Team-by-team guide ahead of 2021/22 Championship season

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The 2021-22 Sky Bet Championship season launches later this week, with unrestricted crowds set to return for the first time since March 2020.

Bournemouth take on West Brom at the Vitality Stadium on Friday night in the new campaign’s opening fixture.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at each club’s chances.

Barnsley

Barnsley were one of English football’s surprise packages last season as their unlikely promotion dream ended in the play-offs, but head coach Valerien Ismael has departed to West Brom and taken assistant Adam Murray and captain Alex Mowatt with him. New boss, Austrian Markus Schopp, faces an almighty task if the Reds are to challenge again.

Prediction: Mid-table finish

Valerien Ismael left Barnsley to become West Brom manager in June
Valerien Ismael left Barnsley to become West Brom manager in June (Mike Egerton/PA)

Birmingham

Lee Bowyer guided Birmingham to safety after replacing Aitor Karanka towards the end of last season and must steer them clear of yet another relegation battle on a smaller playing budget than his Spanish predecessor.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battle

Blackburn

Blackburn appeared on course for the play-offs in January last season only to fall away due to injuries and inconsistency. The pressure is on manager Tony Mowbray to get them back on an upward curve in his fourth full season in charge. Bradley Dack’s second cruciate knee ligament injury in 15 months in March was a hammer blow.

Prediction: Mid-table

Blackpool

Blackpool owner Simon Sadler has brought much-needed stability and their revival gained impetus under former Liverpool Under-23s coach Neil Critchley last season. They won 15 of their last 26 League One games before winning the play-offs. Stuart McCall has joined as assistant head coach, but this could be a step too far for the Seasiders.

Prediction: Relegation

Bournemouth

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Scott Parker said Bournemouth were “six or seven” players short soon after replacing Jonathan Woodgate as manager in June. The Cherries’ bid to bounce straight back to the Premier League ended in play-off disappointment last season and much depends on the former Fulham boss’ success in the transfer market, but they will be challenging again.

Prediction: Play-offs

Bristol City

Nigel Pearson released 12 players in May as his rebuilding task continues. The Robins must start over again in their bid for Premier League football and fans’ patience is wearing thin. Pearson, who replaced Dean Holden in February, won top-flight promotion with Leicester and has drafted in former Foxes pair Danny Simpson and Andy King, but City are a club in transition.

Prediction: Bottom-half finish

Cardiff

Cardiff climbed from 15th to challenge for a play-off place last season after Mick McCarthy joined in January and will be aiming for a top-six finish this time around. Former Wolves boss McCarthy shored up the Bluebirds’ defence and the arrival of Republic of Ireland forward James Collins should ease the burden on new strike partner Kieffer Moore.

Prediction: Play-offs

James Collins is hoping to form a prolific partnership with Kieffer Moore at Cardiff
James Collins is hoping to form a prolific partnership with Kieffer Moore at Cardiff (Brian Lawless/PA)

Coventry

Coventry’s transfer embargo was lifted in May and several astute signings have boosted their bid to establish themselves in the second tier. Mark Robins has guided them to two promotions since returning as manager in 2017 and they will also be back at their home stadium, the Ricoh Arena, after ground-sharing for two years at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s.

Prediction: Mid-table

Derby

Wayne Rooney kept Derby up by the skin of their teeth last season and although they have been given permission to sign out-of-contract players, the club’s transfer embargo has left them struggling to assemble a squad. With added uncertainty over the club’s future ownership, Rooney’s only aim this campaign will be to preserve the Rams’ Championship status.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battle

Fulham

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Fulham will be heavily backed to maintain their ‘yo-yo’ tag after two Premier League promotions and two relegations in the last four years. Former Everton and Watford boss Marco Silva has inherited a squad dotted with top-flight quality and another £40million-plus in parachute payments leaves them in a strong position to bounce straight back.

Prediction: Automatic promotion

Huddersfield

Huddersfield have endured two relegation battles since dropping out of the Premier League and conceded most goals in the Championship last season. Chelsea teenager Levi Colwill, Josh Ruffels, Matty Pearson and Ollie Turton have been drafted in to shore up their defence and head coach Carlos Corberan will be aiming for a top-half finish in his second campaign in charge.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battle

Hull

Hull bounced back to the second tier at the first attempt as League One champions, but a loan from the English Football League and Premier League in order to keep their squad intact has left them operating under financial restrictions, including a transfer embargo, and that will make life difficult for Grant McCann’s side in their bid to consolidate.

