Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
It’s been just two short months since Fulham faced off with Aston Villa in the most valuable football game in the world at Wembley, with Fulham taking a 1-0 win to take them back to the top flight. It’s estimated to be worth around £160m for the promoted club, whilst the less fortunate Aston Villa will be slogging it out in the second tier for another season at least. But can they go one step further this season, or will the freshly relegated trio of Stoke, West Brom, and Swansea freeze them out of promotion contention?
Last Season Finish: 13th
Star Player: Pablo Hernandez
Key Signing: Marco Bielsa
Key Departure: Pierre-Michel Lasogga
It all started so well for Leeds at the start of 2017-18 season, top of the table at the end of September, with a new manager and his signings all hitting the ground running to great effect. Fast forward to the end of the season and Leeds finished a dismal 13th, having sacked their second manager of the season in Paul Heckingbottom after a short but poor spell in charge.
You would think that this situation would mean that Leeds are not fancied to be anywhere near the top this season but the appointment of eccentric Marco Bielsa as manager has sent shockwaves throughout the club and English football in general. Bielsa is a globally-renowned coach who can list Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino as having influenced through the way his teams play football, which is symbolised by sharp, passing, attacking football that is easy on the eye.
Added to the potentially inspired manager choice, Leeds have made some shrewd signings, with talented Chelsea youngsters Jamal Blackman and Lewis Baker arriving on loan, as well as talk of Barry Douglas, the Wolves left-back who shone in the division last season, coming on board as well.
If Bielsa can get his ideas across to the team effectively, Leeds will be a delightful team to watch this season and dark horses to finally return to the Premier League after years away. Conversely, Bielsa could implode and quit relatively soon into the campaign, as he did with Lazio, where he resigned after two days in charge!
Last Season Finish: 5th
Star Player: Adama Traore
Key Signing: Aden Flint
Key Departure: Fabio
The 2017-18 season for Middlesbrough should really be seen as disappointing, despite the club making the play-off semi-finals. They had spent big in the summer transfer window, with a new manager in Garry Monk and signings such as Martin Braithwaite and Jonny Howson made to propel the club straight back to the Premier League. However, by the winter period, the club languished in mid-table and Monk was duly sacked after months of uninspiring football.
The new manager was Tony Pulis, who could possibly be the safest managerial appointment in the Football League, and Middlesbrough subsequently moved up the table, only to lose to Aston Villa in a crunch, two-legged play-off match. Anyone who has watched a Tony Pulis team will know that the style of play is very direct, with a compact back four and a limitation on flair. This can be seen clearly in the club’s early transfer dealings, with the transfer of solid centre-back Aden Flint from Bristol City, and the removal of players who may have talent and skill but not the solidity Pulis needs, like Fabio.
After being their star man last season, Adama Traore will again be tasked with providing the spark that lights Middlesbrough’s promotion bid, however, will it be successful? I do not fully back this team to be around the top-two for the whole season, but it is difficult to envisage them not being in the top-six come the end of the campaign.
Last Season Finish: 17th
Star Player: Ben Osborn
Key Signing: Joao Carvalho
Key Departure: Eric Lichaj
It has been all change at the City Ground in Nottingham this summer, with developments shaping up nicely for a promotion push after being involved in a relegation scrap last season. Forest will hope the signing of midfielder Joao Carvalho from Benfica for a whopping £13.50m will prove to be this season’s Ruben Neves, who bulldozered Wolves to the Championship title last season. In addition, the clever acquisition of Lewis Grabban from Bournemouth, also for big money, will potentially enhance the goal threat Forest possess this season, whilst buys like Jack Colback from Newcastle will increase the experience of the team. The clearest sign of the makeover has been the sale of last seasons Fans Player of the Year Eric Lichaj to Hull, showing that it truly is a new era for Nottingham Forest.
These promising times for the club were in bleak contrast to last season, when the team largely played turgid football and lost half their games over the course of the campaign. This came even after the arrival of Aitor Karanka, and he will have to build some momentum to ease the doubts over his ability to lead Forest out of the division.
Whilst on paper the team look like promotion candidates, due to the players that have arrived, as well as the promise of current ones, like combative midfielder Ben Osborn, Nottingham Forest still represent the riskiest bet if you want to back one of these teams to win the Championship. With so many changes, it could take a while to bed the team, which could prove costly for the manager and the club’s prospects. However, Karanka is a coach that knows how to get out of this division and I think we will be seeing at least a top-eight finish for the club.
