Sky Bet Championship 2018/19: Which rival will finish highest?
Aston Villa v Birmingham, Steel City derby among crunch clashes
Last Updated: 01/08/18 12:46pm
The new Sky Bet Championship season is almost here and that means fierce rivalries are ready to be renewed.
Frank Lampard's Derby kick off the 2018/19 term at Reading on Friday - live on Sky Sports Football - but the new Rams boss is sure to have circled the East Midlands showdown with Nottingham Forest on his fixture list.
From Sheffield to the Second City, we take a closer look at four crunch Championship derbies coming up this term and assess who is best-placed for success...
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Aston Villa v Birmingham
- November 25: Aston Villa v Birmingham*
- March 10: Birmingham v Aston Villa
Aston Villa: 4th - 83 points, Birmingham: 19th - 46 points
What shape are they in?
It has been a tumultuous summer at Villa Park following last season's play-off final defeat, with financial woes laid bare and former owner Tony Xia scrambling to pay the bills. But manager Steve Bruce has finally been backed by the club's new chiefs after speculation linking Thierry Henry with the job and the change of ownership appears to have eased monetary fears. Bruce continues to pursue his own targets, despite reports super-agent Jorge Mendes has been enlisted to help recruitment, but says he now does not need to sell, raising hopes of keeping Jack Grealish. Villa started their final pre-season game against Dynamo Dresden without a recognised striker but Andre Green stepped up to score twice and has impressed.
Birmingham will hope for much better this season following another brush with relegation last term but despite a full pre-season to prepare after replacing Steve Cotterill in March, Garry Monk has been thwarted this summer by a transfer embargo. A statement just days before the start of the season insisted the club were hopeful of reaching an agreement with the EFL that would allow them to be "competitive" in the Championship. David Davis had impressed in a mixed pre-season but has suffered a training ground ankle injury that will require surgery.
Keeping hold of Grealish and James Chester will be vital for Villa but this could be a big season for striker Jonathan Kodjia. Injuries sidelined him for much of last term - and he missed the conclusion of pre-season in Germany - but he scored 19 goals in 36 games during his first season at Villa Park.
Monk looks likely to have to rely on the bulk of his existing squad but more is expected from several players under his stewardship this season. Attacking midfielder Jota endured an underwhelming start after moving from Brentford but thrived under Monk in a 4-4-2 at the end of 2017/18.
Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday
- November 10: Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday
- March 2: Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United
Sheffield United: 10th - 69 pts, Sheffield Wednesday: 15th - 57 pts
What shape are they in?
Sheffield United's joint-owners might be locked in a High Court battle for control of the club but manager Chris Wilder - backed to strengthen the squad in the meantime - is targeting another play-off push following last season's 10th-placed finish. The Blades' back-to-back promotion challenge faded in the second half of last term but they impressed in a well-oiled 3-5-2 formation and Wilder's motivational skills should see them competitive again. John Egan - for a club-record fee - has bolstered their defence but a striker and a No 10 are still on the wishlist. An unbeaten pre-season included an impressive draw with Inter Milan.
United's success - including a 4-2 win at Hillsborough - only exacerbated Wednesday's woes last season but though Jos Luhukay had to settle for damage limitation after inheriting an injury-ravaged squad from Carlos Carvalhal midway through last term, fans will hope for far more this time around. The Owls must tread carefully to comply with FFP regulations - Luhukay has repeatedly declined to answer whether or not the club are under a transfer embargo - but Fernando Forestieri, Barry Bannan and Sam Hutchinson are fit again, even if striker Gary Hooper is not quite ready. With key players back, Luhukay's tactics - often criticised as defensive last season - will be scrutinised.
Paul Coutts could prove pivotal if he can rediscover the form that preceded his broken leg last November but midfield partner John Fleck is a quality box-to-box operator and has impressed in pre-season.
Fernando Forestieri was one of many players involved in a pre-season brawl at Mansfield but while his fitness and temperament have been inconsistent, he remains a game-changer that Wednesday will hope to have at their disposal more regularly if they are to mount a promotion challenge again.
Derby v Nottingham Forest
- December 15: Derby v Nottingham Forest
- February 23: Nottingham Forest v Derby
Derby: 6th - 75 pts, Nottingham Forest: 17th - 53 pts
What shape are they in?
Frank Lampard has not picked an easy assignment for his first foray into management but despite a string of failed promotion attempts, optimism abounds at Pride Park with a high-profile new manager and some intriguing additions. Lampard must manage the budget amid FFP challenges but has been able to lure Chelsea loanee Mason Mount and Peterborough hotshot Jack Marriott. Pre-season has hinted at a more attacking brand of football and has included eye-catching wins over Southampton and Wolves.
Aitor Karanka knows what it takes to win promotion from the Championship and after a trial-and-error season last term, has been heavily backed by the Nottingham Forest board to deliver success in what will be the club's 20th season outside the top flight. Karanka has signalled his intent with a raft of signings such as Costel Pantilimon, Joao Carvalho, Diogo Goncalves and Lewis Grabban, with a play-off place seemingly the minimal target. Pre-season excitement certainly seems high among supporters; season ticket sales have passed the 20,000 mark and almost 15,000 watched a pre-season win over Bournemouth.
Curtis Davies is a leader, while loan arrivals Mount and Harry Wilson could prove shrewd signings, but Matej Vydra remains a prize asset. Vydra's proposed move to Leeds has collapsed but he was the Championship's top scorer last season; if he stays put and remains motivated, Lampard has crucial firepower.
Only six sides scored fewer goals than Nottingham Forest last season so Lewis Grabban - off the mark in pre-season - is a key boost to their firepower. Grabban scored 20 goals last term in loan spells at Sunderland and Aston Villa.
Promotion odds: Nottingham Forest 10/3, Derby 9/2
Ipswich v Norwich
- September 2: Ipswich v Norwich
- February 10: Norwich v Ipswich
Ipswich: 12th - 60 pts, Norwich: 14th - 60 pts
What shape are they in?
Ipswich fans are expecting more entertaining football from new manager Paul Hurst, but the former Shrewsbury boss must work with a similar playing budget to that of predecessor Mick McCarthy, who quit last season after a fallout with fans. With top scorer Martyn Waghorn pursued by Derby and Sheffield United, and Hurst tasked with sourcing lower league prospects, Ipswich are set for a period of transition. The manager has experimented with various systems in pre-season but has admitted he must work on mentality as well as shape.
After last season's disappointing first campaign in English football, the pressure is on boss Daniel Farke to deliver a sustained assault on the top six. Norwich have cashed in on star players James Maddison and Josh Murphy and the German has brought in a raft of new signings, which he must quickly gel into an effective unit or face potential fan wrath. Loan signing Jordan Rhodes was off the mark in pre-season, while Grant Hanley has worn the captain's armband in the warm-ups and has looked a reassuring presence at the back.
No one managed more goals and assists combined than Martyn Waghorn last term. Whether he goes or stays, Ellis Harrison scored his first goal in an Ipswich shirt during an impressive debut against West Ham and could prove an inspired signing, while Andre Dozzell could be in for a big season after injury.
Jordan Rhodes flopped at Sheffield Wednesday but Farke is convinced he can rediscover his goalscoring touch, declaring him an important part of his plans with Nelson Oliviera tipped to leave. Rhodes has impressed in pre-season and despite an ankle injury scare, is in contention for the opening weekend.
Promotion odds: Norwich 7/1, Ipswich 25/1
*All fixtures subject to change
Odds correct at July 31 and subject to fluctuation.
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