The new Championship season is nearly here and sure to be another rollercoaster ride!
Our football tipster Joe Citrone has put together his 2023/24 preview, complete with 1-24 predictions and recommended ante-post bets.
Following the sacking of Chris Wilder last October, Middlesbrough’s disappointing early-season form had left them fearing a battle at the wrong end of the table rather than the promotion push they’d have hoped for.
However, the subsequent appointment of former Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick drastically transformed their fortunes and they soon shot up the table with a free-flowing, attacking style of play.
Chuba Akpom, who struggled to make an impact under previous managers and spent the 2021/22 season out on loan with PAOK, was a player who really flourished after the change in management and – if they are able to keep hold of him – is going to cause a lot of problems again next season.
They ended up missing out on promotion in the play-offs last term, but with a full pre-season now to work with his players – as well as being able to add a few more into his squad such as Morgan Rogers from Manchester City and Sam Silvera over from the A-League – I expect Carrick to get his Boro side over the line this season. And I have them going up as champions.
Middlesbrough to win the Championship title – currently
2. Leicester City
No one expected Leicester City to be here this last time last year – but here they are. After many years of success in the Premier League, which of course included that famous title win, a Champions League campaign and an FA Cup final triumph at Wembley, the Foxes are now back in the Championship.
Enzo Maresca has come in to replace interim boss Dean Smith and it is clear that he and the club are not planning on sticking around in the second-tier for very long; making a couple of eye-catching signings this window.
Two England internationals have arrived in Harry Winks and Conor Coady and exciting defensive prospect Callum Doyle has arrived on loan after a good season at this level last term with Blackburn Rovers.
Of course, they have lost James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, two big assets, but still have plenty of quality and I have them in my top-two.
After many years of struggle, which was documented in the ‘Sunderland Till I Die’ Netflix documentary, hope and optimism is now returning to the Stadium of Light.
For the first time in many years, it feels like there is a clear identity and structure at the club, with Tony Mowbray able to build an exciting, young squad full of flair and inventiveness.
Last season, so many obstacles were thrown their way – their manager left, their star striker got injured, their other striker got recalled, they suffered an injury crisis in defence – and yet still they managed to claw their way into the top-six. Mowbray has done a simply outstanding job.
Their summer signings have come from across the globe, with Jenson Seelt arriving from PSV, Nectarios Triantis joining from Central Coast Mariners and Luis Semedo coming in from Benfica, giving this Black Cats squad a very international feel.
Amad Diallo – who has gone back to Manchester United after his hugely impactful loan spell – will be difficult to replace, but I still feel that Sunderland are going to kick on again this season. I think they will be pushing for those automatic-promotion places this season, but have them just missing out on that in third-place. They should be strong in the play-offs, though.
Sunderland to win promotion – currently at
4. Leeds United
Leeds United are looking to regroup and rebuild after last season’s disappointing relegation from the Premier League.
After Sam Allarydce’s short stint in charge, Leeds United have opted to now go in a different direction by appointing Daniel Farke as their new manager who brings with him an impressive pedigree, particularly at this level having won two promotions from the Championship with Norwich City.
Things still need pulling together a bit at Elland Road, with the squad looking slightly imbalanced in certain areas, but I do think the experience of Farke coupled with some of their star quality – the likes of Luis Sinisterra and Jack Harrison – will pay dividends for them.
Quite hard to place at the moment, a lot depends on whether they end up keeping players like Tyler Adams and Wilfried Gnonto who are simply way too good for the level, but I have them fourth as it stands.
Southampton will be a very fascinating side to follow this season with Russell Martin, who has had a fascinating career trajectory over the last couple of years, getting the gig after Ruben Selles departed the club following relegation from the Premier League.
Martin is an interesting one as, although he has rightly gained a reputation from the work he did at MK Dons and Swansea City as a coach who likes to play passing, attacking, stylish football, he is still yet to combine style with substance in his managerial career.
Southampton undoubtedly have a squad that is above Championship level. It may still change a bit before the end of the window with Romeo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse expected to move on, but players who struggled in the Premier League last season – like Joe Aribo and Gavin Bazunu – should be able to flourish in the Championship. Will Smallbone and Nathan Tella, who both enjoyed positive loan spells in this league last season, have also returned to bolster the squad.
If Martin can prove himself as a manager that can combine good football with consistent results, Southampton may finish slightly higher, but right now I have them fifth.
6. Coventry City
Coventry City enjoyed a simply superb 22/23 season, getting all the way to the play-off final, only a penalty shoot-out away from a sensational return to the Premier League and a third promotion since Mark Robins came back to the club in 2017.