Last Season Finish: 10th
Star Player: John Fleck
Key Signing: John Egan
Key Departure: David Brooks
So close, yet so far last season for Sheffield United, as they came agonisingly close to reaching the play-offs after being around the top of the table for the entire campaign. However, the club should have been proud of their efforts, having just been promoted and looking a class above their city rivals in Wednesday with an entertaining style of play under Chris Wilder.
This season will prove to be much tougher, however. They have lost promising midfield David Brooks to Bournemouth, whilst question marks will rise over whether ageing strikers Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp can repeat their fantastic goal-scoring exploits from last season. However, whilst not having direct replacements for these players, the pull of the club has been shown through the acquisitions of promising defender John Egan from Brentford and a loan spell for Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. In addition, the players that proved reliable in the Championship should once again come to the fore, particularly defenders Jack O’ Connell and Chris Basham, as well as midfielder John Fleck, who won the club’s player of the season.
With a talented manager in Chris Wilder and a strong core to the team, it will be unlikely not to see Sheffield United challenge for the top-six again. Although, to compete for the top-two, I believe they will need to sign another midfielder and striker to make that happen and bring a team from Sheffield back to the Premier League.
Last Season Finish: 19th (in Premier League)
Star Player: Joe Allen
Key Signing: Tom Ince
Key Departure: Xherdan Shaqiri
It was a dismal, dismal season for Stoke City last year. Two managers were sacked by the end of it, rumours of indiscipline plagued the camp, whilst in the matches themselves, Stoke played an uninspiring brand of football. They conceded the joint-most goals, whilst only scored the fifth-highest amount of goals in a season that saw them lose exactly half of their Premier League games.
Despite this, I think Stoke can be a real force in the Championship this season. The loss of star man Xherdan Shaqiri to Liverpool will hurt of course, especially for the paltry £13.75m that he was bought for. However, the signings of Tom Ince and James Mc Clean, proven Championship players who have shone in the division, will do well to fill that hole. Furthermore, Benik Afobe can provide the firepower that strikers like Mame Biram Diouf could not for Stoke last season, whilst Joe Allen signing a new contrast must be a huge moral boost to everyone at the club.
In addition, a lot of the under-achievers from last season have been moved on, with Glen Johnson, Stephen Ireland, and Kevin Wimmer all moving away. Under pragmatic new manager Gary Rowett, the team also has guidance from a man who reached the play-off semi-finals with Derby last season, and knows the division well. The brand of football he plays may not be the most exciting, but expect results.
Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Stoke around the top two at the end of this season. They have a sound structural base, the relegation process appears to have been stable, and the club have bought well to really push to go straight back up.
West Bromwich Albion
Last Season Finish: 20th (in Premier League)
Star Player: Oliver Burke
Key Signing: Sam Johnstone
Key Departure: Jonny Evans
If I described Stoke’s season in the Premier League as dismal, then words cannot begin to express the dross that was West Brom’s campaign, at least until the final month of the season. After beginning the season brightly under Tony Pulis the wheels quickly fell off, and during a horrendous spell with Alan Pardew as manager, the club did not win a league match for over five months and 20 games of the campaign.
The apocalyptic mood around the Hawthorns changed, however, with the appointment of Darren Moore as caretaker manager, as he somehow concocted wins against Manchester United, Tottenham, and Newcastle to win the final Manager of the Month award. Now given the permanent managerial role, there is a higher sense of optimism about the club, and the purchases of Sam Johnstone from Manchester United, and Kyle Bartley from Swansea are smart for the Championship.
Although, along with the loss of such star players as Jonny Evans and Ben Foster, the club could also lose goal-scorers Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon, as well as others like Jake Livermore and Kieran Gibbs, who will surely be looking for Premier League suitors. This means that fringe players from last season must step up, none more so than Oliver Burke, a talented young winger who never really got going last season but could become a real force in the Championship.
If West Brom manage to keep their roster of talented players, then a top-two finish could be assured, with Moore instilling a counter-attacking brand of football that is great to watch, especially when they are the underdogs. However, if star men start to move away and replacements aren’t up to scratch, the team might not gel, and Moore’s inexperience at this level could be shown. This could have dire consequences for any promotion hopes the club would have.
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