IN our next set of previews ahead the new season, Lucas Ball takes a look at four of the eight sides he expects to finish in mid-table.
Tony Mowbray’s side had an interesting first campaign back in the second tier, finishing 15th. Scoring goals wasn’t a huge issue as they netted 64 times, but conceding 69 meant that their defence leaked more goals than Millwall and Reading, both of whom were involved in the relegation battle.
The priority this summer seems to have been smart signings to add to the quality already existing within the side, as opposed to recruiting for numbers. Sam Gallagher and Bradley Johnson add quality and experience, with Gallagher having enjoyed a loan spell at Ewood Park previously – while goalkeeper Christian Walton’s arrival on loan from Brighton will see him eager to impress new Seagulls manager Graham Potter, formerly of Swansea.
With the likes of Adam Armstrong, Ben Brereton and Gallagher in attack, goals should again not be an issue for the Lancashire side, particularly with Stewart Downing adding quality deliveries from the wide areas since his arrival.
If players hit form at the right time and Blackburn can cut out the defensive errors which cost them last season, there is no reason why the can’t make a push for the play-offs – though I expect them to finish just inside the top half.
The long-term project needs to be kept in focus if Rovers are to have a shot at returning to the Premier League, with players like Downing and Johnson crucial to help the younger players in the squad grow and develop.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 10/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 11/2
Millwall record vs Blackburn: Won 10, Drawn 11, Lost 21
Last meeting: Millwall 0-2 Blackburn – Championship, January 12, 2019
Ins: Sam Gallagher [£5.04m – Southampton]; Bradley Johnson [free transfer – Derby]; Stewart Downing [free transfer – Middlesbrough]; Tom White [undisclosed – Gateshead]; Christian Walton [loan – Brighton]; Sam Hart [end of loan – Southend]; Brad Lyons [end of loan – St Mirren]; Matthew Platt [end of loan – Southport]
Outs: David Raya [£3.02m – Brentford]; Paul Downing [free transfer – Portsmouth]; Scott Wharton [loan – Northampton]; Charlie Albinson [free transfer – Southport]; Craig Conway [released]; Ben Gladwin [released]; Jack Rodwell [released]; Harrison Reed [end of loan – Southampton]
Many are predicting Derby to be one of the frontrunners for promotion again, but I can’t see it happening.
Now under heavy pressure from Financial Fair Play guidelines, the Rams’ spending has been limited while speculation regarding Frank Lampard early in pre-season would have limited the effectiveness of training and preparation. Lampard showed some tactical nous in his first season as well as excellent managerial skills, and will be missed at Pride Park.
Losing the likes of Harry Wilson, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Bradley Johnson and more will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect. Some of the players in the squad are not good enough for Derby to make a promotion push under their new boss Phillip Cocu.
Derby perhaps lack that star quality possessed by game changers Mount and Wilson last season, with Kieran Dowell unlikely to match the efforts of the Chelsea and Liverpool loanees, despite himself being a good player.
Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn are likely to find goals harder to come by with a lesser service, which could see Derby languish in mid-table.
It’s yet another club finding themselves in this situation having spent millions in a gamble to reach England’s top tier, and it hasn’t paid off.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 11/2
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 10/1
Millwall record vs Derby: Won 21, Drawn 14, Lost 21
Last meeting: Derby 0-1 Millwall – Championship, February 20, 2019
Ins: Graeme Shinnie [free transfer – Aberdeen]; Kieran Dowell [loan – Everton]; Chris Martin [end of loan – Hull]; Max Lowe [end of loan – Aberdeen]; Jonathan Mitchell [end of loan – Shrewsbury]; George Thorne [end of loan – Luton]; Jacob Butterfield [end of loan – Bradford]; Kyle McAllister [end of loan – St Mirren]
Outs: Luke Thomas [£1.22m – Barnsley]; Craig Bryson [free transfer – Aberdeen]; David Nugent [free transfer – Preston]; Nick Blackman [free transfer – M. Tel Aviv]; Alex Pearce [free transfer – Millwall]; Bradley Johnson [free transfer – Blackburn]; Efe Ambrose [released]; Marcus Olson [released]; Ashley Cole [released]; Andy King [end of loan – Leicester]; Mason Mount [end of loan – Chelsea]; Fikayo Tomori [end of loan – Chelsea]; Harry Wilson [end of loan – Liverpool]
Just when Swansea looked like they might have their man to lead them through a real transitional phase, Brighton snapped up their manager Graham Potter following the departure of Chris Hughton.
