Predicting the 2018/19 Championship table
Earlier this week, Jay and I predicted all 24 places of the Championship league table for 2018/19. You can listen to it here (or grab it from Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts). We approached this in a slightly different way to most other predicted tables: a bit like an American-style draft, we took it in turns to pick a team for each league place, with teams “coming off the board” once they’d been selected. Perhaps our combined knowledge, such as it is, coupled with this slight element of randomness, will lead to a more accurate prediction (narrator voice: it probably won’t).
Anyway, skip to the bottom if you’d like the final table; in the meantime, I’ve sorted every team into a few pots based on our expectations for the 2018/19 season. For all teams, I’ve given the bookies’ odds on them winning the league, just as an additional barometer of their likelihood of success in the new season.
Alright, it’s time to annoy the fans of lots of other teams, and give some “I told you so” ammo for later in the season. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.
Teams in trouble
Bolton (200/1) are in a mess with players going unpaid, even if they did just sign the Turkish Messi from Walsall, and barely stayed up last season – they are my personal pick to come bottom of the league, and it’s hard to see anything other than a season of struggle. Rotherham (200/1) bounced straight back up from League One via the playoffs, but were historically awful two seasons ago and finished a whopping 17 points off promotion last year: they’re the bookies’ favourites for relegation. Wigan (40/1) haven’t really strengthened, and by virtue of our draft format are slotted in at rock bottom on our table (Wigan fans, Jay had first pick, you can reach him here – I had you 18th…).
I feel like Ipswich (66/1) may regret moving on from the midtable stability of Mick McCarthy, and losing centre-back Adam Webster won’t have helped – plus it seems like Martyn Waghorn is on his way somewhere. New manager Paul Hurst worked wonders at Shrewsbury last season, but has a heck of a job on his hands. Reading (50/1) rebounded hard after overachieving in 2016/17, and arguably got worse after Jaap Stam’s late-season sacking – their shocking chance creation numbers meant they were largely spared relegation due to some truly woeful teams at the bottom with them last year. Finally, Birmingham (40/1) are transfer embargoed and it’s difficult to see them doing anything other than treading water this season – it’s just a question of if Garry Monk can keep them afloat again.
These are the teams that are probably not going to be in any serious trouble, but may lack the quality to do anything more than dream of the playoffs. QPR (40/1) were poor last season, although their FFP situation isn’t as bad as it sounds and their fine can be repaid over a long period of time so may not have a huge impact. They still have the dynamic Luke Freeman (can we sign him now, please?), and look out for young midfielder Eberechi Eze, who could have a breakout season. Hull (66/1) improved significantly under Nigel Adkins, and could be set for a big financial boost if Harry Maguire does make a rumoured switch to Manchester United. The advanced metrics for their attacking numbers at the end of the season were extremely impressive, but I’m thinking that may not carry over into 2018/19.
Bookmakers seem pretty high on Norwich (20/1), who are the tenth favourite to win the league – which I can’t wrap my head around. Their attack has been gutted in the last few months, with the superb James Maddison and Josh Murphy moving on, and Nelson Oliveira may also be leaving. Granted, they received big fees for these outgoings – £36m for Maddison and Murphy, according to Transfermarkt – but those players will be very difficult to replace. Ben Marshall will be a good signing but this is a side that only finished 14th last season, even with those two attackers.
I think Blackburn (50/1) will do okay, although they haven’t really strengthened over the summer. Blades know plenty about Bradley Dack, who was the League One player of the year as Rovers finished second with 96 points in 2017/18. Preston (33/1) are one I’m tipping for a slide this season, despite their defensive numbers being extremely solid last year. I think they overperformed slightly in 17/18 and expect them to be more midtable than last year’s 7th place.
Bristol City (33/1) feel like another team primed for regression after the sales of Aden Flint and top-scorer Bobby Reid, although their acquisitions look shrewd: Webster from Ipswich, Andreas Weimann from Derby, and attacker Mo Eisa who looks like a potential star. They also signed Jack Hunt, but in good news for him, David Brooks no longer plays in the Championship. Speaking of which, Wednesday (33/1) seem to be under a transfer embargo of their own – possibly self-imposed? – and so haven’t strengthened at all. With some players returning from injury they have too much quality to be in trouble but a season of stagnation feels likely.
