THE EFL’S televised season launch press conference of 2018-19 has been replayed plenty of times.
Ahead of Leeds United’s season opener against Gary Rowett’s Stoke City at Elland Road, Whites midfielder Kalvin Phillips was asked about the arrival of head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
“He’s got a very good reputation so the lads are just excited to kick on at the start of the season and hopefully get a win against Stoke."
With Rowett sat behind him, Phillips nervously awaited the Stoke manager’s response.
“He obviously hasn’t seen the bookmakers odds has he?!” laughed Rowett.
Recently relegated Stoke were installed as hot favourites yet Leeds recorded an opening day 3-1 victory.
Five months later, Rowett was sacked with the Potters only finishing 16th under Nathan Evans.
Now, quite how the composition of next season’s Championship shapes up will be decided over the next two days through first tomorrow’s League One play-off final between Charlton Athletic and Sunderland followed by the Championship finale between Derby County and Aston Villa.
Come Monday’s ‘richest game in football’, Leeds will feel they should have been there.
More than that, Bielsa knows his men should have gone up in the top two only to fall away in the final furlong to finish third.
But if Leeds can get Bielsa to stay, the Whites are likely to find themselves amongst the sides most fancied to win the Championship next term in what could be another wide open division begging to be taken by the scruff of the neck.
Along with West Brom, it could well be that whoever is ultimately left slumped on the Wembley turf after Bank Holiday Monday’s play-off final emerges as the other key threat to Leeds if they have their way.
In the end, there was nothing wide-open about the race for the Championship’s two automatic promotion places last term with Norwich City, Sheffield United and Leeds ultimately breaking clear, although it was hard to envisage Daniel Farke’s Canaries being title contenders after they were walloped 3-0 by Bielsa’s Whites at Carrow Road back in August.
Similarly, there were more obvious contenders than Chris Wilder’s Blades who had only come up from League One in 2017 before finishing tenth the previous season upon their return to the Championship.
It shows the potential for the 2019-20 Championship to throw up the surprise package or two.
Of those not involved in this season’s Championship promotion race, Martin O’Neill’s Nottingham Forest will be among those hopeful of pushing on next term.
Ditto currently managerless Middlesbrough and also Steve Bruce’s Sheffield Wednesday.
Lee Johnson’s Bristol City are likely to be a threat while there is no secret about Brentford’s attacking swagger and potential.
The likes of recently relegated Swansea City, Hull City and of course Stoke will need to be considered.
But whilst the Championship will feature six new arrivals from the Premier League and League One, next season’s second tier could have an open feel about it with Fulham, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town added to the mix from the top tier in addition to Luton Town, Barnsley and one of Sunderland or Charlton Athletic from League One.
It makes no sense to form a market before the full composition of next season's Championship is already decided but William Hill and Betway had a bash at assembling one apart from the eight teams that were involved in the Championship and League One play-offs.
Before the Championship and League One play-offs started, Scott Parker’s Fulham were quoted as 8-1 market leaders, followed by Cardiff City (11s), Stoke City (12s) and then both Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough at 14s.
Parachute payments clearly aid the cause of relegated sides but Stoke and Swansea hardly found life easy last term with West Brom the other side relegated the previous term.
In their second campaign in the second tier, the Baggies look sure to be key players next season, whoever lands the managerial role.
If building on this season’s strong foundations, United too ought to be chief protagonists and now it only remains to be seen whether Villa or Derby will be forced to stick around next term.
From a Whites perspective, Monday’s play-off final will naturally be difficult viewing.
Also, though, the final piece of the jigsaw will be placed for the 2019-20 division that Leeds will again look to finally escape next season with one of Dean Smith’s Villa or Frank Lampard’s Rams destined to be added into the melting pot.
If Bielsa stays, don’t be surprised to see Leeds installed as favourites to finally get it right next term and succeed where Stoke very much got it wrong.