The ultimate Championship preview - from 24 'experts' who cover the clubs: Part 1

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa

We asked local journalists from all 24 Championship clubs to give their predictions on the 2019/20 season...

The 2019-20 Championship campaign gets under way this weekend, with Wigan Athletic hoping to build on last season's 18th-placed finish on their return to the second tier.

With Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham dropping down from the Premier League, and Luton, Barnsley and Charlton coming up from League One, it could turn out to be the most competitive Championship yet.

Who's going up? Who's going down? Who's doing neither?

This comprehensive preview of the new campaign has everything covered...

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Barnsley - Doug O'Kane (Barnsley Chronicle)

One to watch this season: It’s hard to look past Cauley Woodrow. He scored 19 goals last season, despite missing three months with injury, and netted seven in the first four friendlies. Him and Kieffer Moore, who also netted 19 last season, should be a handful for defences even after the step up from League One.

Prediction for the season: At the end of last season, I would have said mid-table for sure, if not slightly higher. But they have sold some very good players and the youthfulness and inexperience of the squad, especially at centre-back, is a major concern. I still think they have enough quality and the post-promotion momentum to survive, but the first month will be key as they have been handed a series of winnable games.

Promoted: Fulham, Stoke, Bristol City
Relegated: QPR, Swansea, Nottingham Forest
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Birmingham City - Joseph Chapman (Birmingham Live)

One to watch this season: I’ll have to go Dan Crowley - and that’s as much to do with the fact that he’s an unknown quantity for everyone, ourselves included. He’s a Coventry lad who came through the ranks at Aston Villa, before his performances earned him a move to Arsenal. It didn’t work out for him there, and he had a spell in the Eredivisie before Blues forked out around £700,000 to bring him back to the Midlands. Scored within minutes of his debut in a behind closed doors friendly against Swindon, and is being tipped to become the midfield passer Blues have been desperate for.

Prediction for the season: Blues have been famous for flirting with relegation, to the point where they’re rescuing themselves on the final weekend of the season, in recent years. Under the tutelage of Garry Monk, their team spirit, discipline and work ethic was never in question. Now, under Pep Clotet - who has plans to take Blues in a slightly different direction on the field - the existing players and the new recruits are likely to attempt a more expansive style of play. Will that lead to success? History tells you it’s a mixed bag; for many clubs, though, survival and 50 points is the primary aim - Blues remain in that category.

Promoted: Cardiff, Fulham, Leeds
Relegated: Charlton, Reading, Millwall
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Blackburn Rovers - Alex James (Lancs Live)

One to watch this season: Rovers have an abundance of young talent who could be set for breakthrough campaigns with John Buckley and Joe Rankin-Costello at the head of the queue. But Ben Brereton, a £7m capture from Nottingham Forest last term, looks to have found the confidence all strikers thrive off in pre-season and can have a big impact up front and lessen the load on Danny Graham.

Prediction for the season: If Rovers can solve the defensive issues then they can look towards the top 10. Their attack matches the best in the league and in Bradley Dack they have one of the Championship's brightest talents. With one or two new recruits at the back, I'll say ninth.

Promoted: Stoke, Brentford, Cardiff
Relegated: Reading, Barnsley, Charlton
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Brentford - Phil Spencer (Football.London)

One to watch this season: While any number of starlets from the club’s infamous B Team could make the step up, my bet is on Mads Bech Sorensen making the step up. The Danish defender emerged in the first team fold during the second half of last term, and certainly didn’t look out of place as he played the full 90 minutes against sides such as Middlesbrough, Derby, Swansea and Leeds. Sorensen made 10 appearances for the Bees last term, but with the likes of Ezri Konsa and Yoann Barbet moving on this summer, it could be the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for a regular starting spot. At 20 years of age, it seems this season could be the perfect time for him to show the Championship what he can do.

Prediction for the season: The final season at Griffin Park could be one to remember for Brentford. The Bees have forged a real identity over recent seasons, and the hope will be this hard work sees the club mount a serious promotion challenge this term. Brentford’s summer transfer activity is bound to get fans excited for the season ahead. However, the departure of key players such as Romaine Sawyers, Yoann Barbet and Ezri Konsa means that it could take a while for Thomas Frank’s squad to properly gel. While a push for promotion will be the hope, I think it could be a step too far and Brentford may just miss out on finishing in the top six.

