Aitor Karanka’s guide to the Championship… a team-by-team guide ahead of the 2017-18 season by the former Middlesbrough boss

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I SUPPOSE it comes as no surprise that I’m tipping my old club Middlesbrough for the Championship title.

But I assure you that this decision has been made with my head due to the business they have done and the quality in the dressing room, rather than my heart and my affinity to the club.

PA:Press Association

Aitor Karanka has had his say on the 2017-18 Championship season

Aitor Karanka led Middlesbrough to the Premier League in 2016

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Aitor Karanka led Middlesbrough to the Premier League in 2016

It is a very open Championship this season but Boro look very impressive already.

They have kept hold of their key players like Ben Gibson, who is improving all the time and will have learnt a lot from last year both in the Premier League and internationally.

Credit must go to Steve Gibson, the Boro chairman, who promised to “smash” the league this year after the disappointment of relegation last season.

He has certainly backed that statement up with the money Garry Monk has had to spend on several new signings.

Britt Assombalonga is the pick of them in my opinion.

He is a player that all managers in the Championship would want in their squads because he knows how to score goals at this level.

As Ruben Neves joins Wolves we look at the 10 most bizarre Championship signings



But it will not be easy because the Championship is one of the toughest leagues in the world.

The financial rewards in the Premier League are amazing, so everyone wants to get promotion.

The competition is so strong, especially in the top 14 teams. Everyone thinks they can go up. But who will? Find out my picks, below…

Aston Villa

John Terry should prove to be an excellent signing from Aston Villa

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John Terry should prove to be an excellent signing from Aston Villa

VILLA have to be one of the favourites for automatic promotion.

They are a big, big club with a really experienced manager in Steve Bruce.

And they have signed the player of the season in the Championship in John Terry. To sign him shows how tough and big the Championship is when a player like him is going there.

I was surprised when he joined because I can’t think of another country when the captain of the title winner has then gone to the second division the following season. It’s amazing.

John is going to make an impact in the team because he is still a very good player and an experienced player. It’s a massive signing for Villa.

Best buy: John Terry

Star man: John Terry

Prediction: 2nd

Barnsley

Zeki Fryers could prove to be a solid summer signing from Barnsley

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Zeki Fryers could prove to be a solid summer signing from Barnsley

BARNSLEY started the season really well last year. The Championship is tough and their aim was to stay there.

This season they haven’t signed a lot of players but they have signed a few young players like Zeki Fryers.

I’m keen to see Alex Mowatt. I like him a lot, he’s a good, young player and I think he can have a good season.

I was impressed with Paul Heckingbottom last year and I hope he can keep the same hunger this year.

Often in the first season you can get players going at 150 per cent, but the second season it is not as easy.

I hope the coach can keep them fighting but I think it will be a battle to stay in the Championship.

Best buy: Zeki Fryers

Star man: Alex Mowatt

Prediction: Relegation battle

Birmingham

Lukas Jutkiewicz will play a pivotal role at Birmingham this season

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Lukas Jutkiewicz will play a pivotal role at Birmingham this season

BIRMINGHAM will want to keep going up in the table in the way they did when Harry Redknapp arrived.

It’s a big club and Harry has a lot of experience.

I think they will have learnt from last year when they went from fighting in the play-offs to near the relegation spots.

I reckon they will be battling around midtable this season but not suffering like they did last year.

Roberts is a defender I know and a great signing for the Blues. He’s going to be a big miss for Barnsley.

Best buy: Marc Roberts

Star man: Lukas Jutkiewicz

Prediction: Higher midtable

Bolton

Sammy Ameobi could be a strong signing for newly-promoted Bolton

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Sammy Ameobi could be a strong signing for newly-promoted Bolton

A NEWLY-PROMOTED team but with recent history of the Premier League and in the Championship.

They will be fighting to stay in the division.

Sammy Ameobi is the best signing and someone I really like.

Perhaps he hasn’t had the luck you need but he is a really good player.

The captain Darren Pratley is someone who really impressed me too when we played against Bolton two years ago with Middlesbrough.