They have recruited pretty well this summer; making a very interesting signing in tricky winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto and also buying striker Ellis Simms who has done well previously for Blackpool and Sunderland. They have, however, suffered a big blow in losing the talisamnic Viktor Gyokeres to Sporting Lisbon.
That said, I back Mark Robins to keep performing miracles with the Sky Blues. If they can keep Gustavo Hamer, I expect them to be in-and-around the play-off places again. But even if they lose him, I have a lot of faith in their manager and recruitment team to make sensible choices. I have them just sneaking into the play-offs again.
Coventry City to finish in the top-six – currently
7. Hull City
In every pre-season prediction, you’ve always got to declare one team as your ‘dark horses’. Who is it going to be in the Championship in 2023/24? Well, I have gone for Liam Rosenior’s Hull City.
In Rosenior, they have a bright, young manager who made a huge difference after he replaced Shota Arveladze last season; bringing a much more structured and progressive style of football to the table. Injuries prevented them from making any late play-off surge, but I liked what I saw from the Tigers under Rosenior.
In terms of incoming players this summer, they have rolled the dice slightly on Liam Delap who is very highly-rated but failed to pull up any trees in his loan spells with Stoke and Preston, but I back Rosenior to get more out of him.
The squad perhaps needs a little bit more bolstering before the end of the window, particularly in the goalkeeping department, but I am feeling good about their chances. A team to watch.
As Championship managers go, Gary Rowett is about as solid as they come, dare I say even a tad underrated?
Millwall narrowly, unluckily missed out on a play-off spot on the final day of the Championship season last term and will be hoping to push towards those top-six positions again this season.
In Zian Flemming, they have one of the best creative midfield players in the division – who they will be desperate to keep hold of – but they are also incredibly tight in defence; only four teams conceded fewer goals than Millwall in the Championship last season and three of them got promoted.
They have recruited Kevin Nisbet, who should provide a bit more firepower up-top and ease the burden on Tom Bradshaw, and also Casper De Norre who, if he can adapt to English football, should complement fans’ favourite Billy Mitchell (not the one off EastEnders) in midfield.
9. Bristol City
I haven’t seen too many people talking about Bristol City, but I like what they’ve done so far in the transfer market and can see them going reasonably well.
Ross McCrorie, who has been impressive for Aberdeen, has arrived and – despite coming in off the back of a difficult season with QPR – I think the signing of defender Rob Dickie could be an inspired piece of business if some confidence can be installed back into him.
They do look set to lose their outstanding young prospect in Alex Scott, but they will be well-compensated for that with reports of a £25m fee being bandied about which should free them up to do more positive business in the transfer market.
Also, promising striker Tommy Conway, who broke into the first-team last season, has been on fire in pre-season and is one to look out for. A big season could be on the horizon for him.
I think a play-off push might be just a bit beyond the Robins this season, but they have been gradually building under Nigel Pearson and I back them to climb up a fair few places from their 14th-place finish last season.
10. West Bromwich Albion
In truth, without Carlos Corberan at the helm, I would probably be a lot more skeptical about West Bromwich Albion and would perhaps be placing them slightly lower.
His work at Huddersfield Town and so far with West Brom has massively impressed me and I expect him to be able to squeeze every last drop of talent out of this squad, but there is no question to me that they need fresh bodies.
They are still yet to bring any new signings in at the time of writing and, although I do think they have a good amount of quality with the likes of Daryl Dike and Jed Wallace as well as some up-and-coming players like Caleb Taylor and Reyes Cleary, they need to strengthen if they are to challenge; especially after losing key defender Dara O’Shea to Burnley.
Whilst they have Corberan at the helm, I expect West Brom to be okay and be somewhere in the top-half of the table. If he were to leave at any point, my opinion could change.
11. Ipswich Town
The dark days of Paul Lambert seem so far away now for Ipswich Town who are motoring into the Championship with serious momentum and positivity after securing automatic-promotion from League One last season.
In Kieran McKenna, they have a really exciting, young manager who has been gaining plaudits ever since he departed Manchester United’s backroom staff to take on his first managerial role with the Tractor Boys in December 2021.
The form that they ended last season in, which saw them win 13 of their last 15 games, should mean they come into their first Championship campaign in four years with wind in their sails and – although League One to Championship is a big step up in quality – I think McKenna’s men are well-equipped to deal with many of those challenges.
I have them in 11th. But, crucially, I have them above arch-rivals Norwich City which I’m sure they would see as a win in itself.
12. Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn Rovers spent much of last season in the top-six, but a late-season slump cost them a play-off place so are coming into this term off the back of a disappointing end to their last campaign.
