Pre-season is well underway and teams are getting ready for what promises to be another very exciting and competitive season in the Championship. When you have 24 teams in a league, then not every team is going to be in amazing form when the first ball is kicked. I have already done various articles that aim to predict what may occur in the league during the season, however, these are based on looking at the season as a whole.
Therefore, this is a little different as it focuses exclusively on the first few weeks and months of the campaign. In terms of the selections coming up, the focus here is on teams that will start the season slowly – that isn’t to say they won’t go on to have successful seasons.
So, now we have that out of the way – let’s get stuck into looking at my selections…
1. Norwich City
I have mentioned Norwich City quite a bit in my previous articles and my regular readers will know that I’m tipping them to be a team to sizzle in the coming season. However, they were disappointing last season and a new head coach has come in. It’s quite clear that the methods employed by Daniel Farke will be quite different to Alex Neil’s.
There was also a strong suggestion that the squad will be younger with less established players and ones that will be new to the Championship. It’s simply unrealistic to think that everything will get sorted out in pre-season and the squad will absorb Farke’s tactical approach from the first minute.
Therefore, the smart money suggests that the Canaries will begin the season slowly, but things will pick up for them quickly as players gel and ideas are absorbed. It’s also important that Norwich fans set their expectations at reasonable levels – and it’s not realistic to expect automatic promotion in the coming season.
I have mentioned Preston as a possible surprise package for next season – so I may end up getting egg on my face if they start well. Preston will have been happy with the work that they did last season, and eventually finished 11th in the Championship table. Sometimes a little success can cause problem though.
In terms of the Lilywhites, that problem included losing their manager in the shape of Simon Grayson to Sunderland. Alex Neil has now come in to take the reins and it will certainly be interesting to see how he gets on. The Scottish manager is certainly an interesting character as he made an instant impact at Norwich originally – but couldn’t carry on that impact in the longer term.
It’s unknown, at this stage, how much he will have learned from the experience and how much his bad habits will continue to be apparent. However, I do think that Preston and Neil are a good match that will work in the longer term – but a slow start is inevitably going to occur as both get used to each other.
Wolves look to be one of those clubs in the Championship that are willing to splash the cash. However, we have seen in recent years that splashing cash itself is not a guaranteed way of finding success in the league. The club are one that I have put down to struggle this season, so that’s a slow start and also a disappointing season for them.
I actually think that Wolves were onto a relatively good thing with Paul Lambert in charge who was doing a fine job at steading the ship. Lambert may well have had the perfect canny transfer policy to see the club putting together a decent challenge for the play-offs. However, all of that has been ripped out by taking the decision to sack him.
I know people will want to talk about Nuno Espirito Santo and you will hear more about him in an upcoming article. However, I’m not sure that there's a clear plan in place that considers the uniqueness of the Championship. Understanding this league is paramount in order to get of it – and this is where Wolves may have missed a trick with Lambert.
It will certainly be very interesting to see how Sunderland adapt to life back in the Championship. My personal feeling is the club have been in decline for some time and a fast start to the season is extremely unlikely. However, I do expect the club to pack their fans into the stadium and have the highest average attendance in the league – and we know that those fans expect.
David Moyes, obviously, left his position at the end of last season and it will certainly be interesting to see if that proves to be the right decision or not. Simon Grayson has come in as his replacement, and that’s interesting as well. No disrespect for the job that he did with Preston – but I would think that Sunderland should have been setting their sights a bit higher.
Transfers are also an interesting issue here, there have been high profile departures such as Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford – but it appears the club will be looking for bargains as replacements. In other words, this is very much a cost cutting exercise and the signings that they do make will be under huge pressure to deliver.
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5. Sheffield Wednesday
First of all, I’m certainly not predicting a poor season for Sheffield Wednesday and see them finishing in the top six again. Nevertheless, morale may well be down for the start of the 2017/18 season due to their latest play-off heartbreak. There are plenty of positives for the club though, starting with the fact that Carlos Carvalhal will be staying on as the club’s manager. After ranking him as one of our top six managers in the Championship this is certainly very good news.
Therefore, after getting over their slow start, I would expect them to improve quite quickly to cement that place in the top six. The Championship is such as competitive league that we tend to get carried away when teams go on a good run, soon we start to think that they are going to win every game.
It's worth remembering though that is one of the best competitive leagues in the world. This means that clubs near the bottom are quite capable of beating the ones at the top – and we have seen this so many times before. Wednesday have reached the play-offs in each of the last two seasons, which is incredible consistency from them – so it’s inevitable that they will have a slower period of form. Simply put, that period will come at the start of the coming season.
Throughout my predictions on the Championship, I have been quiet on Reading. I have neither mentioned them in a list of teams that may do well or teams that may struggle. My official position, on the club, is they will have another decent season – but won’t be able to live-up to some of the things they did last season.
I think sometimes as fans, we are guilty of getting carried away and thinking that whatever occurred in the past will keep happening. Maybe this is part of the reason that football catches us out every now and again. Obviously, Reading did great last season to reach the play-off final – but it’s very difficult for teams to repeat what they did the previous season.
Jaap Stam may feel that he has already proved a point and will start thinking about his next move. Also, the Royals have several ageing players and they may not be able to put in the type of performances they did last season. Teams that lose in a play-off final often find they have a hangover from that situation – and these factors all point to a slow start for Reading.
This completes the end of content section looking at teams that are set to make a slow start. So, do you agree that these teams will start the season slowly? If not, who will be the slow starters instead?
If you enjoy Championship list-style articles like this, then look out for my upcoming content. For my next article, I will be looking at the Championship managers that may find themselves out of a job before 2018.