While most of the newspapers, radio stations and TV types fixate on the Premier League obsessively for the next nine-odd months, a good chunk of the rest of the country will be looking further down the football pyramid to check out how their team is getting on. There may be 20 teams in the top flight, but there are a whopping 72 in the three divisions below that. And we think they deserve a little attention too.
Don’t get us wrong, the Premier League is probably the most entertaining football spectacle on the planet. But the EFL Championship is perhaps the most competitive. 24 teams, all capable of beating each other, playing twice a week for the most part of the season… That’s 46 ties a season per club. And a lot of football.
We thought we look at how the 2017/18 season might pan out. Here are our predictions:
Last year? 13th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Ahmed Elmohamady. Signing the former Chelsea club captain John Terry may have been Steve Bruce’s marquee signing this summer, but picking up Egyptian winger Elmohamady was the real coup. He’s Premier League quality and should create plenty for Jonathan Kodija this season.
Our prediction? That whole ‘big club’ stuff is a little cliche, isn’t it? Especially as we’ve seen big clubs fail time and time again at this level. Villa hardly pulled up trees last year, either. But they’ve invested well, have a top goalscorer and a savvy manager. Automatic promotion.
Last year? 14th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Zeki Fryers. Once tipped for great things, left back Fryers is still yet to prove himself. Will he shine at Oakwell? Who knows? But Barnsley have certainly signed a player with potential. But at 24 he has to start backing some of it up. And fast.
Our prediction? Barnsley are capable of long losing streaks and impressive winning streaks. Their squad doesn’t frighten too many people, but they’re no slouches and have enough to avoid relegation with some ease. Bottom half.
Last year? 19th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? David Stockdale. Harry Redknapp loves to wheel and deal, that’s hardly a revelation. But while the newspapers focused on his attempts to bring in Stewart Downing, Ashley Cole and John Terry, he was quietly signing one of the best ‘keepers about.
Our prediction? Redknapp oversaw a steady and relatively impressive end to last season’s woes and kept The Blues up. He’s too smart an operator to allow another relegation battle. But the squad’s not quite strong enough to challenge for promotion. Unless funds are freed up in January. Mid-table.
Last year? 2nd in League One.
Best summer signing? Will Buckley. A former favourite of Gus Poyet, the Uruguayan took Will Buckley from Brighton to Sunderland. He never really got much of a chance on Wearside, playing just 22 times. This is a new beginning for the forward. Can Phil Parkinson bring the best out of him?
Our prediction? Parky’s a good manager at this level and Bolton are a hardy club. Their performances last year make us think they’ve got enough to stay up and avoid relegation this year. Bottom half.
Last year? 10th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Neal Maupay. Brentford aren’t exactly used to paying millions for players. But £1.6m might look a snip soon enough if this former France youth international fulfils his promise. The 20 year-old attacking midfielder looks like a player who’s destined to get fans out of their seats.
Our prediction? If Maupay performs and youngsters like Sergi Canos, Jota and John Egan all play to their best, then Brentford could have another good year. Dean Smith is one of the best young English managers about too. Narrowly miss out on a play-off place.
Last year? 17th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Famara Diedhiou. Signed from French outfit Angers, Famara Diedhiou is striker with six caps for the Senegalese national team. He’s not guaranteed to settle in England, but if he does, he has the talent and physicality to thrive in the Championship.
Our prediction? With top scorer Tammy Abraham returning to parent club Chelsea, Bristol City has lost an important player. Hopefully Diedhiou is a good buy, but we don’t see a particulalry cheery season ahead for Lee Johnson’s men. Still, they’ll survive. Bottom Half.
Last year? 20th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Stephen Warnock. He’s been round the houses has Stephen Warnock. He has Premier League experience and should be a calm head around the place. He’ll benefit Burton and maybe even impart a little wisdom to some of the younger players too.
Our prediction? Nigel Clough’s Brewers stayed up last season and should be applauded for their work rate and resilience. But this is a seriously tough league and while they’ll fight all the way, this could be the end of Burton’s tier two dreams. Relegated.
Last year? 12th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Lee Tomlin. As an attacking midfielder, he’s tricky. As a forward, he’s a danger. Ex-Posh and Boro man Lee Tomlin is skilled and worth having on the park. He’s not prolific, but he’s makes things happen. On his day, that is.
