Opinion

2018/19 Sky Bet Championship Preview

Aston Villa will be facing six new teams in this years Sky Bet Championship season. We’ve wrote a handy quick-to-read guide on all 23 opponents for the season ahead.
Words by Harry Trend (@HazaTrand)

Here’s a lowdown on the 23 Championship opponents Aston Villa will be facing both home and away this season.

Whatever’s going on at Villa Park, we’re always safe in the knowledge that over the road it will be worse. Birmingham City were hit with a transfer embargo not too long ago and will be aiming to avoid the drop once again this season. Firepower is need, with the Blues getting just 38 goals last term, the lowest in the division.

After a short stay in League One Blackburn Rovers are back in England’s second tier. 18 goal midfielder Bradley Dack has the chance to prove himself at a higher level, along with Joe Rothwell, a highly touted midfielder from Oxford United. Tony Mowbray’s men have a kind opening run of games and therefore must start quickly.

 

An 88th minute Aaron Wilbraham goal against Nottingham Forest kept Bolton Wanderers in the Championship by the skin of their teeth last season. Phil Parkinson has ushered out some of the older heads such as Karl Henry and Darren Pratley. Fans will be praying they don’t have to wait until October to get their first league win, again.

Brentford always seem to punch above their weight in the Championship, and if it weren’t for a such a poor start where they only managed two points from their first five games, the Bees could’ve been in contention for the play-offs. However, with a young side and open-minded manager in Dean Smith at the helm, there’s a lot for Brentford fans to be optimistic about.

At Christmas it looked like Bristol City would be making their way into the Premier League for the first time in their history, but a huge slump in 2018 meant the Robins eventually finished 11th. It’ll be a lot harder this time too, they’ll be without the services of last season’s top scorer Bobby Reid and goal scoring centre-back Aden Flint. A lower finish? Possibly. Less GIFS? Probably.

Derby County have freshened things up in the hot seat by bringing in Frank Lampard, who will be looking to make use of his connections to Chelsea through the loan system. Mason Mount has already arrived from the Blues along with Wales international Harry Wilson from Liverpool. Holding onto Matej Vydra should be the Rams’ top priority though.

 

Hull City very much suffered a relegation hangover last season; winning just two of their first ten games before appointing Nigel Adkins in December. The Tigers will be without the services of Abel Hernandez, Michael Dawson and Sebastian Larsson, but have signed former Villa full-back and Arsenal slayer Eric Lichaj.

Fans of Ipswich Town will be optimistic this term with Mick McCarthy no longer at the helm. He’s been replaced by Paul Hurst, who came close to taking Shrewsbury up to this level last season. Although the Tractor Boys boast a squad of solid Championship players, it could be a case of two steps back to take one step forward in 2018-19.

The prize for the most spectacular managerial appointment goes to Leeds United, who brought in former Argentina, Chile, Lille and Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa in June. Oh, and Athletic Bilbao and Lazio. After years of mediocre finishes, the Whites will want to have a crack at the play-offs this year and will be hoping Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 does the job.

Middlesbrough exited the Championship play-offs with a whimper last term, but Tony Pulis has made some astute additions to his squad including Paddy McNair and Aden Flint in defence. Britt Assombalonga, who scored 15 goals in 2017-18, will again be pivotal for a side who will be in the promotion conversation.

 

Millwall surprised everybody last season after coming up from League One. With an eighth placed finish, the Lions were just three points off the play-offs. Neil Harris is a popular man with the Millwall faithful and most fans would accept a season of consolidation. There’ll be no more Tim Cahill at the Den though.

The jury is still out on Daniel Farke. The Norwich City head coach struggled to get his team firing last term, the Canaries scoring just 49 goals in 46 games. This season could be an uphill struggle for the East Anglian’s, who will be without their star man and Jack Grealish equivalent; James Maddison, who scored 15 goals in 2017/18 and assisted eight.

Nottingham Forest are a completely different entity to the one that kicked off the season last year. Gone are Mark Warburton and owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi, plus over a dozen players. Instead the Tricky Trees have Aitor Karanka in charge and Evengelos Marinakis as owner and have brought in Portuguese duo João Carvalho and Diogo Gonçalves.

Preston North End have finished 11th, 11th and 7th in their three Championship seasons since being promoted from League One. Last season, the Lilywhites were just two points off the play-offs and will look to continue that upward trajectory. Alex Neil has again had his hands tied in the transfer market and has been forced to look lower down the Football League ladder for bargains.

 

It’s never boring for Queens Park Rangers fans. Last term Ian Holloway’s R’s beat Wolves, Cardiff City and Villa, but a 16th placed finish was deemed not good enough and Holloway was gone in May. Now, Steve McLaren takes the reigns of an erratic but exciting young squad who could surprise a few. Look out for youngsters Ebere Eze, Aramide Oteh and Paul Smyth.

How times change. In 2017, Reading were just a penalty shoot out away from the Premier League, however, the Royals finished 2017-18 with a snivel. New boss Paul Clement has had little to work with this summer in terms of money, but John O’Shea and David Meyler have come in to add some experience into the dressing room.

Rotherham United are fast becoming the yo-yo club of the Championship and League One. The class of 2016-17 were no where near good enough for Championship level, but the Millers went on a 14-game unbeaten run in the middle of last season. Players like Will Vaulks and Richard Wood will fight for the shirt if nothing else.

At one point it looked like Sheffield United would do the heralded double promotion. After beating Burton Albion on the 17th November 2017, the Blades sat top of the table with 36 points. Yes, things crumbled after that, but Chris Wilder has proven himself at this level and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them finish in the play-offs.

 

Sheffield Wednesday might have been unlucky with injuries, but a 15th placed finish isn’t good enough for a side who pay some of the highest wages in the Championship. Jos Luhukay took over from Carlos Carvalhal in January, and a late season surge winning six games in nine helped get some of the fans onside.

When predicting the Championship winners, you always have to look at the teams that have gone down. Stoke City are this seasons favourites and boast a strong squad even without the services of Xherdan Shaqiri. Ryan Shawcross, Joe Allen and Jack Butland are all Premier League quality. Anything other than promotion would be considered a failure for Gary Rowett’s side.

Being relegated might have been a blessing in disguise for Swansea City, after a couple of seasons scraping survival, Swans fans can start to enjoy football again. Graham Potter, who took Ostersunds deep into the Europa League, is a progressive appointment and will get the Welsh side playing more attractive football.

West Bromwich Albion had an excellent finish to last season even if it was too little too late. Darren Moore has a reliable goalkeeper in Sam Johnstone and a couple of young prospects at his disposal in Oliver Burke and Johnathan Leko. Some great moments in Villa’s recent history have come against West Brom, let’s hope that continues.

 

Wigan Athletic are one of a few clubs in the division with new owners, Hong Kong based International Entertainment Corporation bough the club from the Whelan’s for £22m. Once again, the Latics will be relying on Will Grigg to fire in the goals (sorry). The Irishman got another 26 in League One last season.

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