With what personally seems like an awfully long summer without football, it is a relief that the time is over and hopes and aspirations for a successful season re-ignite once more ahead of a gruelling 46 game campaign. With the likes of Huddersfield, Reading and Burton among others proving that the second tier can still produce the unexpected on a regular basis it can only encourage each side to aim high and go for automatic or play-off glory. That being said we are seeing a new Championship era, we are seeing sides fork out over £15m for one player alone and you feel what is normally a more balanced competition is getting the Premier League infection of inequality in terms of spending power. That can only be a consideration as I make my Championship predictions and offer my thoughts on each club going into the season.
A miserable Premier League season last term for Boro means they will once again go for automatic promotion and they should have a lot of pressure in doing so, having spent an awful lot of money this summer. The reasons I believe the club will thrive is because I think they are the most well equipped to deal with this 46 game season. Last time round and even in the Premier League they were quite a rigid (boring) side that don't give much away, having a well protected back four and a team that possesses battling qualities are a necessity for promotion. The fact that Monk is a talented manager and they have added a lot of quality up front means it would be embarrassing if they didn't find the goals so an even better balance should be struck this time round. The likes of Jonny Howson coming in as well as Darren Randolph means they should have an excellent spine and of course the arrival of Britt Assombalonga means they have one of the finest hotshots around. Add Ashley Fletcher and Martin Braithwaite into the mix and the Riverside Stadium has plenty of options. How Monk goes about juggling the squad causes some doubt in my mind but Boro standout as the most complete side ready to take on the Championship, time will tell if they do the business.
The Villans have spent heavily since Tony Xia entered park so naturally he should expect promotion as his return on investment so pressure will be mounted on Steve Bruce this year. If any warning signs were needed though then last season is a good reminder that Villa will have to be at the top of their game. The worry for me here is that they still won't be a unit and instead more a complete set of talented players assembled together. They have been very smart this transfer window bringing in four quality proven players including John Terry of course. The club probably have the strongest set of players, including Jonathan Kodjia who you feel will be decisive this season. With Terry, Chester and Neil Taylor at the back I feel improvements in the defence will be made and game management should be vastly improved on as it seemed the club struggled with this last campaign. The best set of players breeds encouragement but the club will know all to well they have a big task ahead of them, if Bruce strikes a balance you've got to fancy them.
Two play-off heartbreaks in the last two seasons so it'll be interesting to see how the Owls bounce back. I believe their lack of signings (one) is actually a positive. This is because Wednesday have a talented squad but whenever I watch them they can lack cohesiveness and therefore building on their current unit is a more productive way of going about it. George Boyd will add another dimension to them and you can't underestimate that breadth of experience and work rate. I think the club can in many ways take inspiration from Brighton, building year on year to reach their goal and this is relatively how I see it going apart from falling short of automatic promotion this time. They will need more from the likes of Jordan Rhodes and they need Fernando Forestieri to be a key player throughout the season to really do damage. This is where I have my doubts over whether Carvalhal's men can go better and do one more, they need to be ruthless, if they are then Wednesday for me are a major contender for the big prize.
Derby will once again be looking to right some wrongs and this is Gary Rowett's first opportunity to do so in his first full season. This is why I believe the Rams should be feeling optimistic this time, they have a very smart witted man in charge who looks to be putting the pieces together. Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom coming in would testify to that, I feel Pride Park will witness a much smarter Derby County than in previous years. They might not see as much flair and imagination but a winning mentality is probably more likely to please the fans. The squad now looks set on very strong foundations and this is what made Rowett successful at Birmingham. This is why I see Derby doing well, I can see them being much stronger at home however I feel automatic promotion might be a step too far if they fail to replace Tom Ince, their forward options might not grab the all important goals when needed.
Probably the most difficult side to predict due to the nature of Wolves transfer business. Let's be honest most fans have probably never heard of their foreign imports and with 10 players in total arriving so far it's mostly guesswork if the clubs ambition will be matched with an actual outcome. Last season would suggest the fans should be cautious for now however having broken the Championship transfer record fee for Ruben Neves on paper the club should have built once more. They certainly had the squad from last season to build on and that leaves me only with a gut feeling that the transition from last season will lead to a more smoother process this time and the likes of Neves can contribute to a more effective team. It will be interesting to see how they fare.
The Cottagers missed out in the play-offs last season and will be looking to repeat their impressive adventure this time round. Slavisa Jokanovic is a smart manager and that is why I fancy Fulham to have the steel to go again despite a possibility of being found out with Fulham's attractive style perhaps susceptible if they are not on it from the first whistle. They've kept their core squad and that bodes well going into the season with the likes of Tom Cairney being influential. Signing Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon are smart moves as well as their foreign imports who they may need to make an instant impact. They'll be wanting the team to take off where they left it and find some great football back at Craven Cottage but Fulham are equally a side that you can see becoming inconsistent, so Jokanovic is the main reason why I'm putting Fulham in the final play-off position.
Who are you tipping to win the Championship? Let us know in the comments below!