Who will win the Championship?

The Championship is always one of the most exciting leagues in the world and is always one of the hardest to predict.

The relegated teams have a good chance of going straight back if they can keep hold of their best players and as we have seen in previous seasons sometimes the teams that get promoted into the league carry on their momentum and get a second promotion on the bounce.

The favourites to win the league are Harry Redknapp’s QPR and he does have experience of leading a team to the Premier League in Portsmouth so does know what it is all about and will surely get more out of his team than he did last year. The signings he has made so far have been very good and they will definitely be committed to the cause. Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson are both good enough defenders to still be in the Premier League. Karl Henry will add steel to the midfield and Charlie Austin is a proven goal scorer at this level.

Reading only had one season in the Premier League but they have got rid of quite a few of the players that helped them to promotion the last time but they have brought in some good players themselves that have Champions League experience in the shape of Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe. Nigel Adkins is a good manager and I feel that he will get the team playing decent football and will be right near the top of the table come the end of the season.

Bolton Wanderers will be hoping for a better year than last year and will hope that Dougie Freedman can do what he started at Crystal Palace in the early part of the season. He has made some strange choices in my opinion letting Marvin Sordell got out on loan when he has proved his ability in the Championship before. But in his defence he has replaced him with Jermaine Beckford who will be looking to prove some of his doubters wrong. Alex Baptiste, Marc Tierney and Andre Moritz are also solid signings.

Whether you agree with what they did last season you have to give Gianfranco Zola and Watford credit for getting the team together and playing as well as they did straight away. It looks like it is a similar story this year but using a slightly different loophole to bring in the players that they want from their owners ‘parent’ clubs. But the most exciting signing they have made in my opinion is Lewis McGugan because he has a decent goalscoring record and will be hoping that he can add something to the already talented team.

The team that I personally think will win the league are Wigan Athletic. The signings new manager Owen Coyle has made are already really consistent players, they may not grab the headlines but they do everything that is asked of them. James Perch, Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann all fall into this category. Then they have brought in more attacking players that will definitely get goals in Grant Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune. Also Scott Carson will be a brilliant goalkeeper and could get the most clean sheets. The only worry I have is if their campaign in Europe takes too much out of them.

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Reading in the Championship

Reading have returned to the Championship after just one season in the Premier League and they will be hoping to return under Nigel Adkins.
Reading
Adkins is a good Championship manager and I expect him to put together a side that will challenge for promotion and I personally feel that Reading could be the most likely of all the relegated teams to get back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. The former Southampton manager does obviously have a promotion under his belt and this will stand him and the players in good stead as they already know what the Championship is about. It may have been an unsuccessful season in the Premier League but I do not think the club are in a bad position and relegation is not a disaster, but the most worrying thing for the fans is the fact that they did not invest very much in the playing squad and that ultimately cost them. They have recently released five players and I was a little confused by some of the decisions because they would have been good players in the Championship. Noel Hunt and Simon Church can score goals in the second tier so I expected at least one of them to stay.

Looking at the players that can get them promoted they certainly do have some quality especially for the Championship. Alex McCarthy was called up to the England squad for the game against Brazil and this just goes to show that he has a lot of quality and they do need to keep hold of him because he impressed me and will be vital. New signing Wayne Bridge is also a good addition because he proved at Brighton last season that he can be one of the best left backs in the division and his experience will be crucial.
Wayne Bridge
Reading’s midfield is interesting because a lot of them fall into the category of too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. This includes Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe, their pace and directness is effective in the Championship but for some reason they just could not replicate it last season. I do really like Danny Guthrie and think he should still be a Premier League player and he proved at Newcastle that he can be a good player and is usually consistent but it has not quite worked out for him at Reading and I think he owes the fans a good season next year.
Reading v Crystal Palace
Adam Le Fondre needs to be used more next season because in my opinion and especially under Adkins he was not played anywhere near enough. He is a goal scorer, yes he might not add much in terms of build up but he certainly knows where the goal is. Reading are lacking in the forward positions but Nick Blackman could be a good signing in the long run, he only played 11 times and eight of these were from the bench so he also did not get much of a chance.
Reading v Everton

Who will win the Championship playoffs?

The Championship had one of the best ever endings to a season with nobody knowing who will be in the playoffs until the last whistle.

Watford, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Leicester City will be hoping to win the playoffs and gain a place in the Premier League alongside Cardiff City and Hull City. Bolton Wanderers missed out on the playoffs by goal difference and Nottingham Forest only missed out on the last day after losing to Leicester. For me this is one of the most difficult to predict simply because of how close it all was at the end of the season.

