BLOG | Championship 2016/17 Preview: The Top Eight

BLOG | Championship 2016/17 Preview: The Top Eight

The final part of my EFL Championship preview looks at the sides that I expect to be competing up at the top end of the table.

I give my verdict on the teams that will be competing for the automatic spots, those that will be in the playoffs and the teams that’ll just miss out, being left to dream about what might have been.

There will of course be a more detailed look at Wednesday and what I expect from this coming season.

You can read part one, my focus on eight potential strugglers, by clicking here; and part two – on the mid-table bores – by clicking here.

Here we are then, the eight big-hitters.

 

 

Newcastle logoNewcastle United
Manager: Rafa Benítez
Captain: TBA
Last season: Premier League – 18th
Top scorer: Gigi Wijnaldum (11)

I thought I’d start off with the obvious one and get it out of the way.

If Newcastle don’t win the league this season then there’s something seriously wrong at that club

They’ve been splashing cash like it’s going out of fashion and seemingly buying anybody that one of their scouts whispers about. They’re putting together a squad of seriously high quality by using the money they’ve got back from getting rid of some of last season’s expensive failures and with the help of their parachute payments.

Any one of their recent signings would start in most of the other sides in the Championship and I’m sure there are plenty of managers looking at them with envy.

They will no doubt have the eyes of the nation on them on Friday night as they kick off the season away at Fulham and they’ll certainly want to send out of a statement of intent and get off to a good start.

They seem to be heading into the new season full of optimism and there is an entirely different atmosphere around the club compared to when we beat them in the Capital One Cup last season.

I heard somebody comment on Sky the other day that if anybody were to finish above Newcastle they’d be going up, I completely agree so let’s hope Wednesday can finish above them!

Prediction: 1st Place

 

Bristol_City_FC.svgBristol City
Manager: Lee Johnson
Captain: Aaron Wilbraham
Last season: 18th
Top scorer: Jonathan Kodjia (19)

My surprise inclusion and I’m aware that I could get this horribly wrong and they could finish at the complete other end of the table.

However, I don’t think so. The Robins have plenty of money, they’ve improved their ground and have been trying to bring in quality players for over a year now.

They’ve been able to make some pretty smart signings such as: Lee Tomlin, Adam Matthews (on loan from Sunderland), Gary O’Neil and a couple of eyebrow raisers in ‘keeper Ivan Lucic from Bayern Munich and defender Hordur (not from Game Of Thrones) Magnusson from Juventus.

In Lee Johnson they have a promising manager and he showed what he was capable of with his complete turnaround of Barnsley before helping Bristol City secure their safety with ease.

With Johnson in charge and their new additions, I think they could surprise a few teams this season and really move up the table.

Prediction: 8th Place

norwich logoNorwich City
Manager: Alex Neil
Captain: Russell Martin
Last season: Premier League – 19th
Top scorer: Dieumerci Mbokani (7)

Another of the recently relegated teams next in Norwich.

The Canaries haven’t really made a ‘big’ signing and have missed out on a few of their transfer targets – Fletcher being one if you believe the rumours and another being Ross McCormack who looks set to sign for Villa.

Despite this, Norwich have a side more than capable of doing well in the Championship and they proved this on their last short visit to the league, getting promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking through the play-offs.

Norwich have a squad full of quality such as: Graham Dorrans, Cameron Jerome, Matt Jarvis, Jonny Howson, Wes Hoolahan and John Ruddy.

A trip to Carrow Road is a long journey for every travelling side and they can make their ground a difficult place to play for visiting teams.

They’re more than capable of a quick return to the top flight and they have players with the experience of having done this before.

They should make the playoffs at the very least but I’m tipping them to go one further than that and get the second automatic promotion spot.

Prediction: 2nd Place

Ipswich_Town.svgIpswich Town
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Captain: Luke Chambers
Last season: 7th
Top scorer: Daryl Murphy and Brett Pitman (10)

From Norwich straight to their East Anglian rivals the Tractor Boys.

