So here we are, back again. It only seems five minutes since we were grumbling out of Carrow Road having made relegated Blackpool look like they were being coached by Pep Guardiola rather than their third manager of the season.
And so to new beginnings, and what looks like it could be the most difficult Championship for many years given the size of clubs joining from both above and below. And yes… that lot are back.
So, without further ado, and in reverse order, here are my thoughts on the runners and riders for the Championship 2023-24:
24th – Cardiff City
Vincent Tan has a history of making god-awful decisions, and the appointment of Erol Bulut, a manager with somewhat limited success in Turkey is a swing for the fences that may well backfire. While there is talent in the squad, with new forwards Karlan Grant and Yakou Meite supplementing Callum Robinson and Sheyi Ojo in attack, the squad feels lopsided with defensive quality being a big concern. The return of Aaron Ramsey adds some interest but with his age and injury profile could it be a sentimental indulgence rather than a progressive move? It will be an interesting watch this season for Bluebirds fans, but I suspect a tough one too.
23rd – Queens Park Rangers
The only team that had a worse back end of the season than Norwich was QPR, who became a bit of a joke under old-boy Gareth Ainsworth. In the off-season, they’ve lost impressive centre-back Rob Dickie and keeper Seny Dieng, which will do little to lift the spirits of the Rangers faithful and while they have added 36-year-old Asmir Begovic and left-back Morgan Fox on frees to add some experience, there isn’t a sense that this is a club moving in the right direction. While Chair and Willock remain talents if used correctly, stylistically they aren’t Ainsworth players, and it all feels messy and disjointed.
22nd – Preston North End
For years, Preston have been that team that bobs along in the middle of the table, never really troubling the play-off places, but doing enough to not be involved in a relegation battle. While I have a bit of time for Ryan Lowe as a manager, he doesn’t feel like an ideal fit for a Preston side that gets by using as many loan players as permanent every year, and sooner or later that’s a formula that will break. Former Ipswich and Wigan target man Will Keane has joined, along with Layton Stewart from Liverpool to boost the attack, with Huddersfield forward Duane Holmes another addition, as is loanee Calvin Ramsey at right back. This is a hunch pick, but I have a feeling that this is the year the wheels fall off for Preston.
21st – Swansea City
Michael Duff has proved to be a very good manager at Cheltenham and Barnsley but he’s coming into a set-up at Swansea that was based very specifically on Russell Martin’s tactics. While Jerry Yates from Blackpool was a nice pick-up, they’ve lost regular starters like Obafemi, Manning, and Latibeaudiere and I think Duff is going to have a tough time transitioning a squad that wasn’t overly blessed with quality to begin with into what he needs them to be. This looks like being a bumpy ride for Swans fans, but I think they’ll just have enough to stay up.
20th – Huddersfield Town
Colin’s miracle in lifting the hapless Terriers out of impending relegation is not to be underestimated, but mind games and motivation are not enough to get much more out of them than they got last year. Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell on a free and the loan signing of right-back Tom Edwards from Stoke are the only additions thus far to a fairly uninspiring squad, and I think they’ll have it all to do to avoid another scrap at the bottom this time. And it probably doesn’t help that half their former staff now work for Norwich!
19th – Sheffield Wednesday
The sacking of Darren Moore was a shocker considering what he managed to achieve last year, and the togetherness the players displayed in overturning that massive play-off deficit and then winning at Wembley. However Xisco Munoz has a Championship promotion on his CV and was a somewhat unfortunate victim of the Watford revolving door policy, so there are reasons to be optimistic that he can add some tactical nous to this hard-working and determined Wednesday side. While they’ve barely made a splash in the transfer market so far, they are a well-gelled squad that will be one of the more effective battlers if it comes to it.
18th – Rotherham United
Matt Taylor managed to succeed where his predecessor Paul Warne had repeatedly failed and kept this low-budget squad in the Championship. Tactically, the Millers have evolved and become more adventurous in their football and it feels like a club that’s gradually improving and getting more comfortable in its league status. The loss of Ogbene and Harding will hurt, but Taylor’s solid progression looks likely to continue one pace at a time.
17th – Blackburn Rovers
For a side that finished seventh last season, this would be a big drop-off. However, the loss of talisman Ben Brereton-Diaz will hurt them, and while Jon Dahl Tomasson earned respect at the start of the season for his coaching prowess, his lack of a Plan B hindered Blackburn from getting points in games that would have taken them to the playoffs. I see a slow dropping-away for them this term.
