A two horse race. Is La Liga slowly turning into the SPL?

The distribution of TV money in La Liga is such that Barcelona and Real Madrid are going to get stronger and stronger leaving the rest of the teams way behind.
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Barcelona started their defence of the title last weekend with a resounding 7-0 victory over Levante, leading 6-0 before the first half had even come to an end. Real Madrid also won but in a slightly less emphatic manner, beating Real Betis 2-1 thanks to a late Isco winner. You would presume that victories for these sides shown live on Sky Sports would remain the tone for the rest of the season, and other sides such as Atletico Madrid, Valencia, and Real Sociedad will just be battling out for 3rd and 4th place finishes.

Unlike the Premiership and most other leagues, Spanish clubs sell the TV rights to their games on an individual club basis. Last season Real Madrid received €140 m from TV revenue whilst Granada’s TV revenue amounted to just €12m. The gap between the clubs is just going to get wider and wider if this continues to happen, making the Spanish league very boring and predictable. Francisco Roca the chief executive of La Liga admits it is a problem and plans are being made to try and change the situation, but even if it is rectified it could take years to have any effect. In the last 9 seasons of La Liga Real Madrid and Barcelona have occupied the top 2 positions bar 2008 when Villarreal took 2nd place.

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Atletico Madrid Manager Diego Simeone has branded La Liga boring due to the complete dominance by the aforementioned. Barcelona and Real Madrid can continue to spend huge amounts of money on new players each summer despite not necessarily needing them. The imminent arrival of Bale is set to break the world transfer record, whilst a lot has already been spent on Asier Illarramendi, Isco and in Barcelona’s case Neymar. On the other hand, Sevilla one of the better teams outside the top 2 have had to deal with the departures of Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas, and Gary Medel. The gap is only going to continue to widen therefore making the Spanish top flight similar to the Scottish Premier League where either Celtic or Rangers have won the league for the last 28 years.

In the last 4 years of La Liga the gap between 2nd and 3rd has been 25, 21, 30 and 9 points respectively. Whilst the games that the top two do take part in remain entertaining and avidly watched due to the quality on show, more has to be done in order to protect the security of La Liga’s teams overall. The system in the Premier League works and whilst there is still a divide, the difference between the top sides is not as big as it is in Spain. The knock on effect of this has also led to the underperformance of Spanish sides bar Madrid and Barca in the Champions League. Very rarely does another side threaten in the latter stages. But for now La Liga will remain split, into a battle for top spot and then a battle for 3rd and 4th for the rest.

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Barclays Premier League Season Preview 2013/2014

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The three main challengers for the title this year, start with new managers or at least returning ones which makes it one of the hardest Premier League seasons to predict yet. The Eagles, Bluebirds and Tigers meanwhile will be delighted with a 17th place finish.
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Arsenal
A big year for Arsene Wenger, some have said he could be his last if some success cannot be brought to the Emirates. It remains to be seen what reinforcements the Gunners will bring in this summer. They were heavily linked with Higuain but missed out and there is the on going Suarez saga. Money needs to spent for once, in recent years they have only just scraped into the top 4. This season might be a step to far, with Spurs having strengthened and held on to Bale for now. A trophy is needed of some variety. There is even a website counting how long it has been since Arsenal won a trophy. http://www.sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk/ Furthermore after Fergie’s retirement, every club in the top 4 divisions have now changed their manager since that last trophy. Arsenal still have a good squad, but they are a few additions off cementing a top 4 place, and someway off challenging for the title. Big year too for Theo Walcott, time for a consistent season of fulfilling his potential.
Prediction: 5th

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Arsenal - Old Trafford

Aston Villa
Villa had a pretty appalling season last time round with Lambert bringing in a lot of youthful players who showed glimpses of class but also showed weakness. It looked like they would be relegated come May but managed to stave it off. Benteke has signed a new contract despite previously saying he wanted to leave. Hopefully he can repeat his exploits, and it will be needed. Darren Bent seems on his way out, god knows why. One of the best goalscorers in the league who when playing should be pushing for a starting place in the national side. Nicklas Helenius has been brought in from Denmark but this league is much tougher and will surely not replace the goals that Bent could bring. Okore arrives from Nordjaeslland (managed to spell that right first time!), and he looks a good prospect. However a few more foreign arrivals in the shape of Luna, Bacuna and Tonev show perhaps a gamble by Lambert. They will have to adapt quick as the rest of the squad isn’t that strong. Could be another struggle, big performances will be needed by Vlaar, Agbonlahor, and Guzan.
Prediction: 19th

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Cardiff City
First year in the Premier League for Malky Mackay’s boys and it is unlikely they will replicate the success enjoyed by their Welsh counterparts Swansea. The Champions of the Championship are often most fancied to do the best out of the promoted sides and out of the 3 they definitely do have the strongest squad. If they can keep Craig Bellamy fit then he will be vital for them, a great experienced pro who could be a match winner for them. They have spent a fair bit of cash this summer, breaking their transfer record 3 times. Gary Medel from Sevilla should turn out to be a cracking signing. Lee Cattermole better watch out though as Medel maybe be after his most red cards mantle. (Sent off 7 times in 90 appearances for Sevilla). Cornelius was signed for £7.5 million after a good season in Denmark like Helenius at Villa. Looks a good prospect but I think they should have signed someone with more experience in this league for that price. Le Fondre, Bent, Zamora, Jones could have been persuaded perhaps. Steven Caulker arrives from Spurs, and the England capped Defender is a good signing and will need to be a rock at the heart of the Bluebirds (Redbirds now???) defence.
Prediction: 18th

Chelsea
The Special One returns, and the Premier League trophy will be expected to return too. This management change will perhaps be the smoothest of them all this year, given his past exploits. Mourinho’s Chelsea was an exciting one to watch and they haven’t repeated that standard since he left. It will be hoped that Jose can get the best out of misfiring striker Fernando Torres and hopefully Demba Ba can give him some much needed support too. Lukaku could bag the goals if given the chance. They perhaps lack the quality up front that United and City do, but their creative midfielders more than make up for this. Mata and Hazard both had good campaigns last time round, and along with Lampard and new signing Schurrle there is still plenty of goals in the side. The older heads in the team coupled with Mourinho’s knowhow make Chelsea the favourites with many bookmakers, and its easy to see why. Pellegrini and Moyes may take time to adapt. All the squads can be argued for with undoubted talent amongst them all, but Mourinho has a fantastic home record at all his clubs, and I expect Chelsea to slip up less often than the Manchester sides. A winning return for Jose Mourinho.
Prediction: 1st

Crystal Palace
Palace secured a rather shock promotion in May after winning the play-off final against Gianfranco Zola’s Watford. Perhaps considered one of the favourites for relegation last year they certainly are this year as their squad remains weak, and nothing about their signing convinces me that they will survive. I am glad Ian Holloway returns to the top flight, as he will make Match of the Day a lot more interesting with his comical interviews. He’ll have some competition for funniest manager from Mourinho and Di Canio though. Dwight Gayle was playing in the 9th tier of English football in 2011, but this summer secured a move to Palace that could rise to £8.5 million! Is Ian Holloway mad? Yes, and this signing could turn out to be crazy too. He looked good for Peterborough last year, but not to illicit that transfer fee and I doubt he will score enough goals to keep Palace up. A last chance saloon for Marouane Chamakh as well, after poor spells at West Ham and Arsenal. Kevin Phillips signs on and I’d probably back him to have more impact than the aforementioned. Whereas Glenn Murray could either fail or replicate Grant Holt and Ricky Lambert’s successes. The pace and creativity of Wilfried Zaha is a big loss but I feel Yannick Bolasie could have a big season and write a few headlines. However I feel this squad wouldn’t even make the top 6 in the Championship this season.
Prediction: 20th

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Everton
A new era at Goodison Park, and it will be weird to see the smooth Spaniard Roberto Martinez in the dugout rather than fiery Scotsman David Moyes. Martinez showed his talent at Wigan with a nice passing game, and overachieved in all his time there, even relegation was coupled with an FA Cup triumph. He was rightly given a chance at Everton by Bill Kenwright and brings Kone, Joel, and Alcaraz with him. Everton should be able to manage ok after the loss of Moyes as Martinez wont be looking to make any drastic changes, Why fix what ain’t broke? Kone should add needed firepower up front and it will be hoped Jelavic can rediscover his early form. Howard, Jagielka and Osman give Everton a solid spine in the team and will always be a hard team to beat, Moyes’ side was a resilient one though and I’m not sure Martinez possessed that so much with Wigan. Fellaini and Baines remain for now, and with those two Everton will be looking for another top 8 finish.
Prediction: 7th

Fulham
Mohamed Al Fayed has handed the reins of the club over to Shahid Khan after a hugely successful time in ownership of the club. Matters on the pitch should be able to continue smoothly with not too much disruption being caused. Maarten Stekelenburg has been brought in, and his class is well known to us from his performances for Roma, Ajax, and Holland. Adel Taarabt has joined from on loan from down the road at QPR, and perhaps he can fulfil his potential now that he’s back under the guidance of Jol the man that first brought him to this country. So much was expected of him when QPR were promoted, and he didn’t quite produce but I think he could be used very effectively playing just off Berbatov. With Berbatov in the side, goals will arrive and Fulham should be able to push for a top half finish along with many other sides who seem to be at a similar level. Player of the year Sascha Riether has signed on permanently with Boateng (Dnipro) and Amoriebeta (Bilbao) also arriving. A strengthened squad overall now should ensure they won’t be battling at the wrong end of the table. The imminent arrival of Darren Bent raises my expectations for the Cottagers this year.
Prediction: 10th

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Hull City
Hull City Tigers as they now want to be know secured a return to the Premier League after a 3 year absence. A quicker return than I expected but fair play to Steve Bruce he did a good job. Initially I thought that Hull would struggle on their return and most probably be relegated but after the signings of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore my views have altered slightly. They will definitely have a more sturdy midfield with these two involved. I personally thought Huddlestone would have been able to secure a move to a more established Premier League side. Would be a shame if he ends up playing Championship Football next year. Bruce knows the league well as does Danny Graham, Robert Koren, Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa and he will look to these players to be the ones who can share their experience and be influential in the dressing room and on the pitch. They could cause a few shocks and it will be interesting to see how players like Brady, Boyd and Fryatt do in this league. I do like promoted sides to fair well but it’s a tough season ahead for the Tigers. I think it will be tight between Hull and Cardiff for the last relegation place, and after writing this article I think I’m going to favour Hull to stay up and it has a lot to do with the signings from Spurs.
Prediction: 17th

Liverpool
What’s Liverpool’s aim for this year? To win the league? To get into the top 4? Let’s see if manager Brendan Rodgers can clear this up for us: “We never accept second best. The challenge is to get into the Champions League positions, but not just be in it, but try to fight and go as high as we possibly can. That has to be the main target, to arrive in the top four.” Oh well maybe not then. Nevertheless some arrivals have caught the eye Iago Aspas comes in from Celta Vigo and will be looking to make an impact after a good season in La Liga. Toure provides a natural replacement for Carragher and Simon Mignolet proved he is one of the best ‘keepers in this league last year. Shame to see Reina go though, nice guy and a good player, but perhaps they had to move for Mignolet with a potential move on the cards to Barca at the time for ‘Pepe’. A lot has been said about Luis Suarez and I can’t be bothered to say too much more about it because it’s not interesting anymore. If he stays they have a great footballer on their hands if he leaves then they need to spend the money wisely. Top 4 probably out of reach again but should outperform Everton.
Prediction: 6th

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Manchester City
Major changes have taken place at City this year, new manager and quite a few big name signings, Fernandinho being the biggest name. Stevan Jovetic seems to be an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to see him in action. I’m not sure how the aforementioned two and Navas and Negredo will fit into the first 11 but they certainly add a level of depth to the squad. It will be very tight between City, United and Chelsea and I think they will all produce some great performances this year and the battles between themselves will be key, but as I said in my Chelsea review I think they will be the ones who will slip up the least. City messed up a couple of times last year against Sunderland and Southampton for example and they don’t quite have the stature of United and Chelsea yet and because of this more teams will be willing to ‘go for it’ a bit more against them. If Aguero can stay fit throughout and Yaya Toure continues to star as one of the best players in the world then City will be at the top nudging Chelsea and United. My guess is as good as anyones, but I’m going to plump for a 3rd place finish for City missing out on 2nd by goal difference.
Prediction: 3rd

Manchester United
First of all I’m delighted for Moyes to be taking over from Sir Alex, good choice. Hopefully not too much is expected of him in his first year, and if he ends up trophyless then so be it. He has inherited a very good team though, a team who will never give up, and a team that possesses some great quality. Robin Van Persie will continue to win points on his own for this side. He could be the difference that puts them above the other title challengers. Whilst a change of manager is unknown to many United fans, at least the personnel on the pitch have stayed the same, and therefore should still be able to perform to the same standards. There’s no reason why not, Moyes is no mug and will be just as scary in the changing room if they aren’t up to scratch. The addition of Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs to his backroom staff is wise, and should allow Moyesy to settle in quicker. Zaha, Lingaard and Januzaj could inject some excitement into an ageing United first team and fans will still be hoping for a marquee signing this summer. Even without they’re still a quality side.
Prediction: 2nd

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Newcastle
The arrival of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football was not welcomed by the fans or Alan Pardew or Graham Carr I doubt. Newcastle although performing under par in the league last year were getting back to a more realistic level for themselves after a torrid previous few years, but bringing Kinnear back to the club could be a catastrophic move by Mike Ashley. Why is he there? Recruitment had been superb recently, and they don’t need that man to bring bad press to the club will his foul mouthed idiotic rants. Remy remains their only signing but after he turned them down for money at QPR in January I wouldn’t be too excited as a Toon fan. Without the distraction of the Europa League this year the Magpies should push on and Cabaye, Coloccini and Cisse will again be key. More depth is needed in all areas, but if Pardew can last the season then there should be no relegation worries. Matches against Di Canio’s Sunderland will be fascinating and two victories there will be a huge bonus to the season.
Prediction: 14th

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Norwich City
The Canaries have made some very good signings this summer and have splashed the cash in doing so. The front line has been strengthened with the signings of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon) and Gary Hooper (Celtic). Both have impressed in lesser leagues and this is a step up for them. Two signings from the Championship in Martin Olsson (Blackburn) and Nathan Redmond (Birmingham). Both look like good prospects, Olsson has played at this level before and done well whilst Redmond looks like he could be a star for England in the future, quite a coup for Norwich I think. Leroy Fer has joined from FC Twente after being linked with Everton in the past. The standard of players brought in by Norwich seems to signal the intent to move into the top half of the table.  Chris Hughton did a superb job last year, and with Ruddy returning from injury and Bassong looking to continue his good form Norwich should be easily safe this season.
Prediction: 11th

Southampton
After the harsh dismissal of Nigel Adkins last year, Mauricio Pochettino came in and did a decent job despite not having a good grasp of the English language. Money has been spent this summer but just on 2 arrivals. Lovren comes in to strengthen the defence from Lyon and he seems a solid addition as shown with his performances for Croatia. Victor Wanyama moves south of the border joining from Celtic and this man didn’t look out of place playing against Juventus and Barcelona in the Champions League last year so should be a great acquisition for the Saints. Over £20m has been spent on these 2, adding to an already good side including Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, there is a perfect balance of experience and youth at Southampton. Much is expected of Pochettino, fellow managers believe he has what it takes to go far, and he could well go far with Southampton. We have seen high finishes from Swansea, and West Brom recently and even though this is only their second season back in the top flight I think Southampton will have a great season finishing in the top 10.
Prediction: 9th

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Stoke City
Tough year ahead for the Potters, and as Mark Hughes takes on his 5th managerial job in the Premier League it could be well his hardest. Although he failed at QPR this is a different matter, trying to move a Stoke side forward which has been moulded by Tony Pulis. A certain side was built by Pulis, a big, strong, physical one and Hughes does not want to play that style of Football. Only 3 signings have been made, Muniesa (Barcelona),  Pieters (PSV) and Agudelo (New England Revolution). The Stoke side lacks of lot of creativity, there’s no real players who have a lot of pace or skill, but they are all hard workers. Therefore this will stop them from being dragged into the bottom 3, but it will still be a tough season. Much will be needed from Peter Crouch once more with fairly little support in terms of goals elsewhere in the team.  Begovic has been retained which is a huge bonus and therefore Butland could be loaned out for more experience. The leadership of Shawcross and Whelan will help Hughes out in his first season at the Britannia Stadium.
Prediction: 15th

Sunderland
Surprisingly to me Paolo Di Canio steadied a sinking ship at Sunderland last year. After Martin O’Neill was sacked I thought it was a rather crazy move by Ellis Short to bring Di Canio in, the complete polar opposite to O’Neill. However he injected enthusiasm into a struggling side and guided them to safety through some very good results. He will certainly want to make his mark at the club and has brought in a fair few of his own players. Many coming from abroad and I admit to knowing very little about them so it could go either way in terms of the success of his players. However Altidore has come in from AZ Alkmaar and has always looked like he could deliver on the big stage. Emanuele Giaccherini looks like a great bit of business arriving for just £6.5 million. Featuring heavily for Juve’ last year he also impressed for Italy none more so than in the Confederations Cup this summer. Could be a big player for them as he likes to get into box often and make things happen. Mignolet has departed and it remains to be seen who will take over from him, Westwood and Mannone waiting in the wings. Di Canio is an explosive character and who knows what may happen with him in charge, but expect something crazy to happen along the way.
Prediction: 16th

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Swansea
What a revelation the Swans have been since returning to the upper echelons of English Football. First under Rodgers and now Laudrup they have continued to impress with their style of play and exceptional individual performances. Leon Britton remains an unsung hero whilst players like Michu and Willaims receive the bulk of the praise. A Europa League campaign awaits them and whilst it will be exciting for the fans it may take it out of a relatively small squad. Wilfried Bony had a great year in the Eredivisie and convinced Swansea that he was good enough to break their transfer record for. He got off to a great start against Malmo and looks like he will fit into the side well. Jonjo Shelvey has also joined in search of first team Football and at £5 million I feel represents a good piece of business. A few more arrivals have flown over from Spain and there is a very strong Spanish feel to the side now. They did well last year and Laudrup will be hoping the new faces will do just as well. A fascinating season ahead for Swansea City and one that will see the first all Welsh match in the Premier League.
Prediction: 8th

Tottenham Hotspur
Champions League is a must this year for Spurs having missed out in each of the last  seasons, very unfortunately of course in 2011/2012. Obviously their chance are better if Gareth Bale stays and I hope he do because he is a hugely entertaining player and I don’t think he will be appreciated as much at Real Madrid. Tottenham have heavily strengthened this summer and spent a fair bit of money in doing so. Roberto Soldado comes in from Valencia for the pricey sum of £26m a lot of money for a 28 year-old and he will need to hit the ground running. I think they should keep Jermaine Defoe as he still represents one of the best finishers in the league. Paulinho and Etienne Capoue come in from Cornthians and Toulouse respectively and both are highly regarded players. A lot must be expected from them as it has allowed Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore to move to Hull and those two could still have done a good job for Spurs, but it obviously shows the board are backing and believing in AVB to take them into the top 4. They look a lot stronger than Arsenal at the moment and I would be surprised if they finished below the Gunners.
Prediction: 4th

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West Brom
A fantastic year for Steve Clarke in his first job as manager. He obviously picked up a lot in his time working as an assistant at many of the top clubs. Romelu Lukaku was fantastic for them last year and it will be a shame id he isn’t given a chance at Stamford Bridge this season. His performances at the Hawthorns were brilliant, and Nicolas Anelka has come in to try replicate Lukaku’s goal scoring exploits but I’m unsure as to how much game time they will get out of him. Matej Vydra will also take on some of that responsibility coming in on loan from Udinese after a great season at Watford. But if he was that good then surely Udinese would have kept him on. The signing of Diego Lugano from PSG is a superb one. He has always impressed me as a rock in defence, and the captain of Uruguay will shine in the Premier League. Perhaps the Baggies won’t do as well as last season when they finished 8th but I certainly still expect them to be the best team in the Midlands.
Prediction: 13th

West Ham
This summer has seen the Hammers secure the signings of two Liverpool rejects in desperate need of rediscovering their best form. £15 million spent on Andy Carroll and £5 million on Stewart Downing. The latter could represent a bargain if he can play as well as he did when last in claret and blue at Aston Villa. I think Sam Allardyce could be the one to get the best out of these two. Carroll showed glimpses last season perhaps not enough to grant the reported £100k a week he is on but nevertheless West Ham could be set for a decent campaign. No other major signings really apart from Razvan Rat, the experience Romanian adding both defensive and attacking qualities to the left hand side. The Hammers showed ambition in trying to sign Negredo from Sevilla but with much the same squad as last year it will be another solid season for Big Sam and his boys. A tough team to beat and should be comfortably in mid table.
Prediction: 12th

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1.Chelsea
2.Manchester United
3.Manchester City
4. Tottenham
5.Arsenal
6.Liverpool
7.Everton
8.Swansea
9.Southampton
10.Fulham
11.Norwich
12.West Ham
13.West Brom
14.Newcastle
15.Stoke
16.Sunderland
17.Hull
18.Cardiff
19.Aston Villa
20.Crystal Palace

Sky Bet Championship Season Preview 2013/2014. 02/08/2013

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Redknapp’s Hoops have held onto some star names in the hope of promotion, whilst Yeovil prepare for life at this level for the first time in their history.
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Barnsley
David Flitcroft turned around Barnsley’s season last year after replacing Keith Hill. The signings of Chris O’Grady and Jason Scotland proved to be significant with both contributing a decent amount of goals. The Manager seemed to bring a new lease of life to Oakwell, and the enthusiastic 39 year-old should continue to impress this year despite not adding too much to the squad. Jean-Yves M’Voto joins from Oldham, and this man has a good head on his shoulders despite only being 24. A striker is still wanted by Flitcroft and they have been linked with Aaron McLean. Nevertheless, they should just about have enough about them to guarantee safety for another year.
Prediction: 20th

Birmingham City
Finances are even tighter this year for Lee Clark and co. No one seems to know exactly what is happening with ownership and Peter Pannu. Nathan Redmond has departed as expected, joining the Canaries in the Premiership. A few interesting additions have parked up at St Andrews. Matt Green comes in after a great season at Mansfield, but that was 3 leagues down, and I’m unsure as to whether he is cut out for the Championship. Neal Eardley is a smart solid signing, and Dan Burn too impressed for Yeovil last year and he arrives on loan. Should be around mid-table not causing any trouble at either end of the table.
Prediction: 15th

Blackburn Rovers
Well it will be a  huge success if Rovers manage to end the season with the same man in charge as at the start. A bonus too if there haven’t been 4 others in between. The chaos surrounding Ewood Park and the Venky’s has been well publicised, and it is a disgrace. A much more thorough check needs to be done on foreign owners, but that discussion is for another time. Jordan Rhodes has stayed on and he has been joined by DJ Campbell, Alan Judge, Chris Taylor, Tommy Spurr, Tom Cairney and Corry Evans. Good additions, quite a shuffled squad now and a big one at that. They still have some top players in this league though and should be towards the top end. Who knows what might happen next though in the Blackburn Rovers soap opera which has been ongoing for the last  years.
Prediction: 12th

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Blackpool
Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston isn’t the most popular man on the seaside right now. This will be their 3rd year since relegation from the top flight, and the fans have still yet to see any reinvestment in the side from the TV money and parachute payments etc. Paul Ince has said how it isn’t good enough that he should be forced into playing a team full of trialists in a friendly hoping one might be a signing star. In truth this very, very rarely happens. A lot of players have moved on after being offered contracts on reduced terms; Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Luckily Tom has stayed to lend a helping hand to his Father, and as a Father. Finally Ince did have some success with transfers. A risk was taken on Michael Chopra, let’s see whether his troubles are behind him. Steven Davies should be a good signing arriving from Bristol City. It could be a long season ahead though for the Wonga sponsored side, and an early meeting with local rival Preston North End in the Capital One Cup could have a major effect on the mood for the season going forward. A defeat, and the fans will be on the backs of those involved.
Prediction: 22nd

Bolton Wanderers
Dougie Freedman took to the Reebok Stadium better than expected last year. They were unlucky not to reach the play-offs but will be aiming for automatic this year. Jermaine Beckford has been brought in, and he is more than capable of scoring 20+ goals. This coupled with quality still left from the Premiership through Lee Chung Young, and Chris Eagles makes Bolton one of the favourites for promotion. Goals should be aplenty with David N’gog, Craig Davies and perhaps Tom Eaves making an impact. I was surprised to see Marvin Sordell move to Charlton on loan though. A solid defence with new signing Alex Baptiste (Blackpool), Knight and Wheater should see Bolton comfortably in the top 6.
Prediction: 4th

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Bournemouth
Eddie Howe returns to the Championship where he managed Burnley with his Bournemouth side. Howe plays an attractive style of Football, and Bournemouth are an ambitious club with chairman Eddie Mitchell stating he is targeting the Premiership. A pre-season fixture against Real Madrid gave Howe’s boys a test, and at least they’ll know nothing will compare to that in the forthcoming season. The loan signing of Surman is a good piece of business. It will be interesting to see how players Harry Arter, Matt Ritchie, and Lewis Grabban take to the Championship having impressed below. Brett Pitman has played here before and they will be looking to him as they key source of goals.
Prediction: 21st

Brighton & Hove Albion
After Gus Poyet learned of his dismissal live on BBC apparently, Brighton wasted no time in appointing relatively unknown Oscar Garcia. Given the fact it has come about that Poyet asked to leave in March it is remarkable Brighton still managed to make it into the play-offs last season. Kemy Agustien has joined from Swansea to toughen up the midfield whilst Matthew Upson has signed a permanent one year contract following his loan spell. Looking at Brighton’s strikers, it is clear that goals shouldn’t be a problem. Mackail-Smith, Ulloa and Barnes all know how to find the back of the net. However there may still be things going on behind the scenes that could cause problems. Season could go either way for the Seagulls.
Prediction: 16th

Burnley
Charlie Austin finally left this week to join QPR not leaving Sean Dyche much time to find a replacement before Saturday’s opener against Bolton. Incredibly Dyche has recruited 4 Goalkeepers this summer, with Tom Heaton likely to start with Alex Cisak as understudy after Lee Grant returned to Derby County. David Jones arrives adding creativity to the midfield. But as things stand there will be a lot of pressure on Sam Vokes and Danny Ings to provide the goals. The defence should just about be strong enough to ensure Burnley don’t go down.
Prediction: 18th

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Charlton Athletic
Chris Powell’s boys finished last season well, and will be looking to carry on where they left off. This week Simon Church and Marvin Sordell were brought in. Two cracking signings in my opinion. Church has the potential to bag a lot of goals in this league if given a decent run in the side. Marvin Sordell did well for Bolton last year and continues to merit a place in the England Under-21 side. A couple more signing could well be needed, or else some youngsters will have to be blooded at some stage.
Prediction: 13th

Derby County
Under Clough, Derby haven’t made any headlines and have always seemed rather inconsistent, never maintaining a decent promotion challenge. Johnny Russell arrives from north of the border, and the youngster will be looking to establish himself in the Championship. Although John Brayford has left (Cardiff City), Will Hughes has stayed and John Eustace and Craig Forsyth provide welcome additions to a midfield with depth now. Connor Sammon may need to score a few more if County are to break the top 6.
Prediction: 10th

Doncaster Rovers
Paul Dickov was a surprising choice to fill the Manager’s position at the Keepmoat Stadium with Brian Flynn moving upstairs. Dickov had a tough previous job at Oldham and didn’t really set the world alight there. Doncaster have been busy in the transfer market this week, with the signings of Bongani Khumalo, Ross Turnbull, Richie Wellens and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson!? No you haven’t clicked onto a Smash Hits! blog by mistake. Surely a ploy to raise shirt sales? Who knows? Anyway the previous three represent good experienced additions, Khumalo is a beast and will add strength to the defence. A striker is needed though, and Billy Sharp has been mooted with a return to ease the pressure on Chris Brown and Billy Paynter.
Prediction: 17th

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Huddersfield Town
Mark Robins brought in a familiar face to Town fans in the shape of Jon Stead. Stead has had his fair share of clubs, but the 30-year-old can give Robins a different dimension to that of other strikers he has signed. James Vaughan (Norwich) and Martin Paterson (Burnley) being the other additions. Plenty of options there and Adam Hammill has signed permanently to be able to whip the balls in for the aforementioned. I’m unsure as to whether Robins is the right man to take Huddersfield too far. A season of stability is perhaps the best that can be hoped for. There are much better teams in this league though.
Prediction: 23rd

Ipswich Town
Mick McCarthy finds himself managing in the league above his previous employers just 18 months after parting ways. Funny old game isn’t it? After easily guiding Ipswich away from the bottom last year, Mick will be aiming for the top 6 and has recruited wisely. Christophe Berra represents a brilliant free transfer just 4 years after Wolves paid £2.3 million for him. Cole Skuse comes in from another relegated side; Bristol City is another good addition. The permanent signings of David McGoldrick, Jay Tabb, and Darryl Murphy strengthen an already experienced squad. Will be a tough team to beat this year.
Prediction: 14th

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Leeds United
It wasn’t too much of a surprise when Brian McDermott signed a contract with Leeds towards the end of last year. The pairing seemed to fit, and he enjoyed a few good performances in the matches he oversaw. Leeds will be expectant as always and anything other than the top 6 will be seen as a disappointment. Perhaps unlucky to be fired from Reading McDermott will have a point to prove against them. It makes you wonder if he hadn’t have gained promotion with Reading would he still be in the job, given there would have been less pressure and he over-achieved in his time there. Noel Hunt and Matt Smith arrive to boost the depth of strikers, but I have question marks over both. Smith’s exploits in the FA Cup seem to have got him this move, but best of luck to the former Manchester University student. Luke Murphy was signed from Crewe and could be key to Leeds’ chances this year, a talented, technical player. He required Leeds to fork out more than £1 million for the first time in 8 years!
Prediction: 8th

Leicester City
Leicester fell short at the semi final stage of the play-offs to Watford last year, but the strength of the squad remains. If the Foxes fail to place inside the top 6 then I feel that could be the end for Nigel Pearson. Not many changes, and they have had to resist offers for Wes Morgan from Forest. Leicester have spent heavily in the past to no avail, and financial fair play rules have led to them to tighten their cloth accordingly. They still possess one of the strongest squads in this league with a solid spine of Schmeichel, Morgan, James, Nugent and Wood. If these players perform then Leicester will be there or thereabouts.
Prediction: 5th

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Middlesbrough
A make or break season ahead for Tony Mowbray. He’s had enough time in charge now to assemble his own squad and perhaps would have at least made the top 6 last year if it wasn’t for their disastrous form after Christmas. Dean Whitehead is a good signing at this level, and they have also brought in Varga from Debrecen. Albert Adomah, Billy Sharp and Ricardo Vaz Te continue to be linked, and if 2 of those can be signed then things will look promising for ‘Boro. Without, then I can’t see them finishing in the top 6. Goals have departed in Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey both joining Millwall. Much will be expected from Emnes and Jutkiewicz.
Prediction: 9th

Millwall
Steve Lomas sets off on his first managerial job in England having had success with St Johnstone in Scotland. I have been very impressed with Millwall’s transfer dealings so far this summer. Arrivals include Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey from Middlesbrough, both talented experienced players. Steve Morison returns to the New Den, on loan from Leeds. He will fill the gap that was left by Chris Wood in January. Further signings include Chaplow, Martin, and Bywater. All good players, and Lomas has worked the free transfer market very well. A promising season ahead for the Lions.
Prediction: 11th

