2015/16 Championship preview

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The Championship is known for its tough tackles, grueling number of fixtures and sheer competitiveness as all 24 clubs battle it out to be promoted to the best league in the world.

With four teams going for automatic promotion at the end of April and the final day twists and turns, the 2014/15 campaign was one of the most eventful yet; but fear not football fans, the upcoming season promises to be just as entertaining. Plus, many of the games will be shown on beIN SPORTS for readers in the US (see the latest TV schedule).

With the calibre of clubs dropping down from the Premier League, plus some of the world’s most proven players and coaches joining, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the league standings come May each year.

Money has been a big talking point in the worldwide game recently with the Sepp Blatter and FIFA scandal, plus Sky and BT Sport locking horns for the Premier League’s £5 billion television deal. For 2015/16 it seems some of the cash has trickled down into the Championship, with the likes of Derby and Middlesbrough spending big on their mission to return to the Premier League.

Derby have been the nearly-men for the past two seasons, losing in the 2014 play-off final and missing out on a top six finish last year after a dismal back end of the campaign. This season, however, with big name signings like Tom Ince, Darren Bent, Jason Shackell and Andreas Weimann, there is a flurry of excitement around the club.

The most important recruitment of the summer, however, may be the acquisition of a man who has spent much of his career as Carlo Ancelotti’s understudy. Paul Clement has worked at some of the world’s biggest clubs in Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid, but the coming season in the Championship may be his toughest yet.

Another man who took the step up (or down) from assistant at Real Madrid to managing a Championship side is Aitor Karanka. The Spaniard impressed during his full season in charge at Middlesbrough and seems to be taking the club in the right direction with important signings such as Stewart Downing, Christian Stuani and Diego Fabbrini.

Both Derby and Boro were front runners in the early stages of 2015 but faded away when it really mattered as Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich went on their terrific runs to promotion.

Burnley were relegated from the top tier after resisting the urge to spend big in order to stay up. Manager Sean Dyche has said the Clarets can’t cope with the money being spent even in the Championship, despite their Premier League cash windfall.

Dyche has said the likes of Derby and Boro have taken spending to a “whole new level,” but it would surely be worth it if either were to return to the best league in the world.

Steve Evans did an incredible job last season keeping Rotherham United in the league. The Scotsman will have to do an equally miraculous job this coming year, with the pedigree of Championship sides at an all-time high.

The minnows will find it tougher than ever to survive this season, with the amount of money being thrown around by the big clubs.

Relegated QPR, Hull and Burnley will be looking to bounce back to the Premier League at the first opportunity and avoid following in Wigan’s footsteps at all costs.

QPR manager Chris Ramsey looks to be offloading the big wages and could be left with a skeleton of a squad by the start of the season. Captain Joey Barton and fan’s favorite Charlie Austin are still at the club, but look to be on the move in the near future. However, if the R’s were able to keep the pair, along with Matty Phillips, then Ramsey could be in with an outside chance of the play-offs.

Last year’s Championship hitman at Ipswich was Republic of Ireland international Daryl Murphy, who netted 27 goals on the way to becoming top scorer of the division. The 32-year old was linked with a move away from Portman Road after his impressive tally last season.

Reports suggested that Middlesbrough put a bid in of £4.5m and Sheffield Wednesday had a ‘ridiculous’ loan offer rejected before the striker put any doubts to rest, signing a new 2 year contract extension.

Ipswich have a tough task to better last season’s finish, but keeping their front man could boost their chances if he shows the same form as he has done the last 12 months.

Blackburn fans suffered a disappointing season last year. Even with the devastating front pair of Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede, they only managed a top 10 finish. The partnership conjured up 41 goals. Hhowever this year it looks as though the club could cash in on the proven goal poachers with big money moves.

Cash-strapped Rovers are currently £80m in debt and under a transfer embargo this season after failing to comply with the League’s Financial Fair Play rules last year. Aston Villa have already lured the Gestede to Villa Park to replace Christian Benteke, whereas promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough are trying to find a way to meet the £12m asking price from Rovers’ owners, the Venky’s.

Other strikers with the potential to have a prolific season a Jermaine Beckford, Darren Bent and Ross McCormack. All three are proven Championship goal scorers who will be relishing their first full campaign for their respective teams in the second tier of English football.

Last year, there were unexpected finishes all over, from the top to the bottom of the table. At the peak, you had the likes of Bournemouth, Brentford and Wolves, whereas down at the foot of the table not many people would have bet on Fulham or Brighton to be in the relegation dogfight.

This season there will no doubt be a surprise package from the three promoted teams, and I am backing Preston North End. Simon Grayson’s men missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the season, but tore their way through the play-offs scoring eight in the process.

If Joe Garner and Beckford can repeat their return of 43 goals last term (plus some smart defensive transfers from Grayson whilst the window is still open), Preston have the basics to go above and beyond what’s expected them this season; staying in the league.

They could even emulate Wolves and Brentford’s efforts last year and go one step further on a charge for promotion, but some fine tuning is needed from the management staff.

There are also the so called ‘big clubs’ that expected to be challenging for promotion last year, but instead hovered around mid-table. The message to the fans was that the focus was on the coming campaign, building a solid infrastructure to build from going into the new season. The underlying message was, however, that the clubs wanted an underachieving 2014/15 to be forgotten about as quickly as possible.

We should expect a few past Premier League sides to fall in this category, with the likes of Blackburn, Cardiff, Fulham and Nottingham Forest looking to put 2014/15 behind them.

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