Sky Bet Championship 2021/22 preview: Promotion hopefuls, relegation candidates and surprise packages
Norwich City celebrate as they lift the 2020/21 Sky Bet Championship title, and subsequently confirm their promotion to the Premier League
(Photo by George Wood via Getty Images)

After a relentless and enthralling summer of sport, club football returns once again this Friday evening. 

Euro 2020 brought the highest of highs, but they inadvertently led to the lowest of lows, from the penalty spot at Wembley in the final. But now, the long awaited return of supporters as they clunk through the turnstiles at stadiums around the country, is upon us. 

With a surprise around every corner, the unpredictable division cluttered with anomalies throughout that is the Sky Bet Championship, is sure not to disappoint! The whistle blows to signal the beginning of the 2021/22 campaign this weekend. 

Premier League return at the first time of asking? 

During the months leading up to the new season, there is always a large focus on the three relegated clubs from the top-flight, in the season prior. 

The conversation regarding which assets they'll keep hold of, who heads for the exit door, and how they'll adapt to Championship life is always dominant in conversation. 

With the bookmakers and experts generally tipping the three relegated sides for success, how are this season's Championship new boys gearing up just days before kick-off? 

Fulham 

The past two occasions Fulham have played out a Championship season, it has concluded with promotion to the Premier League

The Cottagers will be hopeful that the same feat can be achieved once again, and that Marco Silva can bring success to Craven Cottage much like his predecessor Scott Parker did, two years ago at Wembley. 

Parker ended his term as manager of the club he once played for this summer to join Championship rivals AFC Bournemouth

It serves as a blow, but Silva is a capable manager, and he has a fantastic squad of players at his disposal. 

Harry Wilson is a marquee signing, after fruitful loan spells at two Championship clubs in seasons gone by. The former Cardiff City and Derby County loanee joins Fulham on a permanent basis, and is a strong addition to their impressive attacking arsenal. 

Paolo Gazzaniga's release from Tottenham Hotspur, also prompted Fulham to swoop for the stopper and the Argentine will fill the void left by loanee Alphonse Areola.  

Fulham have strength and depth across the whole pitch this season, but will they find the formula and go one step further to trump their previous two play-off victories, with an automatic promotion?

Sheffield United 

Sheffield United are preparing for their first full season without the loveable Chris Wilder, in five years. 

Wilder left before the conclusion of their barren Premier League term last campaign, and now the Blades have Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm. 

Jokanovic has guided two separate clubs out of this division, with both Fulham and Watford tasting promotion under his guidance and Sheffield United will be hopeful they can be the third club he adds to that list on his CV. 

The Blades undoubtedly have the weakest squad of the three relegated sides. However, United have for long been the club that exceeds expectation - being well-drilled, determined, and hardworking to achieve their goals. 

It remains to be seen how the Blades will react in their return to the second tier, but if Jokanovic can find a formula with this tight-knit group, they will excel and be a force this season. 

West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion are far and away the top branded 'yo-yo' club of the division, but nobody can deny their success and quality that they showcase in the Championship.

After a 2019/20 promotion in dramatic final day circumstances, the past year in the Premier League didn't go as the Baggies would've hoped. 

Nevertheless, their swift return to the second tier still has them as one of the clear favourites, with a multitude of talent in their ranks. 

Valerien Ismael is tasked with guiding the Baggies ship back to the top-flight, and the appointment of the Frenchman is an exciting one for Albion.

Ismael helped craft a hugely successful season at Barnsley last year, as the Tykes surprisingly occupied a play-off spot following a dazzling campaign. The unique and high pressing style of play implemented by Ismael suffocated teams, and it begs the question of what he can do now with better players at his disposal.

Ex-Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt also joins the West Midlands based outfit along with Ismael, and he serves as a fantastic coup, courtesy of a number of other Championship clubs that circled around for the out-of-contract midfielder this summer. 

Alongside Mowatt, three other names currently join him through the doors at The Hawthorns. Matthew Clarke (loan), Adam Reach and Quevin Castro are all new additions to help strengthen the Baggies.

