24. Sheffield Wednesday
Hemmed in by a transfer embargo, Sheffield Wednesday have focused on offloading fringe players from a large squad as they look to get back in line with the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
Manager Jos Luhukay has been unable to bring anyone in so far but the Owls still have enough quality to compete. Keiren Westwood, undoubtedly the club’s best goalkeeper, remains curiously sidelined with no explanation.
Under the widely despised Assem Allam, cost-cutting remains the focus at Hull following relegation from the top flight. Several staple members of the first-team squad left on free transfers, with Abel Hernandez, Michael Dawson and David Meyler among them.
An entirely new centre-half pairing of Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs will take time to develop an understanding, but worries already abound with another difficult season in store.
A 5-1 loss to Brentford on the opening day was a reminder of the challenge that Rotherham face to stay in the Championship. There were plenty of arrivals to help them compete, but no money spent on transfer fees as the Millers focused on free transfers and loanees.
Sean Raggett will be relishing the chance to prove himself at a higher level after his remarkable rise with Lincoln City, while ex-Sunderland defender Billy Jones adds much-needed experience. But it’s unlikely to be enough.
Paul Clement has tried to stamp his mark on a Reading team with limited budget, but ageing Republic of Ireland internationals John O’Shea and David Meyler make for uninspiring additions.
The fee for Sam Baldock, believed to be in the region of £3 million, is worryingly high for a striker who has played infrequently – and often ineffectively – in recent years. At least Andy Yiadom and Marc McNulty, free transfers from Barnsley and Coventry respectively, are far more in the required mould.
20. Sheffield United
Driven by the momentum of winning League One with Chris Wilder’s attacking philosophy, Sheffield United made a seamless return to the Championship that had them in play-off contention until they faded away in the final weeks of the season.
They’re unlikely to replicate that sterling effort this time around as Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn looks to fulfil the creative void left by David Brooks’s move to Bournemouth. Spending a club record £4 million on Brentford’s John Egan seems wildly misplaced.
Compared to the expensive and unfocused efforts of last season, the strict terms of a transfer embargo have forced the Blues to operate in a more considered and frugal fashion. A flurry of late arrivals added depth to the squad, if not necessarily the level of quality many supporters had hoped for.
With David Stockdale and Tomasz Kuszczak exiled from the first team, the goalkeeping situation remains a concern, as does the lack of a ball-playing central midfielder. Union Berlin left-back Kristian Pedersen is the standout signing.
A bit of peace and quiet was called for after a manic few years got the R’s no closer to a Premier League return. The more things changed, the more they seemed to stay the same as mid-table safety became the height of their ambitions.
That situation is unlikely to improve under a restricted Steve McClaren, although a bit of continuity could serve them well after that costly – and ultimately unsuccessful – churn. Toni Leistner is a positive addition but quality is lacking in other areas.
After overseeing a dramatic final-day escape from relegation, Phil Parkinson has undertaken a complete squad overhaul. Financial restrictions mean Bolton have had to raid the bargain bins, signing just one player for a fee – Northern Ireland international Josh Magennis.
Another 12 have arrived on free transfers, many with a wealth of Championship experience (see Marc Wilson, Gary O’Neill, Jack Hobbs and Clayton Donaldson), after a similar number were released. Endeavour and professionalism certainly won’t be lacking, even if a touch of technical quality – Erhun Oztumer aside – may well be.
Deprived of their two biggest attacking threats after James Maddison and Josh Murphy left for Premier League clubs, Norwich look substantially weaker for Daniel Farke’s second season in charge.
Much will be expected of their replacements, Emiliano Buendia and Ben Marshall, as Farke has placed less emphasis on signings from Germany. Jordan Rhodes will hope to rediscover his scoring touch away from Sheffield Wednesday, and Tim Krul replaces Angus Gunn in goal.
After Neil Harris’s unheralded squad enjoyed a surprise tilt at the play-offs, it’s difficult to know what to expect from Millwall in their second season back in the Championship. In terms of transfer business, there hasn’t been much to get either excited or worried about.
The squad remains largely unchanged aside from Murray Wallace and Jiri Skalak, who have started both games on the bench so far, but Harris has understandably seen no need for major changes.
The Latics’ last stay in the Championship was a disappointingly brief one, but after making an immediate return under Paul Cook, they look much better prepared to avoid trouble this time around.
The ex-Portsmouth chief has largely kept faith with the players who stormed to the League One title, although youngsters Cedric Kipre and Antonee Robinson (who impressed at Bolton last year) have been blooded in defence. Bringing Christian Walton back on loan for another season was a smart move.
Whispers about the possibility of ‘doing a Sunderland’ started making the rounds as the season approached, after Graham Potter was unable to push through the signings he felt were needed.
That panic has subsided since Bersant Celina, Joel Asoro and Barrie McKay joined to perk up a squad that looked a little uninspiring on paper. Alfie Mawson, Lukasz Fabianski and Sam Clucas were among the biggest departures, but Swansea rediscovering their swagger could be this summer’s most significant development.
