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 final 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 Reading, Rotherham United, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic.
How did they perform in 2017/18?
Three of the teams in this group were all relegated from the Premier League last season in the form of Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.
All three of them were in and around the relegation zone for the entirety of the campaign, with the Swans coming closest to pulling off a remarkable escape under the management of Carlos Carvalhal.
Both Stoke and Swansea now have new managers at the helm in Gary Rowett and Graham Potter, whilst West Brom have decided to stick with Darren Moore after he managed to turn their form around towards the end of last season.
If you’d offered Sheffield United a tenth place finish ahead of the 2017/18 season they would have taken it, with this being their first campaign in the second tier for seven seasons.
However, the Blades would have been disappointed in reflection of this season after they started it so well, winning 12 of their first 17 games and not drawing a match until match-day 19.
Chris Wilder’s side’s form took a drastic dip for the remainder of the season though, with them winning just eight of their last 29 games after that fantastic start.
The United faithful will hope for more consistency all season this time around in order to try and break into the play-off positions.
Following their disastrous 2016/17 Championship campaign that resulted in relegation, Paul Warne’s Rotherham side initially struggled to adapt to demands of League One, picking up only one win from their first four matches.
However, the Millers’ fortunes began to change after registering their first away league win in 27 matches with a 1-0 victory against Portsmouth in early September.
Despite a mid-season blip and losing their captain Lee Frecklington to League Two side Lincoln City, a 14-game unbeaten run in the league cemented Rotherham’s fourth-place finish and a play-offs spot.
After overcoming local rivals Scunthorpe United 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-final, the Millers secured promotion back to the Championship with a 2-1 win over Shrewsbury Town in the play-off final at Wembley.
Rotherham followed Wigan and Blackburn with an immediate return back to the Championship as all three teams were relegated the previous season.
Similarly to Rotherham, Wigan's 2016/17 Championship campaign was also one to forget but they have also managed to return to the second division at the first attempt.
Under the management of Paul Cook, the Latics remained very consistent throughout the season which eventually saw them secure the league title.
It has been a big step up for the club in the Championship in the past, but under Cook's management, it would not be a surprise to see them make the transition much more effectively this time round.
Two sides in this group that both suffered from disappointing campaigns last time out are Reading and Sheffield Wednesday.
They both finished in the bottom half of the Championship and had fears of relegation at different points throughout the season
Just a year after their play-off defeat to Huddersfield Town, Reading found themselves deep in a relegation battle last season.
Jaap Stam lasted until March after a run of just one win in 17 games - newly-appointed manager Paul Clement claimed two wins in his first three games which turned out to be enough to keep the club in the Championship.
Star players such as Yann Kermorgant and Garath McCleary failed to perform and the Royals could never quite get over the loss of both Danny Williams and Ali Al-Habsi.
After back-to-back playoff finishes, Sheffield Wednesday were hopeful to make it third time lucky to reach the Premier League.
However, a combination of a poor start and numerous key injuries meant the Owls finished in a lowly fifteenth position.
Carlos Carvalhal left two days before Christmas following a 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough.
Wednesday turned to Jos Luhukay to steer the ship away from relegation, which looked a possibility at one point.
Keiren Westwood, Barry Bannan, Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper and Kieran Lee all had long-term injuries during the campaign.
This led to the inclusion of several academy players during the second half of the season, including the likes of goalkeepers Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson, as well as Jordan Thorniley, Jack Stobbs and Connor Kirby.
A successful transfer window?
Reading boss Clement has been scouring the market for freebies. David Meyler, Andy Yiadom and John O'Shea have arrived on frees to add some needed experience within the ranks whilst Sam Baldock joins from Brighton & Hove Albion to add some firepower in the forward line.
Marc McNulty decided to switch League One for the Championship after his successful campaign with Coventry City last year.
The striker could be the surprise package of the league this season, with Royals fans already likening him to former poacher Adam Le Fondre.
As expected, it’s been a tough transfer window for Rotherham.
It is no secret that they don’t have the transfer funds that the higher Championship powers have access too, and most of their eight signings so far have been free transfers or loan deals.
Billy Jones has put pen to paper on a two-year deal following his release from Sunderland, while striker Kyle Vassell and centre-back Clark Robertson have arrived on three-year deals from Blackpool.
Their most crucial pieces of business have included tying down captain Richard Wood at the New York Stadium until the summer of 2020, and more intriguingly the capture of Norwich City centre-back Sean Raggett on loan.
However, the South Yorkshire club still need to fill the void left by last year’s top scorer Kieffer Moore, who departed last January for Ipswich Town.
He now finds himself at local rivals Barnsley, and it looks likely that they will miss out on signing Brighton & Hove Albion’s Richie Towell, who was on loan and another influential figure in the Millers’ promotion last season.
This shortened transfer window has been a quiet one for Sheffield United with the deadline almost upon us.
Wilder has brought 11 new faces through the door at Bramall Lane this summer, with all but two of these deals being free transfers or loan signings.
The most eye catching imports are striker David McGoldrick and defender John Egan picked up from Championship rivals, as well as Liverpool youth prospect Ben Woodburn on loan for the season.
