Two down, and here’s the final of my EFL season predictions for the coming campaign.
Moving forward, and it’s the turn of the second tier today, who will reach the Premier League, which striker will bag goals for fun, and who will find their way down to League One?
Without spoiling things too much, we’ve seen a South Yorkshire theme running through the first two previews, and that continues here.
Blades to Seal Premier League Return Under Heckingbottom
Let’s kick off with the top of the table, and a team I really rate are Sheffield United, so much so that they are my tip for winning the league this season. Yes, there has been a lot of quality come down from the Premier League, but this season, the two teams standing out to me are two that fell just short last season, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough.
The Blades are the ones to stand above the rest though. They were incredibly disappointing under Slavisa Jokanovic at the start of last season, but came to life when Paul Heckingbottom was brought in. I don’t think he did anything to make them overachieve, instead he just found a way to get the players playing as good as we expected from them, a door Jokanovic couldn’t unlock.
From the moment Heckingbottom took over, only two sides picked up more points, Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield, this was a big turnaround. The squad remains together, and improvements have arrived on top, to make them even more appealing. Anel Ahmedhodzic could be a top draw signing if he finds his feet in the Championship, strengthening what was already a strong defensive line.
Further forward, it’s all about those who were already at the club. Oli Norwood, John Fleck, Rhian Brewster and Sander Berge can compete against anyone in this league, while Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie are capable finishers, and may not need to do much else, giving the creativity behind them.
A settled season with Heckingbottom in charge from the outset, a strong group that have been made even better with a small number of additions. Forget those that have come down from the Premier League, Sheffield United look destined for a big promotion push this season.
As for those in behind, if I had to choose someone to chase United it would be Middlesbrough. They’re in a similar position, have a rock solid foundation to build on and have brought in a small number of additions to make that better. Chris Wilder had them ticking at the end of last season, and can do so again this time around.
Constant yo-yo side Norwich are favourites for the league, but this is not going to be as simple as dropping down to get promotion again, despite keeping their squad pretty much together from last season.
Summer Changes Could Bring Difficult Second Season for Blackpool
Down at the bottom, rather than League One clubs being the three favourites to go straight back down, just one of them is in that position. Rotherham are 6/4 favourites to be relegated, but Wigan are as big as 5/1 to go down, and Sunderland even bigger at 8/1, showing that the bookmakers see them as teams who can comfortably survive in the second tier.
I’m with them on the latter two, and it wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see Rotherham stay up either, there are a handful of very average teams in the Championship this season.
One of those is the team I’m backing to go down, and that is Blackpool. They overachieved last season, and much of that was down to Neil Critchley, who has left for pastures new. In comes Michael Appleton, a move I have no issues with, but can Appleton come in and instantly work his magic to keep this team overperforming, which is what they’ll need to do based on the squad they currently have, if they want to survive.
When you look through the side Blackpool have, I’m not seeing too many players with big game Championship experience, and should they get dragged into a dog fight, will they have the ability to get out of it, or the mental strength, now that Critchley has left? Those are two big questions for this group of players, and a bad start would mean they have to answer them early.
Things went right last season, they will need to go right again, but I don’t see that happening, and Blackpool look a big price for the drop, based on that.
Dike a Perfect Fit to Fire West Brom Forward
It wasn’t pretty at West Brom last season. Expected to challenge for promotion, that never materialised, and in the latter half of the season, they found themselves playing for nothing. Daryl Dike was brought into the club, expected to give them a real goalscoring threat, but unfortunately injured himself as soon as he arrived, and didn’t play for the rest of the season.
This season, he’s fit and ready to go, and if he stays fit, I think he can bag plenty of goals in a West Brom side that will play to his strengths under Steve Bruce. The American striker is a big, physical forward who showcased his talent two seasons ago at Barnsley, scoring nine goals in a 19-game loan spell. Now matured, having a taste for how the Championship works, and going from strength to strength as an international footballer, it’s time for Dike to shine.
Karlan Grant gives West Brom another striking option, but I believe Dike will eventually win the starting job and play more minutes than his team mate. Teemu Pukki is the favourite for obvious reasons, but isn’t getting any younger, while Ben Brereton Diaz may not be around for the full season if he continues to score well at Blackburn. Joel Piroe is another in the same boat, he scored 22 last season, but if he does that again, may well depart Swansea in January, if not before.
I don’t see Dike getting his big move yet, and providing he can stay fit, he looks set for a strong goalscoring season for Albion and appeals as an each way option behind the big guns in this market.