Championship Preview – Part 3

Birmingham

  • Pre-season results: P5 W2 D1 L1 GF6 GA6
  • Last season: 19th

Birmingham City are in a mess. They are currently under a transfer embargo meaning Kristian Pederson, their only summer signing so far and quite probably at all, may not even be able to play for them. Gary Monk is likely one of the only thing standing between Birmingham and a relegation scrap. Monk was appointed in March with the Blues in the relegation zone and managed to get more than a third of Birmingham’s wins (5) in less than a quarter of their games (11).

This was not just a new manager bounce as the Blues actually underperformed their points based on xG under Monk, showing the extent of the success he had. Normally new managers come in and tighten up a side defensively, and often struggle to have any effect on the attack but Monk bucked this trend. Birmingham had managed just 23 goals in the 35 goals before Monk was hired.

Only Boro and Wolves managed to shut out Gary Monk’s Birmingham and Monk worked wonders for Birmingham’s attackers. Jutkiewicz (1), Jota (2) and Adams (2) managed only five goals between them before Monk came in but under Monk this figure double to 10 (Jutkiewicz 4, Jota 3 and Adams 3). If Birmingham had been able to invest properly then I would probably have them down as outsiders for the play-off spots but their dispute with the EFL means mid-table mediocrity is the best they can hope for.

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Sheffield United

  • Pre-season results: P6 W4 D2 L0 GF12 GA4
  • Last season: 10th

Sheffield United had an excellent chance at promotion last December, but their over performance xG wise stopped and they began to underperform meaning the missed out on the play-offs. Wilder’s side success, in their first season in the championship for six years, was based off the monster that was their defence.

The Blades’ defence even out shone Wolves, giving up the least xG of any side in the league (38.69). Despite this they managed to concede 55 goals, only 10th best in the league, so it will be hoped that the addition of Dean Henderson will solve this considerable underperformance. Wilder’s system will feel somewhat familiar, as it bares many similarities to Southgate’s chosen system for England at the World Cup.

Sheffield United line up in a 352, and despite not being as aggressive as England’s system it is based on the same style in attack. The wing backs provide all the width, whilst one of the central three drops deeper into the pivot and the other two drift into the half spaces. The addition of Ben Woodburn could prove pivotal to their success, providing penetration in behind as well as the ability to drop off and contribute to the build up the Liverpool loanee will likely fit straight into Wilder’s system.

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Bristol City

  • Pre-season results: P4 W2 D2 L0 GF10 GA4
  • Last season: 11th

Bristol City, much like Wigan, captured the headlines with a cup victory over a side from Manchester. This was coupled with a four-month stint in the play-off places, before a drop off in results saw Bristol slip to their midtable finish. This has probably not been the best summer in the south-west. Bobby Reid and Aden Flint will be big losses and it is unclear whether the likes of Weimann and Webster can adequately replace them.

There is also another big shock awaiting Bristol City, the realisation that last season saw them pulling off a pretty impressive overperformance. Bristol overperformed their xG for (57.13) by slightly under 10 goals and unfortunately for Lee Johnson and his team this kind of outperformance will not last, it is impressive it lasted so long last season.

Stylistically Bristol City are a direct side, completing the most long balls of any side last season (1668). When I say direct I mean in the more modern ‘post-possession’ (to quote Michael Cox) sense of direct. Bristol aren’t playing Pulis-ball, instead they are a high pressing side intent on quick vertical transitions into attack. After having a long hot-streak last season this time around Bristol City are likely going to have to temper their expectations.

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Middlesbrough

  • Pre-season results: P8 W3 D0 L4 GF14 GA10 (1 Match Abandoned)
  • Last Season: 5th

Tony Pulis will be hoping to repay the Boro supporters for a turgid showing in the two play-off semi-final matches against Aston Villa. Reminiscent of our trip to Valencia many complained that Pulis didn’t even appear interested in trying to win the match. This season Boro are likely to be competing at the top end of the table as their side becomes increasingly ‘Pulisy’.

Even under the capped one, Boro did not look like a Pulis side last season playing a 433 with the mercurial Adama Traore the key man. This season it is looking a lot more likely that Tone will revert to his traditional 442.

Boro’s recruitment has been solid, if not a little dull. Flint will slide easily into a Tony Pulis back four and McNair will be a solid option in the middle of the park after being the only shining light from Sunderland last season. Adama Traore has constantly been linked with a move to Wolves but nothing has of yet materialised. Middlesbrough will still be a strong side without the talented winger, but if he stays on Teesside then this will likely be a massively successful season for Boro.

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Nottingham Forest

  • Pre-season results: P6 W4 D1 L1 GF13 GA3
  • Last Season: 17th

It has hard to know exactly how well Forest will do this season, but it is looking increasingly like that they are a solid bet to do well. They have recruited heavily from signing young talents from Benfica, Sporting and Monaco, as well as adding some experience in the form of Lewis Grabban. Grabban was the second top scorer in the Championship last season, behind only Vydra, scoring 12 whilst at Sunderland and 8 whilst at Villa. They have also added the Algerian, Soudani who has signed from Dinamo Zagreb. He has scored 34 goals in his past two seasons, 17 in each, as well as providing 16 assists in the same period of time.

Many have drawn the lazy comparison between Wolves last season and Forest’s business in this one, but that comparison is a fairly inaccurate one. First and foremost Wolves, in signing Ruben Neves picked up one of the hottest prospects in Europe. Neves had already captained Porto despite being only 20, and was coveted by most of the top clubs in the world, not one Forest player fits this profile. Second, only four of Wolves’ most used XI last season had no experience of British football. Wolves benefited from their revolution taking place over a period of two seasons and Forest may be in the transition phase.

Another element to suggest this may not be Forest’s year is their manager, Aitor Karanka. Karanka is an experienced manager and obviously gained promotion of Middlesbrough, but his conservative approach is much more comparable to Lambert than it is to Nuno. In his promotion campaign with Boro Karanka gave only seven appearances to players under 21 (all seven to Dael Fry) and of the players to make 30 or more appearances none were under 25. With Figueiredo (24), Dias, Carvalho and Gonçalves (all 21) under this there must be an underlying concern Karanka will not fully utilise his new players. Forest will be a good side this year, but it is likely to be a case of waiting and settling in.

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before there is any clear promotion push.

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