We are now just days away from the start of the 2018/19 Championship season with plenty of football to look forward to once again. This is the second instalment of four preview pieces that VAVEL UK will be releasing before the big kick-off on Friday night between Reading and Derby County at the Madejski Stadium.
This is the most exciting period of the year for the majority of football supporters with every club aspiring to have a successful season. This piece takes a look at what to expect from Derby County, Hull City, Ipswich Town and Leeds United in the upcoming campaign.
How did they perform in 2017/18?
The best-performing team within this group last season was Derby, as they managed to secure a place in the play-offs in Gary Rowett's first full season in charge. However, they were beaten by Fulham over two legs in the semi-finals, courtesy of goals from Ryan Sessegnon and Denis Odoi in the second leg at Craven Cottage.
Since then, Rowett has left the club to join relegated side Stoke City. The club's owner, Mel Morris, has opted to replace Rowett with ex-England international Frank Lampard in what will be his first managerial experience. It will certainly be interesting to see how he performs.
As it always tends to be at Elland Road, it was another eventful season both on and off the pitch. The Whites made a very impressive start to the season under the management of Thomas Christiansen but their form tailed off badly around the Christmas period which resulted in him leaving the club.
The club's hierarchy opted to replace him with Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom in February, a decision which did not go as they would have hoped. Heckingbottom never really managed to get the club's supporters behind him, not helped by the fact he only managed to win four of his 16 matches in charge. He was dismissed towards the end of the season and has since been replaced with Marcelo Bielsa taking on the role.
Many Ipswich fans probably felt that it was a long time coming, but the 2017/18 campaign finally signalled the end of Mick McCarthy's tenure at Portman Road. His departure from the club was announced before the end of the season, something he did not agree with which resulted in him leaving with four games to go anyway.
Bryan Klug took charge for the final four games of the season with Paul Hurst being announced as McCarthy's permanent successor at the end of May. It remains to be seen whether Hurst looks to implement a new style of play, with McCarthy's direct approach being his biggest downfall during his time at the club.
The majority of Hull supporters were probably just glad to end last season with their Championship status still intact, after what was another dismal campaign both on and off the pitch. The fans are still very much against the club's owners due to a lack of investment which has created a very toxic atmosphere.
They were in and around the relegation zone for the majority of last season but new manager Nigel Adkins did just about enough to ensure the squad avoided a drop into League One, following the dismissal of Leonid Slutsky earlier on in the season.
A successful transfer window?
There has been speculation that Derby might be close to breaking Financial Fair Play regulations which would explain why they are being more careful with their money this season.
They did make a big signing last week as Peterborough United striker Jack Marriott joined the club. The 23-year-old scored 33 goals for Posh in all competitions last season and could be an astute addition to Lampard's squad. The other arrivals at Pride Park so far have been Florian Jozefzoon for an undisclosed fee from Brentford, George Evans from Reading and Mason Mount and Harry Wilson joining on-loan from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.
The only players to leave the club so far have been Andreas Weimann and Charles Vernam who have joined Bristol City and Grimsby Town respectively. This is perhaps surprising as many people would have expected the club to cut their wage bill further to allow Lampard to bring in more of his own targets.
It has not been the best transfer window for Hull this summer, but they have managed to make a number of additions. The likes of Eric Lichaj, Reece Burke, Jordy de Wijs and George Long have all arrived at the club which should add competition for places.
However, they have let a number of important players leave the club such as captain Michael Dawson as well as Max Clark, David Meyler and Seb Larsson. This loss of experience and know-how in the Championship could prove very costly for the Tigers this season if they are to face another relegation battle.
During his time at Ipswich, McCarthy was never that prolific in the transfer market and arguably did a relatively good job considering the low amount of money he spent. This is something that is unlikely to change under the management of Hurst. He has so far made just three additions to the squad, with Jordan Roberts, Gwion Edwards and Ellis Harrison arriving from Crawley Town, Peterborough United and Bristol Rovers respectively.
The biggest transfer news has been the speculation linking striker Martyn Waghorn with a move to Derby County. He was left out of the squad by Hurst in their last pre-season friendly and could yet leave the club before the end of the transfer window.
With the arrival of Bielsa creating so much excitement around Elland Road, you would have expected Leeds to have been much busier in the transfer market than they have been. However, they did make their first signing of the summer last week as left-back Barry Douglas arrived for an undisclosed fee from newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers on a three-year deal.
