Championship Predictions 2019/20 – Part 3
With the start of the 2019/20 EFL Championship season almost upon us, how will each team fare in arguably the most unpredictable league of them all?
We’ve taken a look into our crystal ball and previewed each Championship team’s chances this season.
Part 3 looks at Preston North End through to Wigan Athletic…
Championship Predictions – Part 3
PRESTON NORTH END
Manager: Alex Neil
Key man: Ben Davies
Reasons to be cheerful: Sensible and pragmatic might not be the most exciting words to describe a team. However, they sum up exactly what Preston do right in a league where sides so easily go astray. The Lilywhites continue to make quiet progress under the stewardship of Alex Neil. His decision to commit his long-term future to the club amid interest from West Brom last spring suggests he believes he can take them one step further. Patrick Bauer and returning hero David Nugent add canny game management skills at either end of the pitch. Steady as they go, Preston could pounce if more fancied sides stutter.
Reasons to be fearful: If Neil’s charges make a flying start, expect his name to feature heavily when the managerial merry-go-round starts up again in the autumn. Any unwelcome mid-season disruption could see their situation suddenly turn volatile. Otherwise expect business as usual at Deepdale with steady if unspectacular progress in and around the top half of the table.
Manager: Mark Warburton
Key man: Massimo Luongo
Reasons to be cheerful: In Warburton, you sense the Rs have appointed a manager with unfinished business at this level. After difficult ends to his time at Brentford and Nottingham Forest, expect him to be fired up to overachieve with a club with realistic expectations about their current place in the Championship food chain. Warburton could benefit from operating under the radar and has been quick to revamp this squad. 11 new faces have arrived so far this summer, with Warburton’s key objective to shore up a leaky defence.
Reasons to be fearful: Filling the gap left by the departure of Player of the Year, Luke Freeman, will be Warburton’s difficult balancing act as he tries to makes the Hoops harder to beat while fixing a lack of strength in depth in the attacking third. Fans will be hoping loan striker Jan Mlakar can make an instant impact. The Brighton youngster impressed during a one-season spell with Slovenian champions Maribor before making the move to the Premier League side.
Verdict: Relegation battle.
Manager: José Gomes
Key man: Andy Rinomhota
Reasons to be cheerful: Gomes’ appointment was met with a certain amount of cynicism by both fans and pundits alike last season. However, the Royals’ gamble paid off. The Portuguese boss successfully achieved his first objective, guiding the Royals towards safety by making them harder to beat. Six wins and 10 draws from his first 24 games suggests he knows how to organise a team struggling towards the wrong end of the table. He may need to repeat that trick in 2019/20.
Reasons to be fearful: Only one Reading player managed to reach double figures last year. Yakou Méïté – a player hardly known for being prolific – notched 13 goals to help edge Reading over the finish line. With Icelandic striker Jón Daði Böðvarsson (6 goals) moving on to Millwall, and Sam Baldock out-of-favour, goals could be in extremely short supply without any last-minute reinforcements.
Key man: Adam Reach
Reasons to be cheerful: The shock exit of Steve Bruce could have a galvanising effect on the club. The new manager will be inheriting a top-heavy squad, but fringe players will be mindful they have a chance to start the new season with a clean slate. Could an early ‘new manager bounce’ effect help Wednesday build some unexpected early momentum in this campaign? Players will be out to impress – and that’s something for fans to hold onto after an eventful pre-season.
Reasons to be fearful: The flipside to that theory. A slow start for Wednesday should also be priced in, regardless of the calibre of the new manager they plump for. Unless they appoint from within, the new man at the helm won’t have had the benefit of a pre-season to assess the Wednesday squad. This squad still looks comfortably strong enough not to struggle. The uncertainty caused by Steve Bruce’s departure means the Owls may have to make up for lost time if the new man’s methods don’t instantly pay dividends.
