2019-20 predictions: Title challengers: Fulham, Stoke City, Brentford, Leeds United

IN OUR first set of previews ahead of the 2019-20 season, Lucas Ball runs the rule over those sides he expects will be in the title reckoning come May.

Fulham

The Cottagers seem to be everyone's pick for the title at the moment, and I'm backing them to finish in the top two.



Scott Parker will prove to be a good manager I'm sure having played under the likes of Harry Redknapp, Andre Villas-Boas (for his scouting/analytical skills more than managerial) and many more during his long playing career.

His man-management proved crucial at the end of last season to earn him the job on a full-time basis, but the question will be: can Parker produce under pressure?

Fulham picked up results under their former captain when they were already relegated from the Premier League, winning three of their last five matches – keeping clean sheets in each of the three victories too, which proved a rarity for the west Londoners throughout the season.



Given Parker's character through his playing career, I expect he will be able to cope with the pressure and having had some games at the back end of last season to get used to the job will mean he isn't quite being thrown in at the deep end in the unpredictable division that is England's second tier.

They conceded 81 goals in the league alone, so addressing that defensive weakness will be key – though Parker's tactical adaptations did see them ship fewer goals than under Slaviska Jokanovic, who tried to implement a system that succeeded in the Championship directly into the top tier. That was never going to work.

Parker has a number of players who have won promotion at this level previously at his disposal, and their experience will be key if Fulham are to bounce straight back into the top flight.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney are both staying at Craven Cottage, with both being important players, though Ryan Sessegnon may still leave the club. His goal-scoring exploits two seasons ago were pivotal, including one against Millwall at The Den after Jordan Archer palmed Mitrovic's long-range effort in his direction.

Promotion odds [Sky Bet]: 9/4

Relegation odds [Sky Bet]: 28/1

Millwall record vs Fulham: Won 14, Drawn 12, Lost 19

Last meeting: Millwall 1-3 Fulham – Carabao Cup third round, September 25, 2018

Transfers:

Ins: Aboubakar Kamara [end of loan – Yeni Malatyaspor]; Rui Fonte [end of loan – Lille]; Stefan Johansen [end of loan – West Brom]

Outs: Ryan Babel [free transfer – Galatasaray]; Lazar Markovic [released]; Berti Schotterl [released]; Andre Schurrle [end of loan – Borussia Dortmund]; Luciano Vietto [end of loan – Atletico Madrid]; Sergio Rico [end of loan – Sevilla]; Havard Nordtveit [end of loan – Hoffenheim]; Timothy Fosu-Mensah [end of loan – Manchester United]; Calum Chambers [end of loan – Arsenal]

Stoke

The Potters enjoyed an extremely disappointing return to the Championship last season having been the pre-season favourites for promotion.

Gary Rowett eventually lost his job after a poor run of form, leading to then-Luton boss Nathan Jones taking over at the bet365 Stadium helm.

Jones has, this summer, had the chance to bring in his own signings – scooping a number of experienced second-tier players on free transfers, including former Millwall striker Lee Gregory.

It's hard to see the big names available to Jones performing as poorly as last season again, as he has brought in players with knowhow and that fit into his system and ideology. It may take some time to get going, but I'd still expect Stoke to be in the top six – as a minimum – following the end of the regular 46-game season.

The former Southend player looks to employ an expressive, attacking brand of football – with his Luton side scoring 49 goals in 26 league games last season before the Welshman departed for Stoke.

Nick Powell was a wanted man following his Wigan departure and it will be up to him to drive Stoke forward and help get the best out of Benik Afobe, who will be hoping to re-discover his best form after a season of struggle.

Jones will also be happy to not have to deal with the disruptive figure of Saido Berahino, meaning the dressing room should be a much healthier working environment – another contributing factor towards any successful team.

Promotion odds [Sky Bet]: 4/1

Relegation odds [Sky Bet]: 14/1

Millwall record vs Stoke: Won 16, Drawn 13, Lost 22

Last meeting: Millwall 0-0 Stoke – Championship, April 27, 2019

Transfers:

Ins: Liam Lindsay [£2.03m – Barnsley]; Adam Davies [free transfer – Barnsley]; Jordan Cousins [free transfer – QPR]; Lee Gregory [free transfer – Millwall]; Nick Powell [free transfer – Wigan]; Stephen Ward [free transfer – Burnley]; Kevin Wimmer [end of loan – Hannover]; Giannelli Imbulla [end of loan – Rayo Vallecano]; Badou Ndiaye [end of loan – Galatasaray]; Tyrese Campbell [end of loan – Shrewsbury]; Geoff Cameron [end of loan – QPR]

Outs: Erik Pieters [£990k – Burnley]; Jakob Haugaard [released]; Darren Fletcher [released]; Charlie Adam [released]; Ashley Williams [end of loan – Everton]

Brentford

Sustainable transfer policy has been the key for the Bees since their promotion to the second tier, allowing them to push on now that many Championship sides are struggling with Financial Fair Play regulations having over-spent in recent years and not won promotion to the so-called promised land.