Nottingham Forest
I expect Billy Davies to work his magic at Forest once again. The man has never failed to guide a side into the play-offs when given a full season in charge. He knows how to get results in this league, and Forest possess a talented squad. Davies hasn’t finished in the transfer window yet but has acquired Abdoun from Olympiakos for £1.55m, Jamie Mackie for over £1 million and Jack Hobbs from Hull City. Abdoun remains an unknown quantity but you would expect big things from him with that transfer fee, Hobbs and Mackie especially are good players for this league. A centre back is still on the shopping list and if Kelvin Wilson returns as rumoured then expect Nottingham Forest to enjoy a good season.
Prediction: 3rd

Queens Park Rangers
Around 18 months ago Harry Redknapp look like the obvious choice of everyone to take over from Fabio Capello as England Manager. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t come to fruition, Spurs Champions League dream was cruelly taken away and before you know it Harry found himself without a job. He probably did not think he would be in the Championship, and after blaming the players for not having enough fight and passion last year, Redknapp finds himself still with a lot of those underachieving players. Those players should be able to perform in the Championship but they won’t like the league as it is far from the glamour in the top flight. QPR have added experience in Richard Dunne, and Karl Henry whilst Charlie Austin arrives on the back of a great season at Burnley. Will ‘Arry ‘ang around though? He could find himself with better offers and I just don’t see QPR flying away with this league as many have predicted.
Prediction: 7th

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Reading
Nigel Adkins is a talented manager, again like his predecessor unlucky to find himself sacked by his previous employees. The majority of Reading’s squad have stayed from last year and should be more than acquitted to this league with many of them having won promotion from it 2 years ago. Le Fondre may have a good season ahead of him and as things stand Pogrebnyak will be a handful for Championship defences. But it is in the midfield where I think Reading will shine, Jem Karacan, Jimmy Kebe, and Jobi McAnuff will be feared. That trio will be able to win a lot of games for Reading by themselves. Wayne Bridge coming in at left back further strengthens the squad. Champions.
Prediction: 1st

Sheffield Wednesday
Survival will have been the aim last year, and this year a top half finish will be a great achievement. Not many additions but it will be interesting to see how Jacques Maghoma handles life in the Championship after shining in League 2. Leroy Lita looks set to return and he is the kind of striker most teams in this league would welcome. Former Hull defender Kamil Zayatte joins after a spell in Turkey, adding some steel to the defence. Watch out for Michail Antonio and Jeremy Helan to continue to impress.  Should be safe, but there are many better teams than the Owls.
Prediction: 19th

Watford
Who can forget Gianfranco Zola’s celebration in the play-offs when Troy Deeney fresh from a spell inside, scored a last minute goal to take the Hornets to Wembley? He ran onto the pitch before tripping and going flying, and he is a character that is more than welcome in this league. He will be looking to get out of it though, and many of last years loan signings have signed permanently along with Lewis McGugan from Forest, a talented goalscoring midfielder. Matej Vydra has not returned but Zola’s side should not suffer too much with their attacking, sexy style of Football. Many talented individuals at this club, and they will hope the play-off heartache is well and truly erased from their memory.
Prediction: 2nd

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Wigan
The Latics find themselves visiting Huish Park this year, but who knows where else they could end up going on their travels during the Europa League. A big squad is needed to be competitive in both as Birmingham were 2 seasons ago. Many signings have been made; Leon Barnett, Chris McCann, and Grant Holt to name a few. Good players at this level, and they will be looking to Grant Holt to lead the line with Callum McManaman after Kone’s left to join up with Martinez at Everton. 3 more M’s do remain in McArthur, McCarthy, and Maloney and if Coyle can hold onto these, then they can do some damage. A lot of games ahead for Wigan this year, and they will do extremely well to remain competitive on all fronts.
Prediction: 6th

Yeovil
I still can’t believe Yeovil attained promotion from League 1, a league in which they were one of the smallest sides. A fantastic  achievement and full credit to Gary Johnson and his team because they deserved it. Consistent throughout, and many great performances from their players most notably Paddy Madden and it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the defences at this level. Alan Tate comes in on loan, providing some much needed experience of this level. Liam Davis and Michael Ngoo are further additions that remain unknown at this level but will surely relish the opportunity. Yeovil have nothing to lose this year, and their players and fans will love every minute of it. I don’t want to sound demeaning and would love it if they managed to stave off relegation. Teams will find a trip to Huish Park quite daunting though and Yeovil will need to make the most of this.
Prediction: 24th

1.Reading
2.Watford
3.Nottingham Forest
4.Bolton
5.Leicester
6.Wigan
7.QPR
8.Leeds
9.Middlesbrough
10.Derby
11.Millwall
12.Blackburn
13.Charlton
14.Ipswich
15.Birmingham
16.Brighton
17.Doncaster
18.Burnley
19.Sheffield Wednesday
20.Barnsley
21.Bournemouth
22.Blackpool
23.Huddersfield
24.Yeovil

Sky Bet League 1 Season Preview 2013/2014. 02/08/2013

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Wolves find themselves in the third tier after successive relegations, with Kenny Jackett now the man in charge. Kevin Davies will be looking to make a big impression at North End.
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Bradford City
Bradford’s success last year was monumental and far more than anyone could have expected. The nation was enthralled with their run in the Capital One Cup beating Arsenal, Wigan and Villa on the way to the final. League form did dip a bit during this run but Phil Parkinson kept it together at the end and they managed to get promoted. The squad established last year was probably already of a League 1 standard with players such as Nathan Doyle and Andrew Davies proving their worth. Nakhi Wells has been kept onto and with season ticket sales around the 15,000 mark, the Bantams could continue their good run and sneak into the top 6.
Prediction: 6th

Brentford
It was a heartbreaking season for Brentford last year. Marcello Trotta took a penalty which would have clinched promotion for the side but instead found the woodwork, and the rest is history. Uwe Rosler and Brentford fans will be hoping for automatic this year and that is not out of reach. Simon Moore has been sold to Cardiff, and he was brilliant for them last year. David Button has come in as a replacement. However the signings of Will Grigg (Walsall) and Alan McCormack (Swindon) show real intent, more so with the fact they have been signed from fellow League 1 sides. Grigg managed 20 goals for Walsall last year and could find himself bagging a few more for Brentford.
Prediction: 3rd