It’s been a bit of a quiet summer on the transfer front over at Portman Road. They seem to be a side not really willing to spend any money, just hoping that under the guidance of Mick McCarthy they’ll reach the playoffs.

Ipswich will consider themselves unfortunate to have missed out on the playoffs last season, finishing in seventh place and five points behind us in sixth.

However, whilst other teams have strengthened, they seem to have stood still and there are now three quality relegated teams to add into the mix.

I don’t doubt McCarthy’s abilities as a manager but he needs the talent to work with. He’ll do well to get them to come as close as they did last season, that’s not to say he can’t but I think they’re destined to miss out on the playoffs again.

Prediction: 7th Place

brighton & hove albion logoBrighton & Hove Albion
Manager: Chris Hughton
Captain: Bruno
Last season: 3rd
Top scorer: Tomor Hemed (17)

We’re probably not Brighton’s favourite team after the playoffs last season but in truth it was Middlesbrough where they lost their opportunity for promotion, throwing their all into that match.

They’re a quality side and showed that with their unbeaten run in the first half of last season. They will do their all this time round to make sure that they don’t suffer more heartbreak.

It’ll be interesting to see if there is still any hangover from the disappointment of last season but I don’t expect there to be and I’m sure Chris Hughton will not allow that.

They’ve got class in the form of Anthony Knockaert and have brought in experienced striker Glenn Murray on loan to add to their firepower up top.

Brighton have lots of talent but they got to their strong vantage point last season because of their unbeaten run – I don’t see that happening again.

They haven’t got the easiest fixtures in August and start with a trip to Derby. I reckon they’ll finish in the play-offs again, whether they can do better this time round we’ll have to see.

Prediction: 3rd Place

derby logoDerby County
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Captain: Richard Keogh
Last season: 5th
Top scorer: Chris Martin (13)

The recent experts at bottling it, can we expect more of the same from them? I think so.

They’ve spent some money over the last few years, both on players and replacing managers.

It means they’ve had to be more careful with their cash this time round and are having to fend off bids for key players such as Jeff Hendrick.

There is no doubt at all about the quality of players in their squad and if they can keep Will Hughes fit this season that will be a huge boost for them. Is there any real evidence that they can improve upon their 5th placed finish from last season?

Not really.

If they make it into the playoffs would you fancy their chances against the other teams in there, knowing their recent playoff history? No way.

Another season of good football being played but inevitable disappointment for the Derby fans.

Prediction: 5th Place

New-Aston-Villa-BadgeAston Villa
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
Captain: Micah Richards
Last season: Premier League – 20th
Top scorer: Jordan Ayew (6)

After Villa got rid of ‘Prepared’ from their badge there were doubts about what they were thinking as they headed into the Championship.

So far they’ve managed to clear out a bit of dead wood from last season, fend off interest for some of their better players, bring in good money for Gueye and are now close to signing Ross McCormack.

After such a desperately disappointing showing last season, Villa fans will be praying that it can’t get any worse.

I don’t think it will. I’m sure they’ll have good runs and not so good runs throughout the season but I don’t expect them to plummet like many first feared.

Something seems to have suddenly clicked upstairs at Villa and they’ve realised they need to bring in a bit of quality and so they’ve moved for Ross McCormack. With the rumours surrounding a move to Hillsborough for him earlier in the summer, it seems inevitable that he’ll get a goal on Sunday.

I think if Villa get off to a good start then they should be fine this season – it’s up to us to make sure they don’t!

Prediction: 6th Place

Sheffield Wednesday
Manager: Carlos Carvalhal
Captain: Glenn Loovens
Last season: 6th
Top scorer: Fernando Forestieri (15)

When Mr Chansiri announced that he wanted us to celebrate our 150th anniversary back in the Premier League it seemed to me like a distant dream

We had plenty of time to get there and we could build slowly and steadily. Now though, after almost getting there early last season, we’ve suddenly got to get promotion this time round if that dream is to become a reality.