Best buy: Sammy Ameobi

Star man: Darren Pratley

Prediction: Relegation battle

Brentford

Brentford should lean heavily on Lasse Vibe once again in 2017-18

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Brentford should lean heavily on Lasse Vibe once again in 2017-18

I HAVE good memories against Brentford because we always had good results against them.

Three years ago in their first season in the Championship they made a big, big impact.

They’re not in the same level now but I think they’ll be midtable and comfortable.

They may have problems if Jota goes because he can be the key player alongside Lasse Vibe. I really like both of them.

Best buy: Kamohelo Mokotjo

Star man: Lasse Vibe/Jota

Prediction: Lower midtable

Bristol City

Famara Diedhiou looks to be a good signing by Bristol City

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Famara Diedhiou looks to be a good signing by Bristol City

BRISTOL CITY did really well at the beginning of last season.

Lee Johnson is a young but really good manager – I like him.

This year is going to be tough for them. Last season was good but the second season is always harder.

They lost Lee Tomlin too who is a really good player, even though he didn’t play his best there.

It will be a battle to stay in the division for them.

Best buy: Famara Diedhiou

Star man: Joe Bryan/Aden Flint

Prediction: Relegation battle

Burton

Stephen Warnock will bring bags of experience to Burton

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Stephen Warnock will bring bags of experience to Burton

LIKE Bristol and Barnsley, Burton are a team that started well last year.

But the Championship is so tough, it’s really important for them to pick the players with the same intensity.

In the second season, if you think you’ve already done everything, you can make a big mistake.

From the top to the bottom of the club, people may think it will be easier but there are no easy games in the Championship.

I expect they will be fighting to stay above the relegation positions.

Warnock is someone I really like. He may not be the most exciting player for the people but as a coach, I think of other type of things such as how much he can put in the dressing room.

Best buy: Stephen Warnock

Star man: Luke Murphy

Prediction: Relegation battle

Cardiff

Junior Hoilett should once again be the star turn in the QPR squad

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Junior Hoilett should once again be the star turn in the Cardiff squad

NEIL WARNOCK, what can I say about him.

He is a very experienced coach, he knows the league so well. When he came in, you could see improvement in the Cardiff team straight away. I’m sure he’ll do a good job.

I expect them to finish in the top half.

They’ve made good signings with Tomlin, who had a great season with us and I hope he can reach those heights again. Danny Ward will score goals.

Best buy: Lee Tomlin/Danny Ward

Star man: Junior Hoilett

Prediction: Higher midtable

Derby

Tom Huddlestone should be a positive move for Derby this season

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Tom Huddlestone should be a positive move for Derby this season

DERBY have a really good team and are improving every single season.

When we played against them they were great and have added more quality players.

Tom Huddlestone has Premier League experience and at central midfield, he can be a really important player for the team.

Gary Rowett is a really good, young manager and I think they’ll do really well this season.

I would expect them to finish in the play-offs.

Best buy: Tom Huddlestone

Star man: Richard Keogh

Prediction: 5th

Fulham

Fulham will hope Ryan Sessegnon continues his progression this term

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Fulham will hope Ryan Sessegnon continues his progression this term

I SEE Fulham fighting for the play-offs again – just like they did last year.

It’s difficult to keep the players focused to fight for the same level again but I feel Joka did a really good job last year.

He is trying to find new players and the experience from last year can be very useful to them.

Signing Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney to new contracts was key.

I really like Sessegnon when we played against them in the cup last season. I couldn’t believe he was just 16 years old!

And Cairney is a player who I really like, who now has one year more of experience.

Best buy: Marcelo/Cauley Woodrow (return of loan)

Star man: Tom Cairney

Prediction: 6th

Hull

Michael Dawson will be the leader of the Hull line-up in the Championship

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Michael Dawson will be the leader of the Hull line-up in the Championship

THE new coach, Leonid Slutsky, has not worked in the Championship before but he does have international experience.

I think Hull will be in the play-offs come the end of the season.

They have experience from the Premier Leage last year and from the Championship a few seasons ago.

Experience is so important in football, so Fraizer Campbell looks a clever signing.

And while he may not be the most celebrated by the people, Michael Dawson is someone I really like.

