Known as one of the most competitive domestic leagues in the world, the Championship kicks off this Friday (August 2nd), with 24 teams chasing promotion to the Premier League – and trying to avoid relegation to Division One – with financial riches or ruin at stake.
Last season, Norwich City surprised many pre season tipsters by winning the Championship – they were joined in getting automatic promotion by Sheffield United, with Aston Villa also securing promotion by winning the ever dramatic Play Offs. They will replace Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City in the Premier League, all of whom suffered relegation from the Premier League, and who now must try to regain their Premier League status – never an easy task at the best of times.
Promoted from Division One last season and joining the Championship are Luton Town, Charlton Athletic and Barnsley.
Here, we attempt to forecast the season and see which teams will make the promised land that is the Premier League automatically, which teams will have to endure the Play Offs, who will be relegated – and who will remain in mid table obscurity ready for another attempt next season.
THE PROMOTION FAVOURITES
Leeds United, who were spectacularly denied by Derby County in the Play Off semi finals last season, start the season as favourites to win the Championship outright. Much of this will be due to the (re) signing of someone who will not play a minute for the Yorkshire outfit….manager Marcelo Bielsa (above) was expected to leave Leeds on the back of their eventual failure to gain promotion last season, being caught at the death for automatic promotion by Sheffield United, and then that two legged loss to the Rams. But Bielsa stayed – a huge boost for the Elland Road faithful and team. Although they sold starlet Jack Clarke to Tottenham Hotspur, he has been loaned back to them for this season. Leeds look destined for another crack at promotion and be a major player this time around.
IN THE AUTO PROMOTION MIX
Of the three relegated sides, Fulham look best placed to go straight back up. They have captured Ivan Cavaleiro from Wolves and Anthony Knockaert from Brighton – both highly experienced and proven at this level. Although losing Ryan Babel and Jean Seri to Galatasaray, they have retained their very talented and capable squad, including Aleksandar Mitrovic, who terrorised the Championship in their promotion winning campaign of 2017/18. We expect Fulham to be one of, if not the, teams to beat. Cardiff City, under Neil Warnock (above), will be combative and competitive again – there are few managers better at this level than Warnock, who knows what it takes to get out of this league. West Bromwich Albion will hope to go better than last season, losing in the play off semi finals to Aston Villa – but will need to find goals quickly, having lost strikers Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle. We expect these three to be the main challengers for a top two place, along with Leeds.
IN THE PLAY OFF HUNT
Many teams will be believing they have a real chance of making the play offs this season – and one or two will harbour hopes of being this seasons Norwich, and flying under the radar initially before storming into the top two. Derby County, Stoke City, Middlesbrough all big teams with resources and history on their side and will be expecting to be in the mix come next May, whilst the likes of Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, Brentford, Swansea City and Sheffield Wednesday will all be eyeing a top six place after relatively poor finishes last season. It is almost inevitable that we wont know who has made the Playoffs until the final league games are played.
FLYING UNDER THE RADAR LOOKING UP
There’s always a team or two who seem to cause a few jaws to drop in the Championship by finishing higher than anything of substance to point to would suggest they are capable of. We see this seasons dark horses as Blackburn Rovers, who finished last season strongly and, in Sam Gallagher, Bradley Johnson (above) and Stewart Downing, have made some experienced and astute signings which should impact positively for manager Tony Mowbray and the Ewood Park faithful, desperate to see their team reach the Premier League again.
MID TO LOW REACHES – BUT LOOK SAFE ENOUGH
Although on any given day, any team can beat any other team in the Championship, there looks to be a handful of teams a shade below the top 10, but too good enough to be truly worried about the drop. Preston North End, Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City and new boys Luton Town & Charlton Athletic would seem to fit this category – all will have their moments we are certain – but not enough of them to make a run at the top of the table. Arguably, all would maybe be happy with mid table safety and some stability before making inroads next season.
FIGHTING THE DROP
As competitive as the Championship is, there has to be three teams who suffer relegation – and a few others who will be fighting to avoid it – and be successful in doing so. Barnsley would appear to have the toughest task of staying up, with Reading, Hull City, Millwall QPR and Wigan Athletic the likely contenders in joining them for the dreaded drop. There will be some huge, critical games amongst these teams – real six pointers – and as with many a Championship season, and like the play off places, it will likely be again the final day placings which confirms for whom the relegation trapdoor opens.
There is no doubting that it will be another thrilling, dramatic, exciting and competitive season of Championship football….and here is how we see the final table looking once all the football has been played – with the top two gaining automatic promotion – places 3 to 6 making the Play Offs and the bottom three suffering relegation.
PREDICTED CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL TABLE 2019/20 SEASON
- LEEDS UNITED
- CARDIFF CITY
- WEST BROMWICH ALBION
- DERBY COUNTY
- STOKE CITY
- BLACKBURN ROVERS
- NOTTINGHAM FOREST
- BRISTOL CITY
- SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY
- SWANSEA CITY
- PRESTON NORTH END
- LUTON TOWN
- HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
- BIRMINGHAM CITY
- CHARLTON ATHLETIC
- HULL CITY
- QUEENS PARK RANGERS
- WIGAN ATHLETIC