Being a legitimate contender for silverware will be an alien concept to many Villa fans, if you don’t include European heavyweight competitions such as the Cup of Traditions, that is. Steve Bruce’s side currently rank second in bookmaker predictions, despite having finished last year’s campaign in 13th place, after an up and down season.
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But who else will be chasing the title this year? We take a look at some of the other top sides vying to book their place in the Premier League.
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MIDDLESBROUGH
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Ranked by many as the favourite for the Championship this year, Garry Monk’s men have done it before. After winning the league two years ago, it was a one-and-done season in the top flight which came to a close with a 3-0 defeat to champions Chelsea. It was a disappointing year for Boro fans, who saw their team win just one game in the last 14 and struggle to score goals throughout.
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Comparisons to be made with the team from B6, then.
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New manager Garry Monk has done his best to address this lack of firepower, bringing in Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Jonny Howson. Despite falling off the promotion chase with Leeds last year, Monk has proven himself a canny operator, and Boro will be hoping to emulate their northeast neighbours Newcastle, and bounce back to the Promised Land at the first time of asking.
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FULHAM
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Slavisa Jokanovic assembled one of the best teams in the league last year, securing a top six finish. However they couldn’t replicate their league form in the play-offs and were put out by Reading.
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The biggest question surrounding Fulham was whether they would be able to hold onto their top players, namely captain and chief playmaker Tom Cairney. Not only did they keep him, but Cairney signed a new contract and will once again lead a young and motivated Fulham side in their quest to return to the top flight.
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LEEDS
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Having finally removed co-owner Massimo Cellino from the club, Leeds fans will be hoping that the new combination of owner Andrea Radrizanni and manager Thomas Christiansen will be the catalyst for a return to the Premier League.
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Despite transfer speculation, last season’s Championship top scorer Chris Wood remains but there are nine new players at Elland Road and the job for first time EFL-manager Christiansen will be to find the right balance of squad. Not easy for someone unfamiliar with the league. Last year, Leeds finished seventh after running into trouble down the stretch, and Radrizanni has stated that nothing less than a top six finish will do this time round.
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NORWICH
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Another team with an unproven manager, the Canaries are relying on 40-year old Daniel Farke to lead them to a third promotion in five years. Like Christiansen, Farke played professional football in his native Germany, and has previously managed SV Lippstadt and the Borussia Dortmund reserves.
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Norwich appear to be following the Huddersfield model, recruiting young talents Angus Gunn and Harrison Reed on loan deals from Manchester City and Southampton respectively. German imports Marcel Franke and Christoph Zimmermann have also followed Farke to England and could provide a new-look centre back pairing. It’s no Terry and Chester, but still…
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HULL
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Relegated last year alongside Middlesbrough and Sunderland, Hull City have lost a flurry of senior players including Andy Robertson, Harry Maguire and Ahmed Elmohamady, who has joined his former boss Bruce at Villa Park. Manager Leonid Slutsky arrives from CSKA Moscow, having won three domestic league titles in his seven seasons with the club.
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Young loanees will plug the gaps, but will have to adapt to the rough-and-tumble of the Championship extremely quickly if they are to compete for promotion this year.
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SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY
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George Boyd, one of the many that left Hull this summer, is the only new face in Carlos Carvalhal’s squad at present. Striker Jordan Rhodes has made his loan move permanent and will want to have a say in the Championship Golden Boot race, but last year’s Play-off semi-finalists will once again look
to overachieve with a small squad.
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Goals should not be a problem for the Owls, but they might struggle at the other end, having failed to bring in a new centre back so far this transfer window. Slow starts haven’t stopped Wednesday achieving back to back Play-off appearances but fans will be desperate to see a solid start this time round.
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READING
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Defeated in last year’s Championship Play-off final, Jaap Stam has signed a new contract but seen little other transfer business since their penalty defeat back in May. Like Villa, some of Reading’s key players from last year have been injured throughout the pre-season, including their two top scorers from last season, Yann Kermorgant and Garath McCleary.
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Stam is still hopeful of seeing more players arrive before the end of the transfer window, but will have to embed them into the squad on the fly. The Royals begin their campaign away at QPR and will rely on a solid defensive foundation if they are to challenge once more. Luckily their manager knows a thing or two about defending.
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HONOURABLE MENTIONS
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Sunderland and Derby will all want to be considered in the mix for a Play-off spot, but uncertainty surrounds both at present. Each start the season with a new manager and notable departures have outweighed arrivals. Wolves have smashed their record transfer fee to secure Ruben Neves, and a number of transfers make the squad almost unrecognisable from last year.
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Brentford will hope to bounce back from a disappointing season and have their say in the Championship race too, but with so many competitive teams, as well as a surprise package here or there, it will be an outright battle from week one.
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