Promoted: Fulham, Cardiff, West Brom
Relegated: Charlton, Luton, Barnsley
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Bristol City - Gregor MacGregor (Bristol Live)

One to watch this season: Antoine Semenyo showed real ability while at Newport County on loan during last season and was picked out by several TV pundits as a player to watch following the Exiles' televised win over Leicester in the FA Cup. Chelsea were interested as a result but the Robins have seen off attention from the Premier League and tied down Semenyo this summer to a new four-year deal. And in the former SGS College pupil, the Robins may have found a successor to fellow academy graduate and £10million Bobby Reid.

Prediction for the season: Like for so many teams, what happens in the final week of the transfer window will go a long way to influencing how the Robins will do. However, even standing still in the Championship is a decent achievement given the riches on offer in the Premier League and for relegated sides, especially given the loss of players at Derby, Middlesbrough, West Brom and others. A top-eight finish can be achieved again, hanging onto the coattails of the play-offs.

Promoted: Fulham, Cardiff City, Brentford
Relegated: Charlton, Reading, Barnsley
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Cardiff City - Tom Coleman (WalesOnline)

One to watch this season: Nathaniel Mendez-Laing will surely be gearing up for a big season out on the wing. With his lightning pace, he’s likely to cause problems for any full-back in this division. He gave everyone a glimpse into his capabilities last time he was here and, having matured, I fully expect him to be one of the players Cardiff look to for inspiration in the final third.

Prediction for the season: I think Cardiff should have enough to at least reach the play-offs, but this campaign will be tougher than last time. There are plenty of good teams around this division, and Cardiff aren’t as much of an unknown quantity as last time. A new striker would go a long way to boosting their chances too.

Promoted: Leeds, West Brom, Cardiff
Relegated: Barnsley, Reading, Charlton
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Charlton Athletic - Lewis Catt (@LewisCatt9)

One to watch this season: The obvious choice for this has to be last season’s player of the year, Lyle Taylor. Not only does he contribute heavily in goals and assists but his work rate and never say die attitude was key in our promotion push last campaign. Taylor notched 25 goals and 13 assists for Charlton last season. Another one to watch this season is Anfernee Dijksteel, usually deployed as a right-back. He put in some brilliant performances last season for the Addicks and has been linked with the like of Middlesbrough this window.

Prediction for the season: It is going to be a long hard season for Charlton this year. We will be underdogs in every game but I do believe we will surprise a few. It has been spoken about regularly by Lee Bowyer and former and current players about a unique squad togetherness and, when the spirit is high, that can win you games. I do believe it’s going to be a dogfight for us in the bottom half but, given the obstacles thrown our way and the lack of interest and investment from our owner, staying in this division could be seen as even more of an achievement than getting back into it in the first place.

Promoted: Fulham, West Brom, Bristol City
Relegated: Reading, Birmingham, Millwall
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Derby County - Chris Watson (Derbyshire Live)

One to watch this season: It will be interesting to see how Kieran Dowell gets on at his third loan club. The Everton youngster scored 10 goals during a stint with Nottingham Forest in 2017-18, while helping Sheffield United win promotion to the Premier League last season. Dowell represented England at the Under-21 European Championship this summer - and will be looking to further develop his game with the Rams. The midfielder has shown some encouraging signs in pre-season - could he go some way to filling the void left by Mason Mount this term?

Prediction for the season: Derby will be once again aiming for a top-six finish but, as mentioned above, there is a feeling this could be tough to achieve with the squad in its current shape. It is hard to predict how the team will do before seeing what business is done between now and the transfer deadline on August 8. A lot could depend on that. Phillip Cocu says he shares the club's vision of promoting young talent from the Academy - but this is a risk, especially in an unforgiving league like the Championship. It is also the Dutchman's first time managing in England, so he will need to adjust to this new challenge quickly if the team are to challenge for promotion.

Promoted: Fulham, Cardiff, Brentford
Relegated: Charlton, Hull, Millwall
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Read part 2 of the Championship predictions here

Fulham - Phil Spencer (Football.London)

One to watch this season: While the likes of Tom Cairney, Stefan Johanssen and Aleksandar Mitrovic were key to the success of Fulham’s promotion-winning side, it was the young players supplementing the team who perhaps provided the ‘X Factor’ needed to get them over the line. That season saw a certain Ryan Sessegnon make his name, and the hope is another crop of young talents could have a similar impact this time around. Harvey Elliott has moved to pastures new, but another player who is tipped for the top is Matt O’Riley. The 18-year-old was limited to Under-23 football last term, but did make cameo appearances in the EFL Cup and EFL Trophy. O’Riley is certainly on the fringes of the first team fold, and the hope is this season could be the time for the central midfielder to make the step up to give Scott Parker’s first team something of a boost.