Watford finished third and have been one of the most entertaining teams this season but they had such a disappointing end to the final game. They lost 2-1 to Leeds United but in their defence they conceded a late goal from a counter attack. If only they had managed to score a goal they would have actually finished second and gained automatic promotion. Troy Deeney got a red card in that game and so that means there will be more pressure on top goal scorer Matej Vydra. But, he isn’t in the greatest of form himself. Watford have been criticised this season because of all their loan signings but Gianfranco Zola deserves more credit for getting them to perform.

Brighton finished fourth and are going into the playoffs in the best form and with their experience they may be the team to go up. Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson at the back shows they have a lot of quality and experience and they have been a large part of their rise to towards the top of the league. In midfield they have a lot of young and talented players like Liam Bridcutt , Will Buckley and Kazenga Lua Lua that probably deserve a chance to show their talents in the Premier League. Even though their top scorer only has 11 goals they still have good strikers with the efforts and determination of Craig Mackail-Smith and Jose Ulloa who has had an impressive start to his Brighton career, scoring 9 in 17 league games.

Crystal Palace under Ian Holloway have been very hit and miss and they need to find some form and quickly. Their win over Peterborough on the last day of the season could be crucial as it showed that they can come from behind to win games and still have a lot of quality in their team. Glenn Murray, the top scorer in the Championship scored one of the goals and Kevin Phillips got another so they have players that can score at anytime in a game. Their defence is a little bit of a worry but in midfield they have a lot of talented players like Wilifried Zaha and Jonathan Williams.

Leicester were the last team to qualify for the playoffs and I was really surprised that they got in there because they had to beat Nottingham Forest away and hope Bolton didn’t win. So this could push the team on because they will be very confident and maybe seen as outsiders. They have a lot of talent in their team and this could be Nigel Pearson’s last chance to get promotion with Leicester so there could be extra motivation for the players.

However, I do think Watford will beat Leicester and Brighton will beat Crystal Palace in the semi finals and then it will be a very exciting final. Then I am going to go for Brighton to win the playoffs and compete in the Premier League next season.

Who is better Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines?

The left back spot for England has been one of those positions that in the last 10 years nobody has questioned who should play there.

But in recent months in particular that has changed with the form of Leighton Baines who has arguably been the best left back in the country for a number of seasons now. However, the problem is he is behind Ashley Cole who even though he is now 32 is still one of the best and most consistent fullbacks in world football. This is the first time that Cole has faced serious competition since he became an England regular. There have been other players that have been included in England squads that can play in the position but to most people they weren’t good enough to replace Cole. By this I mean players like Wayne Bridge, Stephen Warnock, Nicky Shorey and more recently Kieran Gibbs. Two of these players, Bridge and Warnock now play in the Championship and unfortunately their careers have gone downhill very fast. Finally Leighton Baines is getting the credit he deserves and there is a very good chance he could become the top English left back.

I am certainly not writing off Ashley Cole but I think that after he has won hiss 100th cap he may struggle to pick up many more caps from the starting line up after his recent outbursts against the FA. However, Roy Hodgson may not care about this and keep him as first choice at least until after the next World Cup. Not that this would be a bad thing as he is still a fantastic player both going forward and defensively. He may not get many goals or assists but he always makes himself available and lets the player in front of him cut inside and this has no doubt let Eden Hazard and Juan Mata be more creative in the middle of the pitch. Nobody would be annoyed or be against Cole being England’s left back for a few more years yet.

Cole has 99 caps for England

Cole has 99 caps for England

However, if a change was to be made I don’t think anyone would be against Leighton Baines becoming England’s left back for the rest of qualifying and the next World Cup. The 28 year old has 13 caps so far and already has more goals than his rival for the position and if Hodgson wanted a different option for taking set pieces then Baines would be perfect to have on the pitch. This season he has six goals in 27 games and has been arguably one of the best players in the Premier League even though he may not get as many plaudits as he deserves. If he could replicate his partnership with someone at international level like he does at club level wit Steven Pienaar then it will be very profitable for England. His goal against West Brom just proved how clever he is and his composure on the ball is fantastic. Plus, he can also take penalties and everyone in the world knows how bad England are at them.

Baines scored against Moldova

Baines scored against Moldova


So who would you choose?

Next England captain

John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy and Rio Ferdinand has said he does not want to be captain so who is Fabio Capello going to choose to lead England out in Euro 2012. I actually agree with the FA for once and do believe Terry should not be captain and in my opinion should never have been given the armband anyway especially after the Wayne Bridge saga. But I am not going to talk about my dislike of John Terry but look at who could possibly be a good captain.

