The English Championship is arguably the most competitive division in World football, with 17 of the 24 starting teams having played in the Premier League since its inception – and all harbour dreams of returning there next season.
Here, FantasySports.co.uk looks at all 24 teams and makes its prediction for the final table next May.
WINNERS – Aston Villa
Much like Newcastle last season, class talks in the Championship and Villa have the best, and deepest, squad in the League. Won’t have it all their own way, but should take the Division and return to the Premier League as Champions.
RUNNERS UP – Derby County
The Rams have been close, but no cigar, several teams over the last few seasons but, despite losing stars Will Hughes and Tom Ince over the summer, look in better shape overall and maybe have a touch less expectation surrounding them. Manager Gary Rowett impresses and a more disciplined Rams can get auto promotion this time around.
THIRD – Middlesbrough
Boro rarely suffer relegation hangovers and usually bounce back very quickly. Have retained many of the squad that lost their Premier League place last season and added to it astutely. Will be too strong for most but may just find two too good for automatic promotion. Look playoff bankers though.
FOURTH – Fulham
Many peoples tip for promotion after a strong campaign last season. Play excellent football and score goals for fun, but need to prevent them at the other end to really keep in the auto promotion mix. Wont be far away but we feel will have to settle for a play off place – but will be fun to watch over the season.
FIFTH – Sheffield Wednesday
Will still feel sick after their Wembley penalty shoot out loss to Huddersfield for a Premier League place last season, but the Owls remain a quality outfit and have added George Boyd to their ranks who could prove to be a great signing at this level. Likely to have to do it the hard way again though if this is to be their season.
SIXTH – Brentford
One team per season always springs a surprise in the Championship and we feel that Brentford could be that team this season. The Bees always seem to fly under the radar, being less fashionable than their richer history peers but make no mistake, this is a very good team which could be a real dark horse in the Championship shake up.
SEVENTH – Reading
A very consistent Championship team but we feel are not as strong as last season, where they finished third overall but were never really in the auto promotion chase. A solid campaign again this season expected, but ultimately a disappointing one for Jaap Stam’s charges.
EIGHTH – Sunderland
Promises to be an emotional campaign at the Stadium of Light this season and the Black Cats certainly are capable of a promotion run. But we feel they may just need a season of stability and consolidation before they look to make a Premier League return. Open the season with a home game against Derby County where there is likely to not be a dry eye in a packed house.
NINTH – Cardiff City
Will be improved from the team who finished up in 12th place last season, but finished strongly. They may still be a little short of quality in depth to really press the top six, but are on the upward trend again after a tough couple of seasons.
TENTH – Leeds United
A team in transition in pretty much every way shape and form, but expected to have a comfortable season where their expectant and vociferous fans will understand whats needed and be relatively satisfied with a top half finish. This time next season though expectations will be higher.
ELEVENTH – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Strongly fancied in some quarters but not here. Finished 15th last season and whist some improvement is expected, we cant see much more than another mid table finish for the Wolves.
TWELFTH – Sheffield United
Promoted from League One last season as comfortable Champions and we like the Blades to keep their progress going with a solid showing back in the Championship. Teams will not enjoy visits to Bramall Lane and many will come away disappointed as the Blades claim a top half spot.
THIRTEENTH – Norwich City
It would be harsh to say that Norwich are a team in rebuilding mode or on the decline, but its hard to see them challenging after losing ten players in the summer and only bringing in three. Will have their moments but it may be a long season for a fine set of fans used to a bit more than this.
FOURTEENTH – Birmingham City
A disastrous campaign last season, where the Blues avoided relegation only on the last day, can be eradicated quickly as they again start to look up rather than down – but progress will be limited and it may yet be another season or two before they really can harbour promotion hopes.
FIFTEENTH – Hull City
Back down to earth with an almighty bump for the Tigers. Relegated from the Premier League last season and have lost an astounding amount of quality from their squad. Have brought a few in, but this looks a team in absolute transition and wouldn’t be the first to slide down further if they aren’t careful.
SIXTEENTH – Bristol City
We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Robins finish higher but peg them here right now….but next season we think they could progress higher and maybe even challenge for promotion. This season though promises to be decent enough and just put a few more blocks in place for their obvious ambition.
SEVENTEETH – Ipswich Town
Disappointed last season and we expect their struggles to continue this season. Seems a long time ago since the Tractor Boys played top flight football and they haven’t really looked like getting back there. Relegation seems more likely than promotion but they should have enough about them to survive this season. Wont be pretty though.
EIGHTEENTH – Preston North End
New manager Alex Neil will find it tough to emulate predecessor Simon Grayson’s impressive finishes at North End, and we fear for them this season. Eleventh place last season and mid table safety is likely as good as it can get for PNE – but looking over their shoulder may well be the story of this season. Should cling on though for this famous old club.
NINETEENTH – Queens Park Rangers
Struggled last season after a season in the Premier League and have another fight on their hands this season. Look a team short on confidence and you wonder what the strategy currently is at Loftus Road as manager Ian Holloway’s hands seem completed tied in the transfer market. Will need all his enthusiasm and passion to survive.
TWENTIETH – Nottingham Forest
Also survived last season on the final day and nothing has happened at the City Ground that suggests Forest’s fortunes will improve this season. Lost top scorer and talisman Britt Asombalonga and other players, and the incoming ones don’t exactly set the pulses racing. Survival will be the main aim for Forest which should happen…..just.
TWENTY FIRST – Bolton Wanderers
Another team more used to being in the Premier League than League One, but that’s where Bolton have spent last season after a four year slide. Back at the first opportunity after chasing Sheffield United home but expected to be battling against the drop again.
TWENTY SECOND – Barnsley
We fear the relegation trap door may open yet again for Barnsley, who survived relatively comfortably last season, but have lost some key players and look short of quality to do so again this season. Usually perennial strugglers at this level, we think this season is doomed for the Tykes.
TWENTY THIRD – Burton Albion
The Brewers will lose nothing be getting relegated this season, after defying all logic and belief in their achievements over the last few seasons with such limited resources. Anything more than this placing will represent another huge achievement – but as romantic as it would be, we just don’t see it happening this season.
TWENTY FOURTH – Millwall
The Lions return to the second flight of English football after a two season hiatus, but apart from one 9th place finish in 2010/11, they haven’t placed over 16th in the Championship in over 10 seasons and we fear their return will be a very quick one. Manager Neil Harris will as passionate as their fans but will have expectations tempered and they may need broad shoulders to prop up every other team in the Division.