Take a deep breath because it’s almost time for the ten-month long whirlwind of emotion that is the Championship to begin.
With fans slowly but surely being allowed back into football stadiums, the 2021/22 second tier campaign promises to be even more exciting and adrenaline fuelled than usual.
So, without further ado, 90min has previewed all 24 Championship teams before predicting where we think each side will finish and who will clinch promotion back to the Premier League…
Last season: 5th
Manager: Markus Schopp
We’d love to say Barnsley are going to shock us all again like they did last season – but they’re just not.
Not only has Valerien Ismael – the man who sparked the Tykes’ season into life – left for West Brom, he’s taken their best player in Alex Mowatt with him.
There’s still a few decent players at Oakwell and they should have enough to avoid relegation, but we’re afraid last season’s success was a one off and it’s likely to be back to the bottom end of the league for Barnsley.
Last season: 18th
Manager: Lee Bowyer
Birmingham City were in real danger of dropping into League One under Aitor Karanka last season, but Lee Bowyer did brilliantly to steer them to safety.
Bowyer has been forced to utilise the free-agent market this summer with the club working on a shoestring budget, and given the amount of departures from St Andrew’s it could take time for the Birmingham boss to establish his preferred starting XI.
This one could be another tricky season for the Blues but we just about fancy Bowyer to keep them in the division.
Last season: 15th
Manager: Tony Mowbray
You could never accuse Tony Mowbray of not providing entertaining football at Ewood Park – the only problem is he hasn’t found the right balance of attack and defence.
So far Rovers have been able to keep hold of hotshot forward Adam Armstrong despite Premier League interest, but teams with leaky backlines rarely manage to secure promotion over a 46-game campaign.
Despite failing to make a single signing this summer, the club have offloaded some high earners and there could be money to strengthen later in the window, but their Achilles heel at the back will likely cost them a shot at promotion once again.
Last season: 3rd (League One, promoted via play-offs)
Manager: Neil Critchley
Blackpool boss Neil Critchley did brilliantly to guide his side to promotion via the play-offs last season, stringing together a run of 16 league games unbeaten to turn their campaign around after a torrid start.
The main weak spot in Blackpool’s side is their frontline and that’s not an area they’ve really been able to bolster. Critchley is likely to be relying on his backline to keep his side out of trouble, so the addition of the haphazard Richard Keogh should probably send alarm bells ringing for fans of the Seasiders.
Last season: 6th
Manager: Scott Parker
It’s been a mixed transfer window for Bournemouth. The addition of Emiliano Marcondes is a great bit of business, but Diego Rico’s departure is definitely a blow.
With Liverpool mooted to be targeting Arnaut Danjuma, the Cherries really can’t afford to lose their prolific winger before the window closes.
Scott Parker is a man who knows how to get a team out of the Championship, but given the strength of some of the relegated sides, Bournemouth will have to endure the play-offs once again.
Last season: 19th
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Bristol City have lost a lot of experienced first-team players this summer without generating any money from sales, meaning incomings have been sparse.
Nigel Pearson failed to really have an impact on his side’s form having been appointed manager midway through the 2020/21 campaign, and the club haven’t done anything this summer to suggest they’re going to be a completely different team next season.
Last season: 8th
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Isn’t it great to have that man back in the Championship? Mick McCarthy proved he’s still got it when he took over Cardiff last January and very nearly led them to a nigh-on impossible play-off spot.
There’s been some big names leave the club this summer including Joe Bennett, Sol Bamba and Junior Hoilett, but McCarthy knows what he’s doing and having had time to assess his squad you’d be brave to back against Cardiff being in the mix come the end of the season.
Last season: 16th
Manager: Mark Robins
The addition of Martyn Waghorn could prove to be a shrewd piece of business from Mark Robins as he looks to establish Coventry as a Championship team before pushing on in the seasons ahead.
The Sky Blues’ starting XI is likely to look very similar next season as it did last term and so for that reason we reckon their final standing will be similar to their 2020/21 effort.
Last season: 21st
Manager: Wayne Rooney
Oh Wayne, this really is a much bigger job than you’d anticipated, isn’t it?
Having flirted with promotion back to the Premier league for so many seasons, Derby County’s only route out of the second tier right now looks to be relegation.
Rooney has already admitted he’s going to struggle to field a team of senior players next season as the club continues to be bombarded by off-field legal issues relating to Financial Fair Play.
The threat of a points deduction is still a very real possibility and it almost feels as though there’s already an acceptance they’ll be relegated.
Last season: 18th (Relegated from the Premier League)
Manager: Marco Silva
They may have lost their manager but Fulham are in no mood to sit and feel sorry for themselves following their relegation from the Premier League.
Both Harry Wilson and Paulo Gazzaniga are decent signings at Championship level, and with the Cottagers no doubt ready to wheel out Aleksandar Mitrovic so he can fire them to promotion once again they’re going to be a very tough team to beat.
Last season: 20th
Manager: Carlos Corberan
It feels like a million years ago that Huddersfield were actually a Premier League team.
The Terriers have wasted no time at all in settling back into their role as regular Championship relegation battles. While we commend the club’s decision to stick by Carlos Corberan, the Spaniard really struggled in his first season in the job – winning just three league games this calendar year.
A couple of signings the club have made like Danel Sinani and Jordan Rhodes are either going to go brilliantly or terribly, and it’s a risky strategy that could see them lose their fight to remain in the second tier.
Last season: 1st (Promoted from League One)
Manager: Grant McCann
Don’t be fooled by Hull’s status as new boys in the Championship. Grant McCann’s side had their rocky moments last season but they showed great character to bounce back and secure promotion, and with the likes of George Honeyman in midfield and Mallik Wilks and Josh Magennis leading the line they’ve got some great players in their squad.
