A strong start. That’s the dream, isn’t it? You spend all of July idly thinking of how many points you’ll have by October – just as long as you kick off with a win.
Then August comes and reality hits. The opposition teams are actually better than in your idle, hazy, summer imagination. Especially in the Championship, The Most Unpredictable League On Earth™ – Where Anyone Can Beat Anyone©.
So whose fans should stop dreaming immediately? Who has the toughest start to the campaign? With a little help from Ben Mayhew (@Experimental361 (opens in new tab)), we’ve had a look at the difficulty of every team’s fixture list, according to where the bookies’ expect each club to finish in the league next May.
So what have we found?
Well, it’s no wonder that Frank Lampard could soon be departing Frank Lampard’s Derby County: the Rams face five of the teams expected to finish above them in their first eight matches. If he stuck around, his managerial reputation could be a little less shiny by the time they take on Barnsley in early October – their first match against a predicted bottom-eight side, which kicks off an easy-looking month for them.
Should Derby find themselves considering a managerial change mid-season, pre-Christmas might be the best time to do it. A new face in the dugout would coincide with a run of five games in a row against the league’s weakest sides over the festive period.
Newly-promoted Luton may also find the start of the campaign heavy going: they have to take on four of the likely top eight in August alone.
Blackburn are the only other team to face four of the top sides before September starts: they’ll have played Fulham, Middlesbrough, Cardiff and West Brom by the time the school runs begin.
Sheffield Wednesday, who enjoyed a boost in the second half of last season under new manager Steve Bruce, could enjoy a good start to 2019/20. The strongest side they will face in their first six games are Preston.
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However, February is the big month to watch in the Championship this season, with the EFL planning to somehow squeeze seven rounds of fixtures into a mere 28 days. For Wednesday, that could break their season: they face only two of the bottom eight sides after Valentine’s Day.
Cardiff’s start also looks relatively benign, but should they hope to bounce straight back to the Premier League, it’s their run-in that will grab attention. The Bluebirds face three of their promotion rivals in April.
At the other end of the table (probably), Wigan and Luton could cause enormous changes to the standings on a weekly basis as the season reaches its climax. They both take on four of their fellow likely strugglers once we’re into spring.
The bookies’ favourites to be champions this time around are Leeds, who seemed to lose steam towards the end of last season. Marcelo Bielsa’s side may be looking at March as the key period in their title run-in, when they take on all of last year’s relegated Premier League sides: Huddersfield, Cardiff and Fulham. If they can get through that unscathed, they may avoid the collapse that blighted their April this year.
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