Championship 21/22 Preview: Ones to watch, Promotion contenders, and Relegation fodder

The football's back, everybody. The football is back.
EFL match ball. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)EFL match ball. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
EFL match ball. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

After a summer of jubilation and agony in which England came within touching distance of a Euro 2020 triumph that would have sent the country into a hedonistic meltdown, we finally stand on the brink of a return to our much more familiar, garden variety footballing purgatory.

Yes, the EFL returns this weekend, with Bournemouth and West Brom getting things underway in the Championship on Friday night.

And with another jam-packed season of twists, turns, trials, and tribulations on the horizon, we thought we’d take a closer look at who could really make an impact this term.

Here are our ones to watch in the Championship this season…

Team to watch

The Championship is a notoriously competitive division, and it always feels as if about half the league are in with a chance of challenging for promotion at any one time.

This season, the obvious contenders to go up will be last year’s Premier League cast-offs, West Brom, Sheffield United, and Fulham, but there are plenty of others besides who will fancy their chances.

Swansea City are always there or thereabouts, and nobody should ever rule out the granite spirit and wily knowhow of Neil Warnoc – now managing Middlesbrough, of course.

Perhaps the most interesting prospect is Bournemouth, however.

The Cherries poached Scott Parker from Fulham earlier this summer, and could be a really force to be reckoned with if they find their rhythm.

Player to watch

With a few of weeks left to go in the transfer window, and with Premier League clubs always on the lookout for a cheap deal, don’t be surprised if we see a number of top Championship talents seal exits in days – thus rendering these tips obsolete.

The likes of Adam Armstrong and Matheus Pereira probably fall into the category of players who would make a massive impact, but who could leave their current employers before the market shuts.

One man who looks set to stay put, however, and who caused a real ruckus in his last outing on the Championship merry-go-round, is West Brom’s Grady Diangana.

The tricky winger maybe didn’t hit the heights that many were expecting him to in the top flight last term, but in a lower division, with an attack built around his considerable talents, he could be a real game-changer for the Baggies.

Golden boot contenders

Goals win games, and if you’re looking for evidence to support that cliche, just look at the Herculean effort Ivan Toney put in to help Brentford seal promotion last term.

With the 25-year-old out of the picture, and with Teemu Pukki also plying his trade in the top flight once more, the golden boot mantle will be hotly contested this season.

The aforementioned Armstrong will be in the running, assuming he stays with Blackburn Rovers, but perhaps we could finally see the potential of Sheffield United’s Rhian Brewster come to fruition.

The youngster was something of a damp squib in the top flight, but he did hit 10 goals in 20 Championship outings for Swansea a couple of seasons ago.

An outside shout, but maybe not the most outlandish.

Don’t forget Kieffer Moore either, who bagged 20 times for Cardiff City last term.

Relegation fodder

It’s hard to look past Derby County, if truth be told.

The Rams survived by the skin of their teeth last term, and have endured a miserable summer that has left their squad looking so threadbare that they’d struggle to form an S Club 7 tribute act at this stage, let alone a professional football team.

Matters have not been helped by the fact that Wayne Rooney has been going round injuring his own players in training, and now County head into the new season this weekend looking like proverbial lambs to the slaughter.

They could shock everyone and beat the drop, but unless something seismic changes soon, League One surely beckons.