1) Relegated sides could start with bang
With the transfer window open until 5 October, players primed for a move to the Premier League can give their clubs a leg-up in the opening weeks of the season. Bournemouth have so far retained Callum Wilson and Joshua King, while Norwich can still call on Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and Jamal Lewis. Watford, too, could start life in the Championship with Ismaïla Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu. Ivan Toney’s switch to Brentford feels significant in terms of a possible domino effect but Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma, both of whom are valued at around £25m, are in full training and available for action until a club stumps up the money. Whether managers choose to pick such coveted players is another matter.
2) Will Bees sting in shiny new home?
Brentford usher in a new era on Sunday when their striking 17,250-seat stadium, a mile along the Thames from Griffin Park, plays host to its first competitive game, with Wycombe the visitors in the Carabao Cup first round. But it is in the league where their focus lies having tasted play-off failure on a record nine occasions after defeat to Fulham at Wembley last month. The ground, nestled in between snaking railway lines and roads, has 400 square metres of solar roof panels, Marmite pick’n’mix seats favoured by broadcasters, and a sensory room for autistic supporters. The arrival of Toney for a club-record fee of around £6m, plus add-ons, should guarantee goals for the division’s most-prolific side last season.
3) How will Forest fare after capitulation?
This time last season Sabri Lamouchi joked that the Nottingham Forest owner, Evangelos Marinakis, would kill him if he failed to deliver a return to the Premier League after 20 years away and, given the spectacular implosion towards the end of last season, the manager did at least test his patience. Forest spent 207 days in a play-off position but dropped out of the top six after somehow conspiring to lose three of their last five matches and starting the last day with a goal difference advantage of five over Swansea. Lamouchi has stayed put but revamped his coaching staff and strengthened with the arrivals of Lyle Taylor, Luke Freeman and Tyler Blackett, though Matty Cash has departed for Aston Villa.
4) Warnock aims for record ninth promotion
Gone are the days of Middlesbrough’s owner, Steve Gibson, wheeling out the chequebook for big-money signings, but that will not stop Neil Warnock, four matches away from his 1,500th league game as a manager, dreaming of a record ninth promotion, even if his squad looks short of the nous synonymous with his sides. Adam Clayton and the former club captain George Friend have reunited with the former Boro manager Aitor Karanka at Birmingham, leaving Warnock with a squad of promise, including the exciting full-back Djed Spence. Gibson splurged around £50m on new signings when aiming to “smash the league” three years ago but they finished behind Warnock’s Cardiff, who sealed an unlikely promotion on a fraction of that budget.
5) Baptism of fire for assistants stepping up
It is scarcely the most popular move with supporters but internal appointments, perhaps partly a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis, have been all-go during the off-season. Jason Tindall has replaced Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, while Dean Holden has been promoted to head coach at Bristol City. In League One, Jake Buxton has replaced Nigel Clough at Burton, who have a healthy record when it comes to appointing first-time managers, and in League Two Steve Ball and Mike Jackson have taken on the top jobs at Colchester and Tranmere respectively. There mcoould have been another to add to the list, too, had Scunthorpe’s under-23s manager, Russ Wilcox, not turned down the senior job.
6) How will grudge sides react?
This season is a “vengeance tour” for Peterborough, according to their owner, Darragh MacAnthony, after they controversially dropped out of the play-offs when last season was concluded on points per game. Motivation is unlikely to be in short supply when Posh start a seventh successive season in League One with a trip to Accrington. Their recruitment has been typically sound, with Jonson Clarke-Harris returning and Ryan Broom arriving from Cheltenham. Tranmere, too, felt hard done by after slipping into League Two and they will have to bounce back without promotion specialist Micky Mellon, who departed for Dundee United.
7) Is salary cap hurting in Leagues One and Two?
It is one of the more intriguing moves of the summer but Rhys Healey swapping League One for Ligue 2 is perhaps a sign of things to come. The 25-year-old striker, who scored 11 goals in 19 league games for MK Dons last season, is thought to have more than tripled his wages after joining Toulouse on a four-year contract. The appeal of going abroad, where clubs can often offer players more money as well as longer deals, appears more attractive than ever. Armand Gnanduillet traded in Blackpool for the Turkish second-tier side Altay SK, while Christian Burgess left Portsmouth to sign a three-year deal with the Belgian club Union Saint-Gilloise.
8) Can Holloway haul Grimsby to new heights?
When Ian Holloway returned to management in January, he cited Mary Poppins as inspiration, explaining his grand plans to galvanise Grimsby and, having steered them towards mid-table, it will be interesting to see how they fare in his first full season. Eleven players departed during the close season but Holloway, who also acquired around 4% of the club’s shares on taking charge, has beefed up his squad by signing the former Crystal Palace winger Sean Scannell, ex-Swindon midfielder Danny Rose – a serial promotion winner who has won League Two in three of the past five seasons – plus Bilel Mohsni, whom Holloway declared “my leader, my Virgil van Dijk”. The owner, John Fenty, reckons they are on the verge of a “magical period”.
9) Who’d bet on new shirt deal?
Perhaps some of the best business was completed in the off-season, with Swansea signing a shirt sponsorship deal with the city’s university in an attempt to move away from an association with betting companies. Last season 17 of the 24 Championship clubs were sponsored by bookmakers, but this term 13 shirts are associated with gambling platforms, with Blackburn and Bournemouth ditching betting firms as shirt sponsors. Luton have rejected almost £1m in sponsorship deals from betting companies. In July, a House of Lords committee report said clubs should phase out betting sponsors by 2023.
10) More back-to-back promotions?
As the gulf between the Championship and League One appears to be widening, it is heartening that teams promoted out of League Two are more than capable of competing at the top of the third tier. Richie Wellens, Ryan Lowe and David Artell cemented their reputations as three of the most stylish managers in the country after recording promotion with Swindon, Plymouth and Crewe respectively last season and there is no reason the class of 2019-20 cannot ruffle feathers as Luton, Coventry and Wycombe have in recent seasons.
11) Charlton try to weather another storm
By now Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson are used to working miracles, but as they head into another campaign already undermined by off-field trauma, getting things right on the pitch is way down the list of priorities given the past few months have been punctuated by boardroom spats, hearings, protests and now injunctions, with the latest mooted takeover on hold until 9 September at the earliest. The Danish businessman Thomas Sandgaard remains confident of acquiring the club and says he knows supporters weary of the boardroom pass-the-parcel are crying out for stability as their Football League status hangs in the balance.
12) Will Evatt lead Bolton back at first attempt?
Twelve years on from edging out Atlético Madrid to reach the last 16 of the Uefa Cup and 12 months after being rescued from administration, Bolton are limbering up for their second-ever season in the fourth tier. Ian Evatt, who led Barrow out of non-league last season, has been handed the reins and an aggressive recruitment drive has led to some eye-catching arrivals, including Eoin Doyle, who was prolific as Swindon won promotion as champions last season. Their opening-day fixture against Forest Green is a reminder of how far they have fallen.