Only six players have left United this summer on a permanent basis, with the biggest loss being young Welsh midfielder David Brooks who has been given a chance in the Premier League by AFC Bournemouth.
The Blades have let a lot of their strikers move on, so it will be interesting to see if they make a big splash before the August 9 deadline.
There have been no new incomings so far at Sheffield Wednesday, as the Owls look to trim their wages bill and comply with profitability and sustainability rules.
Jack Hunt has departed for fellow Championship side Bristol City for a deal around the £1.6 million mark. Also, Jordan Rhodes has joined Norwich City on a season-long loan deal.
It is still unclear whether Wednesday are under a transfer embargo. They may no longer be challenging for promotion, but they arguably still have the quality to maintain a comfortable mid-table finish.
Following their relegation, Stoke's hierarchy have made it very clear with their actions in the transfer market that they have ambitions to get back to the top flight at the first attempt.
They have spent a considerable amount of money to bring in the likes of Etebo Oghenekaro, James McClean and Tom Ince and have also secured the signature of Benik Afobe on a season-long loan from newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The most notable departure from the bet365 Stadium this summer has been that of Xherdan Shaqiri who has joined Liverpool for around £13 million.
In comparison, Swansea have taken a very different approach to their recruitment ahead of their first season back in the Championship.
They have not spent big fees on any players, but have made some smart additions including the likes of Yan Dhanda, Jordi Jair Govea Martin, Joel Asoro and Barrie McKay.
However, the loss of Ki Sung-Yueng to Newcastle United is likely to be a significant one, as he was often a very important player for the Swans in central midfield and had the ability to control games.
West Brom have quietly gone about their business this summer and have managed to make a number of smart additions.
The likes of Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley have experience at this level and will be able to hit the ground running, whilst Jonathan Bond and Conor Townsend could also prove to be useful squad players.
The loan signing of Harvey Barnes from Leicester City could also be key, as the winger impressed at times during his spell with Barnsley last season.
The only high profile names to leave the club this summer have been Ben Foster and James McClean, meaning that Moore still has an abundance of top flight quality within his squad.
Wigan have only made a couple of additions to their squad so far in this transfer window with Leonardo Da Silva Lopes, Kal Naismith and Callum McManaman all arriving on a permanent basis, and Christian Walton and Reece James arriving on loan.
Cook will be hoping that majority of his squad will be able to make the step up to the Championship, but it already looks like it could be a tough season ahead for the Latics based on their recruitment so far.
Players to look out for
Yakou Meite - Reading
The former Paris Saint-Germain youth graduate has returned from his loan at FC Sochaux in France.
The forward has started every game in pre-season and it is clear that boss Clement sees him as a vital part of his plans.
Meite struggled to impress Stam during the Dutchman's reign however Clement's arrival seems to have given the forward a new lease of life at the Madejski Stadium.
Will Vaulks - Rotherham United
After arriving in July 2016, Vaulks has been an influential figure at the heart of Rotherham’s midfield.
The former Falkirk central-midfielder has made 84 appearances so far and he seems set for another stellar season.
Vaulks’ tough-tackles were integral in shoring up the Millers’ defensive line last season and the Wirral-born reaped the rewards at the end of the season, scooping up the club’s Players’ Player and Player of the Year for the 2017/18 season.
A far more finessed player now than when he was in the Championship two seasons ago, Vaulks is Rotherham’s most prized asset and it will be pivotal that Warne keeps hold of his man if they are to compete in the division next season.
Leon Clarke - Sheffield United
Clarke led the Blades last season with 17 goals in the league and on the basis of their transfer business so far he will have a lot of pressure on him to bang the goals in again.
Last season was Clarke’s best return since his Coventry City days in 2013/14. Despite being 33 years of age Clarke has clearly proved he can still score goals at this level at important times.
Fernando Forestieri - Sheffield Wednesday
The Argentinian playmaker missed the majority of last season due to injury. However, despite only playing 11 games, the former Watford man made an impact by scoring five goals.
Forestieri will be like a new signing for the Owls and he has looked motivated during pre-season to make up for lost time.
Joe Allen - Stoke City
Having been such an influential figure for the Potters in recent times, it was surprising to see him sign a new four-year contract with the club this summer following their relegation.
The 28-year-old undoubtedly has the quality to play in the top flight, and so keeping him at the club could be the best piece of business the club have done this summer.
He made 36 appearances for the club last season as they were relegated from the Premier League.
However, it was Allen that was arguably one of their standout players. He will be one of the best central midfielders in the Championship this season.
Wilfried Bony - Swansea City
It has not quite gone to plan for the 29-year-old striker since he returned for his second spell with the Swans after a brief spell away with Manchester City.
It is fair to say that he has not made the same impact since returning to the club for a significant fee of around £12 million.
Since making his move back to the Liberty Stadium a permanent one, he has only found the back of the net twice.
He was only able to make 15 appearances due to injury problems last season, but he would have been expected to score more in the games he did feature in.
He will be looking to get his career back on track in the Championship this season.
