painful presence around the division, they will be involved in yet another relegation battle. With the likes of Jamie Proctor and David Ball up front, I doubt they will be putting the fear factor into the opposition.

After all that, this is how it looks: