The Sky Bet Championship returns on Friday as Huddersfield Town welcome Vincent Kompany’s Burnley to the John Smith’s Stadium in the opening game of the 2022/23 EFL season.
Here, Sky Sports pundits Jobi McAnuff, Andy Hinchcliffe, Ali Maxwell and George Elek give us their promotion contenders, the potential surprise packages and players to keep an eye out for in what is sure to be another unforgettable campaign!
Who will win the Championship and why?
Jobi McAnuff: I think the Championship is going to be wide open this year, for me there’s not a standout side like Fulham or Bournemouth last season. I’m going to go for Norwich City purely on the basis that in Dean Smith they’ve got a manager who’s been there and done it, lots of experience, can manage expectations and I think his appointment to the club was very much for this point. His track record at this level was very much a factor in him getting the Norwich job.
We also know they’ve got Teemu Pukki who at this level is absolutely prolific. Combined with the experience of Tim Krul and Grant Hanley, there's a real strong structure through the spine of their team and they’ll be right up there.
Andy Hinchcliffe: It's an incredibly tough choice to pick the champions because we’re looking at five or six teams that could ultimately win the title. I think past experience will play a huge part for Norwich City who know what this division is all about, know what it takes to get out of the division and know how to win it as well. Yes, things have changed at the club since they were last in the Championship but the structure of the club puts them in a strong position to win the title.
Who will be the other promotion contenders and why?
Jobi McAnuff: I would have to say West Brom. I think they’ve done some really good business in terms of their signings. One of their main problems last season was their lack of creativity and I think they’ve gone out and addressed that with two of the most exciting and creative players in the division in Jed Wallace and John Swift.
I’ll also throw my old club Watford in the mix. Obviously a lot can still happen between now and the transfer window shutting, it’s important they keep hold of some of their key players but if they do they’ve got a real firepower that will be unmatched.
Andy Hinchcliffe: I agree that West Brom will be up there for promotion this season. I think Steve Bruce has added to his squad really well. They were strong defensively last season but there was a lack of clinical finishing in front of goal and I think that will be rectified with the signings they’ve made.
Watford would be my other choice. I think Rob Edwards is a really interesting appointment as manager, they clearly liked the style of football he played at Forest Green Rovers and I think the Watford players will enjoy playing that way too. The firepower they have should mean a lot of goals and if they defend well, they’ll win enough games to get promoted.
Ali Maxwell: I’m going to pick a side managed by the manager who’s probably most well known for success at this level, and that’s Chris Wilder. I think he’s going to have a serious grip on things at Middlesbrough this season and I see more exciting transfer business coming over the next few weeks, so Boro for me are the strongest of the teams that were in the Championship last season.
Who will be the surprise package this season and why?
Jobi McAnuff: Based on last season I don’t think you can call Luton Town a ‘surprise package’ based on how well they did, but when you look at the size of the club and their budget, they’ve gone out and really strengthened in certain areas. I think Nathan Jones will really get them going again this season.
The other club I fancy is Cardiff City. There have been lots of departures and lots of new faces in. Ebou Adams from Forest Green is a player I know well, I think is a really good signing and he provides an energy they lacked last season, as do some of their other recruits. I’d expect them to have a much better season and cause a few teams problems.
Andy Hinchcliffe: I think Sunderland will be the side to potentially threaten for a top six finish. It’s a big ask but having seen them play under Alex Neil at the back end of last season and watching them at Wembley, it’s clear that he’s got the club moving in the right direction.
He has the right balance in terms of how the team plays, they defend well even though they’re not a defensive side, they’re dangerous going forward and they can score goals. I think they’re a side that could challenge for that top six but they need to manage the fans’ expectations. It might be a bit of a stretch but they’re definitely on the right track.
Ali Maxwell: It’s more of a wildcard selection, but I’ve gone with Hull City because of the exciting and more unpredictable nature of their transfer business this summer. They’ve bought in a lot of players who have played in the Turkish top flight and we don’t know exactly how this is going to look but if it all goes well they could be a serious force to be reckoned with.
George Elek: I’m going with Millwall. Every year they out perform where they should. Yes they’ve lost Jed Wallace but Gary Rowett continues to do one of the best jobs in the EFL for me. They’ve bought in a couple of key players in Benik Afobe and George Honeyman, so I think they could surprise a few sides this season.
One player to watch and why?
Jobi McAnuff: Scott Twine. He’s someone I’ve followed closely and every time he’s stepped up a level he’s adapted and been really good. I think prior to last season he was maybe seen as someone who was a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer. When you look through his repertoire it’s absolutely incredible, he could have had a goal of the month competition by himself last season.
He has absolutely everything; technically he’s very sound, his set-piece delivery is brilliant, his crossing, his corners, he plays on the left allowing him to cut in and whip balls in, he plays as a no.10 getting in pockets, he’s a goalscorer and gets assists, so he’s certainly a young up and coming player to watch this season and I’m really excited to see him in the Championship.
Andy Hinchcliffe: I agree that Scott Twine was fabulous for MK Dons last season and it’s no surprise at all that he’s playing in the Championship.
But one player I’ve admired in the Championship for a number of years now is Jed Wallace. He was superb for Millwall during his time there but I think he really deserves a chance to have a shot at the Premier League and I think he’ll get that at West Brom.
He’s a great creative player, has great energy and can play in a variety of positions. I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of impact he’ll have on this West Brom side this season.