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Season Preview 2019/20 - Midtable
Tuesday, 30th Jul 2019 05:17 by Clive Whittingham

Part two of our annual look ahead to the Championship season focuses on those teams the bookies believe will bob around midtable. In several cases, we don’t necessarily agree with them.

Derby County 16/1

Last Season Another one, like Leeds, for whom the coverage from the league’s host broadcaster was so skewed and one-eyed that it became difficult to actually work out what the hell was going on. Derby had, for some time under successive managers, been spending excessively putting together an ageing team chronically short of pace and prone to choking at the business end. The lack of pace and lack of youth was addressed by the addition of Mason Mount, who was meant to be absolutely incredible, Harry Wilson, who was absolutely incredible, and Fikayo Tomori, who nobody had ever heard of but was a dream at this level and could have played in a suit. The loan of three Premier League superstars in waiting at considerable expense, by Frank Lampard in his first managerial role, somehow became billed by Sky as a great underdog story, a triumph of a brave young squad of excellent young boys fearlessly taking on a brutish league, a sporting fairytale… Three games out from the end they were eighth, but a scandalous injury time penalty to beat QPR over Easter followed by an even more outrageous refereeing call for another spot kick against West Brom on the final day squeezed them into the six where they came up against a Leeds side going full Leeds on themselves. Derby were absolutely magnificent in the second leg at Elland Road, but only once the Leeds’ keeper had experienced some sort of outer body experience and injury had forced Lampard to finally give game time to Jack Marriott off the bench. Despite a two-goal man of the match display as a sub, Lampard benched him again for the final which they lost far more comfortably against Villa than the scoreline suggested. For this, Lampard was handed the reigns at one of the top six clubs in this country. Derby, meanwhile, are back where they started, with all the loans back at their parent clubs, and that con-trick with the ground sale to the chairman already done once.

Ins: Graeme Shinnie, CM, Aberdeen, £600k >>> Kieran Dowell, AM, Everton, Loan

Outs: Luke Thomas, RW, Barnsley, £1,2m >>> Craig Bryson, CM, Aberdeen, Free >>> David Nugent, CF, Preston, Free >>> Nick Blackman, RW, Tel Aviv, Free >>> Alex Pearce, CB, Millwall, Free >>> Bradley Johnson, CM, Blackburn, Free >>> Efe Ambrose, CB, Released >>> Marcus Olsson, LB, Released >>> Ashley Cole, LB, Smoker’s Section, Free

Manager: Phillip Cocu Such was the level of fawning and public felating of Frank Lampard last season, and the general suspicion of Johnny Foreigner coming in here, taking jobs from good honest sorts like Reidy Reid and Pards Pardew and trying to cope with the intricacies of Tuesday night away games at Barnsley, that this is lazily being seen as some sort of downgrade. In actual fact, Derby have been paid £4m for a manager one (failed) year into his career, and have replaced him with one who won the Eredivisie with PSV on three separate occasions after an extensive coaching apprenticeship both there, and with the Dutch national team. His late arrival, and the situation he inherits, nevertheless makes this a difficult first job in the UK.

This Season: Take a team that only just scraped into the play-offs on the last day, remove Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori from it, lose inspirational manager to Chelsea into the bargain, and surely the logic follows that Derby will struggle to be anything other than a midtable team this season. They’ll certainly try and play the game under new coach Cocu, and having watched Bradley Johnson clog up their midfield for years that’ll be a relief for the long suffering fans in these parts – that particular fatberg has finally been loosened enough to flush through to Blackburn Rovers. They’ll benefit, also, from giving more game time in attack to Jack Marriott, who Lampard seemed to have a real aversion to culminating in an enormous wasted opportunity at Wembley in May where they posed zero threat for an hour with Mason Bennett toiling alone up front and were basically out of the final by the time Marriott finally came off the bench. I’m fascinated by Keiran Dowell, who looked unstoppable for a time on loan at rivals Forest, but has stuttered and stalled at Sheff Utd since. The controversial stadium sale and leaseback card has been played now, and with promotion looking unlikely big FFP headaches lie ahead. There’s a butcher in Derby’s Central Market Hall (used to be run by Lee Camp’s dad, fun fact) that would probably do them a good price for the ever-expanding Chris Martin, so maybe that could be an option?

Fan Opinion: Ollie Wright, Derby County Blog “In the short-term, the departure of Frank Lampard has been very disruptive and became absolutely infuriating by the end. It was like being stood on a platform waiting for a train and the expected arrival time keeps going back and back and back… The only difference was that there was never a chance of Lampard to Chelsea being cancelled. Bringing Phillip Cocu in as his replacement was a huge surprise. You can’t argue with his pedigree - three Eredivisie titles and piloting PSV to the quarter finals of the Champions League is some record for a manager coming into the English second tier - but he hasn’t had much time to assess his squad before the season starts and the transfer window closes, so patience may well be required.

“The transfer business has been insufficient, at the time of writing. I’m hopeful about the two new midfield signings, Kieran Dowell on loan from Everton and Graeme Shinnie on a free from Aberdeen, while the departure of a group of surplus players who were mostly aged 30+ was essential to help the club move forward. But as everyone knows, we had three outstanding loan players last year in Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Harry Wilson and clearly, we are weaker without them.

“Externally, the usual level of expectation around Derby has been dampened considerably and that may not be such a bad thing. Most of the supporters will still be hopeful of a top six finish though, because we’re Derby and that’s always the expectation, almost regardless of what is going on. We have some quality players on the books still, not least Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn, as well as Dowell, but we need further signings to add quality and depth if we’re going to compete at the top of the league.”

Prediction: Tenth. Manager gone, talented loanees returned, and FFP stadium-sale lifeline burnt, difficult to envisage anything other than a midtable campaign this season and some accounting headaches further down the track.