McCann will have learned a lot from Hull’s relegation from the Championship in 2019/20 and he should be better equipped this time around to keep his side in the division.
Last season: 12th
Manager: Nathan Jones
Speaking of impressive young managers. Many expected Luton to be fighting for their Championship life again last season, but instead they secured a comfortable 12th-placed finish.
Nathan Jones’ side are progressing every season and we see no reason to believe they’ll be involved in a relegation dogfight next campaign. The additions of both Cameron Jerome and Henri Lansbury will add experience to their squad, and if Jones remains at Kenilworth Road for years to come Luton could soon be in the hunt for promotion.
Last season: 10th
Manager: Neil Warnock
Middlesbrough have lost the majority of their strike force this summer following the departures of Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, but with replacement frontman Uche Ikpeazu looking impressive in pre-season and the signing of Martin Payero soon to be announced, there’s plenty of reasons for Boro fans to be optimistic.
Middlesbrough’s main issue last season was squad depth and they’re still lacking in a number of areas. Expect Neil Warnock’s side to experience a very similar campaign to 2020/21 – brilliant at times but ultimately not enough players to mount a promotion charge.
Last season: 11th
Manager: Gary Rowett
Gary Rowett has done a great job since taking the reins at Millwall and after a couple of seasons where they lingered around the play-off spots but ultimately missed out we think this could be their year.
Bringing George Saville back to the club could prove to be a brilliant move considering the success he enjoyed in his first spell at The Den, and while we think they’ll just fall short of promotion they should be in with a shout of making the play-offs.
Last season: 17th
Manager: Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton’s arrival at Nottingham Forest last October definitely gave the team a boost and their results soon picked up, but come the end of the season that had long worn off and they won just two of their final 14 league outings.
It’s not difficult to spot the problem at Forest, with Lewis Grabban the club’s top scorer in all competitions last season with just six goals. The experience and defensive nous of Hughton will definitely see them safe but their fans shouldn’t expect much more than that.
Last season: 2nd (Promoted from League One)
Manager: Darren Ferguson
Usually when a club moves up a level the main concern is whether they’ll score enough goals – Peterborough shouldn’t have that problem thanks to Jonson Clarke-Harris.
The frontman has been one of the most prolific scorers in the lower leagues in recent years and he’s likely to be Peterborough’s main man once again.
Darren Ferguson has done brilliantly since returning to Posh and we expect them to spring a few surprises next season.
Last season: 13th
Manager: Frankie McAvoy
Preston are in real danger of becoming one of those clubs who people barely even remember are in the Championship.
Other than one season in which they finished seventh, their six campaigns back in the second tier have produced nothing more than mid table mediocrity.
Their summer business hasn’t exactly been inspiring so far and given new boss Frankie McAvoy could take time to settle it may be that Preston actually go backwards this season.
Last season: 9th
Manager: Mark Warburton
Queens Park Rangers are such a difficult team to try and predict – one minute they can be brilliant and the next they’re awful.
Rangers finished strongly last season and so their ninth-placed finish was probably a little generous given their mediocre campaign, and some of their summer business looks to be a little risky.
The signings of 32-year-old Charlie Austin and Andre Dozzell – a youngster with very little experience in the Championship – could turn out to be masterstrokes but they could also easily backfire, leaving QPR in a spot of bother.
Last season: 7th
Manager: Veljko Paunovic
We’re sorry Reading fans but last season might have been your big chance.
The losses of Omar Richards and in particular Michael Olise are huge and it’s difficult to imagine Lucas Joao being anywhere near as prolific without
Olise in the team.
Reading are yet to spend a penny of the money they made from the Olise deal – perhaps an indication of the club’s mindset right now – and it’s likely to be back to mid table unless they go big in the market over the coming weeks.
Last season: 20th (Relegated from the Premier League)
Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic
Let’s be honest, Sheffield United were never a Premier League team but Chris Wilder somehow turned them into one.
The Blades’ squad are probably back at their level in the Championship and the appointment of Slavisa Jokanovic has given them a great shot at promotion.
The former Fulham boss is one of the best in the league but he’s going to have his work cut out if he’s to secure automatic promotion with so many strong sides in the division this season.
Last season: 14th
Manager: Michael O’Neill
Losing Nathan Collins to Burnley this summer is a huge blow to Stoke’s chances of mounting a promotion push, but the Potters knew they wouldn’t be able to hang onto the talented youngster for long.
The signing of experienced midfielder Mario Vrancic looks to be a solid move but a lack of firepower could come back to haunt them once again.
Last season: 4th
Manager: Russell Martin
Losing last season’s top scorer and a manager who worked wonders with a limited budget is never going to be easy, but Swansea are working hard to ensure they’re still in the promotion picture next season.
The appointment of Russell Martin is a really good move but the Swans could be asking a lot of new arrival Joel Piroe to fill the void left by Andre Ayew.
Steve Cooper has given Swansea a solid platform to build upon but another top-six finish might just prove too tall an order next season.
Last season: 19th (Relegated from the Premier League)
Manager: Valerien Ismael
Last but not least it’s the side we think will win the division.
West Brom were always going to have one of the strongest teams in the Championship if they managed to keep hold of most of their better players – something they’ve so far managed to do – and the appointment of
Ismael has only confirmed their status as favourites.
Even if they do lose the services of Matheus Pereira the Baggies have got a quality team and signing experienced Championship campaigners like Mowatt and Adam Reach is the perfect way to go about looking to achieve promotion.
1. West Brom
4. Sheffield United
5. Cardiff City
7. Swansea City
8. Blackburn Rovers
10. Stoke City
11. Luton Town
12. Nottingham Forest
17. Queens Park Rangers
18. Bristol City
19. Hull City
21. Birmingham City
24. Derby County