After a long summer, The Championship finally returned this weekend with the first two games of the campaign getting underway on Friday night. Derby County took on newly-relegated Sunderland under the floodlights at The Stadium of Light, as they look to drastically improve on their performance last season in Gary Rowett’s first proper season in charge of the club.
In comparison, Leeds United will take on newly-promoted side Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium on Sunday afternoon and will, therefore, conclude the first round of fixtures. It will certainly be interesting to see how new manager Thomas Christiansen deals with the pressures of the job in comparison to former manager Garry Monk.
Out of the two sides, Derby are seen as more likely to mount a push for the Premier League by the bookies with odds of 9/2 for the Rams to gain promotion in comparison to Leeds who have odds of 11/2. But who will finish higher in The Championship this season?
Can Thomas Christiansen be a success in English football?
The 44-year-old manager joined the Elland Road club earlier this summer following Garry Monk’s shock resignation. Monk has since gone on to become the new manager of Championship rivals Middlesbrough, a decision that has not gone down well with United supporters.
However, the big question is whether Christiansen can build on the strong foundation laid by his predecessor last season as they were extremely unlucky not to secure a play-off place. His appointment did come as a surprise considering his only previous managerial experience is in the Cypriot league with both AEK Larnaca and APOEL Nicosia.
Despite this, he was a success at both clubs and won his first managerial title earlier this year as he won the Cypriot league title with APOEL. He will be looking to continue this success with Leeds next season in his first job in English football.
Charlie Taylor the only notable departure from Elland Road
It has so far been a relatively successful transfer window for Leeds. They have already signed the likes of Ergjan Alioski, Samuel Saiz Alonso, Vurnon Anita, Caleb Ekuban, Mateusz Klich and Felix Wiedwald from the likes of FC Lugano, Huesca, Newcastle United, Chievo, FC Twente and Werder Bremen respectively. All of these players will add the required depth to Leeds’ squad ahead of what is poised to be a demanding Championship campaign.
The only blow that Leeds have suffered in the transfer window so far was Charlie Taylor’s departure to Premier League side Burnley. The 23-year-old full-back signed a four-year contract with the Clarets after turning down an offer to stay at Elland Road. This has been a bitter pill for many Leeds supporters to swallow after watching the youngster breakthrough their youth academy in recent years.
The biggest positive for Leeds is that they have been able to keep hold of their star striker in the form of Chris Wood so far despite a host of interest. The 25-year-old scored a whopping 30 goals in The Championship last season and has recently attracted a £20 million bid from Besiktas. £20 million bid from Besiktas.
Can Garry Rowett finally find the right formula for promotion at Derby County?
Derby did not enjoy the same sort of success as Leeds in The Championship last season. Rowett became their third manager of the season after both Nigel Pearson and Steve McClaren failed to impress during their time in the dugout at Pride Park. It is impossible to put in a challenge for promotion with this sort of instability off the pitch, and this is something Rowett will be looking to change this season.
If anyone can finally get Derby promoted to the Premier League, it is Rowett. He did a superb job at Birmingham City before being bizarrely sacked, only to be replaced by Gianfranco Zola who failed miserably.
He will be looking to install the sort of team spirit and togetherness he had at Birmingham into his Derby squad ahead of the upcoming campaign. The mentality of the Derby squad is something that has been questioned in recent years after numerous failed playoff attempts, and Rowett will want to ensure that this is not the case this time round.
Adding experience and balancing the books at Pride Park
It has been a different sort of transfer window to what Derby supporters have become accustomed to this summer with a number of star assets leaving the club. However, Rowett has added vital experience to his squad this summer. Full-back Andre Wisdom has joined from Premier League side Liverpool for an undisclosed fee whilst experienced duo Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone have joined from Hull City.
Verdict: Derby County
Despite Leeds’ success last season under Monk, it remains unclear how well Christiansen knows Championship football with many managers falling foul to a lack of experience in recent years. If they also lose star striker Wood this summer, then it would be a huge ask for Leeds to mount a similar promotion challenge to that of last year in the upcoming campaign.
Derby may have lost many key players such as Ince, Hughes and Christie this summer but have one of the best managers in the league in the dugout. Rowett has proved that he can get results at this level in the past and the Rams will fancy their chances of achieving at least a place in the playoffs next season.