Best buy: Fraizer Campbell

Star man: Michael Dawson

Prediction: 4th

Ipswich

Joe Garner represents a positive move in the market from Ipswich

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Joe Garner represents a positive move in the market from Ipswich

THEY will be right in the middle of the mid-table.

Mick McCarthy is very experienced and even though he does not have much money to spend, he continues to do a really good job at Ipswich.

Two years ago they were in the play-offs against Norwich. They have a good coach and are a good club.
We always found it difficult to play at Portman Road.

One player that I haven’t been able to follow his progress but that I really liked when we were in the Championship is Teddy Bishop, who has had bad luck with injuries.

It’s a shame because he was a player that I used to speak about after games with McCarthy, who said he had massive potential.

Best buy: Joe Garner

Star man: David McGoldrick

Prediction: Mid midtable

Leeds

Leeds will be hoping to make a push to the Premier League this term

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Leeds will be hoping to make a push to the Premier League this term

LEEDS is a massive club which belongs to the Premier League.

But it is a club that needs a little bit of time.

The change of owner has been good for them, they are a bit more organised.

But I don’t think they will be fighting for the play-offs, just outside of it in seventh or eighth.

Alioski is a winger who I like and I think will have an impact in the league, while if Chris Wood can keep up his level from last year he will be key.

Best buy: Ezgjan Alioski

Star man: Chris Wood

Prediction: Higher midtable (8th)

Middlesbrough

Ben Gibson and Middlesbrough are arguably the strongest side in the division

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Ben Gibson and Middlesbrough are arguably the strongest side in the division

BORO are the biggest candidate to get promotion – and I say that not only from my heart, but my head.

The chairman has showed he wants to get promotion straight away because the investment in the first two or three weeks of the summer has been amazing.

This is the best example to show they want to go back to the Premier League as soon as possible.

I think Middlesbrough will finish at the top of the table. They are the best team in the Championship because I know the changing room and the players.

We’re still living in the area in Harrogate and I cannot forget the three and half years we had there. They were massive for me and my family.

Assombalonga is a player that every single coach in the Championship would like to have. He scores lots of goals and to score goals in the Championship is massive.

I could pick a lot of players for the key man but I’m going to go for Ben Gibson.

He is a big character in the team.

He has a lot of experience last season in the Premier League and with the national team.
His improvement is growing every single day.

Best buy: Britt Assombalonga

Star man: Ben Gibson

Prediction: 1st

Millwall

Tony Craig will hope to lead Millwall to a strong season in the Championship

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Tony Craig will hope to lead Millwall to a strong season in the Championship

THEY will be hungry to stay up but I think it will be in a fight to do it.

To stay up will be a massive achievement for them.

An important thing they have is the difficult stadium they have.

When I was in the Championship, I remember playing there and realising how hard it was so they can use that to their advantage.

George Saville was someone I tried to sign on loan from Chelsea when I was at Middlesbrough two or three years ago.

Best buy: George Saville

Star man: Tony Craig

Prediction: Relegation battle

Norwich

Cameron Jerome will be the main man at Norwich for 2017-18

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Cameron Jerome will be the main man at Norwich for 2017-18

WHEN we lost to Norwich in the play-off final three years ago, they were more prepared than us.

They are a big club and have a lot of players with experience from both the Championship and Premier League.

I think they’ll be very close to the play-offs.

But I imagine, with their new German coach Daniel Farke, they will want to copy what David Wagner did at Huddersfield, if it is possible.

Cameron Jerome can be key once again. He is the kind of striker you want in your team: good experience, a good professional, a good man.

Best buy: Mario Vrancic

Star man: Cameron Jerome

Prediction: 7th

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest will hope to avoid another relegation battle

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Nottingham Forest will hope to avoid another relegation battle

FOREST won’t want to repeat what they went through last year.

They are a massive club who will be looking to do something this season.

I think they will be clear of the relegation places but finish in lower midtable.

Daryl Murphy was another player who I wanted when I was at Middlesbrough.

I admired him for his professionalism so he can help them a lot.