Rounding out this group are two sides that I think are likely to be upper-midtable but not much more: Millwall (50/1) and Swansea (12/1). Millwall have a largely unchanged squad from last season, and will continue to be a pain to play against but lack the quality for a sustained charge at the top 6. Swansea have had a poor pre-season off the back of being a disaster in the Premier League – even when results picked up under Carlos Carvalhal, their underlying numbers suggested they were still playing poorly. They’ve lost some of their better players, like Lukasz Fabianski and Alfie Mawson, and at the time of writing their recruits don’t look too exciting, even with Bersant Celina joining from Man City this week. Graham Potter adds a bit of wildcard potential but all the same, they feel like the weakest of the three relegated teams.
I’ll slot the Blades (16/1) in here, although Ben Woodburn’s signing could be an exciting one and John Egan fills a huge position of need in the middle of our defence. As it stands though, there are a few questions to answer and I think we’ll have a very similar season to last year, and finish somewhere in the 7th-10th range.
Leeds (12/1) are going to be anything but dull this season. Barry Douglas was the best left-back in the league as Wolves won the title and is an excellent creator, particularly from set-pieces. Patrick Bamford gives them a potential star striker at this level. And then there’s the Marcelo Bielsa factor – the man who influenced Pep could lead Leeds (sorry) to the playoffs, or could have overseen a total meltdown by the time the clocks go back. Personally I favour the former and had them in 6th on my table, but our draft ranking has them just missing out.
Brentford (16/1) are another wildcard team who I’ve seen predicted as high as third. We were a little more conservative in our predictions but it’s worth reiterating that they were the best team in the league last year going on chance creation, and a bizarre inability to finish cost them. It’s tempting to assume that their finishing will regress to mean this year and they’ll be a better side. They’ve lost Egan to us and Jozefzoon to Derby, but their replacements project to be as good if not better – Brentford know what they’re doing and are on an upward trajectory.
Now we’re getting to the teams for whom anything less than a playoff spot will be a poor season and will almost certainly lead to a manager getting the boot. Forest (12/1) have pushed all their chips into the middle with some big signings, including Joao Carvalho, a technically skilled midfielder from Benfica, and Lewis Grabban who scored a hatful at this level last season. Carvalho is likely not as good as Ruben Neves, and there’s a debate about how good a manager Aitor Karanka is, but Forest have tooled up in a big way and I actually went bold and had them in 2nd place on my own predictions.
Middlesbrough (9/1) were fairly unimpressive last season – particularly in the game at Bramall Lane and their playoff with Villa, where they almost seemed to be playing for the 1-0 defeat they eventually got. Aden Flint feels like a classic Tony Pulis centre-half and will likely chip in with a few goals, and this is still a strong if uninspiring squad. Expect a lot of 1-0 wins. Villa (12/1) have had a messy summer with serious financial troubles and rumours swirling that Thierry Henry was going to replace Steve Bruce as manager. However, new owners have eased those problems and there’s still plenty of quality here, including Jack Grealish (for now).
Derby (12/1) are probably the team that has the biggest possible variance, but we predict a positive season rather than a meltdown. Frank Lampard is a managerial unknown, but the loanees Mason Mount and Harry Wilson, plus the signing of Jack Marriott from Peterborough, represent exciting recruitment. With Matej Vydra now seeming like he’ll stick around, that is a heck of an attacking quartet and they should score goals for fun. West Brom (8/1) have done a good job of clearing out their squad and bringing in competent replacements, including keeper Sam Johnstone, ex-Blade loanee Kyle Bartley, and Harvey Barnes who has a strong reputation at Leicester. Darren Moore had them picking up impressive results at the end of the season and I’ll be surprised if they finish below 4th/5th.
And so we come to Stoke City (5/1), who merit a whole paragraph to themselves. Whereas every team above has question marks against it, Stoke feel like the surest thing in the Championship since Newcastle United hit 100 points in 2009/10. They’ve invested in proven quality at this level (Benik Afobe, Tom Ince) and have an experienced manager in Gary Rowett. I’m also looking forward to seeing Oghenekaro Etebo who was impressive for Nigeria at the World Cup and could be a steal at just £7m. Yes, they’ve lost some quality, noticeably Xherdan Shaqiri, but their new signings have an average age of 25 and it feels like they’ve taken relegation in their stride and built a squad for this level. I would be pretty excited if I was a Stoke fan.
So there you have it – every team broken down into categories as to how we think they’ll finish. If you want to hear more detailed debate and info on each team, check out our predictions episode of BladesPod. Here’s our final table which I’m sure we’ll return to later in the season to see how very, very wrong we were.