Championship Preview – Part 2

Sheffield Wednesday

  • Pre-season record: P3 W1 D0 L2 GF3 GA5
  • Last season finish: 15th

Wednesday are the first side that Stoke will come up against who are subject to financial troubles. Due to this the Owls have not brought in one player this season and are going to have to rely on youth players to bolster their squad. Wednesday have managed to keep hold of most of their players at time of writing, and it will be hoped Forestieri has fully recovered from his injury and can provide an attacking strength to the side.

Last season was marred by the strange decision to let Carvahal go in December, and the failure from Jos Luhukay to emulate the Portuguese managers success. xG models had Wednesday maintaining play-off form, despite their actual results not reflecting this, under Carvahal. From sacking him in December their form, both points and xG wise, plummeted as Wednesday began staring down the wrong side of the bottom half.

Luhukay preferred a 352 system for the majority of his time in charge last season, although he has appeared to have reverted to the 442 which he initially began with during this pre-season. Wednesday are reliant on target man Atdhe Nuhiu who was top scorer last season, looking to build play through the wide areas and get the ball into the box (Wednesday were one of six teams to attempt more than 20 crosses per match last season). The presence of Forestieri will allow Wednesday to have a greater threat down the middle, but ultimately it is their defence that is their downfall. Wednesday gave up the 3rd highest xG figure in the Championship last season, and if that continues then the Owls may be dragged into a relegation fight.

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Swansea

  • Pre-season record: P5 W1 D2 L2 GF4 GA7
  • Last season finish: 18th (Premier League)

Swansea City may well not be in the Championship come the 2019/20 season, but it is more likely they will be emulating Sunderland than Newcastle. There are already rumours that Potter is regretting his choice of Swansea, and who can blame him. Swansea have spent about 5 million so far this summer signing the admittedly exciting prospect of Joel Asoro, and other young players from the likes of Man City and Liverpool.

The problem comes when this is compared to their outgoings, the rumoured fee for Alfie Mawson’s imminent transfer to Fulham is four times the figure Swansea have spent so far. Add onto that another 20 million in sales (according to transfermarkt) and the contrast between outgoing and incomings must be sickening for Swansea fans.

Potter switched between a 343 and a 4141 at Ostersunds, but the only real difference in the shapes was whether or not the central defender pushed up into a holding midfield roll. Both systems relied on overlapping wing backs and inside forwards finding pockets of space, the traditional style of the side was to press hard in the oppositions half before dropping into their deep block and waiting for an opportunity to counter once the opposition entered Ostersunds half.

Potter had great success at Ostersunds with a young inexperienced squad, unearthing talent on a tiny budget. Swansea banking on him achieving the same, despite such a huge gap between sales and spending, is a risky tactic and one more likely to see them in and around the bottom of the table rather than pushing for promotion.

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Blackburn

  • Pre-season record: P6 W3 D1 L2 GF7 GA4
  • Last season finish: 2nd (League One)

Blackburn are a bit boring. Their promotion campaign was built off a solid dependable defence and a clinical attack, not matching Wigan’s high volume shot approach to promotion. League One player of the season, Bradley Dack is the stand out, and easily the most intriguing element of their side. Whilst the loan signing of Kasey Palmer is also a good addition it seems a strange one considering Dack’s presence in the side.

One of Palmer or Dack will have to play in an un-preferred wide role, the most likely candidate is Dack as he played a handful of games in this role last season. Aside from these two players the Blackburn defence is strong and dependable and will likely be key to the survival campaign. Blackburn will be a tough opposition, but are probably lacking the quality to achieve as much as some are suggesting they will

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Rotherham

  • Pre-season record: P7 W4 D2 L1 GF11 GA5
  • Last season finish: 4th (League One Play-off Winners)

Paul Warne did an excellent job to help Rotherham recover from one of the worst relegation seasons the second tier has seen and bounce back up at first time of asking. But the likelihood of him being able to top this by keeping the Millers in the division is unlikely and is dependent on the (lack of) ability of other sides.

Rotherham have lined up in a 442 for the majority of preseason and manager Warne has already established his intentions to make sure sides don’t enjoy playing the Millers. There will be no guarantee of excitement in South Yorkshire, but a pragmatic approach and some luck in the form of Bolton and Reading will keep Rotherham in the Championship for another year.

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Bolton

  • Pre-season record: P5 W2 D2 L1 GF6 GA5
  • Last season finish: 21st

Bolton are bad, so so so bad. They managed to narrowly outperform their xG for the final half of last season culminating in survival during added time in the final game of the season. No side gave up as much xG as Bolton last time around and their attack was ineffectual at best. The signing of Josh Magennis, whilst being an experienced scorer in the EFL, is not going to add the defensive improvement required. And the signings of ex-Stoke player Marc Wilson and Jack Hobbs don’t strike many pundits with confidence.

Phil Parkinson has set his side up in a 442/4411 in preseason and it is clear that the focus is on quick direct transitions in the counter attack. The system is likely to be weak for two main reasons. First, a poor defensive side is actively encouraging the opposition to come forward and retain possession. Secondly, the system looks vulnerable to counter-pressing and problem Stoke are familiar with seeing as we gave up the most shots in the league within 20 seconds of losing possession in the oppositions half.

It appears that Marc Wilson will have another season of complaining about defensive training ahead of him.

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Norwich

  • Pre-season record: P8 W5 D1 L2 GF15 GA9
  • Last season finish: 14th

Norwich sought to emulate Huddersfield’s success last season. No not simply by hiring the reserve manager at Dortmund, but by opening their recruitment to Europe in an attempt to unearth different talent and have continued this approach into this season. The bookies on average have Norwich placed to finish tenth in the league, but when looking at who the Canaries have lost this seems an extremely generous placing.

James Maddison, Josh Murphy and Wes Hoolahan, all no longer with the club, created 207 chances for Norwich last season. The rest of the squad in their entirety produced only 91 more chances than this (298) showing just what kind of challenge awaits Norwich. Maddison was the most creative player in the league last season, and it remains to be seen whether or not the signings of Ben Marshall and Emiliano Buendía (no me neither) can provide such a quantity of chances.

Add into this Norwich being one of the most wasteful sides in attach last season, only Birmingham took more shots per goal, and things start to look very worrying. And the signing of Jordan Rhodes cannot ease this worry. In his last three seasons Rhodes has converted 126 shots into only 14 goals, hardly the record of a prolific striker and barely above average.

Add into all of this a manager who only appears to have added very little to Norwich in terms of points and things could get ugly quick. If I were a betting man I would maybe have some money on Farke to be the first to lose his job in the league, and that would leave the beautifully tantalising prospect of Mick McCarthy getting the job.

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