Best buy: Daryl Murphy

Star man: David Vaughan

Prediction: Lower midtable

Preston

Declan Rudd should be a terrific signing for Preston this summer

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Declan Rudd should be a terrific signing for Preston this summer

PRESTON are going to miss Simon Grayson because he did a really good job there.

They have appointed Alex Neil who is another good coach with experience from Norwich and took them up to the Premier League three years ago.

But a coach like Simon is sometimes missed. I think they’ll be in the lower midtable area.

Declan Rudd is a good signing in goal though.

Best buy: Declan Rudd

Star man: Daniel Johnson

Prediction: Lower midtable

QPR

Nedum Onuoha should be the strongest player on the QPR books this season

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Nedum Onuoha should be the strongest player on the QPR books this season

IAN HOLLOWAY is a really good coach with a lot of experience.

I know they had a difficult season last year but I think they will be better this year and finish comfortably in midtable.

I liked Abdenasser El Khayati when we played against Burton a few years ago.

He went away on loan from QPR last season but I think he could be a big player this year.

Best buy: Abdenasser El Khayati (return from loan)

Star man: Nedum Onuoha

Prediction: Mid midtable

Reading

Vito Mannone could turn out to be an excellent signing for Reading

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Vito Mannone could turn out to be an excellent signing for Reading

I KNOW how tough it is to lose the play-off final.

But I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose on one penalty.

For that reason I think it will be a tough season for Reading.

From my point of view, they won’t be fighting for the play-offs this season – though others might think I’m making a big mistake!

To lose the final can be devastating for them. Chris Gunter is someone I think Middlesbrough tried to sign.

He’s a player with good experience and it was important Reading kept him. He’s the kind of player coaches love.

Best buy: Vito Mannone

Star man: Chris Gunter

Prediction: Mid midtable

Sheffield United

Sheffield United will be hoping for a strong campaign in the Championship

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Sheffield United will be hoping for a strong campaign in the Championship

UNITED did brilliantly last year and have a very experienced coach.

They are a massive club who haven’t been in the Championship for a number of years.

It’s a club I’ve never been to but I imagine it will be very difficult to play there because the crowd will be really excited to stay in the division.

But it will be a challenge to do it. Chris Wilder has done a massive job and I hope they can stay up.

Billy Sharp was top-scorer and has Championship experience so he will be very important.

Best buy: Richard Stearman

Star man: Billy Sharp

Prediction: Relegation battle

Sheffield Wednesday

George Boyd will be looking to lead from the front at Sheffield Wednesday

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George Boyd will be looking to lead from the front at Sheffield Wednesday

THIS is the third season for Carlos Carvalhal at Wednesday.

He is doing a really good job and is improving every single season.

He has had two seasons in the play-offs and once again I think they are very good candidates to do it again.

The squad is being improved with really good players.

I really like Boyd. I wanted to sign him at Middlesbrough, he is an amazing professional who always gives 150 per cent.

Best buy: George Boyd

Star man: Barry Bannan

Prediction: 3rd

Sunderland

John OShea could prove to be a vital cog in the Sunderland machine once more

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John O’Shea could prove to be a vital cog in the Sunderland machine once more

SUNDERLAND will be fighting for the play-off positions, obviously.

But I don’t see them actually finishing in the top six because Simon has only just arrived.

This is a big club but not in its best moment without fresh investment.

Jermain Defoe was a massive player and it is difficult to replace him, not just on the pitch but off it.

They’ve found a really good striker in Lewis Grabban who knows the division and again I wanted at Middlesbrough, but it will be tough to fill Defoe’s shoes.

Best buy: Lewis Grabban

Star man: John O’Shea

Prediction: Just outside play-offs

Wolves

Ruben Neves looks to be a terrific signing for Championship side Wolves

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Ruben Neves looks to be a terrific signing for Championship side Wolves

WOLVES will improve a lot this season.

They have signed really good players and have a new coach with experience in the Champions League with Valencia and Porto.

The club is investing money so I think they’ll finish higher midtable.

The exciting signing is Ruben Neves and I hope he can settle in as soon as possible to show what a good player he is.

But the Championship is not easy. It will be important for him to have a coach who speaks his language.

Best buy: Ruben Neves

Star man: Dave Edwards

Prediction: Higher midtable


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