2016-17 Sky Bet Championship Preview

Time to preview the best league in the world – The Championship ;). The favourites for promotion in 2016-17 are relegated pair Newcastle United and Norwich City and Nigel Pearson’s new team Derby County, who lost in the play-offs last season. Burton Albion and Barnsley were both promoted from League One in May but are favourites to go straight back down, whilst Rotherham are also in line to go down according to SkyBet, after finishing one place above the drop zone two years running.

Aston Villa

CREDIT: Getty Images/Stu Forster
CREDIT: Getty Images/Stu Forster
  • Last season: 20th in the Premier League
  • Manager: Roberto Di Matteo

Last season Aston Villa were one of the worst teams the Premier League has ever seen. But this summer sees them make a fresh start with Roberto Di Matteo in charge and Steve Clarke by his side. The £12 signing of Ross McCormack is the most impressive and expensive deal of the window, and the Scot’s goals (he has 66 in his last three seasons) could spearhead a push for the play-offs. 3rd

Barnsley

  • Last season: 6th in League One
  • Manager: Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom has worked miracles at Barnsley, taking the Tykes from bottom of League One to the promotion to the Championship in the space of six months. And on paper, it’s a squad that can survive in this division. Sam Winnall scored 24 goals last season, captain Conor Hourihane is an impressive playmaker, whilst Barnsley won the race for Tom Bradshaw, who scored 20 goals for Walsall in 2015-16. 17th

Birmingham City

  • Last season: 10th
  • Manager: Gary Rowett

Two consecutive 10th placed finishes for Birmingham can be counted as great successes by Gary Rowett who has transformed the team on a limited budget. The Blues were in play-off contention for most of 2015-16, but with player of the season Jon Toral now back at Arsenal and other clubs spending more money, mid-table obscurity might be the most likely outcome of this campaign. 12th

Blackburn Rovers

  • Last season: 15th
  • Manager: Owen Coyle

Blackburn fans used to boo Owen Coyle as manager of Lancashire rivals Burnley and Bolton, but now the Scot has taken the hot seat at Ewood Park in what looks to be a tough job. Signing Danny Graham (who scored seven goals on loan at Rovers last season) and Anthony Stokes on free transfers is good business, and should just be enough to see them survive. It won’t be easy though. 18th

Brentford

CREDIT: Getty Images/ Steve Bardens
CREDIT: Getty Images/ Steve Bardens
  • Last season: 9th
  • Manager: Dean Smith

Under their third manager of last season Dean Smith, Brentford finished with seven wins from nine games to make amends for an atrocious start to the campaign. They could return to being play-off hopefuls as they were in 2014-15, as Romaine Sawyers, Daniel Bentley and John Egan are impressive signings, whilst Alan Judge, who got 14 goals and 11 assists last season, returns from a leg break. 8th

Brighton & Hove Albion

  • Last season: 3rd
  • Manager: Chris Hughton

Brighton were the surprise package of last season, not losing a league game until December, eventually missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference. They are certainly strong bets to finish in the play-offs again, but whilst other teams have strengthened, the Seagulls have been relatively quiet in the transfer market. Even so, you get the feeling Premier League football at the AMEX isn’t far away. 6th

Bristol City

  • Last season: 18th
  • Manager: Lee Johnson

After attempted moves for Dwight Gayle, Zac Clough and Andre Gray all failed last summer, it was a difficult season for Bristol City that did though end up in comfortable survival under new boss Lee Johnson. Jonathan Kodija’s 20 goals had a key part to play, and the Frenchman will be crucial again alongside new signing Lee Tomlin. Gary O’Neill has been added for experience, so the Robins should achieve a secure mid-table finish. 16th

Burton Albion

  • Last season: 2nd in League One
  • Manager: Nigel Clough

Burton’s rise up the leagues is remarkable and having achieved back to back promotions, it would be an incredible story to see them stay up. But the Brewers have by far the smallest budget in the league, and we’ve seen how that’s severely hurt the likes of Yeovil and Walsall in the past. Nigel Clough does have experience in this league with Derby, so can Burton prove the doubters wrong? For me, it’s unlikely. 24th

Cardiff City

  • Last season: 8th
  • Manager: Paul Trollope

The current group of players in South Wales have been together for a couple of seasons now, and could make a push for the play-offs this campaign, especially as Lex Immers has signed permanently following an impressive loan spell last season. But the Bluebirds still lack an out and out goalscorer, whilst new boss Paul Trollope hasn’t managed a side since leaving Bristol Rovers in 2010. 13th

Derby County

CREDIT: Getty Images/Nathan Stirk
CREDIT: Getty Images/Nathan Stirk
  • Last season: 5th
  • Manager: Nigel Pearson

After play-off heartbreak in 2013-14 and 2015-16 and a spectacular end of season collapse in 2014-15, I think that Derby will FINALLY achieve promotion this campaign. The Rams have a strong new manager in Nigel Pearson, and despite no new signings as of yet, the squad remains impressive – with the likes of Richard Keogh, Will Hughes and Chris Martin amongst the best in their position in the Championship. 2nd

Fulham

  • Last season: 20th
  • Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic

Had Fulham not had the goals of Moussa Dembele (15) and Ross McCormack (16) last season, they could well have dropped into League One. That pair have now left Craven Cottage, along with 12 released players, leaving the Cottagers squad looking rather thin. Slavisa Jokanovic may have won promotion with Watford in 2015, but I think he has a huge job on his hands to even keep Fulham in this division in 2015-16. 22nd