Huddersfield 16/1

Last Season Two seasons of mega over-achievement under David Wagner caught up with the Terriers who were relegated in dead last, with just three victories all season (Fulham H and a weird double over high-flying Wolves), and only 16 points – 20 shy of the safety mark. They were hamstrung by a poor summer that left them woefully short in attack, scoring just 22 goals in 38 league games including a paltry ten at home. Karlan Grant, a January arrival from Charlton, finished as top scorer with four from nine games. Centre half Mathias Jorgensen was joint second with three. Whether all that was enough to making parting company with the miracle working German manager who got them there in the first place is debatable. Lots of talk about him going a bit stale, sticking stubbornly to things that weren’t working, been found out, taken us as far as he can and so on. As an outsider looking in, that looked a bit ‘be careful what you wish for’ to me.

Ins: Herbert Bockhorn, RB, Dortmund, £225k >>> Reece Brown, CM, Forest Green, Free >>> Tommy Elphick, CB, Villa, Free >>> Josh Koroma, CF, Orient, Undisclosed >>> Kamil Grabara, GK, Liverpool, Loan >>> Isaac Mbenza, RW, Montpellier, Undisclosed

Outs: Philip Billing, CM, Bournemouth, £15m >>> Tommy Smith, RB, Stoke, £4m >>> Ramadan Sobhi, LW, Ahly (Egypt), Loan >>> Erik Durm, LB, Frankfurt, Free >>> Laurent Depoirtre, CF, Gent, Free >>> Jonas Lossl, GK, Everton, Free >>> Jack Payne, AM, Lincoln, Free >>> Chris Lowe LW, Dresden, Undisclosed >>> Danny Williams, DM, Released

Manager: Jan Siewert If in doubt, appoint the coach of the Borussia Dortmund second string as your manager. It worked for Huddersfield with Wagner, Norwich with Daniel Farke, and now they hope to repeat the trick a third time with Jan Siewert. He won only one of 15 games at the end of last season, though was thrown a rather hospital pass, but his only previous job as a number one for the senior team at a club was German fourth tier side Rot-Weiss Essen, who sacked him with the team in the relegation zone in 2016. Crucially, as well as Wagner, Huddersfield lost sporting director Stewart Webber to Norwich after sealing promotion and inspirational chairman Dean Hoyle has now stood down as well, removing the backroom team that masterminded that memorable 2016-2018 period.

This Season: Predicting the madness of the Championship in advance is difficult enough at the best of times, without a quantity as unknown as Huddersfield sliding into our DMs. They’re brought a number of talented players back with them, including influential Aaron Mooy and Alex Pritchard but lost Philip Billing on the cusp of us going to press – Bournemouth, again, proving a useful source of cash for Championship clubs. Karlan Grant bagged four goals in nine starts for a team that barely scored at all after his January arrival from Charlton, and could go well at the lower level. But, we’ll be honest, we’ve no idea, so we’re going to stop pretending we do.

Fan Opinion: David Siddall “What went wrong last season? The short answer is we did not score enough goals, the long answer would be an article in itself. We were never a free scoring team under Wagner however we did look to play on the front foot and dictate the game. Last season we did not do that as much - not just a case of not scoring , more never even looking like scoring. We were competitive in most games but as soon as we went one behind you knew it was game over. That lack of a goal scoring threat had an impact not just on how we played but how teams would approach matches and made it far too easy to sit in and counter when the opportunity arose. Losing Aaron Mooy for a crucial period over December when we had a run of very winnable matches hurt us and you could feel/see the confidence leave the squad, knowing you were relegated in January made for a long spring for everybody involved at the club. The summer transfer window last year was not great to put it mildly, we seemingly went to try and overhaul a squad rather then look to add proven quality to an existing core. We did not add any quality to the areas we needed to strengthen the attacking third and full backs and lost a bit of the squad depth which aided us the previous season. We also switched from a 4231 to a 532 so we had an abundance of wingers but nowhere for them to play and by moving to a three at the back we played a lot deeper and struggled to quickly transition from defence to attack.

“I’m a little underwhelmed by this summer’s business but by no means has it been a poor window. It looks like a window to put foundations in place for the future with the signings of Josh Koroma, Reece Brown from Orient and Forest Green respectively. Tommy Elphick provides good experience and competition at centre back. We have kept hold of a few more of our first team players then I expected - the likes of Aaron Mooy, Jonathan Hogg, Terrence Kongolo and Chris Schindler (at the time of writing) are still in the squad, with the pace of Isaac Mbenza, Diakhaby and Karlan Grant and the likes of Kachunga, Alex Pritchard and Steve Mounie to support that attacking three on paper we should have more than enough in that attack to cause teams problems. I think we lack a bit of depth in full backs having sold Tommy Smith and replaced him with a German fourth tier right back Herbert Bockhorn (possibly the best name in the Championship) and not replacing the left back Chris Lowe does concern me. I also think the centre midfield could do with an experienced squad player as once you get past Mooy, Hogg and Bacuna there is little Championship or top flight experience. We are also unsure who will be the first-choice goalkeeper - young Ryan Schofield has had a good pre-season I would expect Kamil Grabara on loan from Liverpool to get the nod against Derby (so expect Joel Coleman to start on the 5th). Overall, the squad still looks a little imbalanced with a few too many wingers but an under the radar window and keeping hold of some key players has given some room for optimism

“This season I would be happy going to a game knowing if we go one down after ten minutes that is not the end of the match and I might as well go to the pub. I think if you ask ten different fans you will get ten different answers ranging from Champions with 100 points to relegation with a lower points tally then last season. I think a top ten finish is achievable and has to be our aim, however I can also see us finishing bottom six. Truth is, I don’t know what to make of us. Last season it was hard to get a real idea of how the Siewert will try to play , there were a lot of changes each week and some odd decisions but there were other factors so with a full pre-season he should be able to get his ideas and methods across to the squad. A lot will depend on how the players react to last season’s catastrophe. If Siewert can get the players playing with confidence and utilize the pace and movement we have in the attacking third then I think we can be a threat to anybody. Where I do think we will suffer is the squad depth in particular the centre of midfield and full backs. An injury to Hogg or Mooy leaves us relying on an untested, young inexperienced midfield of O’Brien, Daly and Brown. I think there also question marks in defence - not so much the personnel but how we adapt to a more open style potentially leaving the defence exposed as happened quite a bit in the second half of last season.”