Our prediction? Cardiff were a Premier League outfit not all that long ago. So it wouldn’t be a shocker if they did well this season. That said, they’ve been on the slide since dropping out of the big time. So not much is expected of them. Neil Warnock doesn’t except half measures, though. Expect a decent showing from the Welsh club this season. Top half.
Last year? 9th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Tom Huddlestone. Big Tom returns to his first professional club and adds real class to Gary Rowett’s midfield. A new 4-3-3 with Huddlestone central could well point to an excellent season for The Rams.
Our prediction? Derby are usually tipped for glory and rarely deliver. They often run out of steam. But we’re backing them to buck that trend this year. Due to some good recruitment. But mostly because of Gary Rowett. He’s a top manager. Just ask Birmingham City fans or the crazy board there that sacked him for no good reason. Play-off joy.
Last year? 6th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Oliver Norwood. The lively midfielder might’ve only signed on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, but he’s a fine addition to the squad at Craven Cottage. He was central to everything Reading did well before he moved to the south coast. If he can slot in working alongside the likes of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessognon, Fulham might have made a very smart move here indeed.
Our prediction? Fulham lost in the play-off semi finals last time out to a classy Reading side. But we fancy them to go several better this time out. Sone Aluko, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney should work with Norwood to create a formidable possession-led team that we fancy to win the league. Champions.
Last year? 18th in the Premier League.
Best summer signing? Ondrej Mazuch. Much was made of Hull’s signing of Kevin Stewart from Liverpool at a fee thought to be near £7.5m. And on the same day they lost Andy Robertson to the Reds too. But the tidiest bit of business this summer has been nicking Mazuch from Sparta Prague. The defender is a Czech international who knows exactly what he’s doing.
Our prediction? The appointment of former CSKA Moscow and Russia coach Leonid Slutsky by Hull was either inspired or slightly mad. We’ll have to see. Our guess? He’ll not settle, upset his squad and get binned off. Then someone will come in and steady the ship, guiding The Tigers to a comfortable spot. Top half.
Last year? 16th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Tom Adeyami. Released by Norwich City back in 2013, Tom Adeyami joins his former team’s fierce rivals after spells at Birmingham City and Cardiff. He’s got promise, a real old school box-to-box type. But he needs to get a run in the side. Ipswich could be a great fit for him.
Our prediction? No offence here Tractor Boys, but Ipswich Town might just be the dullest professional football club in the country. It’s been a long time since they were in the Premier League. And since then? They’ve not come close to promotion. Or even relegation. Every year they just finish somewhere in the middle of the table. And we’ve no reason to suspect anything will change this year. Bottom half.
Last year? 7th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Vurnon Anita. Newcastle fans might not be crying over Anita’s departure, but he’s versatile and fit and has even forced his way onto the way in a Netherlands shirt before. Capable at right back and in the middle of the park, it was an astute deal bringing this guy to Elland Road.
Our prediction? Leeds had a top season in 2016/17. But many fans would put that down to the manager. Garry Monk’s moved to Boro now, though. Will new man Thomas Christiansen repeat his success? We’re not entirely convinced. but the squad’s good enough to carry on competing. Top half.
Last year? 19th in the Premier League.
Best summer signing? Britt Assombalonga. Boro put their parachute payments to instant effect buying the former Peterborough striker for a cool £15m from Forest. Will the Congolese hitman live up to his price tag? It all depends if he keeps fit…
Our prediction? Middlesbrough didn’t disgrace themselves in the Premier League last year. They just lacked goals. They seem to have addressed that now and have an excellent young manager. Could be a good year for the Smoggies. Play-offs.
Last year? 6th in League One.
Best summer signing? Conor McLaughlin. Millwall ‘swooped’ for the Northern Ireland right back when they heard that he’d turned down a new contract at Fleetwood Town. And he’s a tidy player.
Our prediction? Neil Harris and his charges impressed last year, winning the League One play-offs. But do they have what it takes to stay up in the Championship? We don’t think so. Relegation.
Last year? 8th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? James Husband. With the way that Norwich’s new German boss Daniel Farke likes to play (defensive possession-based football), wing backs are key. And they’ve got a good ‘un in James Husband, who they signed from Boro on a three year deal this summer.
Our prediction? Last season, under Alex Neil, was a huge disappointment for the Canaries. It’s all change since then, though. New players and coaches have come in and, hopefully, as has a new philosophy. We reckon the future looks bright. Play-offs.
