It's been a long wait but the 2018/19 SkyBet Championship is finally almost upon us. The curtain raises on the second tier with Frank Lampard's Derby travelling to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading next Friday, with the other 22 clubs following suit over the course of the weekend. The Championship is one of the most competitive divisions in world football and it draws up an awful lot excitement, drama and entertainment over the course of the 9 months & quite frankly we can't wait for it to get started.
This years line-up looks no different and it's going to be a rollercoaster ride for fans around the country as promotions and relegations are settled. With the big kick-off now within touching we've taken a look at what's potentially in store for some of these clubs and given our views below - let us know yours by tweeting us @FootyAccums!
Don't forget to check out our latest accumulator tips too, we'll have them placed each week throughout the football season.
Last season was an extremely difficult one for everyone associated with Stoke City following their shock relegation from the Premier League, but now three months later they arrive in the Championship full of optimism. It's been a summer of change at the Bet365 Stadium with the club opting to replace Paul Lambert with Gary Rowett which could prove to be a masterstroke. The former Derby County boss knows the Championship inside out and his experience will be a major asset to the Potters as they bid to make an instant return to the top flight.
He's been a pretty busy man in the transfer window with a fair few incomings and outgoings, but he's clearly identifying players with experience of the division. Benik Afobe, Tom Ince, Adam Federici and James McClean are the headline arrivals and they all have experience in this division, so they'll only strengthen an already healthy squad. All this combined together makes them a serious contender for the title and they're currently favourites for the title, best priced at 11/2 with UniBet.
Another club desperate for a return to the Premier League are Middlesbrough, who are also looking in very good shape coming into the campaign. Boro failed in the play-offs last year following an inconsistent campaign but with Tony Pulis now in his first full season in charge, they have a man who knows what it takes to win promotion from this division. Boro's squad is packed full of quality at this level and their strength in depth is very impressive, with them particularly strong in attack. Britt Assombalonga and Rudy Gestede are superb options and if he can keep the pair of them fit and firing, they'll be in with a great shout.
But it's not just going forward where they're so strong, they've been busy in the transfer market recruiting defensive duo Paddy McNair and Aden Flint from Sunderland and Bristol City respectively. Pulis sides are always a threat from set pieces and the arrival of Flint to partner Daniel Ayala at the back will give them some serious strength at both ends of the pitch.
West Brom are another side hotly fancied by many and if they can hang onto some of their big guns they'll be in with a great chance of winning promotion at the first attempt. There's strong rumours surrounding the futures of Salomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez at the moment but if they can retain their services they'll be some force going forward. It's been a fairly quiet summer in terms of incomings, with the biggest piece of news being the appointment of Darren Moore as the clubs new manager.
He inspired them to a fantastic end of the 17/18 season but he still represents something of a gamble with him still a rookie in the world of management. He's seen no fewer than 16 players depart the Hawthorn's this summer but his two major additions look like excellent captures on paper, with Sam Johnstone and Kyle Barley filling the void left by Ben Foster and Jonny Evans. We're expecting them to be active in the window up till 9th August so they could get even stronger, but we feel that Stoke & Boro will have too much for them.
Making his managerial debut this season is Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, who's taken the reigns at Derby County. The 40 year-old's arrival is something of a coup for the Rams and their fans will be hoping that he can inspire them to win that elusive promotion back into the Premier League. It's now been 10 years since the Rams were in the top flight and Lampard has a big job on his hands in steering them there in his first season in charge. But he does have a very strong group of players at his disposal, all with lots of Championship experience and he's also added some exciting younger players to go alongside it.
Highly rated duo Mason Mount and Harry Wilson have come in from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively along with in-demand 27 goal Peterborough striker Jack Marriott - who could prove to be a terrific signing. We think a challenge for automatic promotion may be just out of reach for them, but the play-offs are definitely a realistic aim and we can see them being one of the best sides to watch in the second tier this year.
Potentially joining Derby in the hunt for the play-offs are their fierce rivals Nottingham Forest, who've been boosted by some big investment over the summer. The Reds smashed their transfer record to land the highly rated Joao Carvalho from Benfica for an estimated £13m and there's been plenty more to follow him through the door. Tobias Figueiredo, Costel Pantilimon, Hilal Soudani and Lewis Grabban have added an awful lot of strength in depth to their ranks along with re-signing Michael Dawson which has gone down extremely well with the fans.
Forest finished down in 17th position last term but their new found wealth has put an awful lot of pressure on them to succeed so getting in the play-offs is bound to be the aim. Also, in Aitor Karanka they have an excellent manager at this level who won promotion with Middlesbrough back in 2016 so they're bound to be in the top 6 picture should their new signings settle.
Aston Villa are another club who're craving promotion back into the Premier League and they begin life in the Championship for the third successive season following a tough summer. Uncertainty surrounded the club after their play-off final defeat to Fulham back in May with their finances brought into question. Unpaid tax bills and winding up orders left them in a very worrying state, but new owners have come in and there's reasons to be optimistic for Villa fans.
The NSWE Group have made the call to retain Steve Bruce as manager and despite them losing several loan players and facing the possibility of losing one of their prized assets in Jack Grealish, they still have an extremely strong squad. The likes of James Chester and Albert Adomah were fantastic last term and they also have a fully fit Jonathan Kodjia available for selection, who can be prolific at this level. With funds now available Bruce could be active in the final weeks of the campaign and if Villa can hit it off they could be a force to be reckoned with.
At the other end of the table we're expecting newly promoted Rotherham United to find things very difficult on their return to the Championship. Paul Warne did a magnificent job last term in guiding them through the League One play-offs but he has a massive challenge on his hands keeping them in the second tier. The Millers finished rock bottom with just 23 points in the 15/16 season, conceding a massive 98 goals in the process and whilst we expect them to fare better this time around, things will be extremely difficult for them.
Warne has a side low on Championship experience and more importantly quality, with us struggling to see where the goals are going to come from - last seasons top scorer David Ball hit just 8. They've had an underwhelming transfer window too with just Clarke Roberston, Kyle Vassell and Billy Jones coming in on permanent deals, so Warne will need to be busy over the next couple of weeks if they're to strengthen.
Another side who's squad looks short on paper is that of Bolton Wanderers, who could be in for a long hard season. Phil Parkinson's men were involved in a real scrap last term which saw them somehow survive on the final day, with Burton Albion and Barnsley dropping into League One. The club has struggled financially over the last few seasons which has undoubtedly played a part in them struggling to secure several of their top transfer targets, but they have added a few decent players to their ranks.
Experienced duo Marc Wilson and Clayton Donaldson aren't getting any younger but they look like useful additions, however, the arrival Erhun Oztumer from on a free transfer from Walsall could be massive signing. He arrives with a big reputation from his time in League One and he'll really need to hit the ground running if he's to inspire this Bolton side that's lacking quality.