Preview of the 2017/18 EFL Championship season

Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull hope for a swift return to the Premier League, but which EFL Championship clubs will challenge them as the new season kicks off on 4 August?

Championship clubs like Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Reading, Aston Villa, Hull, Derby, Norwich and Fulham, plus plenty more, are desperate to return to the Premier League in 2018.

To do that they’ll need to impress in the 46 EFL games between August and next May and somehow conjure up an escape route from what’s often called the most difficult league to get out of.

But who has the players, the firepower, the cash and the managerial knowhow to win promotion?

Last season, relegated Newcastle had just enough to get over the line, although they didn’t run away with the league as many experts expected. Brighton matched them all the way in an exciting two-horse race for the title.

For the neutrals, Huddersfield Town were the team to watch. Lead by German coach David Wagner, the unfancied Terriers sat pretty all season in the top six and pipped Wednesday thanks to a dramatic penalty shootout at Wembley.

Aston Villa, Norwich and Derby all failed to match their pre-season hype.

Thanks to the Premier League pounds wedged in their wallets, the relegated trio of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull are among the favourites for promotion according to 888sport, they will all be aiming to secure one of the top two automatic promotion spots.

Sunderland will fancy their chances, even though they’ve lost England stars Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford to Bournemouth and Everton respectively.

New manager Simon Grayson has secured promotion at all four of his previous EFL clubs – Blackpool, Leeds, Huddersfield and Preston – and is targeting the players he needs to keep Sunderland at the top.

If he prises Ross McCormack from Aston Villa he’ll have a proven striker at Championship level.

It took Middlesbrough seven years to return to the Premier League, only to be shown the door again in 2017. Boss Garry Monk raised a few eyebrows after his summer switch from Leeds to Boro.

He’s already splashed £9 million on Denmark international striker Martin Braithwaite though and with a price tag like that, the former Toulouse star will be expected to make an instant impact in the north east.

Experienced midfielder Jonny Howson also knows what it takes to celebrate a promotion party in May after successful stints at Leeds and Norwich.

Hull City are more of an unknown quantity. Russian manager Leonid Slutsky must hit the ground running, picking up early wins against the likes of Villa, Burton, Wolves and QPR as they look to make an instant return to the big time.

The departure of Tom Huddlestone, with Andy Robertson possibly exiting too, will hurt them but Hull have the resources to pick up six or seven exciting new faces during July and before the transfer window shuts at the end of August.

Will this be the season that Leeds finally go up, 14 years after slipping to the second tier? The answer to that may be in the hands of new owner Andrea Radrizzani as much as new manager Thomas Christiansen.

If the pair can work well together, which is something that previous trigger-happy chief Massimo Cellino failed to do with his seven full-time managers, then maybe the good times will come back to Elland Road.

A handful of new foreign signings, including Felix Wiedwald, Vurnon Anita and Ezgjan Alioski, are hoping to do the business in West Yorkshire.

Don’t be surprised to see the Midlands giants of Villa, Birmingham and Wolves hover around the top six this season. New Villa club captain John Terry will inspire Steve Bruce’s team to win at all costs and Harry Redknapp will love mixing it in the Championship again with Birmingham after getting QPR up in 2014.

Wolves hope to see Portugal midfielder Ruben Neves make a big name for himself following his record £15 million switch from Porto.

Promoted clubs Sheffield United, Bolton and Millwall won’t realistically make a play-off push and even established Championship outfits like Cardiff, Nottingham Forest, Ipswich, Brentford and QPR will need an extraordinary season to trouble the league’s big boys.

When Sunderland take on Derby in the EFL Championship’s opening game on 4 August, it signals the start to another frenzy of football in the race to reach the Premier League. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

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