Championship Preview: The Top Eight

Championship Preview: The Top Eight

The final part of my 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, after two seasons of play-off heartbreak.

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, my Championship top eight.

 

 

Aston Villa

Manager: Steve Bruce

Last Season: 13th

Top Scorer: Jonathan Kodjia (19) 

 

 

After struggling to adjust to life in the Championship, despite spending millions of pounds, Villa picked up in the second half of the season with Steve Bruce in charge. Kodjia was brilliant for them, McCormack less so, and that was pretty much the tale of Villa’s signings last season – one bad signing for every good one.

As they prepare for their second season in the Championship, their supporters are certainly feeling more confident than this time last year and with Bruce steering the ship they should have a great chance of promotion.

I expect Villa to get automatic promotion this season, Steve Bruce knows how to get teams out of this division. With the additions of Terry, Samba and ex-Owl Whelan, they’ve strengthened what was already one of the best squads in the league.

It took me a bit of thinking about between two teams, but I’m tipping Villa to win the league this season.

Prediction: Champions

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Manager: Nuno Espírito Santo

Last Season: 15th

Top Scorer: Helder Costa & Dave Edwards (10)

The new big spenders. Wolves fans certainly fancy their chances this season, to be fair to them, why shouldn’t they? They’re understandably excited by the calibre of players that they’re bringing in and the transfer fees that they’ve been paying.

People have joked about Wednesday being a little like a Portuguese team but we’re nothing in comparison to Wolves with their ex-Porto manager, relationship with agent Jorge Mendes and the Championship record signing Ruben Neves.

Wolves don’t have an easy start to the season and it’d be a test for any team in the division, they face Middlesbrough, Derby and Fulham in the first three games. If they can get a decent return of points out of those games then they’ll certainly have people’s attention and the confidence around the club will only grow.

I think this is a season too early for Wolves, in what is a very competitive division. I can’t see them making the play-offs.

Prediction: 8th Place

Middlesbrough

Manager: Garry Monk

Last Season: 19th (Premier League)

Top Scorer: Alvaro Negredo (9)

‘Boro have become a bit of a yo-yo club over the last few years, too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. They have a strong Championship squad and they’ve improved it again with the signings of Assombalonga, Randolph, Howson and Christie to name just a few.

Garry Monk will be hoping he can help ‘Boro bounce back at the first time of asking, after his Leeds United team buckled under pressure last season. Monk is a well respected boss and his Leeds side were one of the surprise-packages last season, he even managed to avoid the Cellino axe.

I usually tip Middlesbrough to win the league but I think it’s going to be tougher for them this time, especially with Villa up there as competition. I’m going for them to finish in second place.

Prediction: Runners-Up

Hull City

Manager: Leonid Slutsky

Last Season: 18th (Premier League)

Top Scorer: Robert Snodgrass (7)

I was surprised by how well Hull got on in the Premier League after their crazy summer last year – the tiny squad, no strong signings and terrible ownership – I thought they might have a pretty disastrous season but they only finished 6 points from safety. Well it’s almost a sense of deja vu for Hull fans as they’ve found themselves in a similar situation again.

Hull have seen several players leave and made very few signings, with some of those they have made being loan additions from Chelsea. It seems likely that they might struggle with their return to the Championship – why then am I tipping them to finish inside the top eight?

There’s something about Hull that makes me think they’ll be alright. They’ve still got some quality players for the Championship: Fraizer Campbell, Michael Dawson, Ryan Mason, David Meyler and Abel Hernández. I can’t quite see them making the play-offs but you never know.

Prediction: 7th Place

Leeds United

Manager: Thomas Christiansen

Last Season: 7th

Top Scorer: Chris Wood (27)

After just missing out on the play-offs last season, Leeds will be back with a vengeance. New owner Andrea Radrizzani has openly stated that finishing inside the play-offs is their minimum target this season and fans have been wooed by him after having to put up with Massimo Cellino for so long.

With Chris Wood leading the line, Leeds have one of the best strikers outside the Premier League. Leeds have made a huge amount of transfer signings, most of them unheard of but they’ve also looked to add a bit of experience behind Wood in midfield, with the addition of Anita from Newcastle and then loaned in Everton youngster Matthew Pennington to improve their defence.

Living and working in Leeds it won’t be easy for me if they’re doing well in the league, but nobody can argue about the size of the club and if they get off to a good start, build up momentum and have the fans behind them then they’ll take some stopping.

I think they’ll use the experience of missing out on the play-offs last year to their advantage this time round.