Salomón Rondón - West Bromwich Albion
There has been a considerable amount of speculation linking the 28-year-old striker with a move to Newcastle United this summer, in a deal which could see Dwight Gayle go the other way.
However, this deal has not materialised as of yet, and Rondón looks set to begin the season at the Hawthorns.
It is clear to see why there is interest from the Premier League in the striker.
He still managed to score seven goals in the top flight in a side that did not create many chances whatsoever and endured a very difficult campaign.
Will Grigg - Wigan Athletic
It may be a surprise to some that the 27-year-old striker is still at Wigan, due to the fact that he has proved he can score goals in the Championship before.
However, he has now been with the Latics for the last three years, and has scored regularly throughout his time at the club.
He scored 19 goals last season to help the Latics secure the League One title and also scored the famous goal in their 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup.
He will be hoping that he can build on this performance this season and prove once again that he can deliver at a higher level.
Young players to look out for
John Swift - Reading
After making such a positive impression in the 2016/17 campaign for the Royals, it was a disappointing season for the 23-year-old midfielder last time out.
He signed a new five-year contract with the club last summer after playing a major role in their run to the play-off final, only to lose out to Huddersfield Town on penalties.
However, he only made 10 league appearances for the club last season, scoring twice.
This could be a key reason behind why the Royals endured such a frustrating campaign which ultimately resulted in Stam losing his job.
If Swift can stay fit and get back to his previous level of form next season, he could be a very important player once again.
Sean Raggett - Rotherham United
A product of the non-league system, Raggett earned both his plaudits and a cult-hero status at Lincoln City for his impressive performances, most notably for his match-winning performance against Burnley in the Imps’ famous 2016/17 FA Cup run.
These performances did not go unnoticed though, as fellow Championship rivals Norwich City secured his signature last summer.
The centre-back spent the first-half of last season back on loan at Lincoln City and looked a class above his League Two opponents.
He returned to the Canaries in January, but found opportunities limited under Daniel Farke.
Despite that, he has found opportunity here under Warne to get Championship game-time under his belt and blossom into a high-class centre-back.
If he does impress, he could potentially end up as Norwich’s leading defender by the end of the season as the Norfolk club have a recall clause installed in the loan deal that the Millers have secured.
Ben Woodburn - Sheffield United
In what is a primarily older squad than most, the obvious pick here is 18-year-old winger Woodburn on loan from Liverpool.
This is Woodburn’s chance to actually play senior football, with him currently having more senior international caps for Wales than club appearances for Liverpool.
Woodburn will look to justify his high reputation from youth football, which saw him nominated for the 2017 European golden boy award and United will hope this can lead them to a lofty finish.
Ash Baker - Sheffield Wednesday
The Welsh born defender joined the Owls in 2017 from Cardiff City and has been part of a successful Owls Under 23 side.
Baker made his debut on the final game of last season in a 5-1 victory over Norwich City and the departure of Jack Hunt has left just Baker and Liam Palmer to fight it out for the right wing-back position.
Oghenekaro Etebo - Stoke City
The 22-year-old central midfielder joined the Potters earlier this summer to become Rowett's first new signing since becoming manager of the club.
He is believed to have signed for a fee in the region of £6 million and turned down offers from the Premier League to try and help the club return to the top flight themselves at the first attempt.
He has joined the club from Portuguese side Feirense but spent the second half of last season on loan at La Liga side Las Palmas.
He certainly has the attributes to be a success at Championship level and made a significant impression with his performances for Nigeria in the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer.
Barrie McKay - Swansea City
The 23-year-old winger has recently joined the Swans from Championship rivals Nottingham Forest for a fee believed to be in the region of £1.5 million.
He proved in the first half of last season that he does have the ability to deliver at this level, but found his first team opportunities limited once Aitor Karanka was appointed as the Reds' new manager.
McKay undoubtedly has strong competition for a place in the starting line-up this season, with the likes of Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and a number of other wingers already at the club.
However, if he can regain the form he showed on his arrival at Forest, he could be a real asset.
Sam Johnstone - West Bromwich Albion
Following the departure of Foster earlier in the window, it was vital that Moore looked to replace him with a goalkeeper with experience at this level.
He has managed to do this by signing 25-year-old Johnstone for a fee of around £6.5 million from Manchester United.
It is the first time that Johnstone has left the Red Devils on a permanent basis, with all his previous moves being loan deals.
He spent last season on loan at Aston Villa under the management of Steve Bruce and made a very good impression.
He became a key player for the Villans and played a key role in their progress to the play-off final.
Nick Powell - Wigan Athletic
The 24-year-old midfielder has been linked with a move away from the DW Stadium this summer, but at the moment remains firmly in Cook's squad for the upcoming campaign.
This is a huge boost for the Latics, as he has been a key player for them in recent times and would be a significant loss if he was to depart the club.
Not only does he have the ability to really dictate games from midfield, but he also has the ability to find the back of the net.
This is shown by the fact he scored 15 goals last season, which is a very impressive tally for a central midfielder. It will be a step up in the Championship, but he has the quality to continue to show his worth.