Football is back! This weekend the EFL returns and Michelle Owen takes a look at the hopeful clubs across all three leagues.
Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull will all hope for a swift return to the Premier League, but the Championship is full of ‘big’ clubs with top flight ambitions. It took Middlesbrough seven years to return to the Premier League last time they were relegated. Garry Monk is now at the helm and has already spent £9m on Martin Braithwaite – a price tag which comes with an expectation of goals – in the hope they can return to the top a lot quicker this time around. Sunderland have lost two key players in Jermaine Defoe and Jordan Pickford but in new manager Simon Grayson they have a man who knows about winning promotion.
As for Hull, I have to admit I know very little about their new Russian manager Leonid Slutsky, but losing Tom Huddlestone and Andy Robertson will leave them short unless replacements come in.
Leeds have a new owner, Andrea Radrizziani who will work alongside new boss Thomas Christiansen. It is well known previous owner Massimo Cellino was rather trigger happy, so with a new owner in place Leeds fans will be hoping stability and good times return to Elland Road. Last season Huddersfield proved to be the surprise package and are now looking forward to life in the Premier League, while Derby County and Aston Villa failed to live up to the pre-season hype. I’d expect new club captain John Terry will inspire the Villa dressing room, whilst Midlands neighbours Birmingham City have Harry Redknapp at the helm whose experience taking QPR up could prove pivotal.
Promoted teams Bolton, Sheffield Utd and Milwall will be hard pressed to get near the play-offs. Meanwhile Neil Warnock has stated numerous times that his aim this season with Cardiff City is promotion. He has a few new signings under his belt including flair player Lee Tomlin from Bristol City. At Bristol City, boss Lee Johnson will be keen to avoid a repeat of the previous two seasons where the club have languished around the relegation places too long for comfort. Defender Aden Flint has been linked with a move away and as one of City’s key players it is essential that he stays. Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham popped up with a number of crucial goals for City last season, something they will need to source from elsewhere this time round.
The Championship is often labelled as the most difficult league to get out of (upwards, anyway!) and this season will be no different with so many big and competitive teams battling it out. If a team can put a decent run together after Christmas, they will find themselves right up there challenging.
A number of teams in League One will fancy promotion. Scunthorpe United seemed certain to go up last season but hit a run of bad form that ultimately cost them. They have lost two important players in Luke Daniels and Stephen Dawson and manager Graham Alexander will need to lift his squad after such disappointment.
Wigan find themselves in League One following relegation. In new manager Paul Cook they have a man who guided Portsmouth to promotion last season from League Two. His passion could reinvigorate the club, they have made a great signing in Chey Dunkey from Oxford United, and should be right up there come the end of the season.
Rotherham United were also relegated from the Championship after finishing with just 23 points. That must have been hugely demoralising, and having conceded 98 goals they will need to sure up their leaky defence. The permanent signing of Semi Ajayi looks a good one.
Blackburn Rovers are the first Premier League title-winners to be relegated to English football’s third tier – a record that they won’t be happy to hold. Fans are unhappy with their owners The Venkys, who slashed the club’s budget last season, however they have a very strong potential starting 11. Signing from Cardiff, Peter Whittingham is a quality player, excellent on the ball and a free kick specialist. Ben Gladwin is also very good from what I saw of him at Swindon and QPR, and with Danny Graham up front you’d expect plenty of goals at this level. I would expect Rovers to bounce back at the first attempt.
Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Doncaster and Blackpool are all new boys. I have covered Plymouth Argyle a lot and their best bit of business this summer has been keeping hold of Graham Carey. He is not only their best player, but was the best player in League Two last season. I suspect manager Derek Adams has asked him to see where Argyle’s journey goes this season, and I can see them competing for a play-off spot
League Two can be so cruel. There were incredible scenes as Newport County survived and Hartlepool United went down on the last day. Newport County look like one of the favourites to go down this season, but they’ll be used to that – since they returned to the football league in 2013 they always have been. Mike Flynn masterminded their great escape last year but he has one of the smallest budgets in the division. Matt Dolan looks a great addition but Flynn will be anxious to add more depth to his squad.
Brothers Danny and Nicky Cowley guided Lincoln City to promotion last season, as well as their notorious FA cup run. They will look to carry their momentum through League Two similar to how Bristol Rovers, Crawley and Fleetwood have done before them. Ollie Palmer is a really decent signing too.
Luton Town look a strong bet for promotion and went agonisingly close last year, losing in the play-off semi finals 6-5 on aggregate to Blackpool. They have lost two of their star performers in Jack Marriott and Cameron McGeehan, but have kept hold of proven goal scorer Danny Hylton and signed Crawley Town striker James Collins who was scoring for fun last year. With goals expected, they could do well once more and perhaps grasp that illusive place in League One.
Mansfield Town finished last season strongly and will be hoping to carry that momentum through to the new season. Manager Steve Evans is also no stranger to promotion, he’s brought in 13 new players, with Jacob Mellis looking a particularly good signing.
Swindon Town were relegated from League One last season. New manager David Flitcroft won promotion with Bury in 2015 and that experience will help in his new job. They will need to replace Jonathan Obika’s goals quickly is they want to bounce straight back up.
Exeter City had a dismal start to last season but they turned it around to finish in the play-offs – only to lose out to Blackpool in the final. They were a joy to watch at times but have lost Ollie Watkins to Brentford and will need to replace him swiftly. Paul Tisdale will have to pick his squad back up after such a short break.
Forest Green Rovers are looking forward to their first ever season in the football league. Mark Cooper tends to get his teams playing possession football, and if they can do this well and get more goals out of Christian Doidge they could surprise a few people. Their neighbours Cheltenham Town have been dealt a blow by losing Billy Walters, who scored 16 goals for them last season. Manager Gary Johnson may turn to new signing Jerrell Sellars for some of those goals but the bookies have them as one of the main contenders to go down.
I wish I could go into every single team in more depth but even the most educated of predictions quite often turn out to be wrong – after all didn’t someone say Huddersfield would be relegated last season?!
You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michelleowen7