16th – Birmingham City
John Eustace did a quietly impressive job last year with a squad many felt was likely to go down, and I think they’re well set for another incremental improvement this term. While they’ve lost Jobe Bellingham and Tahith Chong, they’ve bolstered the squad with solid signings like Dion Sanderson, Lee Buchanan, Ethan Laird, Tyler Roberts, Krystian Bielik, and Siriki Dembele, all of which gives them a nice group of players to build a basis upon. I think they’ll be more comfortable this year.
15th – Stoke City
Another season of muddling by for Alex Neil, who’s added some quality with Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers and serial shithouse Ben Pearson, as well as former Wolves defender Ki-Jana Hoever. However, in order to get their FFP house finally in order, a lot of players have been let go over the last year and the squad churn will be painful, especially initially. Neil has enough about him to get sufficient blood, sweat, and points from a still capable squad, however, and they should keep safe once they’ve found their rhythm.
14th – Millwall
This is more to do with the quality of the division this season than any sign that Millwall are regressing. I think they’ve actually had a good off-season with Belgian Casper De Norre adding midfield quality, Hibernian’s Kevin Nisbet bolstering the attack, and full-backs Wes Harding and Joe Bryan two proven Championship performers. However, despite this, Gary Rowett’s functional football is starting to feel a little stagnant and some fans are starting to question whether this is all they can hope to see. There is potential for things to go pear-shaped if they don’t get off to a good start and mild regression overall seems likely.
13th – Norwich City
I’m pretty sure that some of those with a prescriptively positive outlook will have stopped reading at this point, but given the form since February and no change in style, I can’t see anything better in the pipeline for City right now. This is most definitely more than the 13th most-talented squad in the division, but it is one that is going to be trying to play counter-attacking football at Carrow Road where teams will not be looking to be overly adventurous in the first place. Another change of manager in late Autumn is the last thing we need for stability but I struggle to see beyond it for a team that is goal shy, short on confidence and barely changed from that which crashed like a stone for the last three months of last season. My guess is that unless we start surprisingly well, Narcis Pelach will be in charge before November.
12th – Ipswich Town
And yes, they’ll probably award themselves another star if they finish above us. Take nothing away from them though, Ipswich are a different animal to the one we last encountered and the days of Chambers and Skuse lumbering around being amusingly incompetent are long gone. There is a freshness and verve to this team and given the way they were systematically dismantling teams last season, particularly at Portman Road I can understand why many have them as dark horses to threaten the play-offs. However, I think the step-up will challenge them, and when they stop bashing teams around at home it will feel a little like a step back and that’s when Kieran McKenna will be tested most. Good team though… unfortunately.
11th – West Bromwich Albion
This is a squad that in some areas looks as good as any in the league with Brighton loanee Jeremy Sarmiento supplementing an attack already featuring the quality of Matt Phillips, Grady Diangana, and Jed Wallace. However, with off-field ownership issues, Sarmiento is the only addition that Carlos Corberan has been able to make. Corberan had an impressive time to his start at the Hawthorns before injuries hit home last term, but I think he’ll do well to maintain a similar position to last year’s ninth-place finish with a squad that he can’t really add to.
10th – Coventry City
Last season was a big overachievement for a low-budget squad and Mark Robins quite rightly took huge credit for making more of them than the sum of their parts. While Viktor Gyokeres has left, Gus Hamer somehow remains, and Robins has cleverly added quality in the form of Everton striker Ellis Simms, Swansea defender Joel Latibeaudiere, left back Jay De Silva, Heerenveen’s exciting right back Milan van Ewijk, and Japanese midfielder Tatsuhiro Sakamoto with the Gyokeres money. While these may all need a bit of a settling period, overall the squad looks as strong as last year, but once again, the overall quality of the division this year will see Coventry have a slightly leaner time in terms of points.
9th – Sunderland
A play-off place was more than they could have hoped for last year, especially when they lost Alex Neil to Stoke so soon into the season, but credit to Tony Mowbray for keeping the upward momentum for the Mackems. The addition of PSV centre-back Jenson Seelt, midfielder Jobe Bellingham, and attacker Bradley Dack will improve competition, but it’s the return to fitness of talismanic target man Ross Stewart that will really give Sunderland hope of a play-off return this year. I see them falling just short of that, but not by much.