Manager: Nathan Jones
Key man: Jack Butland
Reasons to be cheerful: Encouragingly for Stoke fans, there are signs history might be about to repeat itself for Nathan Jones. It took the forward-thinking Welshman a full pre-season to put his stamp on Luton Town before results really started to click into place. Now both the club and Jones have had time to acclimatise to Championship football, this could be the season where Stoke start their creative renewal. Jones has managed to cut some big earners off the wage bill, moving on the likes of Charlie Adam and Darren Fletcher. So far, he’s replaced them with players with something to prove at this level. Liam Lindsay, Nick Powell, Lee Gregory and Jordan Cousins look sensible buys for their current needs. More thoughtful recruitment this summer could just pay off.
Reasons to be fearful: Despite some trimming, this is still a squad that looks fairly bloated. Jones may have a delicate job balancing plenty of competing egos in the dressing room. The strike force of Lee Gregory and Sam Vokes looks robust if the aim is the play-offs, but a little extra spark may be necessary in the final third to transform the Potters into genuine automatic promotion candidates.
Manager: Steve Cooper
Key man: Matt Grimes
Reasons to be cheerful: After the disappointment of losing Graham Potter to Brighton, the Swans have once again shown initiative. The Swans avoiding the typical names in the frame to appoint another young, progressive coach in Steve Cooper. The Welshman has a limited budget to play with at the Liberty. His remit will be to make the best of the Swans’ ever-reliable youth set-up. As a World Cup winner with the England U17s, he could just be the perfect fit for this role.
Reasons to be fearful: Cooper’s credentials as a youth coach can’t be questioned. The jury’s still out on whether he can transfer those skills to the senior ranks. The 39-year-old also faces a nervous wait with the end of this summer’s transfer window in sight. If he can convince the board to hold firm and resist selling the likes of Oli McBurnie and Matt Grimes, his task to build on the good work of Potter will be made that much easier. Consolidation remains the aim for 2019/20 in South Wales.
Verdict: Lower mid-table.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Manager: Slaven Bilić
Key man: Kenneth Zohore
Reasons to be cheerful: The Baggies avoided the nosedive of so many relegated Premier League sides in claiming a respectable fourth-place last season. The fact they did that without ever really hitting their stride – and with a managerial change to boot – shows there are strong foundations for Bilić to work with at The Hawthorns. If he can unearth more diamonds in the rough from the Baggies’ academy, that should also help West Brom’s cause in what appears to be an open promotion race this season.
Reasons to be fearful: On the surface, Bilić is an ambitious appointment at this level. However, he still has little to show trophy-wise on his otherwise respectable CV. Can he build a side equipped to last the pace for promotion across a 46-game season? With West Brom yet again amongst the favourites for promotion, this could be the biggest test of the Croatian’s managerial reputation to date. His first task will be plugging the gap left by the departures of Dwight Gayle (23 goals) and Jay Rodridguez (22 goals). That looks an ominous task. Much will rest on whether £8m-man Zohore proves a natural fit for his system.
Manager: Paul Cook
Key man: Josh Windass
Reasons to be cheerful: The spine of this team looks workmanlike, but well-equipped to survive – give or take a few last-minute transfers. Snapping up a goalkeeper with an abundance of Championship experience in David Marshall should also calm nerves, with the defence still in need of further fine-tuning ahead of the 2019/20 season. As a unit, the whole looks stronger than the sum of the parts at Wigan. With relatively few talismanic names to call upon in a squad high on work ethic, Cook will need everyone to play their part to lift the Latics towards mid-table stability.
Reasons to be fearful: Wigan look like a side that currently haven’t done enough this summer. The loss of Nick Powell leaves a huge vacuum to fill for a team that struggled for creativity last season. Cook will be hoping for some last-minute magic in the transfer market to avoid the Latics falling through the relegation trapdoor. With only two away wins all season in 2018/19, Cook himself also needs to show he can hit upon a winning formula on the road. Success or failure could yet again depend on their points haul at the DW.
All image sources from PA Images
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