The Sky Bet Championship is a competition which never fails to live up to its reputation. Its ability to consistently throw up unexpected results throughout a season, resulting in a plethora of twists and turns as teams battle for survival or promotion, make it arguably the most exciting league in world football.
Its beauty lies mainly in its unrivalled unpredictability. Take the success of contrasting clubs Leicester City and Burnley last season – Leicester, a sleeping giant of English football that was seen playing in the UEFA Cup a mere 14 years ago, had made a spirited comeback from administration in 2002 and rebuilt a powerhouse squad with the backing of new owners, the King Power Group. They were expected to fight for promotion, and finished the season 9 points ahead of the nearest competition, steamrolling their opponents. Burnley, meanwhile, fulfilled the role of the plucky underdog that just refused to lie down. With a threadbare squad, manager Sean Dyche had little to work with, and many felt that his side were candidates for relegation. However, his astute approach, which included sharp focus on fitness and team spirit, catapulted the club into the promotion places, where they stayed for the rest of the season.
I challenge anyone who bet on Leicester and Burnley to get promoted together last year to come forward now!
Nonetheless, like all football fans, I still like to think that I can use my ‘amazing’ football knowledge to guess what is going to happen in the season ahead. So here are my three teams to watch this year:
1. Bournemouth – No one will have been happier about Adam Lallana’s move to Liverpool than Cherries manager Eddie Howe. His club pocketed 25% the of fee for the transfer, which roughly translates into £6 million, a mammoth amount for a Championship side. Fresh from a hugely impressive 10th place finish in their debut season, I expect Howe to utilise the money diligently this summer and really press on in the new campaign. If he can add a proven Championship goalscorer to replace the departing Lewis Grabban, who has moved to Norwich City, then Bournemouth can surprise a lot of people this year.
2. Middlesbrough – This choice is based purely on the reputation of the club’s manager. Aitor Karanka, previously the esteemed assistant head coach of Jose Mourinho’s Galacticos, didn’t have sufficient time to impact the Boro squad last season after his appointment in mid-November. Even so, it was obvious that improvements had been made considering the limited resources available to Karanka, with the side’s excellent goal difference proving the second best in the league outside the playoffs. A full pre-season under Karanka’s watch should see Boro significantly improve on their 12th place finish last year, perhaps aided by a small influx of young Real Madrid loan starlets (if they like snow in the summer, of course).
3. Charlton Athletic – As a die-hard Charlton fan, it breaks my heart to include the club amongst the main relegation candidates this season. Six months after Belgian tycoon Roland Duchatelet’s acrimonious takeover, the first-team squad has been decimated, the managerial merry go-round sent into overdrive, and the fans alienated. Roland’s infamous axe has settled above the head of Bob Peeters, who many fear is just the next man being readied for the chop. The squad needs significant quality reinforcement for the club to even attempt to avoid the drop, let alone achieve mid-table respectability.
So there you have it, my three picks to look out for this year in the Sky Bet Championship. You might be better off not watching Charlton, to be honest.
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