The 2019/20 Championship season is definitely one to watch this year. Can Leeds finally, FINALLY get back up into the Premier League? Who could possibly upset their party? Is Aleksandar Mitrović too good for the second tier? And who's at risk of relegation?
The Sportsman contributors cast their beady eyes over all 24 teams and sniff out the main stories with their beaky noses to offer up their predictions as to how this Championship season will end up.
The following categories:
- Manager of the Year
- The Sack Race
- Golden Boot
- Bombs & Belters
Hamish Simpson - Fulham
Fulham have been shrewd over the summer with the signings of Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, while in Mitrović they have an excellent striker who undoubtedly belongs in the Premier League. I think they’ll be looking down at the rest come the end of the season
Harry Sidebotham - Fulham
I think Fulham have all the capabilities of securing the Championship title under Scott Parker. Capturing the likes of Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert will boost the squad while the potent Aleksandar Mitrović will scare defences.
Jack Kitson - Fulham
Scott Parker may be at the very birth of his managerial career, but his impact and influence is already clear. Many expected the vultures to swirl around Craven Cottage this summer, however at the time of writing it looks like Parker has persuaded the likes of Aleksandar Mitrović and Ryan Sessegnon to stay, while he’s lured over Ivan Cavaleiro (Wolves) and Anthony Knockaert (Brighton) on loan. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are the obvious favourites for the title, yet Parker’s troops could well snatch the spoils.
Jack Porter - West Bromwich Albion
Slaven Bilić may not have had the best time in Saudi Arabia with Al-Ittihad (the Croatian was sacked over just five months and 15 matches) but his debut management season in England should be appropriately remembered, as should his time coaching the Croatia national team.
Kieran Spratt - Leeds United
It’s been 15 years since Leeds graced the top-flight and whilst The Whites have been tagged with the dreaded ‘bottlers’ tag in recent seasons, I think there’s something special happening at Elland Road under Marcelo Bielsa and I reckon their return to the ‘Promised Land’ is well within reach.
Simon Lillicrap - Brentford
An outsider for many but Brentford are my pick to romp to the Championship title. Their moneyball system has been building for several years and now they can launch an assault on the top two and become the 50th different team to play in the Premier League.
Harris - Leeds United & Cardiff City
Leeds were unlucky to narrowly miss out last season, and with a few tweaks this time around, I think manager Marcelo Bielsa will see them comfortably come in 2nd.
I’m also tipping Neil Warnock to use all his managerial clout to drag Cardiff up through the play-offs.
Harry - Leeds United & Brentford
Having led for large parts of last season, Leeds United were unfortunate not to earn themselves promotion back to the Premier League. They have one of the best managers in the league in Bielsa, the squad hasn’t been modified too much and the Whites have added good quality to their side.
Despite finishing 11th last season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brentford pushed for promotion via the play-offs. Although they’ve lost Ezri Konsa and Romaine Sawyers, they’ve added some real quality to the side in the likes of Pontus Jansson, Mathias Jensen and Christian Nörgaard. Not to mention the fact they’ve still held onto Neal Maupay, Saïd Benrahma and Ollie Watkins who were all outstanding last season.
Jack - West Bromwich Albion & Leeds United
Is this the year Leeds finally return to the Promised Land? Yes, I believe so. They ran out of steam last time out but I’m sure Marcelo Bielsa has learnt from that. The real question is who will join Leeds and Fulham in the top-flight? West Brom have recruited excellently in Slaven Bilić, the former boss of West Ham, Beşiktaş, and Croatia, so if he can sprinkle his magic the Baggies could well mount a promotion push. Although keep an eye on Bristol City and Derby.
JP - Brentford & Leeds United
Brentford have lingered not too distant from the promotion places in the past few seasons, with Thomas Frank helping out in the dugout and now the main man on the touchline. They’ve bought strongly too, including players from Spain and Italy. Big Season to get a spot for the first time since 2014/15. Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa will look to made up from the play-off disappointment of last year by going one better.
Kieran - West Bromwich Albion & Fulham
There are at least 12 candidates for promotion in any given season in the Championship but I think the appointment of Slaven Bilić is an astute move for West Brom, who came close to promotion last season and I can see them improving further this year. Joining the Baggies, I’ll take a punt on Fulham.