The 28-year-old played a key role in Wolves' promotion last season and is undoubtedly a very impressive addition. There have been a couple of outgoings with Felix Wiedwald, Madger Gomes and Marcus Antonsson joining Frankfurt, Sochaux and Malmo respectively.
Players to look out for
Matěj Vydra - Derby County
The 26-year-old striker was a key player for the Rams last season as he found the back of the net 21 times in 40 league appearances as he helped his side secure a place in the play-offs. On his day, there is no doubt that he is one of the most dangerous strikers in the division.
However, due to the current financial situation at Pride Park, Vydra has been heavily linked with a move away from the club this summer. Leeds United were said to be most interested in securing his services.
Despite this, there has been a significant amount of speculation recently that Leeds have ended their interest in the striker. Speaking after the Rams' last pre-season friendly against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Lampard said: "He's a good player but at the moment we are in limbo but it should pan out in the next few days."
Eric Lichaj - Hull City
The signing of the 29-year-old right-back from Championship rivals Nottingham Forest may not be the most thrilling signing, but it could prove to be a very important one. He has a lot of experience at this level with the Reds and also has Premier League experience from his time at Aston Villa.
Not only is he solid defensively, but he also offers a threat going forward. This was shown in Forest's famous 4-2 win over Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup last season, in which Lichaj scored twice, with the second being a sublime volley. It will be interesting to see whether his attacking play continues to improve at the KCOM next season.
Martyn Waghorn - Ipswich Town
The 28-year-old striker is another player that has received a considerable amount of interest in the transfer window. It is not difficult to see why, considering that he managed to find the back of the net 16 times in the Championship last season, as well as racking up a number of assists. He was directly involved in more goals than any other player in the division which makes him a real asset.
He has been heavily linked with a move to Derby this summer, but it remains to be seen whether this deal actually goes ahead. Hurst opted to leave Waghorn out of the squad in the Tractor Boys' last pre-season friendly and it will be interesting to see whether he selects him should he still be at the club come the weekend.
Barry Douglas - Leeds United
The fact that it was such a surprise that Leeds managed to secure the services of the 28-year-old left-back shows what a fantastic signing he is. He was instrumental for Nuno Espírito Santo's promotion winning side last season and he will now be looking to replicate that achievement at Elland Road.
He has all the attributes to be a real success for Bielsa's side. He managed to pick up a significant amount of assists for Wolves throughout last season and also provides a significant threat from set pieces with his delivery. It will be interesting to see whether he is just as effective in South Yorkshire and whether Wolves regret letting him leave.
Young players to look out for
Jack Marriott - Derby County
The arrival of the 23-year-old striker from Peterborough United is arguably the Rams' most impressive piece of business so far in this transfer window. He proved that he is worth a shot at Championship level after finding the back of the net a whopping 33 times for the Posh last season, having previously joined from League Two side Luton Town.
Signing a player such as Marriott from a lower division for a significant fee is always a gamble as it is not guaranteed that they can make the step up. However, if he makes a similar impact to that of Britt Assombalonga at Nottingham Forest a couple of years ago, he could be a bargain.
Jarrod Bowen - Hull City
The 21-year-old winger really made his mark in what was his breakthrough season at the club last time out. He managed to feature in majority of the Tigers' league matches, scoring 14 goals in the process. He was certainly the shining light in what was a rather disappointing campaign for the club.
The challenge for Bowen will now be not only replicating that performance this season, but improving further. It has not been the best transfer window at the club and majority of the goalscoring burden could remain on his shoulders. If he does continue to perform, there will certainly be a lot of interest in him in the future.
Teddy Bishop - Ipswich Town
The 22-year-old is currently still on the road to recovery following an injury plagued season last time out, resulting in him making only four appearances in the Championship. It has been a very frustrating period for both the player and everyone connected with the club who saw how promising he was when he first emerged in the first team.
It remains to be seen whether he can get himself back fully fit to play a part in the new season, but if he can, it was be a real boost to Hurst's options in midfield. Many people expect the Tractor Boys to be in a relegation scrap this season but a player of Bishop's quality could help them prevent this from happening.
Conor Shaughnessy - Leeds United
Similarly to Bishop, the 22-year-old centre-back also struggled with injury throughout the second half of the season after picking up a serious ankle injury against Hull City in January. This ruled him out for the rest of the season which prevented him from building on the nine appearances he had managed to make for the first team early in the season.
He has recently returned from injury and has been training with the first team in pre-season. It could be a big season for the youngster due to the lack of centre-back options that Bielsa has available to him. He looks likely to be the main back-up option with some fans rating him more highly than Liam Cooper.