Sky Bet Championship: Reasons to be excited for the 2018/19 season

Lampard, Bielsa, Berahino
Image: Will Frank Lampard, Marcelo Bielsa and Saido Berahino have big seasons?

The start of the new Sky Bet Championship season is almost upon us, so why should you be excited for the 2018/19 campaign?

From new signings to new managers and new-look teams, there are plenty of stories that will be worth following throughout the season, which starts on Friday as Reading face Derby, live on Sky Sports.

We pick out 12 things to keep an eye on...

'We can get in the play-offs'

"I think every single chairman at the minute in this division will be thinking, 'We can get in the play-offs, we can do it'. Some of them will be thinking, 'We better do'. I cannot remember a time where it is that competitive."

Former QPR, Millwall and Blackpool manager Ian Holloway knows his way around the Championship, and he expects this season to be one of the toughest to predict.

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Will Stoke, West Brom and Swansea all challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League? And will Wigan, Blackburn and Rotherham be able to continue their momentum after being promoted from League One?

"It is just a joy waiting to happen," says Holloway. Indeed it is.

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Marcelo Bielsa

If there's one manager's progress to track this season, it's surely Bielsa at Leeds.

Bielsa has previously been dubbed the "best coach in the world" by Pep Guardiola, and there has been talk about "intense" pre-season work at Leeds and "huge attention to detail of the finer points".

Bielsa himself has said he wants "people to take the game by the scruff of the neck, not be scared to get on the ball and play and spend time in possession of the ball and not spending time trying to win it back."

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Marcelo Bielsa says he needed no convincing to join Leeds

But how will the enigmatic and sometimes controversial Argentine fare over a 46-game Championship season?

His last two roles have seen him quit after two days with Lazio and then be suspended by Lille after taking 12 points from 13 games. There are no guarantees with this one.

Stoke reloaded

After 10 years in the Premier League, Stoke are back in the Championship. And they have not stood still.

The Potters have offset the loss of Xherdan Shaqiri by signing James McClean, Oghenekaro Etebo, Tom Ince and Benik Afobe.

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That is the sort of business that, under new manager Gary Rowett, has made them among the favourites to win the division.

"We've got to embrace it," says midfielder Joe Allen. "People will often try to play things down and I understand why anyone would want to do that, but we're not trying to trick anyone: our target is to get promotion. It's up to ourselves to throw everything at it. I don't think there's any shame in having that ambition."

Berahino's chance

It's been 18 months since Saido Berahino joined Stoke, and he is still yet to score a goal.

With his 25th birthday next month, the striker is running out of time to rediscover his best form, but perhaps a step down to the Championship will help. Working with Stoke coach Kevin Phillips, who scored 282 goals in his 20 years as a professional, may help too.

Saido Berahino has not scored in two years
Image: Saido Berahino has not scored since joining Stoke in January 2017

"As a striker he knows what he wants and what's needed," said Berahino. "I haven't worked like this with a striker who's a striker coach before so he's come in and he's implementing his thinking and it's been good."

If Phillips' work can rub off on Berahino then he could be an asset for Stoke this season.

Forest set to rise?

It's been a busy summer at Nottingham Forest as Aitor Karanka has overhauled his squad with 10 new signings.

Benfica midfielder Joao Carvalho has joined in a club-record deal and other new additions include Diogo Goncalves, also from Benfica, Gil Dias, from Monaco, and Hillal Soudani, from Dinamo Zagreb.

Joao Carvalho in action for Benfica Youth
Image: Joao Carvalho has joined Nottingham Forest from Benfica

Forest have not finished in the top half of the Championship for the last three seasons and battled against relegation last year.

Can Karanka get his new-look team challenging towards to the top of the table again?

What will happen with Villa?

After losing in the play-off final last season, it's been a summer of uncertainty at Aston Villa.

Some of that seems to have been put to rest by new financial investment and a "vote of confidence" for manager Steve Bruce.

However, whether Jack Grealish stays at the club still remains to be seen, and what about Thierry Henry? Will his name again pop up as a potential replacement for Bruce if Villa go on a bad run?

Villa appear to have the quality to at least make the play-offs, but could face questions if things start poorly.

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Midweek live games on Sky Sports

For the first time, Sky Sports will be broadcasting action from eight rounds of midweek Championship matches across our interactive and digital platforms.

Every game will be shown behind the red button on Sky Sports Football and on the Sky Sports app, and there will be live action on Soccer Special.

Frank Lampard's start

After enjoying plenty of success in his playing career, can Lampard get Derby over the line in his first season as a manager?

The Rams have not been in the Premier League since 2007/08 but have made the play-offs in three of the last five seasons and have regularly challenged towards the top of the table.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Manager of Derby County Frank Lampard during a Pre-Season match between Notts County and Derby County at Meadow Lane Stadium on July 14, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
Image: Frank Lampard has taken charge at Derby

Lampard has not shied away from the expectations, saying the aim has to be promotion, but can he deliver where others have fallen short?

He gets things started with the Championship season-opener at Reading on Friday, live on Sky Sports.

Who steps up in Sessegnon's absence?

Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season and Championship Apprentice of the Year.

It's going to be tough to follow in the footsteps of 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, who scored 14 Championship goals to help Fulham win promotion last season.

But who could fill his shoes?

How about a couple of 22-year-olds - Middlesbrough's Adama Traore and Brentford's Ollie Watkins?

OLLIE WATKINS
Image: Brentford's Ollie Watkins could be set for a strong season

Both have shown signs of their potential and both could be key players in the division this season.

Or there's 20-year-old Andre Green, who is looking to make the breakthrough at Aston Villa after struggling with injuries last season, and 21-year-old Wes Harding, who has come up through the Birmingham academy and was the club's young player of the season for 2017/18.

Will Potter work his magic?

Swansea are back in the Championship after seven years in the Premier League. During those seven years in the top flight they had seven different full-time managers, and they have another new man in the dugout to start the 2018/19 season.

Graham Potter worked wonders with Swedish side Ostersund, taking them from the fourth tier to the top division and also winning their first major trophy in 2017.

However, he has a job on his hands at Swansea, particularly after a summer when there have been more notable outs than ins. Lukasz Fabianski, Andre Ayew and Ki Sung-yeung are among those to leave the Liberty Stadium and Potter said this week there is "not a pot of gold" to buy replacements.

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New era at Ipswich

The Mick McCarthy era at Ipswich is over, so what next?

McCarthy was criticised for his style of play and his defence was not helped by a run of eight hours between January and March last season when Ipswich failed to score a goal at Portman Road. Ipswich also failed to make progress in cup competitions under McCarthy and failed to beat East Anglian rivals Norwich in their last nine meetings.

But McCarthy did work to a tight budget and so far new manager Paul Hurst has already spoken about how his squad has been "very, very stretched" in pre-season and how he hopes to make new signings before the start of season.

Paul Hurst
Image: Paul Hurst has replaced Mick McCarthy at Ipswich

And what about Norwich?

"Experience always helps."

Norwich might have lost a few key players this summer, including James Maddison and Josh Murphy, but will they be better in Daniel Farke's second season?

There have been some encouraging signs in pre-season, and Farke said that he feels "much more comfortable because I know what my players can give me."

But what exactly will that be...?

Watch the start of the Championship season on Friday evening, live on Sky Sports, as Reading host Derby

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