Bristol City
Sean O’Driscoll rejected a few job offers including Blackpool before ending up at Ashton Gate. He couldn’t manage to keep them in the Championship last year but he is at a club with a lot of potential. As things stand star player Albert Adomah has been kept on, and it will be a huge bonus if that is the case come the end of the transfer window. They will be expected to challenge at the top and with the signing of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas they should find themselves in the top 6 come May. JET showed why he was on the books of Arsenal in his spell with Ipswich and I was surprised they let him go. He could be the star signing of the summer for League 1. O’Driscoll knows this league well, and the signing of Aidan Flint also strengthens the Robins’ chances.
Prediction: 5th

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Carlisle United
Carlisle have been nearly men in the past and in the last few seasons have found themselves hovering around mid table obscurity. Lee Miller has stayed at Brunton Park and he will be key for a side who conceded the most goals in the league last year. Attendances were down last year, and it will be down to Greg Abbott to try and bring people back to watch the Cumbrians. The core of the squad has been together for a while now so I don’t expect them to be struggling at the foot of the table. David Amoo has the potential to rip a few defences open, and could be a star for Carlisle.
Prediction: 17th

Colchester United
Joe Dunne has a tough job on his hands this year. Colchester struggled last year, and the season ahead looks to be a daunting one. Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond have signed permanently after both being with the Gunners, and these two will be key in an otherwise plain squad. Alex Gilbey returns after an impressive spell with Newport County last year, but I predict a tough slog for the U’s this year.
Prediction: 23rd

Coventry City
Well the Sky Blues have hardly been out of the sports news this summer with their stadium situation constantly changing. The Ricoh Arena saga has been well publicised and put simply is a mess. A mess which has resulted in Coventry scheduling their games to be played 40 miles away in Northampton. A lot of these games are on a Sunday due to the Cobblers gaining priority. Due to this only around 300 season tickets have been sold. A diabolical situation for a club of Coventry’s stature. On the field there isn’t too much to report on. Mark Robins was making progress last year but I have yet to be convinced by Steven Pressley. It’s a young squad due to the transfer embargo and City do produce some good kids. Expect Cyrus Christie to shine this year, but also expect his side to linger towards the bottom of League 1. Relegation will be almost certain if they have points deducted.
Prediction: 19th

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Crawley Town
Crawley went through their debut campaign at this level relatively unnoticed last year. Richie Barker was brought in at the last minute after O’Driscoll’s late departure to Forest. He did a great job considering his minimal managerial experience, all at Bury. They were a tough side to beat, and almost made the play-offs. Andy Drury comes in adding some experience to the side, and promising youngster James Hurst arrives from West Brom. Even in a much tougher league this year, I expect the Red Devils to still be comfortable.
Prediction: 12th

Crewe Alexandra
Captain and star player Luke Murphy has moved onto to Leeds United. Certainly a level which he deserves to play at. But surely Crewe know how to deal with their own produced players moving on now? Countless players have come through they youth system at Gresty Road under the guidance of Dario Gradi. What is their secret recipe for success? Anyhow, Crewe’s chances this year remain the same. Anthony Grant has come in, but it is generally the same squad. A key thing was the retention of Manager Steve Davis who was linked to Wolves,  and after last season’s JPT win, he will be looking to continue to progress.
Prediction: 15th

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Gillingham
Martin Allen’s side ran away with the League 2 title last year, and the ‘Mad Dog’ will be aiming for a bit more than just safety this year. Allen will provide many interesting interviews for Sky Sports and The Football League Show to laugh. But in the field there is entertainment too in the form of Adebayo Akinfenwa. He will be looking to show Beast Mode can still be effective at this level, whilst Cody McDonald will provide support after his loan spell becoming a permanent one. Will claim a few scalps along the way and be more than safe.
Prediction: 10th

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Leyton Orient
Russell Slade did a good job last season and they could well challenge towards the top this year.  Dean Cox was the standout performer for them, and I thought he would have attracted interest from higher up this summer. Nevertheless he stays, and he will be key in providing assists for Kevin Lisbie to continue his good record at this level even at the age of 34. David Mooney will also chip in with a few goals. The loan signing of Marvin Bartley could prove to be a shrewd one adding some bite to the midfield. Another tough team to beat, Slade’s men are well organised and will be aiming for the play-offs.
Prediction: 8th

MK Dons
MK Dons have been pushing to get out of this division for what seems like ages, and again Karl Robinson’s men remain one of the bookies favourites. Gary McKenizie and Ryan Lowe have departed but Patrick Bamford has returned on loan from Chelsea. This could be a big year for him and the Dons will be looking to him for the majority of their goals with support from Bowditch and Powell. Still a strong side, but this League is at its strongest for a good few years. Will be in the mix, but may just miss out.
Prediction: 7th

Notts County
Neil Warnock’s former number 2 Mick Jones has returned to County to lend a helping hand to rookie Manager Chris Kimwomya . Jones was Warnock’s assistant 20 years ago at Meadow Lane, and has followed him to all his jobs since. But with Warnock without a club he has come back, and this move could be very important for Kimwomya. Bishop, Judge and Hughes have departed and these will be big losses. But they have been replaced adequately with Mark Fotheringham bringing experience to the midfield, and Danny Haynes coming in after failing to settle during various stints in the Championship. Alan Judge will be the biggest lost, arguably the best player in the League last year. Still a good side, but there are better in League 1 this year.
Prediction: 11th

Oldham Athletic
Lee Johnson the Football League’s youngest Manager at 31 settled into Boundary Park well last year. Incidentally Salisbury’s new Manager Mikey Harris aged 28 begins his new job this year in the Blue Square Premier. Back to Oldham, Johnson’s biggest success last year was beating his Father’s Yeovil side. After 17 seasons in League 1, the Latics will be hoping to move out sooner rather than later, and in the right direction. James Dayton has been brought in from Kilmarnock and he could be a surprise package, with former Kilmarnock Manager Kenny Shiels saying he was good enough to play for England. The rest of the squad is solid, and I believe Lee Johnson could turn out to be a good Manager. Another cup run would be ideal, but progress in the League will be a priority.
Prediction: 14th

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Peterborough United
Fergie Jnr’s boys continue to yoyo between League 1 and the Championship, but return with a much stronger squad than in recent years. Always know as big goalscorers, they were extremely unlucky to be relegated on the last day of last season. Despite being relegated they were only 14 point off 6th place in the League. Dwight Gayle was purchased by Crystal Palace for an astonishing fee of potentially £8.5 million!! I cant see him being worth that but fair play to Darragh MacAnthony on the negotiations there. They continue to find gems from the lower leagues. His replacement comes from Watford however, with a new transfer record for the club being forked out for Brit Assombalonga. That’s a mouthful of a name, would struggle to get that on the back of a Small size shirt. Nevertheless the youngster impressed last year at Southend, and I believe will find the goals for Posh this year. Jack Payne also looks a good signing from Gillingham and it’s hard to look past a top 2 finish for Peterborough.
Prediction: 2nd