Prediction: Twelfth. I’ll be honest, of all the teams we’ve written up, Huddersfield has been the hardest one to even hazard a guess at. So we’ve stuck them bang in the middle, shrugged, and walked off.

Bristol City 20/1

Last Season 2018/19 looked exceptionally difficult for Bristol City. Coming into a Championship beset with clubs in varying degrees of parachute payments as a newly promoted team without one is getting tougher every year, and although City had been in the second tier since 2015 they were further hamstrung by the loss of Bobby Reid, Aiden Flint and the supremely talented and particularly lovely Joe Bryan over the summer. Jonathan Kodija had been stolen away previously and their 2017/18 campaign had been heavily reliant on Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea. That’s a significant talent drain to deal with, while also redeveloping a stadium on three of four sides, but City have progressed in every season they’ve been back at this level and did so again in 2018/19 despite the adversity. QPR were in midst of an absolute crisis when Bristol City visited in August, but a team robbed of its best players over the summer still came and posted a silky smooth 3-0 victory. As has become tradition under Johnson, their year was defined by peaks and troughs, and when referee Tony Harrington awarded a nonsense injury time penalty against Darnell Furlong in the return fixture it sealed a ninth consecutive victory. In truth, City had been by far the better side on the night. Though they finished with just four wins from the final 16 league games, it could be counted as a successful season from worrisome beginnings.

Ins: Tomas Kalas, CB, Chelsea, £8m >>> Daniel Bentley, GK, Brentford, £1.5m >>> Jay Dasilva, LB, Chelsea, £2.5m >>> Sammy Szmodics, AM, Colchester, Free >>> Rene Gilmartin, GK, Colchester, Free >>> Tommy Rowe, LM, Doncaster, Free >>> Robbie Cundy, CB, Bath City, Undisclosed

Outs: Lloyd Kelly, RB, Bournemouth, £13m >>> Frank Fielding, GK, Millwall, Free >>> Stefan Marinovic, GK, Wellington, Free >>> Joe Morrell, CM, Lincoln, Loan >>> Robbie Cundy, CB, Exeter, Loan >>> Mo Eisa, CF, Peterborough, Undisclosed >>> Eros Pisano, FB, Released >>> Max O’Leary, GK, Shrewsbury, Loan

Manager: Lee Johnson A cross between David Brent and Fievel Mousekewitz whose reputation oddly seems to be better outside Bristol than in.

This Season: A nice big chunk of cash for Lloyd Kelly has enabled them to bring on Tomas Kalas permanently to partner the excellent Adam Webster at the heart of the defence – Webster released by Ipswich Town so they could pick Toto Nsiala instead, nice one lads. Jay Dasilva has come in from Chelsea for the left side of the defence permanently and although Daniel Bentley’s form and confidence tailed off badly at Brentford, he could be a bargain buy in a goalkeeping position that has remained steadfastly substandard at City since they returned to this level in 2015. On paper there are few better defences at this level than the one City have put together – compare theirs to the one current heavy title favourites Leeds are thinking of turning out, for example – but by making the loan moves of Kalas and Dasilva permanent they have essentially spent a bundle of money to stand still. Bentley will need to be good for genuine progress to be made. They may lack a little bit in attack – Djidhiou is just a bit of a lump, Matty Taylor hasn’t yet been able to translate his lower league prowess into the Championship, Sammie Sczmodics scored 15 in 48 as an attacking midfielder at Colchester last season but is untested this high – but were a striker to arrive on loan or permanent between now and the end of the window they could be a live threat. I love the way they play, attacking with real width down both flanks and regularly switching between extreme right and left mid-move to stretch teams across the pitch. They are prone to the odd long losing run which they struggle to snap out of, but I really, really fancy them in a weak league this season. Fair warning, I had Notts County down for promotion from League Two last time.

Fan Opinion: @TheExiledRobin “Last season was better than expected. After selling our three best players last summer a season of consolidation was expected, so to be in with a shout of a play-off spot on the final day was beyond most expectations. There's a real feel-good buzz around the place (although somewhat dampened by a 5-0 thrashing by Crystal Palace in our only home friendly match). Ultimately we were just a little short, but it was close and we hit the woodwork more than any other team. You just wonder 'what if' just a handful of those had gone in...

“Over the summer we’ve smashed our transfer record by making the signing we all wanted by spending £8m in making Tomas Kalas a permanent fixture from Chelsea, and added the other loanee, the really exciting Jay Dasilva, for a mere snip of £2m to ensure last year's strong defence has been able to stick together. Daniel Bentley has come in from Brentford to attempt to secure a spot as our long-term number one, but we sold Lloyd Kelly - regularly only on the bench last season - to Bournemouth to help fund the lot. We've added a few others here and there but you sense there's still a fair bit of business to be done, with a right back and a top quality striker our main priorities in my view.

“In signing Kalas and Dasilva, without being disrespectful to the club who have showed fantastic intent and ambition to get them both, we've effectively spent £10m to stand still - given both were loans last season. Therefore it really depends on what the final fortnight of the transfer window brings. By the time we face QPR in the league cup we'll know a bit more about where we're at. With a top striker and one or two other good quality additions, I'd like to think we'll be right in the mix for a top six spot.”

Prediction: Second. The general consensus in the south west seems to be that they’re short of quality in attack. They also lost their final friendly 5-0 against Crystal Palace. So I’m probably wrong.