Tony Pulis continues to mould the Middlesbrough squad in his image, targeting strapping physical specimens who are familiar with the demands of the second tier. Aden Flint is a brute of a centre-half with an impressive goalscoring record, while Jordan Hugill is ideally suited to a direct approach.
The losses of Adama Traore and Ben Gibson couldn’t be helped considering the money on offer, but the decision to cash in on Patrick Bamford – who rediscovered some of his best form during the second half of last season – remains somewhat mystifying.
Matej Vydra, the Championship’s leading goalscorer last season, left to join Burnley for £12 million – but Derby aren’t short of attacking options. Another two strikers arrived in the form of Jack Marriott, who enjoyed an excellent year at Peterborough; and Martyn Waghorn, who looks massively overvalued given his age and patchy record at this level.
Elsewhere, much is expected of exciting young loanees Harry Wilson, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount in particular.
10. Aston Villa
After losing to Fulham in the play-off final, the club’s financial situation looked utterly ruinous until some much-needed outside investment was secured at the end of July.
Although Villa are operating on a much tighter budget than in the previous two years, they made a couple of astute signings in John McGinn and Norwegian goalkeeper Orjan Nyland, while successfully warding off interest in star man Jack Grealish.
9. Nottingham Forest
Just like Wolves last season, it’s difficult to tell what might happen with Nottingham Forest’s summer of Portuguese-infused excess. The fingerprints of Jorge Mendes are all over the club’s transfer activity, which featured high-profile loan deals and expensive statement signings.
The level of technical quality available to Aitor Karanka has undoubtedly increased, but how the ambitious arrivals will blend together with a core of solid Championship players remains to be seen.
Building on last season’s unexpected play-off push, Alex Neil has looked to subtly tweak his squad rather than make more substantial changes. There are no big-name signings but some with great potential, like Oxford’s Ryan Ledson and Exeter centre-back Jordan Storey, who will be eased into the side.
The lack of a goalscoring focal point since the departure of Jordan Hugill to West Ham remains the major concern.
7. Bristol City
Despite losing three of their star players in the form of Bobby Reid, Aden Flint and Joe Bryan for sizeable fees, Bristol City were able to enhance the depth of their squad with some astute signings.
Hakeeb Adelakun (Scunthorpe) and Mohamed Eisa (Cheltenham) had impressed at lower levels and will be confident of making the step up, while Adam Webster, Andreas Weimann, Jack Hunt and Marley Watkins are well established in the Championship.
Having felt as though they were in a rut for a number of seasons, with little in the way of progress or enjoyment, Ipswich supporters got the change that so many were crying out for when Mick McCarthy brusquely left back in April.
Fresh from taking Shrewsbury to Wembley twice (although unsuccessful on both occasions), replacement Paul Hurst has reinvigorated the club. Hungry lower-league players with a point to prove were targeted in the summer, funded by the sales of Martyn Waghorn, Adam Webster and Joe Garner. Cautious optimism is justified.
5. West Brom
Lowering the cost and age profile of his squad were major priorities for Darren Moore once relegation was confirmed. He’s managed to do both with minimal fuss, leaving West Brom well placed to challenge for promotion.
Jay Rodriguez remains at The Hawthorns despite interest from former club Burnley, and a clever loan swap involving Salomon Rondon has added Dwight Gayle into the mix. Another loanee, Leicester’s Harvey Barnes, has already had an impact with two fine goals, and goalkeeper Sam Johnstone is an able to replacement for Ben Foster with room to improve.
Tony Mowbray’s transfer activity has emphasised the importance of youth and energy, with all four signings aged 23 or younger. After a seemingly endless cycle of loan deals, Adam Armstrong has elected to make Ewood Park his home for the next four years, but will have to bide his time behind Danny Graham.
Jacob Davenport and Joe Rothwell are another couple of good long-term investments, while Chelsea loanee Kasey Palmer will make for a thrilling temporary addition if he can recapture the form he enjoyed in Huddersfield’s promotion season.
The most remarkable thing about Leeds opening the season with two commanding victories over promotion favourites is that they were achieved with just one new face in the starting line-up – Wolves left-back Barry Douglas; an inspired signing after his almighty returns in the Championship last season.
The impact of Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching is already being felt, and Jack Harrison, Lewis Baker and Patrick Bamford are sure to feature prominently as the season progresses. They have far too much quality not to.
Where fellow relegated sides West Brom and Swansea have taken a more cautious approach to living within their vastly-reduced means, Stoke have spent a considerable amount in pursuit of an immediate return.
Although Xherdan Shaqiri and Ramadan Sobhi left, many high earners remain, including Joe Allen and Jack Butland. Tom Ince and Benik Afobe are devastatingly effective at Championship level and Oghenekaro Etebo promises much.
Compared to previous transfer windows, Brentford successfully held on to their prized assets while diligently adding to a stock of promising youngsters.
Ollie Watkins, Chris Mepham and Ryan Woods remaining at Griffin Park would have made for a good summer even without the additions of Ezri Konsa, Said Benrahma, Julian Jeanvier and the returning Moses Odubajo. The sales of John Egan and Florian Jozefzoon were sanctioned to no negative effect.
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