First on the list is Steven Gerrard as he is the current captain of Liverpool and everyone can see he is a modern day captain fantastic. He has all the right attributes and has enough big game experience to be a good captain at international level but the problem England is whether he will be 100% fit for the finals as he has been dogged by injuries all season. He is a very inspirational player as he showed in the Champions League final against AC Milan a few years ago when he took the game by the scruff of the neck and eventually won the game for Liverpool. Although this was a few years ago, he does still have this ability as he showed in the Premier League after stepping off the bench against Newcastle to turn the game around.

Another candidate for the role is arguably the only world class player left in the squad and that is Ashley Cole. He has been the best left back in the world for a number of years and with plenty of experience, I don’t see why he can’t be captain. However, it may not be a popular decision as he isn’t the most likeable person and also there aren’t many captains that are fullbacks. But Paolo Maldini and Cafu seemed to be quite influential from their positions, so maybe he would do a similar job.

Wayne Rooney has the potential to be an England captain one day but in my opinion not now as he is still a loose cannon and that is the reason why he is missing the first two games so therefore it would be pointless giving him the role now.

Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker has also been getting a few mentions but will he actually be first choice. I believe he should be but Capello does make some strange decisions and nobody wants to see Gerrard pushed out to the left wing again so surely there is only other central position available unless he does plays with five in the midfield. Is a very good captain and shows the right drive and determination to succeed therefore I wouldn’t be disappointed if he got the armband.

For some reason people have been saying Joe Hart but that would be a terrible decision as he is only young and inexperienced at international level. He is a fantastic goalkeeper and will be for a very long time so why put extra pressure on him when it is not necessary.

So, I think Steven Gerrard should be given the role as he ticks all the right boxes and has led Liverpool out many times in big games and he remains calm and composed. I think he should have been captain for years by now but maybe now is his time to finally shine as the England skipper.

Hughes looking to improve QPR

A slow start to the transfer window might be starting to pick up the pace with QPR and Mark Hughes finally getting somewhere. They had been in talks with a lot of players and clubs to bring players in but finally they got in Taye Taiwo, a left back from AC Milan who has been linked to Arsenal and Newcastle in this transfer window.

The 26 year old has only played four league games for Milan but he was a very good full back for his previous club Marseille and was rated as one of the best in Europe at one point. QPR fans will be hoping he can rediscover this type of form and can aid them in their quest to stay in the Premier League.

No offence to the current left backs at the club but that is where they are the weakest and obviously Mark Hughes has identified this quickly. In his first two games he played Clint Hill in that position and although he is a very steady player in the Championship he is not good enough for the Premier League and left back isn’t even his best position as I believe he does a better job at centre back. The other left back in the squad is Armand Traore who is 22 and does seem to have some potential which former manager Neil Warnock spotted but against the better side he looks poor when defending and not very effective going forward with wayward passes and awful crosses. Which was shown mostly in his last game for Arsenal when they shipped eight at Old Trafford and then proved once again that he is a liability in one of his first games for QPR when he was branded a disgrace by Warnock for his sending off in the game against Aston Villa.

Hughes obviously wants to improve the defence with QPR being linked to players such as Chris Samba and Wayne Bridge. However, both of these look unlikely as Blackburn are reluctant to let Samba go and if they do Tottenham seem very interested and will probably be a better destination for the centre back. Wayne Bridge is a strange one for me as he doesn’t seem interested to leave Manchester City even though he gets nowhere near the first team, he just seems to want to pick up his wages and sit in the reserves. I hope I am wrong about him because to me he has been the second best England left back for years and if it wasn’t for Ashley Cole, he would have been first choice. I also feel sorry for him because he always joins a club with a lot of money and potential and then gets replaced, at Chelsea with Ashley Cole and now at City firstly with Kolarov and now Clichy. They are also in talks with Nedum Onuoha who may be a good signing as he did look promising for City.

QPR need to focus on improving their strike force though if they have realistic ambitions of staying in the league because Jay Bothroyd, DJ Campbell (although he was impressive for Blackpool last season), Rob Hulse and Federico Macheda they are not going to score a lot of goals. I would have put Heidar Helguson in that list but so far he has done the business somewhat surprisingly but I don’t think he alone will score enough goals to keep them up.

They also need a goal scoring midfielder but they aren’t easy to find so they may just be hoping that when Taarabt comes back from the Africa Cup of Nations he will live up to his potential because I was expecting a lot more from him but he has been unable to step up to the plate.