Forest 22/1

Last Season Forest started the season on a wave of enormous hope and optimism, with a manager in Aitor Karanka many City Ground long termers believed had shown Brian Clough-like tendencies and could actually be ‘the one’ to lift them back to former glories. They spent the summer signing six-dozen players to replace the six-dozen they’d signed the previous transfer window, at one point going so mental it appeared they may be trying to starve the other 23 clubs of Championship-standard players so they could just win the league by default. When they made a less-than-immaculate start to the season, including a first ever home defeat to QPR, and Karanka started making noises about the six-dozen players he’d like to sign in January, he was sacked/resigned in a hail of press leaks, counter claims, confusion and acrimony. Forest then started 2019 on a wave of enormous hope and optimism, with a manager in Martin O’Neil who had been at the club when the actual bloody Brian Clough was alive and kicking and winning stuff, so stood an amazing chance of being ‘the one’ to lift them back to former glories. He brought Roy Keane with him for good measure, because you can never have too much acrimony in a dressing room. When they made a less-than-immaculate start to the second half of the season, poor result after poor result achieved with the expensively recruited and prodigiously talented Joao Carvalho on the bench, and O’Neill started making noises about the six dozen players he’d like to sign over the summer, he was sacked/resigned in a hail of press leaks, counter claims, confusion and acrimony.

Ins: Here we go again then… Sammy Ameobi, AM, Bolton, Free >>> Albert Adomah, RW, Villa, Free >>> Arijanet Muric, GK, Man City, Loan >>> Yuri Ribeiro, RB, Benfica, Undisclosed >>> Alfa Semedo, DM, Benfica, Loan >>> Tiago Silva, AM, Feirense, Undisclosed

Outs: Panagiotis Tachtsidis, DM, Lecce, £450k >>> Stephen Henderson, GK, Palace, Free >>> Apostolos Vellios, CF, Athens, Free >>> El Arbi Hillel Soudani, RW, Olympiacos, Undisclosed >>> Karim Ansarifard, CF, Al Sailiya (Qatar), Undisclosed >>> Jorge Grant, LM, Lincoln, Undisclosed >>> Ben Osborn, LM, Sheff Utd, £3m >>> Liam Bossin, GK, Released >>> Jamie Ward, AM, Released >>> Juan Fuentes, LB, Released

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi A French midfielder of Tunisian descent, Lamouchi had a successful and wide-ranging career as a player that included spells with Auxerre, Marseille and Monaco in his homeland, Genoa, Inter and Parma in Italy. He has 12 caps for France, and won the French league with Auxerre and Monaco and the Copa Italia with Parma. As a manager he took an Ivory Coast team containing Yaya Touré, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba to the 2014 World Cup, beating Japan in the first game before crashing out of the group with 2-1 losses to Colombia and Greece. He joined Rennes as manager midway through 2017/18 and led them to a fifth place finish and Europa League qualification but was sacked early the following season amidst a run of poor form. He also spent three years managing El Jaish in Qatar, sleeping on top of a pile of money surrounded by many beautiful ladies.

This Season: Forest will start the season on a wave of enormous hope and optimism, with a manager in Sabri Lamouchi many City Ground long termers believe has already displayed Brian Clough-like tendencies and could actually be ‘the one’ to lift them back to former glories. They’ve spent the summer signing six-dozen players to replace the six-dozen they signed in the previous transfer window - between June 2015 and January 2017 the club signed 26 players on permanent or temporary deals in 19 months, not one of whom is still with the club (hat tip Daniel Storey). They’ll make a less than immaculate start to the season despite this and when Lamouchi starts making noises about the six-dozen players he’d like to sign in January he’ll be sacked/resign in a hail of press leaks, counter claims, confusion and acrimony. If so, it’ll be the tenth consecutive campaign Forest have changed manager mid-season. They’ll approach the early months of 2020 on a wave of enormous hope and optimism, with a new manager that many City Ground regulars will say has already shown some Clough-like mannerisms and could actually be ‘the one’ to lift them back to former glories. Six-dozen players will be signed in January to replace the six-dozen signed in the previous transfer window. When they finish the season in less-than-immaculate form and the new Cloughie starts making noises about the six-dozen players he’d like to sign over the summer, he’ll be sacked/resign in a hail of press leaks, counter claims, confusion and acrimony. This time next year they’ll be two mangers and somewhere in the region of 56 churned players further on, and looking forward to the 2020/21 season on a new wave of enormous hope and optimism with a new manager who, you know what, actually reminds several long standing City Ground regulars of… Brian Clough.

Fan Opinion: Jack McCormick “Last season was classic Forest, wasn’t it? Make some decent summer signings; start brilliantly; tail off a bit; look forward to the January window to strengthen; sack the manager; miss out on the playoffs.

“The story with Martin O’Neill goes that there was a dressing room revolt and the owner chose to act even sooner than usual, which bodes well for the new guy. More information has come out recently, however, that suggests Roy Keane leaving was the last straw - they were brought in to motivate a clearly talented group of players, and the board didn’t have the confidence that O’Neill could do it alone. There were a lot of fans that were happy about his sacking, but an equal amount that weren’t. His whole tenure was very odd in how it split the fan base right down the middle - those who thought he’d come good eventually because of his excellent managerial record, and those who thought his methods were outdated. I guess we’ll never know who was right.

“It’s been a decent summer again on paper. Another few foreign recruits who come with a lot of promise and have looked good in pre-season - Alfa Semedo and Yuri Ribeiro from Benfica, and Tiago Silva from Feirense also in Portugal - but we’ve had that before and it hasn’t worked out quite as well as we’d hoped. More importantly we’re shipping out a load of deadwood. The squad is bloated and that can’t be good for the dressing room, but the new manager has told a few players they’re free to leave and that should help. While we’ve also just sold Ben Osborn to Sheffield United, he certainly didn’t fall in the deadwood camp. He was in the last year of his contract and has been an excellent servant to the club, so it’s a good deal for all concerned. The manager has said he still wants three or four more players, at least one of which will be a striker, so we could have an interesting final week of the transfer window.

“I’m really not sure what to expect, and I don’t think anyone else is. The owners clearly want promotion as soon as possible, and that is the manager’s brief, but every time we get our hopes up they’re pretty quickly dashed. I don’t think we’ll be in any trouble at the bottom, and we might even flirt with the top six, but it’s very much a case of suck it and see...”

