Championship guide: Norwich and Watford should seal top two, Wigan and Birmingham face battle

The 2022/23 Championship campaign kicks off on Friday night, so Planet Sport takes a look at the runners and riders for the promotion, play-off and relegation places.

The 2022/23 Sky Bet Championship season kicks off earlier than usual this week due to the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, which start in November.

Huddersfield take on relegated Burnley at the John Smith's Stadium on Friday night in the new campaign's opening fixture.

Planet Sport takes a look at each club's chances.

Birmingham City

New boss John Eustace is Blues' ninth manager since 2016 and attempts to stabilise the perennial strugglers are still being undermined by ongoing speculation over the future ownership of the club.

Squad investment has been nominal, while incomplete major repair works at St Andrew's remain a bugbear with fans.

Prediction: Relegation

Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn flirted with the play-offs last season but are a club in transition after appointing Jon Dahl Tomasson as head coach and Gregg Broughton as director of football.

The departures of skipper Darragh Lenihan and on-loan players have left a big hole and others could follow. Recruitment remains key to Rovers' chances.

Prediction: Mid-table

Blackpool

The Seasiders defied the odds to steer clear of relegation trouble last season after promotion, but could find it tougher second time round.

New manager Michael Appleton, back for his second spell in charge following Neil Critchley's departure, has been forced to be patient in the transfer market in his bid to strengthen.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battle

Bristol City

Season-ticket sales of more than 13,000 in early July are testament to a growing sense of optimism at Ashton Gate.

The Robins finished 17th last season, but fans are hoping boss Nigel Pearson laid the foundations for success in his first full campaign in charge. Jason Euell's arrival as first-team coach has strengthened his hand.

Prediction: Mid-table

Burnley

Burnley's six-year Premier League stay ended in May and a new era must unfold at Turf Moor.

Vincent Kompany embarks on his first season as a manager in English football and it remains to be seen how the club respond after a player exodus and a raft of new signings were brought in by the former Belgium and Manchester City defender.

Vincent Kompany

Prediction: Play-offs

Cardiff City

Bluebirds owner Vincent Tan has entrusted manager Steve Morison with another season at the helm after he steered them clear of a relegation fight, but the pressure is on after a summer of heavy recruitment.

A play-off challenge is expected, but that will depend on how quickly Morison's new-look squad can gel.

Prediction: Mid-table

Coventry City

Coventry have maintained year-on-year progress under boss Mark Robins after two promotions and last season's 12th-placed finish.

The Sky Blues harboured play-off hopes in mid-April and will be aiming to mount another challenge, but Robins' task will only get harder unless he can strengthen while retaining his best players.

Prediction: Play-off challengers

Huddersfield Town

One of last season's biggest surprises after finishing third and falling short in the play-off final, Huddersfield have had to regroup following head coach Carlos Corberan's shock resignation.

Replacement Danny Schofield faces a huge challenge to keep them moving forward, but the Terriers appear to have recruited well again.

Danny Schofield Huddersfield Town boss

Prediction: Play-off challengers

Hull City

Having survived their first season back in the second tier, Hull have reinvested the £17.1million received from Brentford for England Under-21s striker Keane Lewis-Potter in some eye-catching new recruits.

Turkish owner Acun Illcali has Premier League aspirations and will hope head coach Shota Arveladze can mount a play-off challenge.

Prediction: Mid-table

Luton Town

Luton boss Nathan Jones was named Sky Bet Championship manager of the year last season for guiding his side into the play-offs.

The Hatters have laid the blueprint for smaller clubs and after more shrewd business in the summer transfer market, Jones will be striving to keep pushing the bar.

Prediction: Mid-table

Middlesbrough

Boro have a serial promotion winner at the helm in Chris Wilder and missed out on a play-off place on the final day last season after he had arrived in November.

The former Sheffield United boss, hellbent on a top-flight return, has the club's full support and subject to more new signings, Boro can challenge for promotion.

Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder

Prediction: Play-offs

Millwall

Gary Rowett signed a new contract this month after last season's play-off hopes ended on the final day.

