Following a brief summer break and reduced pre-season, the English Championship returns to action on Friday 11 September. Watford and Middlesbrough get the ball rolling at Vicarage Road as the recently relegated hosts aim to get their campaign off to a winning start and make a quickfire return to the Premier League.
The bulk of the action from week one goes on Saturday afternoon when 11 matches will be played. Followers have some exciting games to look forward to as football comes back to something resembling normality. Some of the standout fixtures include Birmingham vs Brentford, Bournemouth vs Blackburn, Cardiff vs Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall vs Stoke City.
As well as following each match live, football fans can also look ahead and make their predictions for the 2020/21 season. Will the teams dropping down from the Premier League prove too good for this level or will the champion come from elsewhere? Welsh clubs Cardiff City and Swansea City suffered failed playoff bids and will want to improve, as will Brentford who lost out to neighbours Fulham in the final at Wembley.
Norwich aiming to bounce back
The 2020/21 season should be another fiercely competitive contest with battles raging in the title challenge and promotion playoff places as well as the fight to avoid relegation to League One. Norwich City are one of the clubs joining from the Premier League and many pundits have the Canaries picked as the team to beat for the title. They endured a nightmare time of things in the top flight and will be eager to learn the lessons that led to them finishing bottom of the table. Major improvement is needed but they are capable of dusting themselves down and getting back on track.
Daniel Farke has spent the summer getting the best deal possible for players eager to leave the club and try to remain in the Premier League while holding on to those happy to stay and fight for the cause in the second tier. He has also been active in the summer transfer window in an attempt to bolster his squad and bring in men with experience of success in the Championship. One high profile name through the door was Ben Gibson who signed a season-long loan deal from Burnley. Gibson joined the Clarets from Middlesbrough in 2018 for £15m and could make this move to Norwich permanent if the club win promotion to the Premier League.
Brentford could go one better
The main challenge to Norwich is expected to come from Brentford who went agonisingly close to gaining promotion to the Premier League through the playoffs. The Bees were sensational in 2020 and pushed hard for a top two finish and automatic promotion but a sloppy finish cost them the silver medal, West Brom holding on in the final game to go up. That left Brentford in the playoffs but after securing their place in the final they were beaten by fellow Londoners Fulham at Wembley Stadium by a 2-1 score after extra-time.
So close yet so far for the Bees but manager Thomas Frank has plenty to work with and will believe he has the tools at his disposal to improve. They are expected to challenge for promotion once again, but everyone linked to the club would prefer to finish in the top two and avoid the lottery of playoff football. Brentford also now know the value of consistency throughout the season and they must find the ruthlessness to turn one point into three if they are to have any chance of challenging.
Pressure on Watford
Following an extended stay in the Premier League, Watford now find themselves back down in the Championship but can have no arguments as they had been flirting with the danger zone in recent years. They have the budget to attract big name players and rank as one of the richest clubs at this level but can’t simply expect to turn up and guarantee promotion. They struggled in the Premier League but will find this to be an entirely different challenge. The pressure is on Watford to make a success of this season and come back to the Premier League better than they left it.
Others expected to lay down a title challenge this season is Bournemouth who were relegated from the Premier League last term, Stoke City who have recent top flight experience and appear to be heading in the right direction again. Nottingham Forest served up a decent challenge for the top six in the summer and can do better if they find their form early while Cardiff City shouldn’t be taken lightly on the back of a strong campaign.
Norwich are 6/1 favorites to win the Championship and they are followed by Brentford at 7/1. Watford rate as 8/1 challengers.