Prediction: 11th. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sheff Wed 22/1

Last Season Sheffield Wednesday are in the Derby and Nottingham Forest class of Championship clubs that have spent way beyond their means under foreign ownership in recent years trying to make it back to the Premier League where they all obviously belong, because of some stuff that happened in the 1980s, but failed to get there. Last season was the third under owner Dejphon Chansiri and really needed to be a promotion after two failed play-off tilts under Carlos Carvalhal otherwise FFP would start to bite. They began under the charge of Jos The Childcatcher and, in all truth, really weren’t very good. A transfer policy of paying big money and excessive wages for older, proven names had left them with a lop-sided, highly injury prone, slow squad with a collection of misfiring and mostly crocked strikers and no full backs. Kieran Westwood, one of the outstanding goalkeepers in the division, was mysteriously ostracised. Even the midtable mediocrity they wallowed in before Christmas was only achieved because Adam Reach decided he was going to run his own goal of the season competition. Jos was sent on his way midway through, packed off back to the school gates with his kagool, and replaced by Steve Bruce. Not immediately though. Bruce had tragically lost both his parents in double quick time and had always promised himself an England cricket tour of the West Indies, so was determined to do that before taking up another job. ‘Fine’, said Wednesday, ‘take all the time you need, we’ll hold the job for you, and better still it’ll mean you can start with a game against Ipswich which we could probably win with Ozzie the Owl in goal’. Bruce repaid this unprecedented act of loyalty and kindness firstly by turning Wednesday into a reasonably competent team in the second half of the season, with a clutch of home wins against Swansea, Brentford, Blackburn and Bristol City and a final place of twelfth, and secondly by fucking off to the first Premier League job he got a sniff of not even six months into his deal at Hillsborough. Loyalty never was his strong suit.

Ins: Kadeem Harris, RM, Cardiff, Free >>> Moses Odubajo, RB, Brentford, Free >>> Julian Borner, CB, Bielefeld, Free

Outs: Daniel Pudil, LB, Boleslav (Czech), Free >>> George Boyd, runs like fuck, Peterborough, Free >>> David Jones, CM, Released >>> Connor O’Grady, CB, Released >>> Marco Matias, RW, Released >>> Frederick Nielsen, CB, Released >>> Almen Abdi, CM, Released >>> Gary Hooper, CF, Released

Manager: TBC Not ideal. One Gianfranco Zola away from this going full graphite on the roof.

This Season: Bruce’s departure to Michael Ashley’s Sporting Goods Emporium late in the summer has left Wednesday in something of a pickle. A week out from the season beginning and they’re managerless, with Gianfranco Zola being mentioned in dispatches. Go straight to League One, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. There’s been some departure of high earners – Pudil, Boyd, Jones, Abdi and Hooper have found a cardboard box with their things in on the front lawn – and the con trick sale and lease back of their stadium has bought them some time atop the creaking FFP trapdoor. But their enormous wage bill remains an issue – the club is offering Jordan Rhodes around the league as a loan option with them swallowing some of his salary, just to try and shift the striker they bought with such a fanfare two years ago. A desperately needed dramatic overhaul of the squad has not taken place, with the perennial problems at full back only addressed with the signing of Moses Odubajo, who won’t do much to reduce the burden on Wednesday’s medical staff if his recent appearance record is anything to go by. If you wanted to be optimistic, you could say that Sheff Wed have been singularly unlucky with injuries over the past 24 months, and if only the likes of Fernando Forestieri could get fit and stay fit they could be off and away to the races. But, equally, it wouldn’t take very much for this to go very badly wrong indeed. The financial situation; the lack of a manager; the structure, age and fitness of the squad – everything’s heading in the wrong direction at the moment and even the hint of a second wind under Bruce at the end of last season is now irrelevant.

Fan Opinion: Lovely Jon Hore “Last season we finished about where I expected. It was a season of two very differing halves that can be summed up quickly as: first half, clusterfuck under Jos Luhukay; second half, very promising under Lee Bullen as caretaker and then Steve Bruce and his gang.

“Bruce’s defection to Newcastle has fucked us quite a lot to be honest. There was a real optimism for the coming season with him in charge, but him leaving less than three weeks from the opening game and losing all his planning and preparation is a bit of a shitter, especially given the dearth of decent candidates available. No one really has any idea which way Chansiri is looking to go with his appointment. Could go British, foreign, experienced, up and coming, who the fuck knows with that guy? There’s been very few solid links in the last two weeks, and outside of Chris Hughton, the list of names with the bookies is a bit depressing.

“The summer transfer activity has been restricted because we’ve been under a soft embargo, and probably still are. Silence from the club on that one. We’ve brought in three newbies on frees, and Moses Odubajo and Kadeem Harris add much needed pace to the squad. Harris has been impressive in pre-season so far. I still think we’re two or three short of having enough for a playoff push. We really need a manager in place as soon as possible so he’s got time before the deadline to bring in a couple of loans to fit whatever system we’ll be playing. No point us looking before we know how we’re going to be setting up.

“If we go in with current squad I’d say we’ll finish around tenth. Can’t see us being anywhere near going down, but despite our form towards the end of last season, I wouldn’t see us lasting the pace for a top six spot over 46 games.”

Prediction: Seventeenth. Much will depend on who replaces Bruce and what can be done in what’s left of the transfer window. Wouldn’t take much for this season to go badly wrong.

Swansea 25/1

Last Season God Swansea City used to be annoying. There they were, front row of every top set class, immaculately turned out, teacher’s favourite, with the right answer to every sodding question asked.

Now children, what’s the best way to appoint a football manager? HAND UP. Yes, Swansea… Well miss, the best way to appoint a football manager is to look for somebody closely aligned with the philosophy of the club and the playing style of his predecessor so as to ensure a smooth transition and minimal squad churn. Very good. Meanwhile, at the back at the class, QPR are making fart noises on the moist underside of Harry Redknapp’s droopy chin.