Simon - Leeds United & West Bromwich Albion
Fulham may boast the best squad but Scott Parker leaves me unconvinced. Leeds will build on last season and Bielsa won’t be kept down this time around. The same can be said for West Brom, who under Slaven Bilić will contest at the top of the division once more.
Harris - Wigan Athletic, Luton Town, Barnsley
Wigan have lost a lot of quality over the summer and there are serious doubts surrounding the overall standard of Paul Cook’s side; they look set to struggle. Barnsley and Luton also don't look up to scratch, so I expect them to crash out the league.
Harry - Millwall, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic
Millwall will find it hard to replace goals after last season’s top goalscorer Lee Gregory joined Stoke City. I’m not entirely convinced by the signing of Jón Dadi Bödvarsson and Matt Smith as they aren’t entirely the most prolific in front of goal. However the Lions can look forward to the return of their record singing Tom Bradshaw from injury, so I could be wrong.
Wigan look like they’re in for a rough ride ahead this season. They’ve lost two massively influential players in Reece James and Nick Powell and I just don’t think Paul Cook’s side will be good enough.
Lee Bowyer did a fantastic job with Charlton last season as the side secured play-off promotion. However, with one of the smallest budgets in the league and a lack of Championship experience in the squad, it won’t be an easy ride.
Jack - Reading, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic
Reading have endured back-to-back 20th place finishes, while they’ve come 17th or lower in four of their last five seasons. This could be the year the club loses its Championship status, and return to the third-tier for the first time since 2002. Lee Bowyer has conjured up a simply stunning job at Charlton, but after clashing with the club's controversial owner this summer, there could be more cracks beyond the surface. My third pick is Wigan who don’t tend to stick around too long in any division.
JP - Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Barnsley
Birmingham have sold Che Adams and Jota for a combined £19m but haven’t really replaced with any discernible names. Wigan Athletic to continue their flirtation and pogo stick relationship with the lower division, and League One runners-up Barnsley to struggle.
Kieran - Millwall, Barnsley, Birmingham City
Another toughie given how open this division is but it was a close call for Millwall last season and I think it might be another tough season for Neil Harris’s men. Rounding up the relegated sides, I’ll say Barnsley and, gun to my head, Birmingham City.
Simon - Wigan Athletic, Millwall, Hull City
There’s no way that current favourites Barnsley get relegated, they’ll be nearer the top half. Wigan are Wigan and will struggle, Millwall have improved under Neil Harris but their squad remains weak for the division and finally Hull, who have appointed Grant McCann who again does not fill me with confidence in the Championship.
Manager of the Year
Harris - Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
If he returns them back to the promised land of the Premier League, it has to go to Bielsa.
Harry - Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
During Marcelo Bielsa’s first term as manager of Leeds United, he took them from a team that finished 13th during the 17/18 season to 3rd in 18/19, challenging for promotion. The Argentinian is one of the best managers in the Championship and I believe this could be the year Leeds United finally secure their return to the top flight. Their squad hasn’t changed much and they’ve added quality to the side.
Jack - Scott Parker (Fulham)
I’ve selected Fulham for the top gong, and it’s the title winning manager who - usually - is crowned the Manager of the Year. The Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in the world yet if Parker can thrive at the first time of asking, he’d stamp his name on the managerial map. After all, Frank Lampard got the Chelsea job and he didn’t even get promoted.
JP - Thomas Frank (Brentford)
Thomas Frank with The Bees. After a respectable mid-table finish in his maiden season as head coach, the Dane should push on for a better, more challenging position and be rewarded as such.
Kieran - Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
Like I mentioned before, there’s something good building up around Bielsa and his Leeds side. Should he be the man to return them to the top-flight, he should be a shoo-in.
Simon - Thomas Frank (Brentford)
My man will win this award if Brentford win the league. Which they will.
The Sack Race (1st manager to go)
Harris - Paul Cook (Wigan Athletic)
It’s going to go sour at Wigan very quickly, and I expect Paul Cook’s head to roll by the end of October
Harry - Paul Cook (Wigan Athletic)
Reece James and Nick Powell were key players for Wigan last season and they will be difficult to replace. At the minute it doesn’t look great for the Latics and it could prove critical for Paul Cook.
