Seems like it’s only been a few days since Aston Villa concluded the last Championship season at Wembley Stadium by winning promotion to the Premier League. But after a summer full of player (and manager) moves, the 2019-2020 season in the second tier of English Football will kick things off on Saturday.
Like last season, we’ll be doing season-long Power Rankings for the Championship. Unlike last season, however, they will not be weekly, which will hopefully allow us to cover the trends throughout the season and not just single game moves. But before the season starts, we need to take a look at where we see the clubs right now.
Same League, New Clubs
First, a quick recap on last season in the Championship: Norwich City won the league last season, with Sheffield United earning automatic promotion right behind them. The aforementioned Aston Villa finished fifth, but one the promotion playoff to join them in the Premier League this season. At the bottom of the table, to the surprise of maybe a couple of people, Ipswich Town (24th), Bolton Wanderers (23rd), and Rotherham United (22nd) are on their way to League One
Those six clubs were replaced through promotion and relegation as well. The Premier League sends Cardiff City (18th), Fulham (19th), and Huddersfield Town (20th) back down to the Championship, while League One sends up Luton Town (1st), Barnsley (2nd), and Charlton Athletic (playoff winner). Time will tell if these clubs will make it one-and-done in the Championship or if they will find themselves in the Championship again next season.
But we’re a long way from the end of the season, with 46 matches left to play through May. Here’s a brief look at how we think the season will go this season:
|West Bromwich Albion||4|
|Preston North End||14|
|Queens Park Rangers||19|
Playoff Competitors at the Top
Last season, Leeds United was in the top two for 33 of 46 weeks. But after a four-match winless streak (0-1-3) to end the season, they missed out on automatic promotion by six points. Then, favored in the promotion playoffs as the top seed, they lost to Derby County in the semifinals, including a 4-2 loss at home in the second leg. Nevertheless, Marcelo Bielsa returns to try to finally get over the hump and return to the Premier League for the first time since 2003-04, and he returns his top four scorers from last season to help.
It hasn’t been nearly as long for West Bromwich Albion to be away from the top tier of English football, with last season being their first season back in the Championship after being relegated after a last place Premier League finish in 2017-18. They sacked manager Darren Moore in March, despite the club holding onto a playoff spot in all but six weeks during his time leading the club. They then fell to Aston Villa in the playoff semifinals (on penalty kicks), so new skipper Slaven Bilić will likely be expected to match that appearance this season or find himself looking for a new job as well.
Finally, Derby County, the club that lost to Aston Villa at Wembley in May, has also had some turnover at the top, though they waited until the offseason. It also wasn’t really their choice, with Frank Lampard deciding to take the reins at his former club, Premier League stalwart Chelsea, after his lone season at Derby. Philip Cocu takes over a club with playoff aspirations once again (doesn’t every club want to at least make the playoffs?), looking to return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Relegation Watch Begins Now
Of the returning clubs, Millwall, Reading, and Wigan Athletic remain near the bottom of the table, nearly in line with where they finished last season. You would think that at least one club would be safe with such low expectations on the promoted clubs from League One, but only one club – Rotherham United – had a one-season stay at the bottom of the table last season. That’s why we have Millwall and Wigan Athletic starting the season in the bottom three, as chances are that two clubs that have had some longevity in the Championship will be returning to League One at the end of the season.
Millwall avoided relegation last season despite winning only two of their last ten matches (2-4-4). Rotherham United simply had a worse finish, losing five of their final six (0-1-5). Had Millwall spent the final two months of the season climbing out to the relegation zone instead of bumping up against it, I would be more willing to like their chances of at least beating a couple of promoted squads and avoiding relegation.
Wigan Athletic actually finished last season on a strong note, going 3-2-0 down the stretch to secure safety a few weeks before the conclusion of the season. Still, they went through stretches last season where they were winless for multiple weeks, including two different seven match stretches. They were also pretty atrocious away from home, scoring less than a goal a match and only winning two times, on their way to a 2-5-16 road record (with a -22 goal differential). They open the season at home – against Cardiff City – so we’ll have to wait a bit to see if they can turn their road performance around.
Which Newcomers Will Call the Premier League Home Next Season?
The three clubs down from the Premier League start out in our top five, with Fulham currently positioned to earn automatic promotion. Of the three clubs, I’d give them the best chance of a one-and-done season in the Championship. They have the pedigree that the other two clubs lack – 14 seasons in the Premier League versus two seasons each for Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town – though Cardiff City does have a more recent title in the Championship (2013) than Fulham (2001). New (permanent) manager Scott Parker will lead a squad that struggled in the Premier League last season but should find success back in the Championship, hopefully for only one season.
League One champions Luton Town is coming of back-to-back promotions, a streak that is likely to end this season. They seem well positioned to finish mid-table, and could even push for a playoff spot based on their recent success, but I would wager they would be happy to finish in the top 15 this season and build going forward. They are not that far removed from non-league football, so some stability – at least in the short term – is probably what’s best for the club at this point.
We’ll be back to look at the Power Rankings in the Championship after a month of action, and every month thereafter. As mentioned above, this will hopefully allow us to better track trends during the season, instead of looking at single week results. We’re excited for the season to start – even if it did kind of sneak up on us a bit – and can’t wait to join you all for the upcoming season!
Until next time…