Automatic promotion contenders
After a few rotten seasons, Stoke should be looking up under Michael O’Neill. One of his biggest calls was dropping Jack Butland in favour of Adam Davies, who is poised to start the season as the first-choice goalkeeper. Having augmented an experienced squad with a couple of shrewd additions from Sheffield Wednesday in Morgan Fox and Steven Fletcher, Stoke should pack a punch.
The three teams relegated from the Premier League have retained an impressive nucleus and Norwich’s sporting director, Stuart Webber, has long been preparing for this eventuality after admitting they sent Daniel Farke “into war without a gun” last season. They can still call on 10 of the 11 players who won the Championship in 2019 and have a promising cocktail of talent, with Sam McCallum, the likely replacement for Jamal Lewis at left-back, teenagers Adam Idah and Bali Mumba, plus Oliver Skipp, the Tottenham loanee, among the most exciting prospects.
It has been another summer of change at Watford but while they head into the season with Vladimir Ivic in the dugout a spine of familiar faces remain, including Ben Foster, Craig Dawson and Will Hughes, with the wily Glenn Murray a trusty source of goals in this division.
Brentford go into the season without top-scorer Ollie Watkins following his £28m departure to Aston Villa but will be confident of pushing for promotion again having landed Ivan Toney from Peterborough at the seventh time of asking. Toney scored 40 goals across two seasons in League One and will add an aerial presence.
Life without Eddie Howe begins for Bournemouth but a sense of continuity remains given his longstanding assistant Jason Tindall is at the helm. The club sanctioned the sales of Nathan Aké, Aaron Ramsdale and Callum Wilson for a combined total of almost £80m but head into the season with a healthy core of players who have been here before. They are keen to build a promotion push around Lloyd Kelly and David Brooks, who missed almost all of last season through injury. Their hopes of an instant return depend on Dominic Solanke delivering away from the spotlight.
Neil Harris got Cardiff into the play-offs last season and will feel he can guide them to another push with the arrival of the Wales striker Kieffer Moore seemingly a perfect fit for a team shy of a goalscorer. Along the M4, Steve Cooper has leaned on his connections to bring Morgan Gibbs-White to Swansea on loan from Wolves and lure Marc Guehi back from Chelsea, but it is difficult to argue they are better equipped to go one step further given Rhian Brewster’s return to Liverpool.
Millwall have made impressive strides under Gary Rowett but how high they fly may hinge on 18-year-old Troy Parrott thriving on loan from Spurs given they have often found goals hard to come by. Preston, meanwhile, are another year wiser and could threaten.
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Bristol City have boosted a healthy squad, adding Chris Martin and Chris Brunt, who have four promotions from this division and almost 1,000 league games between them, alongside Alfie Mawson and Steven Sessegnon on loan from Fulham. After falling short under Lee Johnson, finding a winning formula now rests with his former right-hand man, Dean Holden.
Derby’s young full-backs Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe may have departed for the Premier League but that will not stop the club’s attempts to return there, with Louie Sibley and Max Bird destined to flourish in their first full seasons. Their big rivals Nottingham Forest have beefed up their squad with Championship experience following last season’s capitulation.
Things quickly went south for Sheffield Wednesday last season and unless they get to work on reversing their 12-point deduction this campaign looks set to be a slog, though in Barry Bannan and Adam Reach they possess match-winners.
Birmingham, another club who have sparred with the Football League over financial misconduct in recent seasons, have backed Aitor Karanka following the sale of Jude Bellingham but having flirted with relegation for the past four seasons they remain reliant on Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Meanwhile, Coventry, who will again ground-share St Andrew’s with Birmingham, are arguably the best equipped of the teams making the leap out of League One, with Tyler Walker a shrewd pick-up from Forest.
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Reading’s close season was hardly ideal given they sacked Mark Bowen via the back door and replaced him with Veljko Paunovic, who did not take charge of his first training session until Tuesday owing to quarantine regulations.
Queens Park Rangers have lost their jewel in the crown in Eberechi Eze and have concerns in defence – only Hull and Luton conceded more goals last season.
Having yo-yoed in and out of this division in recent years, Paul Warne is desperate for Rotherham to stick this time, but none of their forwards inspire great confidence. And there there is Wycombe, promoted against the odds and with manager Gareth Ainsworth saying his side will adopt a “suck it and see” approach in their first season at this level.
Three players to watch
Callum Styles, Barnsley The tigerish 20-year-old kick-started Barnsley’s great escape last season by opening the scoring at Brentford and looks set to make another splash after signing an improved contract until 2023. He has shone at left wing-back under Gerhard Struber but is also comfortable in midfield.
Marcus Forss, Brentford The 21-year-old Finn scored 11 goals in 18 games for AFC Wimbledon in League One before his season was curtailed by injury and, alongside Toney, could prove a real threat.
Tyrese Campbell, Stoke The son of former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin, the 20-year-old is determined to break into double figures after scoring nine goals last season in 18 starts. Campbell, who spent five months on loan at Shrewsbury in 2018-19, signed a new four and a half year contract with Stoke in January.