The Championship is ever unpredictable but that’s not stopped us from making some kneejerk calls for the 23/24 season, including Leeds United flopping…
10) Leicester City to win the league
The Foxes were the popular pick (myself included) for promotion before this season got going and I’ve seen nothing that’s made me change my mind on that so far.
Enzo Maresca’s side have made a perfect start to the new campaign with two wins from two, with new signings Stephy Mavididi, Harry Winks and Callum Doyle all hitting the ground running.
The quality in the Championship certainly looks to be better than last season and while there is a gulf in ability between the bottom-half sides and the promotion challengers, Leicester appear to be in an echelon all on their own at the summit.
Players of James Maddison and Harvey Barnes’s calibre are always going to be sorely missed but Leicester have recruited superbly and I am getting Vincent Kompany vibes from Maresca, who I’m expecting to guide his well-equipped team to the Championship title at a canter.
9) Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to win Player of the Year
Maddison and Barnes leaving is not ideal, but last season’s Leicester team is arguably the best that’s ever come down from the Premier League and Dewsbury-Hall is one specific gem set to break out in the second tier.
The 24-year-old has previously gone under the radar but reported interest from Liverpool proves that Dewsbury-Hall is highly thought of by Premier League sides.
So the Foxes should thank their lucky stars that Dewsbury-Hall seems set to stay put as he’s been at the forefront of their impressive start to the 2023/24 campaign.
Three goal involvements in two games constitute a dream start for Dewsbury-Hall, who is set to emerge from under the Maddison-Barnes shadow and be the promotion favourite’s (and the league’s) best player this season.
8) Adam Armstrong to be the Championship top scorer
Early indications suggest that Southampton are going to be a lot of fun this season.
Russell Martin is one of the best young coaches in the Football League but while his teams play brilliant football, they are also pretty leaky in defence.
Southampton will dominate most of their games this season and their creative players will forge endless chances for star striker Armstrong, who is already loving life back in the Championship.
Having previously scored for fun in the second tier at Blackburn Rovers, Armstrong had his doubters heading into this campaign after he struggled in the Premier League. But he’s swiftly found his range (three goals in two games) and he’ll be difficult to stop in the race to be the league’s top scorer.
7) A Premier League club will steal Kieran McKenna
Martin has gained admirers during his fledgling managerial career, but he has already been topped by former Man Utd coach McKenna, who is on the brink of being headhunted by teams from the league above.
McKenna’s impact at Ipswich Town has been remarkable, really. He’s overseen their rapid rise from being a side floundering in League One to one that is being tipped by many to mount a serious challenge for back-to-back promotions.
After a few years on the decline, the good vibes are rife at Portman Road again and after picking up maximum points from their opening two games, confidence is growing that they can push for the Premier League.
Though their promotion credentials will be dependent on how long McKenna sticks around. It will not be long before the Premier League sack race is won and if a bottom-half side is left looking for a new boss, the 37-year-old should be on their radar and as exciting as the Ipswich project is, an opportunity like this would be difficult to turn down.
6) Neil Warnock won’t keep Huddersfield Town up *again*
The Championship specialist rose up from his retirement armchair to work his magic *again* and save Huddersfield from relegation last season.
After challenging for promotion the year prior, the Terriers were deep in the mire and Warnock needed to use all of his nous to keep a side close to his heart in the Championship.
Warnock’s best managerial trait is arguably his man-management skills and he got the maximum out of an average Huddersfield side during the run-in.
The veteran has taken the somewhat surprising decision to stick around for the 23/24 season but he’s been made to work on a shoestring budget and their recruitment has been poor.
Early losses to Plymouth Argyle and Leicester give the indication that this campaign will be a long one for Huddersfield, who look to only be heading in one direction and there’s only so much Warnock can do to steer them away from their relegation fate.
5) Plymouth Argyle will stay up comfortably
The 22/23 League One promotion race was extraordinary as Plymouth, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday all finished on over 95 points after 46 games.
While Ipswich continue to rise and Sheffield Wednesday go backwards, Plymouth made clear improvements since getting promoted and under talented boss Steven Schumacher, they have picked up four points from a possible six against Huddersfield and Watford.
As a Rotherham United supporter, I know better than most how difficult it is to stabilise in the Championship and it will be harder to do so this season given how tight it is in the bottom half. But Plymouth have recruited expertly to set them up for an admirable finish (around 16th) to avoid the drop without too much stress.
4) Stoke City will finish in the top half
The Potters and Sunderland headed on different trajectories after Alex Neil left the newly-promoted North East outfit to join Stoke at the start of last season.
While Sunderland surpassed expectations and finished in the play-off places, Stoke struggled in the bottom half for the fifth consecutive season.
But Neil previously proved at Norwich City and Preston that he is a brilliant Championship manager and Stoke have been one of the major winners of this summer’s transfer window as they have successfully overhauled their squad to start afresh.
On the opening day, Stoke brushed aside Rotherham with relative ease to win 4-1 but they followed that up with a 2-0 loss against Ipswich. So Neil’s men may be inconsistent this term but they have far more quality at their disposal and this will be enough to end their bottom-half hoodoo.
3) Birmingham City will finish in the top six
If you’re a regular reader of my articles, you would be forgiven if you thought I had a soft spot for Birmingham as I have waxed lyrical about them a lot in recent months. And for good reason.
Birmingham are challenging Stoke and Leicester for the tag of transfer window winners in the Championship as their new American-based owners have given the club a much-needed (and well thought out) facelift on and off the field to lay the groundwork for a future tilt at promotion to the Premier League.
Most Blues fans would be happy with a mid-table finish after most neutrals backed them for the drop in 22/23, but their unbeaten start to the new campaign only adds to my thinking that John Eustace’s men are the real deal and are capable of gatecrashing the play-off places.
2) Leeds United will flop and finish around mid-table
Birmingham earned a 1-0 win over Leeds United last time out and the West Yorkshire outfit have had a terrible summer transfer window.
With Daniel Farke at the helm and their immense crop of talented youngsters, I initially had them pegged as favourites for promotion along with Leicester, but my confidence in Leeds has gradually waned as the summer has progressed.
Victor Orta’s past misdemeanours have been exposed by this summer’s mass exodus, which has mostly constituted loan exits and low-cost sales. This is showing no sign of slowing down as Wilfried Gnonto and Luis Sinisterra are insistent on moves elsewhere.
Leeds have had quite the fall since the Marcelo Bielsa days, with the atmosphere in the stands turning toxic last season. This tension has dragged over into this season so Farke has a huge job on his hands to rebuild the club in his image.
They were away from the Premier League for far too long and while most of their supporters will be desperate to return to the top flight ASAP, a finish around mid-table looks more likely than promotion at the first time of asking. And in the long run, a hard reset in the Championship may do them good.
1) Michael Carrick will leave Middlesbrough
There’s no denying that managerial novice Carrick did a wonderful job last season to turn Middlesbrough’s season around following Chris Wilder’s ill-fated spell in charge.
Boro rose from the relegation places and battled for promotion but they fell short in the play-off semi-finals against losing finalists Coventry City.
After last season’s heroics, Carrick is expected to guide Boro to promotion this time around but he has not been helped by their transfer activity, which has seen them lose two proven goal threats in Chuba Akpom and Cameron Archer.
Without last season’s star pair, Boro are light in attacking areas and they have started this campaign with two defeats. Carrick has great potential as a head coach but without two of his best performers, he is facing a major test at the Riverside that could come too soon on his managerial journey and he’ll pay the price for that.