And can you tell me children, what’s the best way for the smaller clubs to tackle the inflated transfer market? HAND UP. Yes, Swansea… Well miss, it’s important first of all to look for players that fit the system the team operates in, rather than just grabbing shiny things because they’re available and their agent is ‘amenable’ then trying to piece them together into something coherent later. The only way we can trade in this market is by buying low and selling high so it’s important to always look for players younger in age and high in potential resale value. And there are still bargains to be had by scouting the second tier and unfashionable clubs in places like Spain and Germany. Very good. Meanwhile, at the back of the class, QPR are firing chewed up bits of Chris Samba out of a straw nicked from the canteen.

But like so many grade-perfect students, Swansea City went to uni and went off the rails a little bit. They got involved in a bad crowd of American owners, started partying hard with an ever-quickening procession of new and varied managers, and started chucking their television grant at expensive, addictive, highly toxic stuff like Renato Sanches that they would never have dreamed of touching previously.

They abandoned everything that had worked so well for them, and by the time they did get relegated in 2018, there’d been several near misses previously and they were in a bit of a state. Consequently, they never looked or felt like a team just relegated from the Premier League in their first season back at this level and didn’t even pretend to be one. They went back to their roots with forward-thinking, progressive coach Graham Potter and gave first team chances to a number of youngsters and hard-scouted left-field signings, out of which has emerged a £15m transfer fee for quickest thing on two legs Dan James.

They were, perhaps understandably, wildly inconsistent, typified by a run through March and April that saw them lose four in a row, win three in a row, lose completely at random 4-0 to a dreadful QPR side, then finish five unbeaten. They were still in with a shout of the play-offs until very late in the day, gave Man City the fright of their lives in the last eight of the FA Cup and Roddy McScotsman scored 22 goals in 37 league starts. It was, all things considered, a satisfactory first year in rehab.

Ins: Jake Bidwell, LB, QPR, Free >>> Ben Wilmot, CB, Watford, Loan

Outs: Daniel James, LW, Man Utd, £15m >>> Jordan Ayew, Alleged CF, Palace, £2.5m >>> Leroy Fer, CM, Feyenoord, Free >>> Luciano Narsingh, RW, Feyenoord, Free >>> Adam King, CM, Dundee Utd, Free >>> Wilfried Bony, CF, Released >>> Martin Olson, LB, Released

Manager: Steve Cooper That ship-steadying and root returning job done by Graham Potter didn’t escape the notice of Premier League Brighton, who are looking for a bit more excitement in their lives and skill in their football after several years of stoic pragmatism under Chris Hughton. In a further sign that Swansea are going back to what they used to do so well, they went looking for a head coach with similar style and background to Potter and at one stage spoke to our own John Eustace about moving across to South Wales. Steve Cooper, a man 75% teeth who looks like something Nick Park might craft from plasticine, got the gig in the end thanks largely to his work with England’s U17s where he coached players including Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, and Callum Hudson-Odoi to the final of the European Championships and then a World Cup success in 2017. An unremarkable playing career spent mostly in the League of Wales gave way to a promising coaching afterlife which began with his Pro Licence at just 27 and stints developing youth players at first Wrexham and then Liverpool. His dad is Keith Cooper, a referee in the early days of the Premier League who later starred as scheming dormouse Brain in Warner Bros’ animated sci-fi cartoon series Pinky and The Brain.

This Season: There are two variables from last term which need to go Swansea’s way. The first, is Steve Cooper needs to settle quickly into his first senior managerial job. That’ll be aided by inheriting a squad used to playing a passing game and trying to dominate possession under his predecessor, but Dan James is a big loss from that team. Secondly, they’ll need to keep hold of Tartan McPartick in the face of heavy interest from Sheff Utd, or replace him adequately if he does go. Fees of £15m have been mentioned which, allied with the James money, a sizeable parachute payment, and reduced wage bill after a series of departures, will give them budget to do that with. If he does stay, can he hit the 22-goal heights again? Ben Wilmot looks a shrewd addition at centre back, and we know exactly what they’re getting in Jake Bidwell.

Fan Opinion: Planet Swans “Last season probably saw us overachieve slightly after what seemed to be a fire sale that followed the demise of our Premier League place. Some top notch performances particularly at home saw us cling to a play-off chance almost to the end but the reality was it was always likely to be just out of our reach

“The departure of Graham Potter in the summer was a blow but with Steve Cooper in and a good chairman then we could do something better this summer. The transfer window looks good so far and pre-season results have been strong so optimism is high. I'm going for top ten as a minimum and grateful we don't have to watch a side managed by Colin...”

@StevenSOS1987: “Last season was, on the whole, quite good. After slipping out of the Premier League and inevitably losing a lot of players, we returned to the style of football that made us successful and brought through a lot of young players. Tenth place and a run to the last eight of the FA Cup was very satisfactory.

“Appointing Steve Cooper is a gamble, but he believes in a similar philosophy to Graham Potter so I’m hoping for a reasonable transition. We’ve not done much in the transfer market. Quite a few have been released including your former player Leroy Fer and Dan James’ departure is obviously a big loss. Only two players have joined, Jake Bidwell from you and centre back Ben Wilmot from Watford. We need another three ideally.

“I think we’re a tough one to call, safest bet would be to say mid table. A lot hinges on if Oli McBurnie is sold. If he isn’t we could get top six, if he is we could be in a scrap at the bottom.”

Prediction: Thirteenth. Slightly better if Haggis McNeeps stays and goes well again, or the money fetched in for him and James is used creatively. Slightly worse if neither of those things happen.

Preston 25/1

Last Season PNE finished bang in the middle of the Championship. Too many draws at home (only two clubs managed more than their ten) rather undid a formidable away record of eight wins which was better than sixth placed Derby managed and bettered by only the top four, Middlesbrough and Bristol City. This was all despite a crippling injury list through the first half of the year that also flared up again in the closing weeks, with half a dozen players suffering persistent hamstring problems and several other long term nasties to the likes of Josh Harrup besides. Goblin-in-Chief Ben Pearson missed 13 games through suspension, thanks to three red cards and 14 yellows.