Huddersfield

  • Last season: 19th
  • Manager: David Wagner

Ending 2015-16 with a 4-0 defeat to Bristol City and 5-1 defeat to Brentford doesn’t bode all that well for Huddersfield in the new campaign, although there is a fresh squad at the John Smith’s Stadium with 10 new signings. Just two of these players have played senior football in England before though, and this experimental squad former Dortmund number two David Wagner has built could excel or flop. I’m going for the latter. 21st

Ipswich Town

  • Last season: 7th
  • Manager: Mick McCarthy

Ipswich continue to do very well in the Championship despite spending little, and only missed out on the play-offs last season due to significant injuries to the likes of Teddy Bishop and David McGoldrick. With Mick McCarthy in charge anything could happen, but with just four new signings so far and other clubs spending big, the Tractor Boys might not be so plucky this campaign. 11th

Leeds United

  • Last season: 13th
  • Manager: Garry Monk

Garry Monk has become the seventh permanent Leeds manager in Massimo Cellino’s two years at Elland Road, and if given the time could prove to be an excellent appointment. There’s a lot of exciting young talent at the club, and Monk has been given a fair amount of money to spend, most notably on League Two player of the season Kemar Roofe. A play-off push is a possibility. 9th

Newcastle United

CREDIT: Newcastle United/Serena Taylor
CREDIT: Newcastle United/Serena Taylor
  • Last season: 18th in the Premier League
  • Manager: Rafael Benitez

Simply put, if Newcastle don’t absolutely storm the Championship then there is something seriously wrong. Rafa Benitez is a Champions League winning manager, and even before the transfer window opened the Magpies had a very strong team for this division. But add the impressive signings of Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, Mohamed Diame and Jesus Gamez and on paper the squad is way too good for the second tier. I’m even quite fearful they might break Reading’s 106 point record… 1st

Norwich City

  • Last season: 19th in the Premier League
  • Manager: Alex Neil

Alex Neil, who took Norwich up two years ago, has kept most of the squad that were in the Premier League except for Nathan Redmond who has joined Southampton. But exciting youngsters Sergi Canos and Alex Pritchard have been, and on paper the Canaries have one of the strongest teams in the Championship. If they can find a prolific goalscorer, they could be a real force to be reckoned with. 4th

Nottingham Forest

  • Last season: 16th
  • Manager: Philippe Montanier

It’s been a gradual slide down the Championship table for Nottingham Forest, finishing 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th in the last four seasons. Frenchman Philippe Montanier has been brought in at the helm to try and turn things around, and solving the goals problem must be his key aim. Only the three relegated teams scored fewer than Forest (43) last season, so Britt Assombalonga’s return from a long term injury will be key. 20th

Preston North End

  • Last season: 11th
  • Manager: Simon Grayson

Preston quietly climbed the Championship table in their first season back in the second tier in 2015-16, eventually finishing an impressive 11th. Simon Grayson has signed five of last season’s loanees on permanent deals, as well as bringing in Ben Pringle. If Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford can return to the red hot form they found in League One, another top half finish is very possible. 10th

QPR

  • Last season: 12th
  • Manager: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

After spending well beyond their means, QPR have begun to take a more cautious to transfers this summer, bringing in the likes of Jake Bidwell, Jordan Cousins and Joel Lynch as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink looks to take the Hoops back to the top flight. However, they still lack quality and goals in wide areas and upfront, with Conor Washington’s January move yet to pay off. Another mid-table finish beckons. 14th

Reading

CREDIT: Getty Images/VI-Images
CREDIT: Getty Images/VI-Images
  • Last season: 17th
  • Manager: Jaap Stam

I’m going to be realistic. Reading’s squad is nowhere good enough to be fighting for a place in the top six. It’s a fresh start at the Madejski Stadium, and I’m excited to see what Jaap Stam (in his first managerial job) and the squad he has built (largely from overseas) can do. There is quality in the side, less so now Oliver Norwood has joined Brighton, so relegation shouldn’t be an issue. I hope. 15th

Rotherham United

  • Last season: 21st
  • Manager: Alan Stubbs

Rotherham looked certain to be relegated last season before Neil Warnock arrived and worked his magic, but now the veteran boss has stepped down it looks like another difficult season for the Millers. New boss Alan Stubbs may have won the Scottish Cup with Hibernian but I’m not convinced by his managerial ability, whilst last season’s top scorer Matt Derbyshire has moved to Cyprus. It’s a weak squad and not one that looks good enough to survive.

Sheffield Wednesday

  • Last season: 6th
  • Manager: Carlos Carvalhal

No one had heard of or rated Carlos Carvalhal when he arrived at Sheffield Wednesday last summer, but the Portuguese boss gave fans a season to remember but one that ended in play-off heartbreak at Wembley. The squad has got even stronger, with Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi adding to an impressive attacking line-up of which the star is Fernando Forestieri. 5th

Wigan Athletic

  • Last season: 1st in League One
  • Manager: Gary Caldwell

Inspired by the man on fire Will Grigg, Wigan won promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt last season, and now some fans are aiming to get to the Premier League straight away under ambitious and impressive young manager Gary Caldwell. For me, the squad lacks quality to do so, and this season will be more about consolidation for the Latics. 19th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • Last season: 14th
  • Manager: Walter Zenga

No one was expecting much of Wolves this season, until the club’s new owners sacked Kenny Jackett and replaced him with Walter Zenga last week. Since then, Silvio has signed from Atletico Madrid and Helder Costa and Joao Teixeira have arrived on loan from Benfica, with more from the Portuguese club expected to follow. It’s an exciting time at Molineux, but will the shake-up work? 7th


Disagree with my predictions? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or Tweet me @OllyAllen1998

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