The Sky Bet Championship season is about to get under way, but who is going to finish where in 2018/19?
We have asked the hosts of the Not The Top 20 Podcast – Ali Maxwell and George Elek – to pick their promotion contenders, relegation battlers and everything in between…
Not The Top 20 Podcast releases regular podcasts throughout the season, covering the EFL with passion, knowledge and opinionated analysis. Follow them on Twitter @NTT20Pod and subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud
1st – Stoke
For us Stoke have to be the favourites for the title. They have managed to retain most of their best players like Ryan Shawcross, Joe Allen and Bruno Martins Indi and have also brought in some quality additions such as Benik Afobe and Oghenekaro Etebo.
It just seems to us that they are the most settled of the relegated clubs. Gary Rowett’s sides are not always the most exciting going forward but he will organise them well and they will be so tough to break down. When it comes to promotion that is often the most important thing.
4:49 Sky Bet Championship predictions
2nd – Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough made some mistakes in the transfer market last season but Tony Pulis knows exactly who he wants and who to let go, and that is pretty much what he has done. It will be interesting to see if he can go back to playing right on the front foot again.
He has a clear way of playing, they will be superb defensively and have also got plenty of talent going forward. It’s vital that they hold on to Adama Traore, though, who was superb under Pulis in the second half of last season.
3rd – Brentford
We’ve been huge fans of Brentford for a couple of years now, and if they had not had certain dips in form then they would have been in the play-offs a couple more times. The owner Matthew Benham is incredibly smart and it’s only a matter of time until they get promoted to the Premier League.
Last season they suffered early on after losing a lot of key players on Deadline Day, but this season they seem to have held onto most of their squad so far. Even if they do lose a few their recruitment team is so good that we would back anyone they bring in to succeed. There’s a huge opportunity for Brentford here if they hit the ground running. We reckon after two months that no one will be saying this is a surprise pick.
4th – Derby
It’s been a surprisingly pleasant summer for Derby. It was suggested they would have to sell anyone they could get some money for but that has not transpired. They have a couple of loanees in Harry Wilson and Mason Mount who could flourish under Frank Lampard and they will hope Jack Marriott can take his form from Peterborough to the Championship.
You do not know for sure whether Lampard will be a success, but he was a great player, he played under some of the great managers, he is smart and everyone loves him as a bloke. We would be interested to hear someone’s reasons for why he would do poorly.
5th – Preston
Preston were excellent last season and they have managed to hold onto most of their squad while also making a couple of good signings. They have got good stability and it’s a side that nicely mirrors their manager Alex Neil.
Ryan Ledson looks a great signing from Oxford and he will form a great midfield alongside Ben Pearson and Alan Browne and everyone will hate playing against them. Preston were always competitive against the top teams they just need to improve their results against the lesser teams in the division, but we feel that’s a hurdle they can more easily overcome.
6th – Nottingham Forest
There’s a lot of quality in the Nottingham Forest squad now. It’s always tough to judge when players come in from the continent but the arrivals from Portugal in particular means there’s plenty of excitement at the City Ground.
They have also brought Jack Colback back in on loan and Lewis Grabban is a quality Championship striker. Hilal Soudani is also an interesting one as the 30-year-old Algeria international has a great record in front of goal wherever he’s been. If their signings work they could be a threat.
7th – Bristol City
The fans will want more after so many positives last season but we see seventh as a good finish for Bristol City. There will be some concern over the loss of Aden Flint and Bobby Reid but they have made some good signings as well and should have plenty of goals in the side with Famara Diedhiou and Mo Eisa.
It’s hard to judge how much the Carabao Cup run last season scuppered their play-off chances, but they are a young, energetic side with a modern manager who likes to attack, and they should challenge again.
8th – Leeds
Where do you place a team that could either be exceptional or completely implode? If everything clicks and Marcelo Bielsa shows his brilliance then Leeds could storm the whole league, but last season they fell short and the squad has not massively improved since then, although Patrick Bamford and Barry Douglas could both prove useful signings.
Bielsa will ask them to play a way they are not used to and some of his methods could bamboozle opposition teams. But the Championship season is so long and it will be very demanding on his players. It’s hard to call how this will go.
9th – Aston Villa
All of Aston Villa’s hopes for the season ride on whether they manage to hold onto Jack Grealish. He dragged them to the play-offs in a team that had very little other attacking system. We genuinely think he can be starting for Tottenham, he’s that good.
Even if they keep Grealish it’s still a worse team than last season without John Terry and Robert Snodgrass, who are both big losses on the pitch and in the dressing room. They have only got a week to make some signings and they will need some big additions.
10th – Sheffield United
The first half of last season showed us what they can do and Chris Wilder guarantees some stability at the very least. We do not think they have hugely strengthened but they have managed to get rid of a lot of the deadwood in their squad.
There is no real reason why they would fall away and there will be plenty of business to come between now and the end of the transfer window. Another top-half finish would be great for them.
11th – West Brom
Darren Moore seems like a lovely bloke but there have to be question marks around him, despite what he did at the end of last season. Unlike Stoke it does not seem like they are going to be able to retain most of their key assets and it looks like there could be more outgoings before the end of the transfer window.
Moore is pretty much having to swap a whole squad for a new squad, while taking a team that is changing every day through pre-season and drill them for the Championship. They are among the favourites with a lot of bookies but we do not think it’s going to be easy for them to bounce back right away.
