Championship Preview: Big hitters, big surprises and big Egyptian strikers
They say it's the toughest league in the world to predict, which is bad news for Joe Brewin, who we're asking to have a stab...
While London swoons after its shiny Olympics, Batman beats up Bane and the world clambers for a punch-up with Piers Morgan, clubs in one of the most fascinating leagues in the world have been quietly going about their business.
And thereÃ¢ÂÂs plenty to get excited about. Who will be this yearÃ¢ÂÂs Southampton, grasping-and-a-gruelling their way up from the third tier in just two seasons? Or those surprising rascals you just canÃ¢ÂÂt help but admire? Our water-treaders? Drop-dodgers? TheyÃ¢ÂÂre all here and ready for an action-packed season in EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs second tier.
We start with the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs big hitters. The bookmakers have installed Bolton as favourites but after Owen CoyleÃ¢ÂÂs summer clear-out (no fewer than seven high-earners were released), this is a fresher side. Promising striker Benik Afobe has arrived on loan from Arsenal, while proven campaigners Matt Mills, Keith Andrews (above) and Andy Lonergan have all joined.
Cardiff were handed a huge boost with the permanent addition of Craig Bellamy - weÃ¢ÂÂll stick our neck out and suggest he's probably better than the outgoing Jon Parkin. Also arriving are Jordan Mutch, Heidar Helguson, Joe Lewis and South Korea international Kim Bo-Kyung, all of whom should add to an already talented squad. Can these perennial play-off victims avoid the need for the end of season tension-fest this time around?
And what of Wolves? We arenÃ¢ÂÂt sure whether it's more ludicrous that Sunderland offered ÃÂ£12 million for Steven Fletcher, or that the West Midlands outfit rejected it. Either way, this will be a quite different side to the one seen under Mick McCarthy 12 months ago. Michael Kightly has already fled to Stoke, and few would bet against Matt Jarvis making a swift getaway too. StÃÂ¥le Solbakken has found quick replacements in RennesÃ¢ÂÂ Tongo Doumbia, Icelandic midfielder Bjorn Sigurdarson and Cologne winger Slawomir Peszko.
Next up are last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs big disappointments, Leicester. Nigel Pearson has washed his hands of the defence which shipped 55 goals last season, shifting Mills, Sol Bamba and Lee Peltier off the books. In come Ritchie De Laet, former Liverpool man Zak Whitbread, Matty James, Marko Futacs and exciting France youth international Anthony Knockaert. Their most intriguing acquisition is that of Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy, who joins after a prolific year in the Conference National with the Trawlermen. ItÃ¢ÂÂs been no summer of lavish spending, but Pearson may well require a strong start.
Completing the recently-relegated trio, Blackburn harbour hopes of a quick return to the big time. "We want people who can run, we are not here to entertain big names,Ã¢ÂÂ said global advisor Shebby Singh, after the signings of Nuno Gomes (above) and Danny Murphy at the ripe ages of 36 and 35 respectively. Ã¢ÂÂThis is why teams fail. If this club wants to move forward, you need energy and vigour." Oh. Leon Best, signed from Newcastle for ÃÂ£3 million, will spend the first six months on the sidelines.
Lee ClarkÃ¢ÂÂs Birmingham have been shrewd, bringing on board Darren Ambrose, Peter Lovenkrands and new bad-boy-on-the-block Ravel Morrison. The nucleus of last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs squad is there with Jack Butland, Curtis Davies, Nathan Redmond and Marlon King all looking to continue where they left off.
Business at Hull has earned them a smattering of early admirers, after Steve Bruce wasted no time bringing in Abdoulaye Faye and RangersÃ¢ÂÂ Sone Aluko. Of course itÃ¢ÂÂs been a family affair too, with defender Alex Bruce tagging along for the ride. Striker Nick Proschwitz, signed from SC Paderbon 07, is a particularly interesting prospect.
South coast high-risers Brighton have turned to former Valencia star Bruno Saltor on a free transfer, adding golfÃ¢ÂÂs Wayne Bridge (above) on loan, midfielder Andrew Crofts and goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak. YouÃ¢ÂÂd be forgiven for casting interested glances towards Gus PoyetÃ¢ÂÂs men.