Jack - José Manuel Gomes (Reading)
I’ve already mentioned how I think Reading could struggle next season, and a slow start could bring an end to the tenure of José Manuel Gomes, who has never spent more than 56 games in charge of a club in 10 different managerial spells. The Royals have also been through their fair share of managers with Gomes their third boss in the last 18 months.
JP - Sabri Lamouchi (Nottingham Forest)
Sabri Lamouchi at Nottingham Forest. Because it’s Nottingham Forest.
Kieran - Sabri Lamouchi (Nottingham Forest)
Nottingham Forest have had a ruthless hire-and-fire policy over the past few seasons, with no fewer than five managers since 2015. On that basis, sorry Sabri Lamouchi.
Simon - Tony Mowbray (Blackburn Rovers)
Although I don’t think Blackburn will go down, Mowbray had a poor end to last season and could be given the chop if that continues, given the money he has spent this summer.
Harris - Aleksandar Mitrović (Fulham)
Simply a class apart from the rest.
Harry - Aleksandar Mitrović (Fulham)
12 goals in 17 appearances during his last season in the Championship alone makes this a strong case for Aleksandar Mitrović. The Serbian international still managed 11 goals in the Premier League last time out despite finishing Fulham second bottom and with more creative additions to the squad, I can see the striker racking up the numbers.
Jack - Aleksandar Mitrović (Fulham)
If he stays at Brentford Neal Maupay will be right in the mix again, although it looks like he’s off to Aston Villa. Given the uncertainty surrounding the striker, I’ve instead opted for Aleksandar Mitrović who scored 12 goals in 17 games last time he was in the Championship. The Serb enjoyed a cracking start upon Fulham’s return to the big time, but after he was linked with the likes of Chelsea his form suddenly tailed off. Now back in the second-tier, he should rediscover that goalscoring touch.
JP - Britt Assombalonga (Middlesborough)
I do believe Aleksandar Mitrović is a cut above, but I’m plumping for Britt Assombalonga to excel - nay, thrive - working under the mentorship of Robbie Keane at Middlesbrough.
Kieran - Aleksandar Mitrović (Fulham)
The race for Championship top-scorer looks as open as ever but, for me, Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović, who scored 11 in the Premier League last season, looks a decent bet.
Simon - Neal Maupay (Brentford)
Writing this before the transfer window closes is difficult but I’ll continue the Brentford theme with Neal Maupay. If Maupay leaves for the Premier League then Aleksandar Mitrović could fire Fulham to the play-offs and is a class above at this level.
Harris - Derby County
Derby to plummet down the table after a shambolic showing from new manager Phillip Cocu.
Harry - West Bromwich Albion
Despite finishing fourth last season, the Baggies have lost Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez and Harvey Barnes who combined, managed to score 55 of the 87 goals scored by West Brom in the league. They may have signed Kenneth Zohore to make up for the loss but even he only managed one goal in 19 appearances for Cardiff in the Premier League last campaign.
JP - Fulham
The Cottagers not bouncing straight back up, and resigned to losing Mitrović in the winter transfer window.
Kieran - Spygate Part Deux
Marcelo Bielsa to be found hiding in a tree at Barnsley’s training ground with a pen, notepad, binoculars and night vision goggles.
Simon - Huddersfield Town and Phillip Cocu
Huddersfield to continue that losing feeling and have a flirt with relegation before pulling clear. Phillip Cocu at Derby also won’t be as good as people think but will probably secure a top half finish.
Harris - Aleksandar Mitrović
Mitrović to break the 30 league goal barrier.
Harry - Stoke City
Even though the Potters finished 16th in the Championship last season, they’ve made some good additions to the squad and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to clinch a play-off spot.
JP - Charlton Athletic
No back-to-back promotions for the Addicks but they’ve thankfully retained Lee Bowyer as manager and an apparent sense of squad unity, despite the turmoil in the shadows. A good solid campaign in their first season back.
Kieran - Luton Town
I always like to see how well the newly-promoted sides get on and I think Luton will surprise a few people this season. They’re a decent price for a top-half finish.
Simon - Pablo Hernandez
Aside from Brentford? Neil Warnock will make his side into dogs once again and he loves this division but my pick here is for Pablo Hernandez to win Championship player of the year. Baller.