In Thomas Frank, Brentford have a manager that appears to have found his feet at this level having struggled at the beginning of his tenure.

One or two standout signings would be ideal to make people sit up and take notice of the Griffin Park outfit, though sometimes the dark horses are the most dangerous in a promotion race.

Keeping hold of Said Benrahma and Neal Maupay would give Brentford plenty of firepower to overcome teams, with Pontus Jansson adding experience and defensive ability to counter the loss of Ezri Konsa to Aston Villa – a player signed by now-Villa manager Dean Smith for the Bees just last summer.

One or two more additions may be needed to provide more depth in defence, but Brentford look a good bet for a top-six place if they can keep their key men fit over the course of the season.

Promotion odds [Sky Bet]: 9/2

Relegation odds [Sky Bet]: 12/1

Millwall record vs Brentford: Won 21, Drawn 22, Lost 24

Last meeting: Millwall 1-1 Brentford – Championship, April 19, 2019

Transfers:

Ins: Pontus Jansson [£5.54m – Leeds]; Mathias Jensen [£3.42m – Celta Vigo]; Christian Norgaard [£3.15m – Fiorentina]; Ethan Pinnock [£3.02m – Barnsley]; David Raya [£3.02m – Blackburn]; Justin Shaibu [end of loan – Boreham Wood]; Josh Clarke [end of loan – Burton]

Outs: Ezri Konsa [£11.97m – Aston Villa]; Daniel Bentley [£1.98m – Bristol City]; Yoann Barbet [free transfer – QPR]; Moses Odubajo [free transfer – Sheffield Wednesday]; Jack Bonham [free transfer – Gillingham]; Lewis MacLeod [released]; Josh McEachran [released]

Leeds

Never count a Marcelo Bielsa side out completely.

Having moved on the seemingly problematic Pontus Jansson (he had a rocky relationship with the Argentine manager at best), Bielsa will be hoping to build on an ultimately disappointing season which saw his side lose in the play-offs to Derby.

Adding quality not quantity was important for the Yorkshire side this summer – which they have done with the signings of Helder Costa and Ben White from Wolves and Brighton respectively.

One Leeds player, however, remains of paramount importance and their promotion hopes are pinned on whether or not midfield maestro Kalvin Phillips stays.

Many players in this side would be replaceable but Phillips and Kemar Roofe probably remain two of few elements that cannot be replaced easily, though the former is said to be the subject of interest from a number of Premier League clubs – including Tottenham and newly-promoted Aston Villa.

The Whites want £30m for their star man, and keeping him would be a huge sign of intent as Leeds look for a return to the top tier for the first time since their 2004 relegation.

Promotion odds [Sky Bet]: 13/8

Relegation odds [Sky Bet]: 40/1

Millwall record vs Stoke: Won 17, Drawn 5, Lost 16

Last meeting: Leeds 3-2 Millwall – Championship, March 30, 2019

Transfers:

Ins: Ben White [loan – Brighton]; Helder Costa [loan – Wolves]; Liam McCarron [undisclosed – Carlisle]; Jack Clarke [loan – Tottenham]; Jack Harrison [loan – Manchester City]; Yosuke Ideguchi [end of loan – Greuther Furth]; Jay-Roy Grot [end of loan – VVV Venlo]; Ouasim Bouy [end of loan – PEC Zwolle]; Samu Saiz [end of loan – Getafe]; Hadi Sacko [end of loan – Ankaraguku]; Laurens De Bock [end of loan –  KV Oostende];  Vurnon Anita [end of loan – Willem II]; Pawel Cibicki [end of loan – Elfsborg]; Tom Pearce [end of loan – Scunthorpe]; Conor Shaughnessy [end of loan – Hearts];

Outs: Jack Clarke [£9.9m – Tottenham]; Pontus Jansson [£5.54m – Brentford]; Caleb Ekuban [£900k – Trabzonspor]; Lewie Coyle [loan – Fleetwood]; Sam Dalby [free transfer – Watford]; Paudie O'Connor [free transfer – Bradford]; Aapo Halme [undisclosed – Barnsley]; Tyler Denton [undisclosed – Stevenage]; Isaiah Brown [end of loan – Chelsea]

Image: Millwall FC 

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