STOKE CITY are the favourites to win this year’s Championship and I think they will be very, very tough to beat.
Just by the virtue that they were recently in the Premier League, you have to look at the three teams that have just come down in Stoke, West Brom and Swansea City as being among the front-runners for going straight back up. Out of the three of them, you would say Swansea would look like the weaker of the three.
Stoke have always traditionally been a strong side – I remember playing them over a decade ago in the Championship and they were a tough opponent then.
This season, the challenge facing the club is not just one for the players, but also one for their newly-installed manager, Gary Rowett.
He’s actively made the move to go and further his career there with a team that would be considered favourites. He went from a team in the shape of Derby County who last year were considered favourites, but failed to live up to it.
Maybe a fresh start for both Rowett and for the Stoke players will do the trick.
As for Leeds, they have got to look at this season as the season when they go up. We have obviously been here before but it is a big year and this is now the only season that matters.David Prutton
I am really looking forward to seeing who this year’s Cardiff City will be – a team that comes from out of nowhere; a team that has a very solid defence and that can score goals which sounds like a wonderful combination of how to win football matches.
But Cardiff had that last year and did very, very well as a result and obviously we saw Wolves go up by having established players and also by bringing in big-hitters from around Europe.
As ever in the Championship, it will be intriguing to see what happens this year. The likes of Nottingham Forest need to be doing something, just as Leeds United have to be too – that’s because we look at how they are, where they have come from, what they promise and the backing they have from their respective owners and boards.
Teams like Leeds and Forest can’t be seen to be treading water when we have seen the likes of Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City go up in recent times – these so-called ‘bigger’ clubs’ should be challenging with the rest of them.
Everybody went into last season thinking it was wide open, only for Wolves to then set and maintain the pace.
We go into this season in a similar situation but, perhaps, with some of the more traditional promotion-winning sides in the second tier, like West Brom and Stoke.
You have also got Derby and, while there have been big question marks over their spending, it doesn’t really seem to have slowed down.
Frank Lampard has got a really big challenge on his hands, as have the teams that have come back up.
You look at how strong Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic were in League One last season and I think they are going to maintain that progress and do really well this season.
You have got to fancy them to finish mid-table or above with the money that they are spending and the managers that they have got in the shape of Tony Mowbray and Paul Cook. I am also interested to see how Blackburn midfielder Bradley Dack performs at this level. He has been pivotal for Blackburn and Gillingham and it is good that we now get to see him in the Championship.
There are also teams like QPR with a recent Premier League pedigree under a manager who has been out of it for a little bit in Steve McClaren – let’s see if he can hit the ground running now he’s back in the game. For me, it is as wide as open as it has ever been and if it starts and finishes as it did last time out then we are in for a very entertaining 10 months.
As for Leeds, they have got to look at this season as the season when they go up.
We have obviously been here before but it is a big year and this is now the only season that matters.
When you look at the teams that have recently gone up to the Premier League, the likes of Huddersfield, Wolves, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton and Newcastle, promotion has to be the aim because of a) who is in charge, b) who is coming through the door and c) because the competition is as wide open as it was last season.
It just needs someone to grasp the nettle and crack on with it.