He has led Millwall to eighth, 11th and ninth-placed finishes and with some new additions, including on-loan Leeds defenders Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton, the Lions hope to nail a top-six finish.

Prediction: Play-off challengers

Norwich City

Norwich were relegated from the Premier League for the second time in three seasons but the odds are still stacked in their favour for another instant return.

Parachute payments have helped Dean Smith retain one of the strongest squads in the Championship and add the likes of Brazilian Gabriel Sara and Isaac Hayden.

Prediction: Automatic promotion

Preston

Ryan Lowe steered Preston clear of relegation danger after replacing Frankie McAvoy in December, but he is in the process of rebuilding after releasing 13 players in May.

Former Liverpool midfielder Ben Woodburn and Robbie Brady have joined as free agents, but the Lilywhites could struggle in an increasingly competitive division.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battlers

QPR

QPR chairman Amit Bhatia heralded Michael Beale as a "spectacular coach" when appointing him as Mark Warburton's replacement in June.

Beale worked as first-team coach under Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Aston Villa, but after choosing to go it alone only time will tell if he can justify the excitement from within Loftus Road.

Prediction: Mid-table

Reading

Paul Ince, named permanent boss after steering Reading clear of the bottom three, must defy the bookmakers' odds if he is to do so again.

Shane Long has returned to the club and Newcastle's Jeff Hendrick has joined on loan, but the Royals lost their way under Ince's predecessor Veljko Paunovic and are among the favourites for the drop.

Prediction: Survival after relegation battle

Rotherham

Paul Warne sealed his third promotion in five and a half years as Rotherham boss in April.

The Millers bounced straight back to the Championship after relegation for a second time, but Warne has met with frustration in the summer transfer market and faces another huge task to keep them punching above their weight.

Prediction: Relegation

Sheffield United

The Blades' bid for an immediate top-flight return last season ended in play-off semi-final disappointment, but they will be challenging again under Paul Heckingbottom.

More signings are expected after the arrivals of Anel Ahmedhodzic, Ciaran Clark and England Under-21 midfielder Tommy Doyle, on loan from Manchester City.

Prediction: Play-offs

Stoke City

Stoke have had a major reshuffle this summer.

Joe Allen, Tom Ince and Alfie Doughty were among a long list of departures, but the Potters have recruited wisely and Dwight Gayle's arrival from Newcastle could add a cutting edge as they aim to improve on four consecutive mid-table finishes since top-flight relegation in 2018.

Prediction: Mid-table

Sunderland

Sunderland's progress under Alex Neil has been impressive and the signings of Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts, influential in getting them out of League One, appear good business.

But there has been little other transfer activity and a mid-table finish may be more realistic for fans dreaming of back-to-back promotions.

Prediction: Mid-table

Swansea City

Russell Martin's first season in charge ended in a disappointing 15th-placed finish after Swansea were beaten play-off finalists in the previous campaign, but they are geared for another promotion push.

After leaving Stoke, Allen has returned to the Liberty Stadium as one of several summer recruits with the aim of ending the Swans' five-year Premier League exile.

Prediction: Play-offs

Watford

Watford moved swiftly to install Rob Edwards as manager in May following their second Premier League relegation in three seasons.

Much depends on how the Hornets react to the likely departures of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis, but Edwards, who guided Forest Green to the League Two title, is aiming for back-to-back promotions.

Prediction: Automatic promotion

West Brom

Last season was one for West Brom to forget but Steve Bruce, appointed in February, has added John Swift, Jed Wallace and Okay Yokuslu to his squad while Daryl Dike's return to fitness will be a major boost.

With more new signings expected, the Baggies boss will target his fifth Premier League promotion as manager.

Steve Bruce West Brom Apr22

Prediction: Play-offs

Wigan

The Latics' return to the second tier, two years after a points deduction for going into administration had led to relegation, has been followed by reports of more cash-flow problems, which the current owners have denied.

But no new signings had arrived by late July and another survival battle beckons.

Prediction: Relegation

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