Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
The 2018/19 Championship campaign promises to be a close run thing. While there’s plenty of sides lining up for a Premier League push, there’s also likely to be a scrap for survival at the bottom. Following on from our winner and golden boot predictions, we’re looking at who will secure promotion, and suffer the pain of relegation.
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Derby have been one of the most interesting sides to follow over the summer. When Gary Rowett stood down following their play-off loss, things looked bleak. Rumours of a tight budget and player departures made Frank Lampard’s move to Pride Park look like a big risk for both sides. However, that appointment has inspired a lot of good faith in the club, and they look set for a strong campaign as a result.
The Rams have bought well this summer, with Lampard’s Chelsea connections bringing in Mason Mount on loan. He had a fantastic season in the Eredivisie, and the young star has been joined by proven Championship quality in the shape of Florian Josefzoon. With a revamped midfield, we expect a high scoring season from Matej Vydra, and the Rams should benefit with their key striker seemingly staying at the club.
Lampard’s side have put together some strong results in preseason to boost expectations. Given their positive summer, we can see them heading for the top flight this season. This squad is more than capable of repeating last season’s run to sixth. They have much more guile in midfield, and we expect their attacking style to bring results. Derby are our tip for promotion this season, given the boosted atmosphere around the club.
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Top Six Finish: Brentford
The Bees did enough to secure a ninth place finish last term, their fourth straight top 10 in the Championship. They seem to be slowly building towards another play-off appearance, and we can see that happening this year. Brentford have kept their main stars while selling off a few players, all of which seem to have been replaced.
Their turnover of players hasn’t been major, meaning Dean Smith has a largely settled squad as he looks to push for a top six finish. With their record in the transfer market, you have to have faith in new arrivals Julian Jeanvier and Said Benrahma. They’ve held on to the likes of Chris Mepham and Ollie Watkins, which is key. The Bees do need goals, but Neal Maupay should be acclimatised to the Championship after a year. We see strength throughout Brentford, and we expect them to wind up in the top six this term.
Top Six Finish: Sheffield United
After taking both League Two and League One by storm, Chris Wilder looked set to repeat the trick with Sheffield United last season. However, their brilliant form in the first half of the season tailed off, and they slipped out on contention and in to mid-table. We expect better from them this season, following their bright return to the second tier.
The Blades have bought well, and their style of football seems to suit this level. Wilder has targeted Bournemouth as the side to aspire to, after the Cherries pushed for promotion in their first year back at this level, before storming the league the season after. We like the signing of John Egan in defence, while the Blades have trimmed their squad, yet keeping most of their key names. Overall, we think they’re great value for a top six finish, as we expect a lot more consistency from the Blades this term.
Relegation: Bolton, Rotherham, Reading
The scramble for the three Premier League spots is tight, while there are plenty of sides at the bottom of the Championship desperately pushing for survival. One who have just caught the eye are Birmingham, who are under a transfer embargo. With a limited squad, they’re going to need to need Garry Monk at his best this season to stay up, but the former Swans boss could easily walk. Ahead of the new season, the Blues could be an outside pick for the bottom three if their situation gets worse.
Many people expect a season of struggle for Bolton Wanderers, and we are no different. Their financial situation didn’t go unnoticed earlier this season, and they are making some odd signings so far. Few of those appear to be ready to compete in a relegation battle at this level. Some could be signings in preparation for League One in 2019, which is where we see this poor Bolton side ending up.
We are backing Rotherham to join them, who were promoted after winning the League One play-offs in May. Since then, two free transfers from Blackpool and Sunderland’s Billy Jones have joined. However, throughout the squad it seems like they’re low on Championship quality. They were relegated from the division in 2017, and we don’t think they’ve done enough this summer to avoid going straight back down.
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Our final choice in the relegation battle is Reading, who look like great value in this market. They went from third place in 2017 to fifth from bottom last term. They were left narrowly above the drop zone after a dreadful year, and the Royals look much weaker this time around.
Defensively they should concede plenty of goals. This is a team relying on the likes of Paul McShane and new signing John O’Shea at the back. They also look short on creativity and goals, with limited ability across their bloated squad. Paul Clement may have kept the side up last term, but he hasn’t got them performing to any great level. With that in mind, Reading complete our relegation picks.
Bottom Half Finish: Swansea
Finally, one angle we like the look of is backing against a top 12 finish for Championship new boys Swansea. The second tier isn’t just competitive in the battle for the top six, given that well over half of the division is pushing for a play-off spot. That tends to lead to some big names struggling, with the likes of Leeds, Norwich and Nottingham Forest falling in to the bottom half last term.
Last season we saw two of the three relegated sides slump in to the bottom half too. Hull City’s promotion push quickly fell apart, and they ended up 18th. Meanwhile, Sunderland went down in 24th, after a dismal season at the Stadium of Light. That’s a trend which could continue here, with Swansea looking poor.
The Welsh side have only been signing young, inexperienced players so far. Meanwhile, manager Graham Potter comes with little Championship experience. They’ve lost major players from last season, with Ki Sung-yueng, Lukasz Fabianski and Andre Ayew heading out of the club. This is a squad low on quality coming off the back of a relegation. As we saw last season, that won’t end well in this division. Given their issues, we think you can get a great price on them to finish outside the top half.
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