John Brewin: Get ready for the pandemonium, the Championship is here

Our expert football writer looks ahead to what he feels will be a chaotic and unpredictable ride in the Championship season ahead…


To pierce through the Premier League conceit that it is the place where anybody can beat anybody, a glance at the division below is all that is required.

For plot lines and intrigue at the top and bottom and everywhere in between, look no further than the EFL Championship.

Who will go up? The odds suggest an open field, with nine clubs within the 5/1 threshold for promotion before Friday’s kick-off.

Wolves, last season’s title winners kicked off last August with that same price of 5/1, while pre-season favourites Aston Villa and Middlesbrough both eventually perished in the play-offs.

Cardiff, who accompanied Wolves in landing automatic promotion at the end of eight months of slog, were actually lower odds to be relegated than promoted.

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Following Wolves being powered by Jorge Mendes’ client list of Portuguese talent, the new season’s foreign exotica is provided by the presence of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds.

Bielsa is the coach who both Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, among many others, cite as their inspiration, even if the man himself thinks both of them have betrayed his principles by veering away from his path to footballing righteousness.

The combination of Leeds United, seeking to end what will be 15 years of exile from the Premier League and one of world football’s greatest enigmas is irresistible yet almost certainly combustible.

Even though Bielsa has been sampling local cuisine, having called in at a McDonald’s on the way home from a friendly at York last week, his English is non-existent, which can only hamper the delivery of his zealous doctrines.

Leeds’ owner, Andrea Radrizzani, has backed Bielsa with a level of spending not seen since the early-2000s days of Peter Ridsdale living the dream with a tank full of goldfish; Wolves defender Barry Douglas and Middlesbrough striker Patrick Bamford cost almost £10m between them when being snapped up in the last few days.

Bielsa is the 15th “permanent” Leeds manager since relegation from the Premier League in 2004, and could only manage short spells at Marseille, Lazio and Lille.

The prognosis does not appear good, but it should be fun finding out if West Yorkshire can become a fulcrum of Bielsista values.

Sunday’s match at Elland Road between Leeds and Stoke City looks like appointment viewing, carrying significantly more interest than the glorified friendly of the Community Shield being played at Wembley between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Derby, who get the show underway on Friday night at Reading, have reached even higher for the stars in appointing Frank Lampard.

How his 150-plus IQ and former aristocratic existence at Stamford Bridge can transfer to the muck and nettles of a 46-game campaign is a question that has dominated the pre-season build-up, and the sight of Lampard prowling the sidelines in either sharp suit or tracksuit will take some getting used to.

In Derby, he has joined a club of pedigree and heritage, but one that has repeatedly struggled in recent years to crack the nut of promotion.

It has been ten years since County were last relegated from the Premier League.

And the three teams who are freshly dropped down will doubtless feel the burn of re-entry to the second tier.

All three of Stoke, West Brom and Swansea had got all cosy in the Premier League, but each must now suffer the discomfort of playing twice a week, and after sellable assets have been cashed in.

Each is under new management, with Graham Potter in South Wales, Gary Rowett in the Potteries and Darren Moore given a full-time Baggies contract after almost pulling off a great escape as caretaker.

Any overconfidence at bouncing back immediately ought to be drained by the plights of clubs like Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich, absent from the Premier League for 14, 18, 19 and 16 years respectively, previous establishment entities in exile for almost a generation.

Aston Villa, in their third successive Championship season, required an Egyptian takeover to stave off financial oblivion and have lately engaged the services of Mendes, are a prime case study in there being no guarantee of spending being the route to promotion, while Sunderland’s train wreck last season shows that there are further trapdoors to fall through if a club is not prepared for the challenge of the division.

Such are the intangibles of life in the English Championship season, making for a near-level playing field. There is no dominant elite of six super-clubs.

Only the likes of cash-strapped Rotherham and Bolton must attempt to tread water in the manner of 14 Premier League clubs last season.

It adds up to a heady mix of uncertainty and pandemonium, a competition fully worth following through its chaotic, punishing duration.

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