What a season it was, finishing with that wonderful day at Wembley.

Ok we were left disappointed in the end but we had gone further than we’d dare to hope and come within touching distance of the top flight. We were gutted but at the same time optimistic of what was to come next season.

What a season it was.

What a season it was

Now though, with us just four days away from the new season, we’re all thinking how we can’t go through that again! Getting to the play-off final and narrowly missing out was fine once but we don’t want to experience that heartache again – we’re not that other team from Sheffield.

All through the summer we’ve been hoping, anticipating and refreshing twitter to look for quality new additions.

As a fan-base we were well aware that we had a good team but our squad needed work if we were to go one further than last season. In fact, forget one further, we wanted automatic promotion this time round.

And so far, we’ve got what we would have wanted.

Perhaps not as many signings as some would have liked, but those that we have added to the squad have been quality improvements upon last year.

Bringing in Steven Fletcher adds an extra option up top and he certainly has bags of experience and a proven goal-scoring record.

Almen Abdi is a class above in terms of what I had dared to hope for and if what we saw against Port Vale is anything to go by, he’s going to be unbelievable.

Of course, bringing back Daniel Pudil was vital too, he was an important cog in our machine last year and we were without a recognised left back before his return.

The signings that we’ve made have been great. We’re still in need of at least one centre back, another left back and perhaps a winger but we’re definitely making improvements upon last season’s squad.

Two key signings

Two key signings

That said, it was a huge missed opportunity in the play-off final. You just have to look at the state that Hull are in now and the pain comes back.

It seems a crime that we didn’t manage to take that final step and beat them at Wembley. We’re now faced with a tougher looking Championship, with three strong teams coming down from the Premier League.

Can we do it? I really hope so.

We’ve got a tough start to the season but if we’re able to get positive results from our first few fixtures then that’ll just lift the whole confidence around Hillsborough.

If you want to test yourselves then there’s nothing like facing two of the relegated teams in the first two games and if you can beat them then what a statement that sends to the rest of the division!

Personally, I think we’re destined for the play-offs again this season. I’m still hoping that we can make a couple more quality signings before the transfer window closes, particularly a centre back, then who knows.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Chansiri gets his cheque-book out in January if we’re around the automatic or play-off spots.

Carlos knows his remit for this season

One of my big hopes is that Chansiri doesn’t pull the trigger on Carlos if we don’t get off to the best of starts.

We know it’s going to be harder this season and we’ve got a difficult set of fixtures in August. Carlos is the man to lead us forward and if the very worst was to happen and we missed out on the playoffs there would still be no one I’d rather see in charge of us at this stage next year.

We can make the playoffs, we should make the playoffs.

A push for the automatic spots isn’t out of the question, we need a bit more quality added, the same team spirit from last year, the fans on side as they were at Wembley and probably most importantly, a bit of luck.

Prediction: 4th Place

I can’t wait for the new season to start and get back to Hillsborough on Sunday. Hopefully on Sunday evening we’ll all be beaming from ear to ear and celebrating our first victory of the season with debut goals from Abdi and Fletcher.

Remember, whatever the season ahead holds for us, we’re all Wednesday.

Charlie
Owls Alive
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TWITTER: @OwlsAlive and @THEsharpey


2 Comments

  1. Basically I see the three relegated teams facing a struggle in this division and don’t see any of them going up through the automatic spot, Imopt for Derby and Brighton and Sheffield Wedensday through the playoffs. If Newcastle loose Friday then they will start to see the pressure of this division and for Aston villa nothing special in there performances or players last Year to warrant a top six spot in this division

    • I’d love it if you were right. I think that if Newcastle aren’t making the top two then we should really be challenging. Can’t see Fulham beating them on Friday though.

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