They suffered a further blow this summer, although would have seen it coming, by losing star striker Ben Brereton Diaz to Villarreal on a free transfer. His goals will be hard to replace and I’m not sure that Niall Ennis, who has been brought in from Plymouth, is going to be able to replicate it straight away.
A lot of the onus creatively might fall on the shoulders of new signing Arnor Sigurdsson, but he himself might also need a little bit of time to adapt to the intensity of the Championship. I have Rovers slipping down the table slightly to 12th-place.
13. Norwich City
Norwich City are on the cusp of a huge period of transition with influential sporting director Stuart Webber currently working his notice period before departing for pastures new.
David Wagner is at the helm as manager and, although he has superb pedigree at this level from his time at Huddersfield Town, he has got off to a rocky start and his position already feels slightly fragile. If the Canaries get off to a bad start, things could turn quickly.
They have some individual quality in the final-third which should serve them well in Gabriel Sara and Marcelino Nunez, but they cannot be solely relied upon.
Experience has been added in the transfer window with Shane Duffy and Ashley Barnes joining on free transfers, but these aren’t additions that I feel elevate them. They finished 13th last season and that’s where I have them finishing again.
14. Plymouth Argyle
Plymouth Argyle managed to achieve possibly the most impressive feat across all three EFL divisions by romping home to the League One title with 101 points.
In Steven Schumacher, they have one of the best and most impressive young managers in the EFL who has done a simply remarkable job since taking his first full-time managerial job with Argyle in 2021.
The most exciting thing for Plymouth this summer is that Schumacher is seemingly being backed by the board; securing the permanent signings of Morgan Whittaker and Bali Mumba who massively impressed on loan last season and should slot seamlessly into their side.
Argyle are coming into this season with huge momentum, but the step up in quality from League One to Championship is always greater than people expect and I do expect some turbulence along the way this season.
However, I believe their sensible and detailed recruitment coupled with their excellent manager should see them well away from any relegation danger in my opinion.
15. Swansea City
It has been a summer of change for the Swans with Russell Martin departing to take on the Southampton job as we discussed, but they acted quickly to replace him by drafting in Barnsley boss Michael Duff.
Given the set of circumstances, I think Duff is probably the best appointment that Swansea could have made. He did a superb job at Cheltenham Town and then proved himself further by guiding Barnsley to the League One play-off final last season.
However, I think the shift stylistically from Martin’s passing style to Duff’s high-pressing philosophy is fairly significant and I expect there to be at least a bit of early turbulence.
They have also lost Ryan Manning to Southampton and could still yet lose talismanic forward Joel Piroe before the end of the window. Although they have added three players, which includes striker Jerry Yates from Blackpool, I’m not convinced their squad is going to be stronger and a lot is being relied upon Duff hitting the ground running.
If they stick with Duff and he is properly backed, I see no reason why he can’t be a success in the long run, but I have them in 15th this season.
Valerien Ismael is the Watford manager at the time of writing this. I say that because, knowing Watford, there is every chance he could be gone by the time I hit publish on these predictions.
Although Ismael didn’t get on so well at West Brom, the work he did at Barnsley – which saw them get a very impressive top-six finish in the Championship in 20/21 – shows what a good coach he can be.
However, I don’t see it working at Watford. I don’t want to keep banging on about the same point, but Ismael will want to implement his intense, high-pressing style of play. That takes time, will he get it at Vicarage Road? I’d say it’s unlikely.
Maybe they will have learned lessons from the Rob Edwards debacle last season, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Watford do have some good players, but the environment still feels too chaotic.
17. Birmingham City
Birmingham City have been circling the drain for the last few years, regularly flirting with the prospect of relegation but then scraping survival in the end. Unfortunately, I don’t have them much higher up the table than they’ve been used to finishing in the last few years… but it’s not all bad.
The good news is that they have been taken over which finally provides Blues fans with some fresh hope and optimism for the future and in John Eustace they have a bright, driven coach at the helm that most Birmingham fans seem to have taken to.
They have also made some shrewd signings. I like the addition of Siriki Dembele and I also think getting flying full-back Ethan Laird on a permanent deal is a bit of a coup.
I have them in 17th, but hopefully this season can be the first steps towards a brighter, healthier, less chaotic future.
18. Preston North End
Preston North End seem to have been perennial mid-tablers for the last few years, but I actually have them slipping down in 18th-position.
Ryan Lowe’s side have done some interesting business; two players from Liverpool arriving with striker Layton Stewart signing a three-year deal and full-back Calvin Ramsay joining on a season-long loan from the Reds.
Target man Will Keane has also signed after rejuvenating his career over the last couple of years with Wigan Athletic.
