EFL Championship team-by-team preview 2020/21: teams Q-W

By and

In the final instalment of Palatinate Sport’s Championship forecast, and look to several teams looking to escape mid-table, Watford’s chances of bouncing back to the top flight, and the likelihood of Wycombe repeating their death-defying League One escape.

Queens Park Rangers

Mark Warburton’s wizardry last season helped QPR to confidently avoid the relegation they were touted for, and to develop some major talents in the name of Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel. With the former departing for a club record fee and the latter looking likely to leave too, Warburton has a sizeable task in progressing further up the table. The board have made it clear that they are willing to reinvest some of the Eze money, and whilst the signings so far have looked low-profile, Warburton is known for making the most of players like Scottish newbie Lyndon Dykes in a finely tuned attacking system. However, the casualty of this system in the past has been the unsavoury number of goals conceded – with the manager looking largely unbothered about fixing this aspect of his game, QPR will do well to progress past their 13th-place finish last season. However, after years of financial farce, many fans will nonetheless be quietly satisfied occupying mid-table for the time being.

Reading

Reading will be hoping to build on their mid-table finish last season under new boss Veljko Paunović. The arrival of the former Chicago Fire gaffer makes the Royals somewhat of an unknown quantity heading into the new season. Several older players have departed including the long-serving Garath McCleary and Chris Gunter. Despite the number of departures, there has been little in the way of arrivals. Josh Laurent has joined from Shrewsbury and Ovie Ejaria has made his loan from Liverpool permanent. Romanian international George Puşcaş provides attacking verve up-front and John Swift has attracted Premier League interest. It is difficult, however, to see how the squad has improved compared to last season and thus another mid-table, or potentially even lower, finish beckons unless reinforcements arrive. 

Rotherham United

Rotherham return to the Championship at the first time of asking after relegation in 2019. The Millers will be looking to establish themselves in the second-tier after yo-yoing between League One and the Championship in recent years. It will likely be a struggle due to their limited resources compared to other sides in the league. Recruitment has consisted thus far of free transfers and loans as a reflection of this. Under the leadership of club legend Paul Warne, the big question for Rotherham will be whether key players are able to make the step up to Championship level. The goals of forward Freddie Ladapo will be key to any survival chances, but he is unproven at Championship level. Centre-half Michael Ihiekwe and midfielder Matt Crooks will be key too if they are to have any hope of avoiding relegation.

Sheffield Wednesday

The situation at Hillsborough is a pretty sorry state. Wednesday will start the season on -12 points after breaking spending rules. In Garry Monk they have a manager with heaps of Championship experience. The additions of Josh Windass and Izzy Brown should provide creativity for Jordan Rhodes who has supreme Championship pedigree, though has lacked confidence and goals in the past few seasons. The major question is whether the squad is good enough to overturn the 12 point deduction and still avoid the drop-zone. The conventional wisdom appears to be that it is a task beyond them, especially given their form towards the end of last season and the tendency among Wednesday’s passionate fans to show little sympathy to a side whose heads have dropped. However, should Monk be able to galvanise a real siege mentality within the squad, then a spell in League One may well be avoided.

Stoke City

For the first time since their relegation in 2018, there are reasons to be cheerful in the Potteries. After two years of painful adjustment, there finally feels to be a bit of stability at the Britannia. Former Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill replaced Nathan Jones midway through last season and results have seen an upturn ever since. The squad still has smatterings of Premier League, or at least top-end Championship, quality in the likes of Joe Allen, James McClean, and Sam Vokes. The addition of James Chester adds to these ranks, while John Obi-Mikel and Steven Fletcher could add valuable experience,should they still have enough left in the tank. It is a strong squad that had been underachieving previously. If O’Neill is able to continue last season’s form then the Potters certainly have a chance of challenging at the right end of the league.

Swansea City

Under the guidance of former England U’18s boss Steve Cooper, the Swans finished in the play-offs last season with an attractive brand of football. There was, however, a large reliance on Premier League loaness, with Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster hitting 11 in 22 games. Connor Gallagher and Ben Wilmot impressed too but have not returned to the Liberty unlike  fellow loanees Marc Guehi and Freddie Woodman. The addition of Wolves’ Morgan Gibbs-White should add creativity to midfield, though Matt Grimes has been the subject of interest from Watford. With the club’s own Bersant Celina and Andre Ayew demonstrating huge quality on their day, and the presence of 20-year-old Ben Cabango, a newly capped Welsh international (admittedly, one who might be playing for Leeds by the end of the window), Swansea’s squad shows promise. After last season’s strong start was cancelled out in the play-offs, the Jack Army will be looking to challenge once again.

Watford

Watford are undoubtedly the wild card of the relegated pack. Notoriously unwilling to stick with a manager and with a squad that will likely consist in no small part of the wide array of players returning from loans, it’s more difficult than ever to predict their fortunes. So far, admittedly, the club has held on to stars Ismaïla Sarr, Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes – but with Abdoulaye Doucouré departing for Everton, this may be short-lived. Ben Wilmot proved a solid player at Swansea last season, and the addition of Glen Murray’s Championship experience into what may be a young side could prove useful. The return of various loanees also adds a degree of the unknown about this Watford side. The likes of Joao Pedro, Alberto Penaranda, and Luis Suarez (not that one) have seen very little action in a Watford shirt, but could be key to their promotion hopes. The manager adds another layer of uncertainty – despite success in Israel, Vladimir Ivić is untested at this level. Regardless, the quality of their squad alone should see the Hertfordshire side hoping to challenge.

Wycombe Wanderers

“I’ll say it for the people in the back… I’ll say it one more time: Wycombe’s in the Championship!” cried Wycombe’s ultra-likeable forward Adebayo Akinfenwa after their play-off dreams came true – but will the Chairboys’ underdog story continue into the new season? It would be a tall order, with Gareth Ainsworth’s side operating on a comparatively limited budget after the unlikeliest of seasons began with only nine players reporting for training and ended in promotion. However, the rockstar manager’s bond with his squad could help to reinforce the siege mentality and defensive ardour that worked so well in League One. The play-off final was an excellent example of what the team could offer – extremely direct play, a strict defensive line and set-piece mastery. The signing of the experienced Tafazolli alongside Horgan and Ikpeazu from Scotland could help the Chairboys out in a highly demanding season.

Image: Ungry Young Man via Creative Commons

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