Ins: Patrick Bauer, CB, Charlton, Free >>> David Nugent, CF, Derby, Free

Outs: Callum Robinson, CF, Sheff Utd, £7m >>> Marnick Vermijl, RB, Maastricht, Free >>> Andy Boyle, CB, Dundalk, Free >>> Michael Howard, CF, Morecambe, Free >>> Chris Maxwell, GK, Hibs, Loan >>> Tom Stead, CB, released >>> Tommy Spurr, LB, Released >>> Ben Pringle, CM, Released

Manager: Alex Neil An angry man, and some of the behaviour his team gets up to is deplorable, but this is a guy that had unfashionable Hamilton Accies flying with a clutch of young players who’ve moved onto stellar careers, then turned around Norwich and got them promoted to the Premier League from a real position of weakness, and now has Preston threatening to gatecrash the top six unfancied. Like his team, and half a dozen or more of his players, I’m not sure why there isn’t more praise and attention going his way. Also… moley, moley, moley.

This Season: Preston have been able to push towards the top six in this division several times in recent years, despite operating one of the lowest budgets in the league and having manager Simon Grayson poached for an ill-fated spell as Sunderland boss. They have several things going for them in 2019/20, including the fact the whole league continues to underestimate them. Firstly, they’d be enormously unlucky to suffer injuries on the same scale as previously. That’s a marginal gain they can look forward to straight away. Secondly, they’re always horrible to play against – few teams master the dark arts quite as successfully as Alex Neil’s PNE. It’s never an easy game, particularly if you’re the home team and expected to beat them. Thirdly, they scout and recruit better than just about any other side at this level and moving quickly to get Charlton’s promotion-winning centre back Patrick Bauer to go with the impressive Jordan Storey at the back is another example of that. Further forward they have a number of players who always seem to play well whenever I watch them – Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson, Sean Maguire – and in Alan Browne one of the most underrated players in the league. They’ve taken a couple of punts on lower league strikers in recent times and much of their success this season might depend on one or both of Exeter-alum Jayden Stockley or former Bristol Rovers man Billy Bodin getting fit and finding the net consistently with Callum Robinson packing his collection of child-sized shorts and heading for Sheff Utd. Goblin-in-Chief Ben Pearson will miss 13 games through suspension, picking up three red cards and 14 yellows.

Fan Opinion: James Bickers “It seems I say the same thing every season when asked how last year went, and the work it would save me by copying and pasting the previous work I’ve done with save my the frustration of typing it again. To sum up it would be ‘average’. Average is what I have come to expect from us recently, which isn’t a complaint at how we are playing by any means. Just look at Ipswich last season. The fans requested a complete shake up in the philosophy of the club which ultimately ended in relegation.

“Last season was again a season where we started poorly, picked up around the middle, and then fizzled out come April. We even had our annual defeat at Reading to signal the end of our play off push - thank god it’s in October this year. Injuries hit the squad as they have done in previous years at crucial times, Ben Pearson (much to his mother’s frustration as she now refuses to attend games) spent far too much time in the stands due to suspension. We seem to be at a crossroads at the moment of which direction we want to go in as a club, and hopefully the sooner we figure that out the better. If not a few more seasons of lulling in mid-table beckon.

“Going into this season I’m unsure really. Which seems a weird thing to write. We haven’t really spent big in the transfer market yet, and with other sides who finished near us last season (Brentford and Bristol City being prime examples) bolstering their squads over the summer, I think this season could be a real struggle. On the other hand we have several players fit again who played little to no part of the last campaign. Josh Harrop the marquee signing from Manchester United now has the opportunity to restart his career after struggling so far in the championship. Billy Bodin, back from long term injury has the opportunity to impress and kick on from an impressive pre-season.

“We are a side that seems to prove people wrong on a regular basis so with that, coupled with the fact that Alex Neil is still in the hot seat, I’m confident we can mount a charge on the play offs and hopefully not fade away in April again. Given the spend from others in the division so far I would say mid table would be a good season for us, but as I mentioned earlier I am a glass half full type of fan. Honestly, I think if we can keep everyone fit (a big if I know based on previous seasons) then we can challenge for the play offs. We have a tendency over previous seasons to do well against the top half teams but struggle against teams in the lower half of the table so if we are to challenge we need to find a good balance of consistency. That will be key. If pressed for a position which I think we will finish, I’ll stick my neck on the line and say a few more signings will be brought in and we will sneak sixth.”

Prediction: 6th. Play-off dark horses. I like them, a lot. Just not to play against.

Blackburn 30/1

Last Season Blackburn seemed to be a club in absolute freefall when they dropped out of the Premier League, through the Championship and into League One amidst a coarsening backdrop of fan protests and chickens draped in Rovers flags. I’ll be honest, I expected another Bradford-type situation and certainly didn’t expect to be seeing them back at this level as quick as they did return. That turnaround, in that context, is entirely down to one of football’s genuinely wonderful people, Tony Mowbray, and after bitter failures at Middlesbrough and Celtic you couldn’t help but be pleased for the guy. Blackburn’s return to the Championship was solid, unspectacular, and exactly what they would have taken at the start. Bradley Dack made the step up successfully and combined with Danny Graham’s Indian summer in attack meant that they were never in any trouble at all, while also never likely to trouble the scorers at the top end. Just three defeats int heir first 17 league games back at this level teed them up nicely and although they lost nine of 11 to rather derail the momentum through February and March, they finished on four consecutive wins and a draw from the final six games.

Ins: Sam Gallagher, CF, Southampton, £5m >>> Stewart Downing, LM, Free >>> Bradley Johnson, CM, Derby, Free >>> Tom White, CM, Gateshead, Undisclosed >>> Christian Walton, GK, Brighton, Loan

Outs: David Raya, GK, Brentford, £3m >>> Paul Downing, CB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Charlie Albinson, GK, Southport, Free >>> Jack Rodwell, DM, Released >>> Craig Conway, LW, Released >>> Ben Gladwin, CM, Released

Manager: Tony Mowbray The power and influence of managers at clubs is frequently overstated and overrated, but seeing the state Blackburn were in when they exited the division and how stable they are now is pure testament to Tony Mowbray.