8th – Watford
While they’ve lost Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr, Watford have added some Championship experience in Jamal Lewis, Jake Livermore, and Tom Ince and that should be enough to steady the ship. Valerian Ismael may not be the sexiest appointment but I think his knowledge of the league will keep this squad competitive. Obviously, the question will always be around how long he lasts, but I have a feeling this will be a pragmatic minor improvement of a season and possibly a rare dull but solid one for Watford fans.
7th – Hull City
Liam Rosenior has made some significant progress with a squad that was fancied to do poorly last season. A solid underbelly was built upon with some more progressive football as the season progressed, although Hull will need loan signing Liam Delap to improve their goalscoring from last season, which undermined what would have seen a far bigger points tally with the finishing that some of their approach play warranted. They have also added classy defensive-midfielder Xavi Simmons from Chelsea and left-back Ruben Vinagre from Sporting Lisbon, and are a dark horse to put themselves in the play-off mix.
6th – Plymouth Argyle
Bizarrely, for a team that won League One with 101 points last season, there is little to no buzz about Plymouth coming into this season. Steven Schumacher has done an incredible job and this really feels like a club and a team in harmony. With loanees Whittaker and Mumba back in the fold, and the impressive addition of defender Julio Pleguezelo from FC Twente, Schumacher is only solidifying the core of his squad and an injury to goalkeeper Michael Cooper is the only blot on the landscape. I think they have everything to be a surprise contender.
5th – Southampton
The one thing I’m not sure about with Southampton is whether they’ll give Russell Martin enough time to succeed. On paper, they have a great squad for this level, albeit one that may be a little battle-weary after a thoroughly depressing relegation. How soon Martin can refresh their belief and get them to play the free-flowing creative style he likes will be key. The arrival of Ryan Manning from Swansea will help with that transition, as will defensive midfielder Shea Charles from Man City but the big question with Southampton will be who remains by the end of the window. At the time of writing, there are question marks as to the futures of players like Salisu, Walker-Peters, Livramento, Lavia, Ward-Prowse, Tella, Adams, and Armstrong. Any (or all) of those could go for big money that Martin could spend on replacements but it’s all a holding pattern at this stage (sounds familiar doesn’t it?). Martin will want people in the door sooner rather than later though as players will need time to adapt to his demands.
4th – Bristol City
Another wild card shout. I think Bristol City have recruited really well this summer, bringing in QPR’s Rob Dickie, and midfielders Ross McCrorie from Aberdeen and Jason Knight from Derby. From being on a really poor run last season that saw Nigel Pearson struggling to hang on to his position, the Robins had an impressive back end of the campaign. And with the prospect of either having the wunderkind Alex Scott for another season or a hefty transfer fee to reinvest, I get the feeling it’s going to be an unexpectedly good year at Ashton Gate.
3rd – Leicester City
On paper, this could be the strongest squad ever assembled in the Championship and that alone will take them a fair way. While the likes of Maddison, Tielemans, and Barnes have departed, replacements like Coady, Winks, and Connor Doyle should all add something to their existing squad. The big question mark is really around Enzo Maresca. Being a good assistant doesn’t always equate to becoming a good manager, and it’s rare that everything will click straight away for a new manager at a club that has, for all its positive points, been trending downward. They’re too good not to be in the mix but I don’t think they’ll achieve the automatic promotion that squad deserves.
2nd – Leeds United
So far Herr Farke and his team have only been able to recruit Ethan Ampadu from Chelsea but one look through the squad shows a plethora of young talent that have earned an awful lot of combined Premier League minutes in the last few seasons. If there’s one team that might benefit most from dropping down a division in order to grow in confidence it’s this young squad. And in Farke they have the perfect manager to give that youth a chance. If Leeds are patient, this could be a match made in heaven.
1st – Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough under Michael Carrick were an absolute force last year, and his attractive, attacking style was a sea change for Boro fans after years of tedious mediocrity. Impressive imports, defender Rav van den Berg from Zwolle, and Argentine midfielder Martin Payero from Boca Juniors, join GK Seny Dieng and Man City winger Morgan Rogers in bolstering Carrick’s artillery and, more importantly, he appears to have managed to hold onto top scorer Chuba Akpom and academy talent Hayden Hackney. Boro were close last time. With a full season with Carrick, they should go the distance.
Let us know your 1 to 24.