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Port Vale
Micky Adams did a remarkable job in gaining promotion last year given the circumstances. Tom Pope bagged 33 goals, and gained a lot of attention during January but things have been quiet on that front this summer. Whether he can produce the goods in a tougher league, remains to be seen. But incoming transfers have been promising. Experience has arrived via Chris Robertson (Preston), Chris Lines (Wednesday), and Gavin Tomlin (Southend). Kaid Mohamed also arrives after a good season at Cheltenham. He will need to fire in some goals to support Pope, or Vale could be found praying for survival.
Prediction: 20th

Preston North End
Simon Grayson will be aiming for promotion this year, which would make PNE the 4th side he has taken up to the Championship from League 1. Preston look in a great position to do that this year. When Grayson arrived at the start of 2013, the Lillywhites form improved and they became a much more structured solid side than when under Graham Westley. Not too much has changed as regards to the squad this year, with Grayson happy with what he saw last season. England Under – 21 ‘keeper Declan Rudd has returned on loan, and he will be looking to pick up where he left off last season. Chris Humphreys arrives from Motherwell having turned down Leeds and Rangers reportedly and he already looks an exciting player to watch from pre-season. But the biggest signing, in the league perhaps, is that of Big Kevin Davies. A man who could certainly still do a job in the Championship if not the Premiership. Could he lead North End to glory this year?
Prediction: 4th

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Rotherham United
Steve Evans will face his former club Crawley this year, and his decision to drop down a league to manage Rotherham looks to have paid off. Automatic promotion and a general feel good factor at the New York Stadium provide a good base for a decent season ahead. Matt Tubbs is reunited with Evans having stalled since leaving Crawley and I don’t think he is cut out for this level. David Worrall joins from Bury though, and I think that’s a great signing, as he is a very talented individual who could have moved to the Championship. Daniel Nardiello will be looking to be amongst the goals again following his 20 last year, and if he is then Rotherham could reach the top half of the table.
Prediction: 13th

Sheffield United
David Weir embarks on his first job as a Manager and has the task of guiding United back up to the Championship. Two failures in the play-offs will lead to fans hoping for automatic thus year, but there chance might have gone. Sheffield United were probably the strongest side in each of the last 2 seasons, but this year is a different matter. Febian Brandy has joined from Walsall whilst promising Liverpool youngster Conor Coady has joined on loan. This season could go either way, but with the retention of young talent such as George Long, I’m plumping for near miss at the play-offs for them.
Prediction: 9th

Shrewsbury Town
Graham Turner did a good job in avoiding relegation last year, and this season will be another struggle. Tamika Mkandawire joins and becomes club captain adding lower league experience to the side. They lack goals though, and neither Chris Porter or Tome Eaves, loanees last year, have returned. Will struggle if a few more signings aren’t made.
Prediction: 24th

Stevenage
Well what can be said about Graham Westley that hasn’t been said already? His ‘Attitude Is More Important Than Ability’ philosophy went down a treat at Deepdale…. This man is an idiot, but he thinks the world of himself, and loves to tell everybody of his successes in the past. He made North End train on the pitch so to ruin it to help his style of play, basically anti-football. I hope this man fails at Stevenage this time round, and I think he will because the squad is weak, and he has continued to sign lower league journeyman just as he did for North End. Yes I do support Preston and this might be a bit bias, but it is fair to say he is not liked by many at all, and it is clear to see why. Graham Westley FC will most likely struggle to muster up many chances during a game and will therefore be relegated this year. He will most definitely also receive one hell of a frosty reception when he returns to Deepdale and the club he almost single handedly ruined.
Prediction: 22nd

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Swindon Town
Another team who might struggle this year who as things stand don’t have a permanent Manager. The way Paulo Di Canio left last season was unusual but perhaps not for that crazy Italian. He had built a very good side, but the money had been splashed about and it seems as if they are the creators of their own downfall now. There is a cloud over why Kevin McDonald left as well, and Mark Cooper is currently the caretaker. They have brought in a couple of youngsters from Spurs who could provide some flair, (Pritchard and Luongo) but generally the club is in disarray and needs to sort themselves out soon or a return to League 2 will be on the cards.
Prediction: 21st

Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere had a fantastic start to last season, leading the way for the first few months but dramatically failed to even reach the play-offs come the end. Experience has been brought in up front with Ryan Lowe and Akpo Sodje and they will find the back of the enough times to secure Tranmere’s safety. Captain James Wallace remains, and expect him to star once he returns from injury. Remarkably after 2 years out of the game Jason Koumas returns to where it all started. A gifted player in his day, but I’m unsure as to whether this is more of a sentimental move than anything else. On a final note, defender Ian Goodison will celebrate his 41st birthday this year, and still remains an important part of Tranmere’s squad. Fantastic.
Prediction: 18th

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Walsall
Dean Smith did a great job last year guiding the Saddlers to 9th place, but this season will be harder without the attacking capabilities of Jamie Paterson (Middlesborough), Febian Brandy (Sheffield United) and top goalscorer Will Grigg (Brentford). Replacements arrive in the shape of youngsters Troy Hewitt and Milan Lalkovic. Potential but they will need to hit the ground running. More will be needed from Craig Westcarr this year too.
Prediction: 16th

Wolverhampton Wanderers
The fact that Wolves are at this level so soon after seeming to establish themselves in the top flight is hard to believe. In my opinion Mick McCarthy should never have been sacked and the recruitment process thereafter was farcical. However Kenny Jackett seems like a sensibke choice, and some big names still remain at the club. Kevin Doyle, Roger Johnson, and Wayne Hennessey are still there whilst Sam Ricketts has arrived from Bolton. Whilst hugely talented Bakary Sako will be able to run rings around most defences in this league. Even if one or two players do depart Wolves will be simply too strong not to return to the Championship at the first attempt.
Prediction: 1st

1.Wolves
2.Peterborough
3.Brentford
4.PNE
5.Bristol City
6.Bradford
7.MK Dons
8.Leyton Orient
9.Sheffield U
10.Gillingham
11.Notts County
12.Crawley
13.Rotherham
14.Oldham
15.Crewe
16.Walsall
17.Carlisle
18.Tranmere
19.Coventry
20.Port Vale
21.Swindon
22.Stevenage
23.Colchester
24.Shreswbury