However, they do appear to be operating under some financial restrictions and, as such, I have not been blown away by their business and am not sure they have strengthened enough so far to main a top-half place in what can be an unforgiving league.
19. Stoke City
Meh. Unfortunately, that’s the first word that springs to mind when I think of Stoke City coming into this new Championship campaign.
Alex Neil took a big gamble by leaving Sunderland for Stoke last season, a decision that took many people by surprise, and it doesn’t look like it’s paid off so far.
There were some highlights last season, Neil returning to thump his former club Sunderland 5-1 at the Stadium of Light immediately springs to mind, but it wasn’t enough to get many people excited.
They appointed a new Head of Recruitment ahead of this summer, but their signings so far haven’t really captured the imagination. I like Neil, I think he’s a decent manager, but I’m not sure Stoke are set up for a good season here. I have them in 19th.
20. Cardiff City
It feels like Cardiff City have been teetering on the edge of disaster for a while now and, once again, I expect them to be looking over their shoulders towards the drop-zone.
After he kept them up last term, I think many people assumed that Sabri Lamouchi’s contract would be extended, but owner Vicent Tan has decided to go in a different direction by appointing Erol Bulut.
Bulut has enjoyed a pretty mixed record in Turkey and it is certainly a left-field choice by Tan. Is it a gamble worth taking? I’m not so sure at this moment in time.
They have signed returning hero Aaron Ramsey which has certainly raised spirits amongst the fanbase, but there are still some big question marks for me. I have them staying up, but only just.
21. Huddersfield Town
Neil Warnock performed miracles last season, showing that he’s still got it at the age of 74, by pulling off a great escape and keeping Huddersfield Town in the Championship against all the odds.
Despite insisting that he would only be with the Terries for a short stint, he has agreed to take charge for another season, which will have come as a boost to them.
However, the Warnock effect can only take you so far and it is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card, and Huddersfield have been remarkably quiet in the transfer market so far this summer; only bringing in goalkeeper Chris Maxwell as back-up to Lee Nicholls at the time of writing.
Their squad desperately needed strengthening and that has not happened so far which means I think that Huddersfield Town will once again be in a relegation battle.
22. Sheffield Wednesday
Josh Windass’ 123rd-minute winner in the League One play-off final took the roof off Wembley Stadium just a matter of weeks ago and it seemed like, for just a brief moment, that Sheffield Wednesday were getting themselves back on track and approaching something that resembles stability.
However, as has so often been the case with this club in recent years – particularly under the ownership of Dejphon Chansiri – that didn’t last for long. Darren Moore, the inspirational figure behind last season’s League One promotion, was axed and replaced by Xisco Munoz.
Although Munoz has a promotion on his CV with Watford, I feel that was largely down to the individual quality they possessed rather than his leadership qualities. Wednesday have also only brought in one signing so far, full-back Reece James (sadly not that one), which leaves them short in a number of areas.
Of course, they still have the players there who helped them to promotion – Windass, Lee Gregory and of course Barry Bannan – but I see this very much as a bottom-three squad unless they are able to do some serious wheeling and dealing before the end of the window.
Sheffield Wednesday to be relegated – currently at
23. Rotherham United
After many seasons as English football’s ultimate yo-yo club, Rotherham United finally stopped that pattern last season by reaching 50 points last season and finishing in 19th-position in the Championship.
However, backing that up and staying in this division for another season looks like an almighty challenge for Matt Taylor and his players and I haven’t been enamored by their transfer business so far this window.
Taylor did an excellent job at Exeter City and is a coach that I rate highly, but he clearly wants to play a certain way with the Millers and I am far from convinced that they have the players to execute it. I have them going down in 23rd-place.
I am pretty concerned about QPR’s prospects coming into the 2023/24 Championship season.
This time last year, optimism was high under Michael Beale – and they got their season off to a fantastic start – but the wheels fell off spectacularly after he left for Rangers.
Former R’s player Gareth Ainsworth came in to try and arrest the slide after the short reign of Neil Critchley, but he only managed to win three of his 13 games in charge last season; narrowly keeping them up by the skin of their teeth.
They have made some OK signings, former Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic probably the headline addition, but I am unconvinced that QPR’s players are buying into Ainsworth’s management style.
If they get off to a bad start, I can see them making an early change in the dugout, but I don’t see them getting out of trouble this time.
BACK Middlesbrough to win the title 1pt each/way at 10/1 (⭐
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BACK Sunderland to win promotion 1pt each/way at 4/1 (⭐
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BACK Coventry City to finish in top-six 2pts each/way at 11/4 (⭐
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BACK Sheffield Wednesday to be relegated 2pts each/way at 7/2 (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (JULY 2023): LOSS -48.61 points