Steve Cooper is the new man in the hot seat at the Liberty, with youth development surely set to be the focus given his previous roles in academy football and within the England set up as under-17 manager. Unfortunately for Swansea fans, there has been no change of ownership either – so youth development may have to be Cooper’s focus given a likely lack of funds.
Daniel James will be a huge miss as he was many times the difference last season, but the Welsh winger cannot be criticised for leaving to join Manchester United.
The Swans have a number of exciting attacking players such as Oli McBurnie, who will be crucial – though he has been the subject of interest from newly-promoted Premier League side Sheffield United. Losing McBurnie and James in the same window would be a disaster for Swansea, and could see them struggle to avoid falling further down the table.
Defensively, Swansea still have obvious issues after losing Cameron Carter-Vickers – and don’t seem to have a clear, quality partner for Mike van der Hoorn.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 8/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 13/2
Millwall record vs Swansea: Won 18, Drawn 10, Lost 20
Last meeting: Swansea 1-0 Millwall – Championship, February 9, 2019
Ins: Jake Bidwell [free transfer – QPR]; Ben Wilmot [loan – Watford]; Borja Baston [end of loan – Alaves]; Jefferson Montero [end of loan – West Brom]; Andre Ayew [end of loan – Fenerbache]; Botti Biabi [end of loan – Macclesfield]
Outs: Daniel James [£15.3m – Manchester United]; Jordan Ayew [£2.52m – Crystal Palace]; Leroy Fer [free transfer – Feyenoord]; Luciano Narsingh [free transfer – Feyenoord]; Adam King [free transfer – Dundee United]; Wilfried Bony [released]; Martin Olson [released]; Cameron Carter-Vickers [end of loan – Tottenham]
The Terriers were one of the worst teams to participate in the Premier League since its creation in the early 1990s last season, and have little chance of an immediate return to the top flight.
Their new manager Jan Siewert couldn’t keep them in the division and appeared to show little tactical knowhow and flexibility, something which is required to be a successful Championship side.
Karlan Grant will surely score goals at this level, but there is a reason that very few Premier League sides have been interested in raiding Huddersfield’s squad since their relegation. Phillip Billing looks set to join Bournemouth and Jonas Lossl of course joined Everton, but the majority of this squad is an average Championship group of players at best.
Barring those two, it is perhaps a surprise that no one has made a move for Aaron Mooy, but the Australian looks set to be available for the season opener.
There is a lack of quality and strong depth apparent in the squad, which could cause Siewert problems – though that depends on how sensible the board’s expectations are for this season.
Huddersfield should focus on signing young players and developing talent, as that is their best shot at a return to the top tier in the next few seasons.
Siewert will hope to pick up some good results early on so that they aren’t looking over their shoulders nervously during the latter stages of the season.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 5/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 12/1
Millwall record vs Huddersfield: Won 18, Drawn 6, Lost 21
Last meeting: Millwall 1-3 Huddersfield – Championship, February 7, 2015
Ins: Herbert Bockhorn [£225k – Borussia Dortmund II]; Reece Brown [free transfer – Forest Green]; Tommy Elphick [free transfer – Aston Villa]; Isaac Mbenza [undisclosed – Montpellier]; Josh Koroma [undisclosed – Leyton Orient]; Kamil Grabara [loan – Liverpool]; Colin Quaner [end of loan – Ipswich]; Rajiv van La Parra [end of loan – Middlesbrough]
Outs: Tommy Smith [£4.01m – Stoke]; Jonas Lossl [free transfer – Everton]; Jack Payne [free transfer – Lincoln]; Erik Durm [free transfer – Frankfurt]; Laurent Depoitre [free transfer – Gent]; Chris Lowe [undisclosed – Dynamo Dresden]; Danny Williams [released]; Jason Puncheon [end of loan – Crystal Palace]
Image: Millwall FC