The race for promotion

AFC Bournemouth 

In their first season back in the Championship last year, Bournemouth fell just short in the play-offs and were defeated by eventual winners Brentford.

Jonathan Woodgate was subsequently not given the management job on a permanent basis, and Parker is now the man whose been tasked with the responsibility of guiding the Cherries towards promotion.

As the third highest scorers in the league last term, Bournemouth have only added more attacking quality to their ranks, whilst keeping hold of all their assets at the time of writing. However, Arnaut Danjuma who shone last campaign, is likely to depart before the August 31st deadline, subject to interest from a host of clubs.

Parker's style of play and desire to get forward on the front foot, could make Bournemouth a dangerous prospect once again this upcoming season, and the Cherries certainly have the capabilities of automatic promotion. 

Middlesbrough

Since their relegation from the Premier LeagueMiddlesbrough have underachieved and haven't been touted as promotion candidates. 

Their summer transfer business, mixed with the fact that Neil Warnock is the club's manager, does set them in great sted. 

Warnock is a promotion specialist and holds an EFL record of eight promotions during his career. 

Despite the fact Boro haven't flirted at the top end of the division over recent seasons, they've strengthened during this window and look a daunting challenge for teams to face in 21/22. 

Lee Peltier, Sammy Ameobi, Matt Crooks, Uche Ikpeazu, and Joe Lumley have all arrived at the Riverside Stadium ahead of the new campaign. More excitingly, Boro look set to get even more multi-million pound deals over the line in the coming weeks. 

Queens Park Rangers 

Queens Park Rangers have been stable in the Championship in recent years, with little concern or excitement, but the cogs now seem to be turning in a positive direction under Mark Warburton

The Hoops are being touted by most to be either in, or just around the play-offs this campaign and it's clear to see why. 

Seeing out the previous year in a successful and confident manner can always breed confidence into the summer and new season - and that's exactly what QPR did. Warburton's side won nine of their last 14 matches and built a real identity to conclude the campaign. 

Successful loan stars from last year in Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen have now signed permanent deals with the club and they've added further depth to the squad with a cluster of new arrivals around the pitch. 

The likes of Lyndon Dykes, Rob Dickie, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock in a confident side, are all players that can help push the Hoops in an upward trajectory this season. 

Cardiff City

After a play-off defeat in the 19/20 season, Cardiff City's eighth placed finish last campaign fell short of the Bluebirds pre-season ambitions. 

Experienced boss Mick McCarthy finds himself in the hot seat at the Cardiff City Stadium, and with more depth added to his squad this summer - the South Wales side should be looking to go one step further this year. 

Having a dominant attacking threat is important in the Championship and the Bluebirds have international striker Kieffer Moore as that individual. Furthermore, James Collins has been brought in to add to Cardiff's strike force from Luton Town, and will serve as a great option in the final third. 

The arrival of duo Mark McGuiness and Ryan Giles from Arsenal and Wolves' U23s squads respectively, also shows the youthful mindset Cardiff have targeted this window. 

Battle to beat the drop

Derby County 

Derby have had a crisis summer, being hit with one of the most challenging preparations heading into a Championship season, ever seen. 

The Rams are currently operating under a transfer embargo, which means the club can only sign players that are on loan or available as a free agent. In addition, they're only allowed 23 players with 'professional standing' status which is just a measly five more than a typical 11 and seven subs match-day squad and includes the youngsters that featured in last years FA Cup third round clash with Chorley

Wage restrictions on incoming players has also made it harder for manager Wayne Rooney to operate in the market, but swift action needs to be taken, as the club currently have no senior centre-backs tied down on a deal.

Trialists and youngsters have occupied the CB position over pre-season and Rooney may be forced into a youthful backline, if business doesn't transpire later this week. 

Despite a number of players with quality and Championship experience within the Derby squad, the financial and rocky situation they find themselves off-the-field, mixed with the squad depth for a demanding 46 game season, will make it incredibly tough for the Rams to fight for safety this year. 