Last year? 21st in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Daryl Murphy. He’s 34, but a proven performer at this level. The Irishman can be expected to bang in plenty of goals this year for Forest.
Our prediction? Speaking of proven performers, Mark Warburton done well with Brentford in the Championship a couple of season ago. And, his so-so time with Rangers aside, has shown himself to be a pretty astute boss. Top half.
Preston North End
Last year? 11th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Declan Rudd. He made 60 appearances in a Preston shirt before a short spell playing for Norwich in the Premier League and then impressing on loan at Charlton last season. He’s a top young ‘keeper.
Our prediction? Simon Grayson has departed for Sunderland, but North End has done some tidy business tying Alex Neil in to a contract at Deepdale. He didn’t enjoy last season at Carrow Road, but he’s a smart coach. If a little too fiery at times. Top half.
Last year? 18th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Josh Scowen. He’s not exactly a big name. And QPR fans are fairly used to those heading to Loftus Road. But they’re also used to overpaid and under-performing stars playing for them. Scowen is a midfielder who gets things done and knows the league. He’s not a name to brag about, but he’s a decent addition to the Rangers squad nonetheless.
Our prediction? Under Ian Holloway’s second spell of stewardship, QPR haven’t hugely impressed. The money’s running a little dry, the signings aren’t amazing and Ollie’s seemingly running out of ideas. We reckon the Loftus Road faithful could be in for a pretty depressing year. Relegation.
Last year? 3rd in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Vito Mannone. Snaffling up Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from Wolves was good business from Jaap Stam’s point of view, but more importantly was signing a decent replacement for the departing Ali Al-Habsi. The Oman international was the Royals’ Player of the Season for the past two years. So his loss was felt. Mannone will plug that gap nicely.
Our prediction? Jaap Stam’s brand of football might not catch the eye, but it certainly proved effective last year. Until their dreadful performance in the Play-Off Final (which was only marginally less dreadful than Huddersfield’s, to be fair). We think the league might have figured them out a little by now and they’ll not quite repeat last year’s heroics. Just miss out on a play-off spot.
Last year? 1st in League One.
Best summer signing? Richard Stearman. The former Fulham and Wolves defender isn’t a ‘wow’ signing, but he’s adaptable, experience and able to cover any position in the back four.
Our prediction? The Blades threatened League One promotion for years, but never quite made it. But with Chris Wilder in charge, he got them up at the first time of asking. And he’ll steer them to a fine season this time out too. Mid-table.
Last year? 4th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? George Boyd. He may look like the bassist in a dreadful nu-metal band, but he’s all footballer. Boyd never let himself down in the Premier League for Burnley and at this level, he should gobble up the goals and assists.
Our prediction? Many tipped Wednesday for play-off glory last year, but it wasn’t to be. Still, they had a decent season and we’ve no reason to think they won’t again in 2017/18. Play-offs.
Last year? 20th in the Premier League.
Best summer signing? Aiden McGeady. It’s been more a case of ‘who’s left?’ rather than ‘who’s signed?’ for Black Cats fans this summer. But while Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford has gone, they’ve signed a couple of names. James Vaughan joins from Bury and wily midfield type Aiden McGeady also joins. Arguably the best bit of business by Ellis Short, though? The appointment of Simon Grayson. A very safe and ambitious pair of hands. Attached to a manager who knows the Championship inside out.
Our prediction? FINALLY, Sunderland were relegated last year. And it was about time. They probably needed the purge and a chance to re-evaluate things. Many relegated teams struggle in the Championship and we’re not convinced The Black Cats will boss things. But nor will they fall on their faces. Play-offs.
Last year? 15th in The Championship.
Best summer signing? Ruben Neves. It’s been a surprisingly good summer for Wolves fans. Porto star Ruben Neves joined them for an eye-watering £15m. They also signed up Atletico Madrid midfielder Diogo Jota on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid. And added former England international goalkeeper John Ruddy to their staff. Also arriving from Norwich City is Ryan Bennett.
Our prediction? Nuno Espírito Santo’s got investment and a bit of trust from the board. He’s a good manager and this might be Wolves’ best season in some years. Just miss out on a play-off place.
That’s how we see the 2017/18 EFL Championship season going, anyway. How about you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on social media…