Championship: 2018/19 Season Preview
The Championship season begins this weekend. Here are RealSport’s predictions for the coming campaign.
The fun of the World Cup is over and now we are back with the bread and butter of football.
Yes, the Football League returns this weekend and with it comes a host of predictions that are undoubtedly going to be wrong.
One of the most exciting leagues in Europe, the Championship is a big spending league with an ultimate prize worth hundreds of millions to whoever gets promoted.
Here are RealSport’s predictions for the season ahead:
1st – Stoke City
The Potters came crashing down to the Championship rather unexpectedly last season after spending ten seasons in the top flight.
A squad full of internationals and star players never clicked while managers Paul Lambert and Mark Hughes floundered.
This summer they have invested wisely, bringing in Premier League calibre players while keeping a lot of their players from their relegation campaign.
Stoke are the team to watch and they should be targeting the Championship trophy.
2nd – Nottingham Forest
Are they the new Wolves? Certainly people are looking at them that way after they spent millions this past summer.
Football super agent Jorge Mendes waved his magic wand last year for Wolves and he looks to have done the same with Forest this summer.
Expectations are high, season ticket sales are up and Aitor Karanka’s side are being tipped for a return to the Premier League finally after 20 years away.
3rd – West Brom
The Baggies got away from their tag as a Yo-Yo side but could return to being just that if they win promotion at the first attempt this season.
They have strengthened their side reasonably well this summer and look set to contend at the top end of the Championship table.
Players like Jake Livermore, Gareth Barry, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Brunt and Oliver Burke should be more than good enough to help the Baggies earn at least a playoff spot.
4th – Middlesbrough
Tony Pulis has had a full summer to train and get his team ingrained into his tactical philosophies.
Boro have spent some money as well, bringing in Aden Flint and Paddy McNair plus they have Britt Assombalonga, Adama Traore and most of the other players from last season that got them into the playoffs.
Can they break into the top two? That has to be the aim, but they may have to settle for the playoffs.
5th – Swansea City
A relegation that had been coming for the Swans finally arrived last season as they floundered to an 18th place finish.
This summer they have been rather quiet in the transfer window, with only a few notable signings.
With an unproven manager, Graham Potter, Swansea are probably the least likely of the three relegated sides to go back up but they still have a good chance.
6th – Bristol City
Last season Bristol City were one of the surprise packages in the Championship. They pushed Manchester City hard in the Carabao Cup semi-finals and were consistently in the playoff hunt.
They struggled towards the end of the season and eventually finished 11th, but this year they should be better despite selling off star players Aden Flint and Bobby Reid.
Mo Eisa has come in to give them a proper striker while Andi Weimann and Marley Watkins should help contribute goals.
Lee Johnson is building something special at Ashton Gate, and this season may see them finish in the playoff positions.
22nd – Reading
After Jaap Stam guided them to the playoffs in 2016/17, last year was a rather large drop-off.
Reading struggled all season and found themselves in a relegation battle, ultimately saved by Sunderland, Barnsley and Burton Albion’s shocking form.
Neil Clement has a large job on his hands if he is to turn them around properly, but their business this summer has left a lot to be desired.
Either way, Reading fans should be hoping that they can steer clear of the bottom three.
23rd – Rotherham United
The Millers have become a bit of Yo-Yo side in recent years and seem to be too good for League One but not good enough for the Championship.
They did remarkably well to get promoted last season, but their expectations this time around should be to finish 21st.
Paul Warne has had to bring in free transfer and loan players and it is virtually impossible to compete in this division unless you spend some money.
It may be a long season for Rotherham.
24th – Bolton Wanderers
Phil Parkinson has done a miraculous job at Bolton over the last couple of years, but this season may be a step too far for his team.
The summer has been tumultuous to say the least, with players going on strike because they hadn’t been paid and the club signing largely older free transfers.
Bolton do not look like a side geared for success and a relegation to League One looks more or less nailed on.
Top scorer: Benik Afobe
Stoke City signed the striker this summer from Wolves, and he has the pedigree at this level to be the division’s top scorer.
Afobe generally has a one goal in three game record at the Championship level, but if he is playing every week in a side that is built around his strengths, there is no reason why he can’t smash the 25 goal plateau.
Best manager: Lee Johnson
Last season Johnson nearly had Bristol City in a League Cup final and the playoffs. The season tailed off, but Johnson still has his team heading in the right direction.
Can they build on that success? If they can, then Johnson could be a shoe-in for manager of the year.
Young player of the season: Oliver Burke
After bursting onto the scene at Nottingham Forest a few years ago, Burke has really struggled to get his game going.
A move to RB Leipzig never worked, and last season at West Brom he struggled to get into the team on a regular basis.
At just 21-years-old, Burke has the chance to get his career back on track in the Championship and if he shows the form he had at Nottingham Forest a few years ago, he could easily score 15 goals.
Player of the season: Tom Ince
If Stoke are to live up to their pre-season billing as Championship favourites, then the performances of Tom Ince will be vital.
He has a very impressive record in the Championship and has proven himself to be an elite player at this level.
With the improved quality around him, he should fit in perfectly at Stoke and help them earn a promotion. He could be the most important cog in their team.
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