Huddersfield Town 

Since their relegation from the top-flight, Huddersfield Town have struggled to strike any consistency and have limped to lowly 18th and 20th placed finishes. 

Despite a better start, the Terriers slid dangerously down the division last campaign and were dragged into a relegation battle. 

Carlos Corberan is still very early into his managerial career and with the current squad he has at Huddersfield, it seems likely that the club will be in for another season of struggle. 

Addressing the problems at the back was much-needed this summer, as the Terriers look to shut out the goals and prevent a repeat of the defensive problems, that saw them concede the most goals in the division in 20/21. Josh Ruffells, Matty Pearson, Tom Lees and Ollie Turton all arrive at the John Smiths Stadium, to potentially form a fully new-look back line. 

Rekindling the consistent goal scoring exploits of returning Terrier Jordan Rhodes is majorly important, as his goals could be the difference for Town alongside fan favourite Josh Koroma

The promoted sides: Blackpool, Hull City and Peterborough United 

In recent years the gap between the Championship and League One has stretched, as second tier clubs continue to splash out huge figures in an attempt to reach their goal of promotion to the top-flight. 

Many clubs adapt superbly, others struggle to make that step up. But how are this years promoted clubs shaping up ahead of the 21/22 season?

Blackpool have endured a real rollercoaster ride over the past 10 years as a club, with the Tangerines filtering through all four EFL divisions under toxic ownership. 

Only a hopeful and optimistic few could've predicted Blackpool would occupy a spot in the Championship this year, but it's massively deserved after a terrific season under the guidance of manager Neil Critchley.

Whatever happens in Blackpool's first year back in the Championship, supporters can be grateful for the love the club is receiving in comparison to the previous regime, and as many as nine new additions also gives the Tangerines a rightful sense of optimism. 

Keeping hold of star man and wanted frontman Jerry Yates was also much-needed for Blackpool. They'll be hopeful he can make the step up and help show that they're not just here to make up the numbers. 

Hull City are the club of the three promoted sides that most recently played in the Championship, bouncing straight back with the League One title following relegation. 

Since the departures of talented wide men, Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January 2020, the Tigers slid down the division and failed miserably without the duo. 

It remains to be seen how they will return, but Keane Lewis-Potter and Mallik Wilks will be the players looked towards to help the Tigers fight for survival.

Over recent years, Peterborough United's attacking intensity has blown League One teams away but still wasn't quite enough to relinquish their 'nearly men' title - until automatic promotion last season. 

Goals have never been the problem for the Posh, and with Jonson Clarke-Harris, Sammie Szmodics, Siriki Dembele and the returning Jack Marriott, scoring at a higher level should still not be a problem for Posh

However, without more defensive reinforcements stopping a flood of goals at the opposite end, this could be the big problem that plagues Peterborough's campaign. And, after a seven-year exile from the Championship, a tough year is likely to present itself for Posh's fourth ever year at this level. 

The surprise package 

Luton's astounding journey from the National League to where they are today, is incredible, but they are showing no signs of settling for mediocrity. 

Nathan Jones has galvanised and brought huge confidence into the group since his return to the Hatters for a second spell as manager. 

The club have been astute with their summer business, making smart signings to add strength to their starting 11, whilst giving them more depth for the marathon 46 games ahead. 

Henri Lansbury, Amari'i Bell, and Reece Burke boast further Championship experience for Luton and the addition of lively winger Carlos Mendes Gomes is a smart move into the lower reaches of the EFL, for a hungry and exciting talent. 

Many are still underestimating the capabilities of this Luton side that vastly improved last year, and became much more competitive. Their upward trajectory should come to no surprise once again this season, as they continue to lay down positive foundations as a club and maintain themselves as a respected Championship outfit. 

The wait for club football to return, is over 

Football is back! The Championship is back! And weekly twists and turns in the world's most unpredictable league are to be expected on a weekly basis until the curtain falls in May.

So strap yourselves in for the 2021/22 season, HERE WE GO! 

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