Rent-a-quote Ian Holloway has been oddly mute at Blackpool this summer with a string of unassuming deals, landing midfielders Scott Robertson and Isaiah Osbourne from Dundee United and Hibernian respectively. But the sharp Bristolian has a knack for a bargain. Matt Phillips and Tom Ince have both stuck around, while Kevin Phillips has locked away the zimoframe for at least another season.
Neil WarnockÃ¢ÂÂs been a busy bee at Leeds. Robert Snodgrass was finally sold to Norwich Ã¢ÂÂ but have no fear, El Hadj Diouf is here. Remember this? Ã¢ÂÂI was going to call him a sewer rat but that might be insulting the sewer rats,Ã¢ÂÂ said Warnock on his new signing just last year. Ã¢ÂÂI think heÃ¢ÂÂs the lowest of the low.Ã¢ÂÂ Get in line, Carlos Tevez. More incomings have seen the aforementioned Peltier, Paddy Kenny, David Norris and Jason Pearce arrive, to name but a few.
Nottingham Forest will hope new ownership can improve last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs hideous campaign Ã¢ÂÂ and the early signs look promising. New manager Sean OÃ¢ÂÂDriscoll has snapped up last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs successful loanee Adlene Guedioura, Greg Halford, Dan Harding and Liverpool youngster Daniel Ayala on loan.
Newly-promoted Huddersfield are hanging onto star man Jordan Rhodes for dear life and have done much to encourage a stay for the young striker. Adam Clayton, Sean Scannell, Oliver Norwood and Paul Dixon are just four of Simon GraysonÃ¢ÂÂs notable captures.
Tony MowbrayÃ¢ÂÂs Middlesbrough have ripped up the manual and started again, swooping for hometown sick note Jonathan Woodgate, highly-rated winger Mustapha Carayol and Grant Leadbitter on a shoestring budget. ItÃ¢ÂÂs been a quiet summer at Ipswich, meanwhile, who have bolstered their permeable backline with the additions of Scott Loach and centre back Luke Chambers.
Burnley have been forced to cope with the loss of talismanic striker Jay Rodriguez but look to have made one of the signings of the summer in centre back Jason Shackell from Derby, who themselves have enjoyed a busy summer. The Rams have added Richard Keogh, James OÃ¢ÂÂConnor and exciting winger Michael Jacobs to the ranks.
At Vicarage Road, Watford appear to have gone slightly mad. New ownership under the Pozzo family saw manager Sean Dyche chopped (harshly), making way for Gianfranco Zola. The family, who also own Udinese and Granada, have signed up several of the two clubsÃ¢ÂÂ most promising young talents on loan. Adrian MariappaÃ¢ÂÂs departure to Reading was significant but Fitz Hall and Manuel Almunia (above) appear to be useful pieces of business.
Joel Ward, Peter Ramage and Aaron Wilbraham have arrived at Crystal Palace, while Sheffield Wednesday have landed last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs loanee Michail Antonio from Reading after a hugely promising spell at Hillsborough. ItÃ¢ÂÂs been a busy one for Dave Jones, who has also snared Chris Kirkland, Joe Mattock and Chris Maguire alongside foreign imports Nejc Pecnik and Diogo Amado.
Bristol City have captured Tom Heaton, Paul Anderson and former Manchester City left back Greg Cunningham, while leaky Peterborough will need to get it right at the back after another generous campaign. In comes Torquay goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, while Danny Swanson, Michael Bostwick, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and young striker Jonson Clarke-Harris all provide new options further forward.
QPRÃ¢ÂÂs Danny Shittu has blown away the cobwebs to join Millwall. Financial constraints at Charlton have forced a quiet summer on manager Chris Powell, although former Rangers man Salim Kerkar has joined, alongside Lawrie Wilson and youngster Jordan Cook.
Finally, it could be a season of struggle for relegation favourites Barnsley. The Tykes raised plenty of chuckles with the free-transfer capture 'big' Egyptian striker, Mido, who is already sidelined after rupturing a hamstring. The loss of Jacob Butterfield will be felt, although Tomasz Cywka, Toni Silva and Kelvin Etuhu have arrived.
But what do we know? This is the unpredictable melee of the Championship, where anything goes. Apparently thereÃ¢ÂÂs even the possibility of some football breaking out.
TITLE ODDS from FourFourTwo's betting partner, Coral
Nottm Forest 14/1
Sheff Wed 28/1
Bristol City 80/1
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