12th – Swansea
Swansea are in a similar position to West Brom. It looks like Alfie Mawson is going so they might struggle at the back. They have got some good players but no one you feel will really stand out in the Championship.
Graham Potter did a fine job at Ostersund but it is hard to see it happening for him right away at Swansea. Oli McBurnie could be useful if he scores goals for them but you cannot compare them with Stoke in how they have managed to regroup from relegation.
13th – Millwall
Neil Harris did a fantastic job last season but it will be tough to recreate that unbelievable run they had again. People turn their noses up at direct football but you cannot deny that Millwall’s style is also entertaining. And they have got some very good unheralded players.
We’re putting them lower than they finished last season so I do not know if that is a negative or not. They have had an incredible year and have come such a long way that a mid-table finish might seem disappointing, but it would be excellent for them still.
14th – Norwich
Expectations were high after Daniel Farke arrived at Carrow Road but they were disappointing last season. He has been given more time to rectify the situation but losing James Maddison is a huge blow, and they have not brought in too many players.
Norwich clearly rate Daniel Farke though and it should be applauded that they have stuck with him. With the end of their parachute payments and the wage bill they had there were always going to have to be some pretty big changes. We cannot tip them for relegation but it’s hard to say they will be much better than last season.
15th – Ipswich
There has been a lot of negativity around Ipswich, not least from their own fans, and we will learn a lot now about how good a job Mick McCarthy was actually doing there. But we are big fans of Paul Hurst, who has overachieved everywhere he has been, and it would be great to see him do well.
He has brought in a couple of players in Ellis Harrison and Gwion Edwards, who have been standout League One performers and he will know them well, while the Ipswich fans are excited about the return of Andre Dozzell from injury. Under Hurst, they will be very difficult to beat.
16th – Wigan
Wigan were very good last season and while some fans would have been hoping they would show more ambition this summer they should still finish in lower mid-table under Paul Cook. This is Cook’s first time managing at this level and it will be interesting to see how he does game to game against some of the more illustrious names in the division.
They have bounced around the last four seasons but their last spell in the Championship was a bit chaotic and some stability will do them good.
17th – Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday have done no business whatsoever and there will be very little positivity after such a dire campaign last season. They have still got some class in their team with Fernando Forestieri, who should be one of the class players in the league, but it still feels like they are in a downward spiral.
They had injury problems last season but we do not expect them to be right back in the top half just because their long-term injuries have gone. They are not the team they were a couple of seasons ago and it could be a bit of a struggle for them.
18th – Birmingham
Garry Monk should take Birmingham clear of a relegation battle but this is still largely the same side that were very poor last season. They are lacking goals up front and they have not done a lot in the transfer market to rectify that.
They should be better than last year but there is little to suggest they’re going to make a huge leap too far away from trouble.
19th – Blackburn
If they can keep hold of Bradley Dack for the whole season then they have got a player who should help keep them fairly safe. Like Wigan, though, their fans would have been hoping for a bit more activity in the transfer market this summer.
In Tony Mowbray they have got a safe pair of hands who nearly kept them up last time they were in the Championship. Their only aim is to stay up and we think they will have just about enough to do that.
20th – Rotherham
Banish from your mind what happened two seasons ago because Rotherham are a completely different prospect now under Paul Warne. They were quite a stylish, attacking team in League One and we became more convinced by Warne as the season went on.
One of the things that contributes to teams being greater than the sum of their parts is a good vibe and atmosphere and this squad reflects their manager. They will be energetic and fast-paced and have a good defensive base in Sean Raggett and Clark Robertson. it will not be easy for them but we feel there will be worse teams this season.
21st – QPR
QPR’s squad just does not look great on paper and the fact they have held onto Luke Freeman so far is one of the few reasons why we have them staying up. The owner Tony Fernandes really seems to be reining it in a bit.
They have got some good young players but it could be a tough season and we feel like they would have been better off with Ian Holloway to motivate them and let them make mistakes. Steve McClaren seems more like the kind of coach to try and drill them and his methods are a bit dated now. Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel could be bright sparks but they will leak a lot of goals at the back, especially without Alex Smithies in goal and Nedum Onuoha in defence.
22nd – Hull
Hull have lost about eight of their starting XI players from last year and they have not added much at all. The Chelsea loanees have gone and Michael Dawson has left for Nottingham Forest. They have also lost their goalkeeper, Abel Hernandez up front, Harry Wilson has joined Derby on loan and Seb Larsson has left.
Nigel Adkins is usually extremely positive but even he has said himself that he does not think the squad is good enough, so it does not bode well for Hull. Everything points to them being much worse than last season, where they were already pretty bad.
23rd – Reading
We thought Reading were a little lucky to get into the play-offs under Jaap Stam in the first place, and then they regressed very quickly last season, although they did have a few injuries.
Paul Clement managed to keep them up but they were on a downward spiral and if the season was any longer they would have gone down. Marc McNulty has come in but he’s a finisher and Reading do not create many chances. John O’Shea and David Meyler are solid additions but they are not going to improve things too much.
24th – Bolton
Bolton stayed up by the skin of their teeth last year. They have brought in Erhun Oztumer from Walsall but we are worried he is going to spend the whole season watching the ball go over his head and back again!
They managed to stay up, which was a massive achievement that we put down to Phil Parkinson. He is a really good manager but we are struggling to see what more he can eke out of this squad. If they get off to a slow start and the fans get on his back again then Parkinson could be gone, at which point it would be curtains for them.