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CHAMPIONSHIP: Will it be Newcastle’s ‘Rafa-lution’, Neil and Norwich or an outsider?

The Championship remains one of the hardest leagues in the world to predict.

Quite often, the promoted teams from League One rediscover their momentum and push for the play-offs while the relegated sides from the Premier League spend big and attempt to bounce back at first try.

And in the middle, there are over a dozen teams that have been stuck in the Championship for a number of seasons, unable to find that winning formula while ambling along in England's second tier.

The only guarantee in the Championship season is excitement and many twists and turns over 46 matches, but who can we expect to see in and around the play-off places by the end of the season…


Champions

Newcastle United

After signing Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame, Rafa Benitez's squad has plenty of depth and Championship experience.

24 year-old Grant Hanley, signed after more than 150 Championship appearances for Blackburn Rovers, will be the defensive leader of the team and Benitez's rock at the back alongside former Aston Villa star Ciaran Clark.

The exits of Moussa Sissoko, Andros Townsend, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat were all expected and have been dealt with accordingly with quality second division two players coming in.

Despite losing their opening day fixture away to Fulham, Benitez will be looking to gain some momentum as the season goes on, but early season complacency could be their biggest weakness.

Missing out on points at the start of the season could prove costly but now they have found their feet, they will be hard to stop, making them clear favourites for the title.


Promoted

Norwich City

Although, the Canaries may have lost Nathan Redmond to Southampton, Alex Neil's midfield is still stacked with experience, youth and talent.

Up front, the Norfolk outfit are crying out for a proven goalscorer after missing out on Ross McCormack and for now, they will have to rely on the services of Cameron Jerome, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith (perhaps only until January).

Younger attackers like Alex Pritchard (from Tottenham Hotspur), Jacob and Josh Murphy and Sergi Canos (from Liverpool) will also be given the chance to shine.

Redmond is the only really big loss, and that was expected to happen, which has Neil's squad in very good shape to go after promotion.

Norwich possess the know-how in the Championship and are tipped to return to top flight immediately.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Chris Hughton's men were very impressive last season; narrowly missing out on automatic promotion by finishing third before losing out to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals.

Topping last season is a big ask, but isn't beyond their reach.

Brighton recently broke their transfer record by recruiting Shane Duffy from Blackburn for £4m.

Despite a horror beginning to life at the Amex, Duffy will likely form an intimidating partnership alongside Lewis Dunk at the heart of their defence.

On their day, Brighton can be an exciting team to watch and if fan favourite Glenn Murray (on loan from AFC Bournemouth) can produce the goods up front with Tomer Hemed, then they will certainly be challenging for automatic promotion.


Promotion Chance

Derby County

Derby's greatest summer signing is the appointment of Nigel Pearson as their new manager.

Pearson deserves some of the credit for Leicester City's spectacular season of last and will be hoping to add some magic to his reign at the iPro Stadium.

His biggest task will be picking his first choice strikers. The loan signing of Manchester United's James Wilson and summer purchase of Matej Vydra arms the Rams with an attack already consisting of Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann - formidable championship strikers.

Meanwhile, Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson form a resistant midfield, flanked by the attacking flair of Tom Ince, youngster Will Hughes and another summer arrival in Ikechi Anya.

If everything goes as planned, Derby will make the play-offs, and knowing Pearson, anything could happen from there.


Huddersfield Town

The Terriers have made a surprisingly blistering start to the new season and may not have been in these calculations in pre-season.

However, you cannot ignore the team spirit and cohesion David Wagner has instilled at John Smith's Stadium.

Loan signing Aaron Mooy, from Manchester City, has slotted in seamlessly alongside fellow temporary Terriers Danny Ward (Liverpool), Elias Kachunga (FC Ingolstadt) and Kasey Palmer (Chelsea).

Huddersfield broke the bank to sign German centre-half Christopher Schindler and it appears to already have paid dividends as he looks a top quality addition.

Rajiv van la Parra (from Wolves) adds creativity out wide and young striker Jack Byrne is a great attacking option for Wagner.

At times they will appear uneasy on the eye, at others they will look unbeatable, but this is a team determined to do what it takes to pocket the points on offer.


Queens Park Rangers

QPR have had to undergo somewhat of a rebuild since their releagtion from the Premier League two seasons ago.

Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has a decent Championship side even after clearing out most of the expensive names. The additions of Idrissa Sylla, Yeni Ngbakoto and Jordan Cousins are imaginative and will make him look like a genius if they pay off.

The heart of their defence is led by the quality of Steven Caulker and captain Nedum Onuoha and despite losing Matt Phillips to West Bromwich Albion, QPR'S midfield appears threatening.

Australian youngster Massimo Luongo has the potential to become their star player, but the R's might need a prolific striker if they are to challenge for automatic places.

However, Hasselbaink and his squad remain under the radar and could be this season's surprise package if they can overcome a stuttering start which includes a 6-0 home drubbing at the hands of Newcastle.


By Luke Mannion
Edited by Andrew Slevison

About the author

Tribal Football Staff

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