This Season: One big misstep last season was the £7m splashed out on Nottingham Forest starlet Ben Brereton who returned one goal and one penalty won from Josh Scowen – not hard – at Ewood Park for the investment. Despite all the difficulties they’ve worked themselves into, Rovers are not afraid to play in the expensive striker game and have dipped their toe again this summer with a £5m move for Southampton’s perennial loanee Sam Gallagher. He fitted in well at Ewood during a previous temporary spell, but has endured a bad spell at Birmingham since that swelled his bank balance considerably but damaged his rep at this level almost as much. Much of Rovers’ 2019/20 will hang on his swimmer shoulders – Danny Graham was key last season but will be 34 by the end of this and needed adequately replacing. Worth saying that even if he does as well for them as he did last time, his previous spell wasn’t enough to save them from relegation on the final day. Other than that they’ve swapped one rich, half-arsed blob of nothing-very-much in midfield (Jack Rodwell) for another (Bradley Johnson) and played safe with a move for Christian Walton to take the place of David Raya who, as a rocks and diamonds goalkeeper, will fit perfectly at Brentford. Likely to pass by completely unnoticed in midtable, unless somebody gets ideas above their stations and removes Mowbray under the Taken Us As Far as He Can Act of 1997.

Fan Opinion: @Rovers_Chat “Overall, I’d have to say last season went well. We got off to a decent start using the momentum from the promotion, but we never really got one of those runs going that you need to break the barrier and stay in the top six. We had a tough December – albeit playing some good sides – and then we won all four matches in January and we were dreaming of the play-offs, and then it fell apart. We were 2-0 up at Brentford after ten minutes, and sat (I think) one point off the top six. However, it all crumbled and we lost 5-2. We went on a horrific run winning one in 11 and some fans were looking over the shoulder at the relegation spots. We ended any of those thoughts with four wins from four in April and finished fifteenth. I was impressed with how well we took to the league, but you can’t help thinking what could’ve been if we won the aforementioned Brentford match.

“I’m impressed and happy with our summer transfer business. We set out a plan of what we needed and we’ve gone and got it. Yes, we may have missed out on some targets, but who doesn’t? We brought experience into the club with Stewart Downing and Bradley Johnson, and I’m excited to see how both use their vast knowledge of this division and the top flight to benefit us. Sam Gallagher joined on a permanent deal after being linked with a move here for three different windows, and he’ll be our replacement for Danny Graham, who is unfortunately reaching the end of his career. We sold our number one keeper David Raya to Brentford, but we brought in Christian Walton – who impressed me at Wigan – and a more experienced goalkeeper should be coming in before the window closes. Tosin Adarabioyo came on loan from Manchester City, after spending last season on loan at West Brom, and he’ll add something different to a previously leaky backline that conceded 69 times in the league last season. It’s a positive window for the club, and we’ve kept hold of our key players like Bradley Dack, Darragh Lenihan and young Lewis Travis (touch wood on the first two because the window is still open!)

“If we can get the second keeper I’ve already mentioned and another centre-back, there’s no reason why we can’t make a push towards the top six. Whether we’ll actually make it into the play-offs is another question, and personally I think it’s a step too far. I’ll back us to finish top-half, and I’ll go for ninth.”

@IanHerbert - “Last season was the ultimate curate’s egg, we flattered to deceive early on, fought back at the turn of the year and by the end of January, we were considering making (albeit cancellable) rail bookings for hotels and trains for a Wembley play off final. A horrid run of form lasting a couple of months saw more losses than a Trump-owned casino and for a while we looked over our shoulders at Rotherham and Wigan, before recovering to lower mid table comfort. Four places higher than my prediction here last season as I recall. Pessimist? Me? How very dare you?

“At the time of writing, I hope our summer recruitment hasn’t yet been completed. Generally underwhelming I think is the verdict. Not addressing the fundamental weaknesses is also a valid charge for Tony Mowbray to answer. We’re giving Stewart Downing a last hurrah or is that “pension contribution” ? Bradley Johnson seems a decent signing on a free. The returning Sam Gallagher is probably Danny Graham’s long-term replacement, albeit £5m is on the generous side. We’ve also taken Brighton keeper Walton on loan for the season to replace the “error strewn David Raya” as we can now call him as he’s no longer ours. The elephant in the room is the defence which thus far remains resolutely untinkered with, despite our many and various failures last season. Mowbray promised defenders were coming. If they are, they must be travelling to Ewood on Northern Rail. Perhaps we should sign the elephant?

“We’ve improved the attack, midfield depends on how Bradley Johnson fits in but looks well stocked; albeit with some produce past “use by” dates...but that defence...*shudders*. I predicted nineteenth last season and the day after typing my missive, we signed three players. We can but hope that maybe, just maybe, a left back, a right back & a centre back will arrive via Amazon Prime next week. ‘Please leave in a safe place’ ...say twelfth...that’s a place that’s nice & safe.”

Prediction: Fourteenth. Middle of the road team travelling down the middle of the road.

Links >>> Contenders >>> Midtable >>> Strugglers

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

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TheChef added 08:03 - Jul 30
Oluwafikayomi Oluwadamilola "Fikayo" Tomori to you, thank you very much.
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sprocket added 11:39 - Jul 30
"Meanwhile, at the back at the class, QPR are making fart noises on the moist underside of Harry Redknapp’s droopy chin"

laugh out loud moment coz it's so true.

Top job as always. Thanks Clive
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Antti_Heinola added 11:48 - Jul 30
Agree with sprocket on the stand out line of an incredibly in-depth piece, thanks so much Clive.

Second biggest laugh out loud moment - the Blackburn fan 'excited' by Stewart 'am I still playing?' Downing and Bradley 'Guess My Weight' Johnson.
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RedbourneR added 11:48 - Jul 30
Superb Swansea section. Love it
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enfieldargh added 23:51 - Jul 30
Great insight into other teams and I'm interested to read your expectations on the Derby & Sheff WEds stadium sales.

you are of course one place out on all the predictions as QPR will finish top making your placements one out
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