Several Championship clubs will fight tooth and nail to secure promotion to the Premier League over the course of the 2019/20 campaign. Reaching the top flight is now worth a cool £170 million and its success in the Championship promotion race can make or break a club.
Just ask Aston Villa, who were on the brink of financial ruin a year ago after losing to Fulham in the playoff final. This year they had a second chance and they grabbed it with both hands, beating Derby at Wembley and reaching the Promised Land once more. They responded by spending £130 million on 12 new players and they are now enjoying life in the Premier League, the most popular league in the world.
The battle to follow in their footsteps will be ferocious this season, and the first two rounds of fixtures highlighted just how competitive the division is. Here we highlight three teams that look capable of swimming up to the top flight and three that could sink without a trace:
Leeds led the Championship for several months last season and they looked all but certain to secure promotion. Legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa turned a middling group of players into a dynamic, energetic, hard-pressing unit that wowed neutrals with the pace and intensity of their play. However, Kemar Roofe endured an epic goal drought in the second half of the season, Leeds ran out of steam and they finished third after taking just one point from their final four games. They then fell apart in the second leg of their playoff semi-final against Derby and the season ended in despair.
Yet they have not wallowed in sadness, and Bielsa remains at the helm. They have not splashed much cash this summer, but Roofe was shown the door and they have replaced him with the exciting young Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah. The 20-year-old scored on his debut in the Carabao Cup this week and Bielsa has pledged to build the team around him. Leeds have already taken four points from their opening two games, but they clearly lacked a top-notch striker and Nketiah should be able to fill that role with aplomb.
If you like to bet on football, you will see that Leeds are one of the favourites to win the Championship this season, and with Bielsa and Nketiah leading the charge they have a great opportunity to pull it off.
Neil Warnock’s men battled bravely in the Premier League last season and only finished two points adrift of safety in the end. It was a season of fine margins for Cardiff, who can feel aggrieved at a few refereeing calls that went against them. The results they secured were hugely impressive when you consider just how little the club invested in new players ahead of the 2018/19 campaign. Fulham spent more than £100 million on new talent, whereas Cardiff stuck to largely the same team that secured promotion. Yet Cardiff finished eight points above the Cottagers and dealt far better with the rigours of the Premier League.
The upshot is that Cardiff are now in a strong position to yo-yo straight back up to the top flight. They are not saddled with an unmanageable wage bill, they have not been forced into a fire sale, and Warnock retains a motivated group of players that know what it takes to secure promotion from this division. They began the season with a shock 3-2 loss to Wigan, but that jolted them into action and they beat Luton 2-1 at the weekend.
Owls fans watched on in horror as bitter rivals Sheff Utd leapfrogged Leeds and seized promotion to the top-flight last season. Now the onus is on Wednesday to make a concerted push for promotion. They lost manager Steve Bruce to Newcastle this summer and Lee Bullen has stepped into the caretaker role once again. Thus far it has been an overwhelming success.
After two games, Sheff Wed sit top of the Championship table. They went to the Madejski Stadium and beat Reading 3-1 on the opening weekend, despite having goalkeeper Keiren Westwood sent off in the 80th minute. He was not missed as Wednesday beat Burnley 2-0 last time out to extend their perfect start to the new season.
They have a lethal finisher in Steven Fletcher, while Jacob Murphy looks a great signing and another new arrival, Kadeem Harris from Cardiff, completes a formidable attacking triumvirate.
Teams like Fulham, West Brom, Brentford and Derby are given a stronger chance of promotion by the bookmakers, but Wednesday look like an intriguing dark horse in the promotion race. Few fans gave the Blades a chance last season, and now the Owls could follow in their footsteps.
Former Premier League Stalwarts Stoke are the first team in our list of Championship sinkers. The Potters sit rock bottom of the table after losing their first two games of the new season, highlighting the extent of their fall from grace. They still have a few players that have plenty of Premier League experience, including Jack Butland, James McClean, Sam Clucas, Joe Allen, Benik Afobe and Sam Clucas, but they are not gelling right now.
Captain Ryan Shawcross broke his leg in a pre-season fixture and that was a devastating blow for the team. They have struggled without his organisational skills at the back, losing 2-1 at home to QPR in their opener and then falling to a 3-1 reverse away at newly promoted Charlton at the weekend. They finished 16th last season and mid-table mediocrity looks about the best they can hope for this time around.
Swansea spent a fortune as they battled to beat the drop in the Premier League, but their luck finally ran out in 2017. Their situation upon landing in the Championship was poles apart from that of Cardiff. Swansea were forced to sell a number of high earners and the starting 11 was utterly ravaged.
Over the past two summers, Alfie Mawson, Lukasz Fabianski, Federico Fernandez, Clucas, Roque Mesa, Kyle Bartley, Jordi Amat, Ki Sung-yueng, Angel Rangel, Jefferson Montero, Wilfried Bony, Tom Carroll and Leroy Fer have all left the club, leaving the team unrecognisable from the one that competed in the Premier League.
They looked promising under Graham Potter last season, but he dealt them a painful blow by moving to Brighton in the summer. Swansea also sold their two best players – Oliver McBurnie and Daniel Hames – for a combined £32 million, while they spent less than £500,000 on new arrivals, so they are very much a club in decline right now. They have taken four points from their opening two games, but it is hard to see the Swans sustaining a promotion push this season.
Bristol City were among the favourites to be promoted at the start of the season, but they have endured a poor opening fortnight. Leeds ripped them apart at Ashton Gate in the curtain raiser, and then they could only draw 1-1 away at Birmingham on Saturday.
They raised £33 million by selling Adam Webster to Brighton and Lloyd Kelly to Bournemouth in the summer, and they have brought in some intriguing new arrivals. Tomas Kalas joined from Chelsea in an £8 million deal, while Han-Noah Massengo, Kasey Palmer, Adam Nagy and Jay Dasilva look promising, but it will take a while for the new arrivals to bed in and the defence will initially struggle without Webster running the show.
By the time Bristol City gel into an effective unit, it will probably be too late for them to make a serious promotion bid, so they look as though they could sink without a trace in the battle to reach the Premier League.