Prediction: Relegation

Luton

Hatters boss Nathan Jones has been busy in the transfer market this summer in his attempt to add more quality to his squad. Luton, in League Two three years ago, finished in the top half of the table last season after a strong finish and Jones will be keen for his side to maintain their impressive year-on-year improvement, but that could prove beyond them this time around.

Prediction: Bottom-half finish

Middlesbrough

Promotion specialist Neil Warnock had Middlesbrough flirting with the play-offs in his first season in charge and some key additions to his squad should see them launch a genuine top-six challenge. Summer signings Uche Ikpeazu, Sammy Ameobi and Matt Crooks should play big roles as Warnock chases a record-extending ninth promotion.

Prediction: Play-offs

Neil Warnock is chasing a ninth promotion as a Football League manager
Neil Warnock is chasing a ninth promotion as a Football League manager (Isaac Parkin/PA)

Millwall

Gary Rowett is expecting Millwall to kick on following last season’s 11th-placed finish. The Lions have strengthened in key areas – Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard and Stoke forward Benik Afobe have arrived on season-long loans. Rowett will be hoping the fans’ return will make a difference and help turn the Den back into a fortress.

Prediction: Mid-table

Nottingham Forest

Forest never recovered after making a dreadful start last season and boss Chris Hughton must rebuild at the City Ground before gauging whether they can launch a play-off challenge. Hughton, who has won Premier League promotion with Newcastle and Brighton, has plenty of work still to do in this summer’s transfer market.

Prediction: Mid-table

Peterborough

Peterborough ended an eight-year absence from the second tier after sealing a fourth promotion under manager Darren Ferguson. They were top scorers in League One last season and former striker Jack Marriott and midfielder Jorge Grant are among their new arrivals. But Championship defences are a different proposition and the Posh may lack the strength in depth to overcome a relegation dogfight at this level.

Prediction: Relegation

Preston

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Frankie McAvoy has been rewarded with the permanent manager’s job after replacing Alex Neil towards the end of last season and losing only one of his eight games in charge. Former Preston midfielder Paul Gallagher will assist as first-team coach, but the loss of summer signing Izzy Brown due to a ruptured Achilles is a big setback.

Prediction: Bottom-half finish

QPR

Mark Warburton’s side were among the Championship’s strongest finishers last season and are expected to use the on-field stability gained under the former Brentford and Rangers boss as a springboard for a play-off push. QPR have plenty of flair players and new arrivals have added strength in depth to their defence.

Prediction: Play-off challengers

Reading

Reading were on course for a play-off place last season but failed to win any of their last six matches. Serbian Veljko Paunovic made a big impression in his first campaign in charge and their progress this time around depends on whether they can replace Michael Olise and Omar Richards, who have joined Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich respectively.

Prediction: Top-half finish

Sheffield United

Slavisa Jokanovic, the club’s first overseas manager, has been tasked with leading the club straight back to the Premier League. He has won promotion to the top flight twice before, with Watford and Fulham, and can restore self-belief into a squad that finished ninth in the Premier League two seasons ago. The Blades have enough quality and hunger to rise again.

Prediction: Automatic promotion

Stoke

Stoke sat two points off the play-off places in January before losing momentum, but enjoyed their best season since relegation in 2018. The return of Tyrese Campbell and Alfie Doughty from injury will be like two new signings and if the Potters can add two or three more, a top-six finish will be their target.

Prediction: Mid-table

Swansea

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Russell Martin was only announced as the Swans’ new boss on Sunday, with the opening fixture of the season against Blackburn looming. Steve Cooper’s replacement arrives with a reputation for playing attractive, attacking football and should get the Swans firing once he settles in. Martin must lift the players following a second successive play-off defeat to Brentford.

Prediction: Play-off challengers

West Brom

The Baggies’ joint-record fifth Premier League relegation has not stopped them being tipped for another promotion. New boss Valerien Ismael worked wonders at Barnsley last season, but Sam Johnstone and Matheus Pereira are expected to leave and although it remains to be seen how his new charges cope with his demands, they are stronger than most of their rivals.

Prediction: Promotion via play-offs

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