Prediction: 6th Place

Norwich City

Manager: Daniel Farke

Last Season: 8th

Top Scorer: Cameron Jerome (16)

It was a disappointing season for Norwich last season as they finished 10 points short of the play-off places. The fans turned against manager Alex Neil as he vastly underachieved with the squad that he had at his disposal. Readers of my preview from last season might remember that I tipped Norwich for second place so they let me down with my bets too.

Norwich must improve this season, everybody will be expecting it. Some players have moved on and they also have a couple of injuries for the start of the season, which isn’t easy for them. First up they face a trip to Fulham and then take on Sunderland. If they can get off to a decent start and keep forwards Jerome and Oliveira fit then they’ll be one of the teams to beat this season.

I expect Norwich to be one of the teams that are pushing Villa & ‘Boro for the top two but to just fall short.

Prediction: 3rd Place

Fulham

Manager: Slaviša Jokanović

Last Season: 6th

Top Scorer: Tom Cairney (12)

Last year’s media-favourites to win the play-offs because of their fast-flowing attacking football, Fulham are well fancied to go up this season. Fulham fell short in the play-offs when they came up against Reading’s anti-football and their fans will be hoping that they’ve learnt from this experience.

Fulham have done exceptionally well to keep hold of their top players, tying Sessegnon down to a longer deal and re-signing Tomas Kalas from Chelsea on a permanent contract. They’ve added a few players including Oliver Norwood on loan from Brighton and they’ll be hoping they can go further than last season.

Fulham are without a doubt one of the teams to beat this season and anybody that manages to finish above them will have had a fantastic season. They should comfortably make the play-offs.

Prediction: 4th Place

Sheffield Wednesday

Manager: Carlos Carvalhal

Last Season: 4th

Top Scorer: Fernando Forestieri (12)

This is the toughest prediction I’ve had to write, so bare with me.

We all wanted to be celebrating the 150th birthday of our one true love back in the top flight. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

We’ve had two cracking seasons, achieving the extraordinary and rare feat of finishing in the play-offs two years in a row and improving our league position and points tally each time.

Despite this, each of the last two seasons has ended in heartbreak. We’ve come close but not close enough.

Can we make it back to the promised land at the third time of asking? Will our 150th anniversary season be one of amazing celebrations? Is Carlos the man to lead us there?

Our season kicks off tomorrow with a trip to Deepdale and if we want to achieve promotion this time round then we need to be getting 3 points at grounds like this.

We’ll be backed by almost 6000 Wednesdayites and we’ll all be hoping for an opening day victory and better performance than our trip to Preston last season, when in truth we deserved to lose but Adam Reach popped up with a late equaliser.

Reach lashes home the last minute equaliser

Each of the last two seasons have felt like massively missed opportunities, especially when you consider the two teams that have gone up instead of us – Hull and Huddersfield.

That’s done with now though and we can’t dwell on it. What we need to do is make sure we’re not thinking about what might have been again, come May 2018.

At the end of the season we all knew that we needed at least one central defender and a fast-paced winger.

You could argue that ideally we’d like two centre-backs, two wingers and a tough central midfielder but we need to be realistic with FFP and there’s no point bringing in players that aren’t better than what we already have.

We’re now a day away from our first match, we’ve released some of the players that we no longer needed but only brought in one player.

George Boyd is a great free signing and I think he’ll be a quality addition for us.

Options at the back are limited

However, we’re desperately short at the back.

We’re all worried about Loovens not being fit, but imagine if Lees picked up an injury or a suspension – at the moment we’re very short of quality options at the back.

Yes we could throw a couple of other players in there, but they wouldn’t be players that you’d expect to be playing there if we’re serious about promotion.

I’ve found predicting how we’ll do this season very difficult. Do I go with my head or my heart? In true football fan fashion I’ve going with my heart. It’s the hope that kills us.

My heart says we can make the play-offs with this current squad, especially if we’re firing on all cylinders and keep injury free.

If our strikers get their shooting boots on then who knows what could happen?

I still think we’re a way off competing for automatic promotion though.

Prediction: 5th Place

 

I’ve missed football. I’ve missed Wednesday.

I’ve missed going to matches with my family and friends.

I’ve missed the build up to games, the jokes in the pub, the over-analysis after matches, the moaning and groaning after losses, the throwing yourself into the arms of a stranger when we score a last minute winner.

There’s nothing quite like watching your team play, especially when things are going well.

We need to remember that things are going well, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a Wednesdayite at the moment and we need to get behind the team when things are good and when they’re not so good.

We’re stronger together. Remember – We’re All Wednesday.

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Charlie
Owls Alive
EMAIL: admin@owlsalive.com
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive and @THEsharpey


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