Matt Ritchie, Almen Abdi, Sam Winnall: Andy Hinchcliffe's five to watch in the Sky Bet Championship
Last Updated: 06/08/16 1:11am
The Sky Bet Championship kicks off on Friday night when Fulham host hotly-tipped Newcastle but which players will shine this season?
From big-money signings to players who've made their way up the football pyramid, Sky Sports' EFL expert Andy Hinchcliffe picks five key men for the division ahead of the Craven Cottage curtain-raiser - and one manager he thinks could make the difference...
Ross McCormack - Aston Villa
It might be an obvious one given he could cost them £14m but, for me, signing McCormack changes the complexion of the whole league, let alone Aston Villa's season. Everyone's been saying the feeling around Villa is flat and I understood that but they might now be challenging in the top six.
The new man guarantees you 20 goals a season and with the likes of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew, Villa have got different ways of playing. McCormack can play off a target man or with Ayew - two speedier, clever players. He gives them more balance and more of a threat going forward. He's a really important signing.
Almen Abdi - Sheffield Wednesday
Wednesday might have missed out in the play-off final but they're a club on the move. Abdi's top-quality; he helped Watford get to the Premier League and it's perhaps a surprise in some ways that he's not been picked up by other Premier League clubs. He's creative, he can score goals and he adds to an already impressive midfield; for Wednesday to sign him permanently is a coup.
The Owls are a top-six side in my book but with the added quality of Abdi and Steven Fletcher in their ranks, they might just be challenging for the top two.
Matt Ritchie - Newcastle
Ritchie was outstanding in that season when Bournemouth got promoted to the Premier League; they really played to his strengths. He's a creator, he scores goals, he cuts inside, he's got a great understanding with attacking full-backs, whether on the left or the right. As a former full-back myself, it's brilliant to play with someone who's reliable, who's always looking to play you in when you make those 60-yard runs.
I can see why Rafa Benitez went for him. If you're looking to get promoted you need players who've been through it but have the drive to do it again. Don't think about him dropping down to the Championship; he's moving to Newcastle - a giant club - where he wants to be part of what's happening. Mo Diame's a big signing too but I think the Newcastle fans will love Ritchie; he's not just a luxury, he's tenacious and a real team player as well.
Will Grigg - Wigan
I've talked about players who might be big in the promotion battle but Grigg will be key to Wigan's chances of staying in the division. Even though he didn't get on in the Euros, he had a brilliant season in League One - a hand in 21 goals - and he's not a one-season wonder; he scored 50 in two seasons for MK Dons and then Wigan.
Hopefully he will thrive in the Championship and I don't see why he shouldn't - he's a quality finisher.
Sam Winnall - Barnsley
Winnall's been prolific too; he starred for Scunthorpe and he's averaged a goal every other game for Barnsley. If Barnsley are battling relegation, a player like him could get the odd goal here and there that could make all the difference come the end of the season.
With the finances and the teams that have come down, it's going to be tougher than ever. But in Winnall, Barnsley - like Wigan with Grigg - have kept hold of a key man - it's such a psychological blow if you go up and you don't. He's made steady progression throughout the leagues and I'm looking forward to see how he does.
Nigel Pearson - Derby
Picking players to watch got me thinking about the new managers in the Championship this season and I think Derby have made such a wise move bringing in Nigel Pearson; he could be the most influential of them all.
They've had a squad that was arguably the best in the division for a couple of seasons but they just couldn't do it, losing in the play-off final, not making the play-offs... I thought the problem was with the players but I think they've needed a boss who will give them a kick up the backside.
Look what Pearson did with Leicester - got them promoted and laid the foundations for Claudio Ranieri. His CV is tremendous and I think he'll put responsibility on the players to be disciplined and put the work in. He'll be relentless - but he could be their X Factor.
Agree with Andy? Tell us your players to watch in the Sky Bet Championship by leaving a comment if you're reading on skysports.com or tweeting us @SkyFootball