Prediction for the season: After a difficult season in the Premier League, expectations are high for Fulham this term. With a number of last season’s underper-forming stars moved on, the hope is Parker will be possess a team who can recreate the promotion-winning form showed by Slavisa Jokanovic’s side two seasons ago. Retaining players like Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic will be key, and if they can keep hold of Sessegnon, that will also be a massive boost. Fulham’s squad is more than good enough to challenge for promotion, and if they can get off to a good start, I’d back them to secure automatic promotion with a squad full of players who know what it takes to be successful at this level.

Promoted: Fulham, Cardiff, West Brom
Relegated: Charlton Athletic, Luton, Barnsley
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Huddersfield Town - Steven Chicken (Examiner Live)

One to watch this season: The same answer I gave in last week’s big debate about youth prospects: Karlan Grant looks like about as good a striker as Huddersfield could possibly have got at this point, and Juninho Bacuna is a quality central midfielder with a bit of everything who we think could be one of the division's stars this season.

Prediction for the season: Not the automatic promotion that many outside writers and pundits seem to assume they want. Last season's dire relegation was a hugely chastening experience, and has reset the expectations of a group of fans that have always been pretty realistic to begin with. Over the past six months Town have replaced their chairman, head coach, several key players, their player style, and are set to appoint a new head of football operations (kind of like a director of football, but less powerful). The club and most fans alike therefore acknowledge the club may not be in a position to mount a promotion challenge straight after relegation: there's just too many adjustments to be made. As long as there are signs of progress with his young squad throughout the season, a challenge for a play-off spot would go down pretty nicely.

Promoted:Leeds, Fulham, Brentford
Relegated: Charlton, Reading, QPR
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Hull City - Phil Buckingham (Hull Live)

One to watch this season: The obvious choices are Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki after they combined to score 31 goals and create 16 goals last season, but Tom Eaves looks the most intriguing player. He’s only ever made a handful of sub appearances at Championship level, but has joined City on the back of scoring 41 goals in his last two years with Gillingham in League One. He won’t want for confidence as he bids to make the step up.

Prediction for the season: Grant McCann is bullishly targeting the play-offs in his first full season in charge but that would be a remarkable achievement when you consider the strength of opponents in the Championship this season. Even a top-half finish would be an unqualified success now that City will be among the clubs with the smallest income and budgets. If – and it’s a big if – Bowen and Grosicki stay then the Tigers have the potential to upset teams when playing to McCann’s attack-minded philosophies but in my mind the first target has to be reaching the 50-point mark as soon as possible and seeing where that can take this young team. There are only two players aged 30 or above in this squad and you suspect there will be times when the going gets tough. I’d suggest somewhere around 16th will be where this team ends up.

Promoted: Fulham, Cardiff, West Brom
Relegated: Charlton, Barnsley, Reading
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Leeds United - Beren Cross (Leeds Live)

One to watch this season: Everyone knows about Pablo Hernandez, Helder Costa and Kalvin Phillips already. Let me pick out Mateusz Bogusz. While my heart is with Jamie Shackleton, Thorp Arch’s next star product, he may have less of a direct impact on games as a box-to-box midfielder or right-back. Bogusz, however, is a teenage playmaker waiting in the wings. Signed on the cheap for the under-23s last season, pre-season suggests he will be a regular on the bench next term.

Prediction for the season: As with last term, you find yourself fighting that nagging doubt the squad is too small to make a concerted promotion push for the full 46 matches. Regardless of how dominant the Whites were at times last season, they fell short by six points and a few goals in the end. Something needs to improve, even if marginal, to bridge that gap. Costa will help an ageing Hernandez, but everyone needs to be more clinical in front of goal. Based on the lack of continuity across all of their rivals, I expect United to finally do it. Marcelo Bielsa and the core of last season’s unit have been retained. Everyone is a year wiser and more in line with what the boss requires.

Promoted: Leeds, Fulham, Cardiff
Relegated: Barnsley, Charlton, Hull