Predicting the Championship's 2018-19 Top 7

 
 
Costel Pantilimon of Nottingham Forest during the pre season friendly match between Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth at City Ground on July 28, 2018 in Nottingham, England.

The Championship has long been a division which is wide open. There is a long history of teams winning promotion against the odds, and much-fancied sides struggling - and even getting relegated.

Therefore, predicting the league tends to be a dangerous game, but I don’t believe it is as tight as it once was, and I think all relegated Premier League clubs from this season onwards should really fancy their chances.

Here are our predictions for the Championship top 7 at the end of the season

7. Nottingham Forest

In seventh place, narrowly missing out on a play-off spot, we have gone for Nottingham Forest. Down in the doldrums for so long now, it is almost two decades since Forest last played top flight football, and they finished 17th last season, a slight improvement on 21st the season before that. There’s a different feeling going into the 2018-19 campaign at the City Ground, though, with manager Aitor Karanka having been given considerable backing in the transfer window, most notably £13 million Benfica signing Joao Carvalho, but also the likes of Lewis Grabban and Hilal Soudani. All in all, we reckon Forest will be up there all season, and it’ll be touch and go for them with regards to the play-offs.

6. Swansea City

Lee Evans of Sheffield United vies for possession with Barrie McKay of Swansea City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield United and Swansea City at Bramall Lane on...Lee Evans of Sheffield United vies for possession with Barrie McKay of Swansea City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield United and Swansea City at Bramall Lane on...

A terribly tricky team to predict going into this season, the main doubt surrounding Swansea City is in regards to their manager. Graham Potter did a magnificent job in Sweden with Ostersunds, but his only managerial experience in England was coaching the university teams at the University of Hull and Leeds Met.

Now, similar sentiments could be expressed of Nuno Espirito Santo, but the Championship can be dangerous ground for inexperienced bosses, and Potter will have to learn a lot and learn fast. Despite a few notable departures, the Swans themselves will have a thoroughly capable squad, albeit a little lacking in Championship experience. I think they’ll be too inconsistent to make the automatic places, but Swansea could be a really dangerous proposition if they hit form going into the play-off’s.

5. Derby County

Another talented squad and another team with a wholly inexperienced manager (Graham Potter is a seasoned pro in comparison to Frank Lampard although the Chelsea legend does have a wealth of experience at the highest level as a player). Derby made the play-offs under Gary Rowett last season, and they look a stronger team on paper this term. The additions of Mason Mount from Chelsea and particularly Harry Wilson from Liverpool on-loan are truly inspired pieces of business, and they will make the Rams a real threat going forward, with older heads like Curtis Davies, Richard Keogh and Tom Huddlestone more than capable of anchoring the side at the back. Again, I think Derby will lack consistency, but they’ve comfortably got enough talent to make the top six.

4. Aston Villa

Birkir Bjarnason of Aston Villa during the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Aston Villa at KCOM Stadium on August 6, 2018 in Hull, England.Birkir Bjarnason of Aston Villa during the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Aston Villa at KCOM Stadium on August 6, 2018 in Hull, England.

“It’s going to be a real challenge,” “We’ll just have to go out and give it all we’ve got,” these are the kind of soundbites we’ve been hearing from Steve Bruce in the build-up to this season, but I’d take no notice of it. That’s just an experienced pro trying to manage expectations at a huge football club like Aston Villa, and old Brucey did the exact same thing at the likes of Hull and Wigan.

Aston Villa may have had to reign in their transfer expenditure over the last two seasons, but they still have a hefty wage bill and some real talent. James Chester is arguably the best centre-back in the division, Hogan, Kodjia and McCormack are all proven goal scorers at this level, and the rest of the squad is made up of largely experienced and thoroughly capable footballers.

Villa are probably just lacking those final touches to make them a top two side, but the lowered expectations should actually help them, and I’m backing them to make the play-offs once again.

3. West Brom

West Brom have a terrific squad at this level, combining masses of experience with some genuine talent and exciting young prospects. They could still lose the likes of Salomon Rondon and Nacer Chadli, but even then, their squad still ranks among the best in the division. The Baggies also have a manager short on first team managerial experience, but he seems to have the players thoroughly on side, for now at least. West Brom could well go up automatically, but my prediction has them very narrowly missing out in third place.

2. Middlesbrough

Francisco da Silva Caiuby of Augsburg and Ben Gibson of Middlesbrough battle for the ball during the Friendly match between FC Augsburg and FC Middlesbrough on July 18, 2018 in Augsburg,...Francisco da Silva Caiuby of Augsburg and Ben Gibson of Middlesbrough battle for the ball during the Friendly match between FC Augsburg and FC Middlesbrough on July 18, 2018 in Augsburg,...

We’re now getting to the point where you can probably make a pretty good guess at who is coming next, and in second place, we’ve gone for Middlesbrough. Boro didn’t quite have the upturn we expected when Tony Pulis arrived on Boxing Day last season, although they did make the play-off places.

A lot of money was spent at the Riverside last summer on players like Martin Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga, and it can sometimes take a year for players to settle in at a club, particularly in the Championship and even more so when there’s a change of management. Tony Pulis is a man well-acquainted with the rigours of the Championship, and everyone knows his style of play. Middlesbrough’s two signings this summer come in at 6’2” and 6’ 5 ½”, and we just think they’ll have that much-needed consistency and grind out enough points to secure a Premier League return.

1. Stoke City

In top spot - and I actually think they could do it quite comfortably - is Stoke City. The Potters ten-year stay in the Premier League came to an end in May, but they’ve wasted no time licking their wounds. There has been one notable departure in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, but in has come Nigerian international Etebo, Australian shot stopper Federici, James McLean from West Brom, Tom Ince from Huddersfield and Benik Afobe on a season-long loan from Wolves.

Add in the fact Stoke have retained Joe Allen and potentially Jack Butland, as well as the likes of Badou N’Diaye, Bruno Martins Indi, Ryan Shawcross, Bojan, we could go on… Stoke look to have a brilliant midfield, a really strong spine and goals aplenty. If Gary Rowett does at least a decent job in charge of the club, they will make an immediate return to English football’s top table, and that’s exactly what we are backing them to do.

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