The 2011/2012 Championship season will no doubt yet again be an entertaining, competitive and enthralling campaign, with a host of teams adding more players to their current armouries in an attempt to achieve promotion to the Premier League.
But which teams are destined for success, and which ones will disappoint and fall by the wayside?
1. West Ham United
Love him or hate him, Sam Allardyce is a manager who guarantees results, and at times his drive for success leads to football that is far from aesthetically pleasing, but extremely efficient and successful. Allardyce seems to be more than willing to allow his big earning Premier League flop’s to move on to pastures new at Upton Park, whilst building his side around a contingent of youthful players: Mark Noble, Jack Collison, James Tomkins, Jordan Spence, Fred Sears and Junior Stanislas. He has added to this core by bringing in 3 established players of top tier quality that he has worked with in the past, Matt Taylor, Abdoulaye Faye and arguably one of the biggest coo’s of recent years, Kevin Nolan, who surprisingly was willing to move down to the Championship on the back of yet another goal-filled season at Newcastle United. With the likes of Scott Parker, Carlton Cole, Gary O’Neil and Robert Green all still at the club, the existence of a quality manager and a squad packed full of Premier League talent, this combination should see the Hammers return to the top flight at the first attempt.
Verdict: Potential Champions.
2. Leicester City
Sven-Goran Eriksson has quietly made some shrewd moves this summer in an attempt to add to his squad, with a slight shift in style as the Swede looks to bring in more domestic experience to his squad. The former England manager also seems to understand the requirement of a solid defence, with the likes of Matt Mills, Paul Konchesky, Michael Ball, John Paintsil, Sean St Ledger and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel all being acquired, and added to existing defenders such as man-mountain Sol Bamba, Leicester should have a solid and sturdy base to build upon as they attempt to finally get back into the top flight. Eriksson, backed by a willing owner, will surely add further to his squad and help new signing David Nugent fire in the goals at the other end.
The remaining relegated sides…. will both need to work stringently this summer in order to make sure they have a squad that is equipped to realistically return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Birmingham’s squad has already been raided by top flight vultures, with Roger Johnson, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner already fleeing, whilst their loan players have returned to their parent clubs. Ben Foster’s departure seems inevitable, whilst Scott Dann, Cameron Jerome and Liam Ridgewell all have a long line of suitors, but new manager Chris Hughton will hope to persuade these to stay and accompany the likes of winger Chris Burke and controversial striker Marlon King, recent signings who are both proven at Championship Level.
Meanwhile Blackpool relied heavily on their spirit as they were desperately unlucky to fall from the Premier League trapdoor, and Ian Holloway is a manager that the squad will enjoy working with as they attempt to prove promotion was no fluke. However their star duo in midfield, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan, have both left the club and Holloway will struggle to find replacements that can have a similar impact; however Barry Ferguson may feel he has the quality to soften the blow. If Dj Campbell stays however, Blackpool will feel that him, Kevin Phillips and Gary Taylor-Fletcher can fire in the goals that are required to push for promotion.
Verdict: Both clubs may have a chance of at least reaching the play-offs, depending on transfer activity.
The promoted sides…… look surprisingly strong and well equipped to comfortably survive and possibly push towards the top half of the table. Southampton can boast the likes of Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte, Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork and Rickie Lambert, whilst new signing Steve De Ridder could prove integral to the club’s plans if Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain leaves as is expected.
Gus Poyet has done a sterling job at Brighton, who are seemingly equipped for the Championship in their new home; The Falmer Stadium. Poyet has also had financial backing, with Will Buckley, Kazenga LuaLua and most notably Craig Mackail-Smith from fellow promoted side Peterborough joining the Seagulls, showing their intent at really establishing themselves at a higher level.
The loss of Mackail-Smith will really be felt by Peterborough however, with their promotion to the Championship heavily reliant on his regular source of goals. However Darren Ferguson will hope he can avoid relegation in order to banish his demons from an unsuccessful time at Preston North End.
Verdict: Southampton and Brighton to survive comfortably, Peterborough to struggle.
The top goal scorer… could be one of many, and highly dependent on whether the relegated clubs can hold onto their main strikers. Dj Campbell, Cameron Jerome and Carlton Cole should all be able to take the Championship by storm if they are retained by their clubs, whilst Kevin Phillips, Frederic Piquionne and Marlon King will all feel confident of stepping up to the mark. The onus will be on Craig Mackail-Smith and Rickie Lambert to provide the firepower for their promoted clubs, whilst David Nugent may prove to be one of the signings of the season for Leicester, and Kevin Nolan may even manage to fire his way into contention from midfield. Elsewhere and the likes of Shane Long, Nicky Maynard, Robert Earnshaw, Kenny Miller(if he finally signs for Cardiff) Michael Chopra, Jay Rodriguez and Luciano Becchio should all be regular goal scorers for their respective clubs, in what is certainly an extremely competitive division.
Verdict: Shane Long – as long as Reading can keep hold of his sought after services.
The player of the season…. will again be a hardly fought after award as the players fight to follow in the footsteps of Adel Taarabt, who won the award last season. Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain could have a realistic chance if he stays with the Saints, with his pace and flair sure to only enhance his reputation. Scott Dann will also be crucial to Birmingham if he stays with the Blues, and the same can be said of Scott Parker at West Ham, but with a host of potential Premier League suitors for the pair, this seems unlikely. The top goalscorer will always be in with a realistic chance, whilst the likes of Matt Mills and Sol Bamba could be integral to any Leiester success, putting them forward for the award. The West Ham midfield looks impressive as well, even if Scott Parker departs, with Jack Collison, Mark Noble, Gary O’Neil and Matty Taylor all proven at a higher level.
Verdict: Kevin Nolan – Too good for the Championship, and it will show.
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