The Tykes have lost six of their best players in 2017 and that’s a lot to come back from no matter how imaginative your transfer business. Most of the new arrivals have little experience of this level and they will be expected to take up commanding roles. Paul Heckingbottom is a capable manager but this is looking like a hiding to nothing.
Things have gone stale at Portman Road and one modestly promising transfer window might not be enough to undo the damage of dealing in half measures for the past three years. You’d expect the Tractor Boys to scrap their way to survival under Mick McCarthy, but another relegation battle would probably see him depart before then.
Survival was a wonderful achievement for the Brewers last season, but reaching 50 points will always be a monumental task at this level. They will be competitive and their fate could be in the balance for the entire 10 months. However, they might need a bit more creativity this time around and Nigel Clough’s managerial style doesn’t really encourage that.
The Whites are going to be severely hampered by tough new measures on teams operating under a transfer embargo, yet you get the impression that Phil Parkinson is relishing the challenge ahead of him. He has the tactical nous to reduce games to fine margins and grind out points where others wouldn’t. In the final reckoning, that might just be enough.
Ian Holloway insists he has settled on a set formation and style of play after heavy criticism over his tinkering, but it will be interesting to see how long he remains true to his word if the early results aren’t favourable. A tough season awaits either way: the defence is ropey and there’s a distinct lack of individual match-winners.
The Lions have a strong identity under Neil Harris and will relish being underdogs in almost every game. A shorter summer isn’t necessarily a problem considering the core of the team has remained intact for the past two seasons. They’ve done some good business given their resources, and the quick turnarounds and heavy schedule might suit them.
18. Nottingham Forest
Mark Warburton has an obligation to play football a certain way, which he insists isn’t a problem. However, a free-flowing expansive approach often needs time to bear fruit and that might not be a commodity he is granted under new owner Evangelos Marinakis. Another season of wild inconsistency would be no great surprise.
The Royals irritated the analytics community with a promotion charge on shot data that belonged in a relegation battle last season – but regression to the mean could see the nerds have the last laugh. Jaap Stam is no mug, but even he might struggle to energise his players once it becomes apparent that last year’s exploits won’t be repeated.
16. Bristol City
Lee Johnson can reward owner Steve Lansdown for staying patient last season with some promising development. There was a marked improvement in City’s home form towards the end of last season, which could carry over into this campaign. The end result might not be much different but the journey itself should be more enjoyable.
Alex Neil has big boots to fill following the departure of Simon Grayson but he can only benefit from now being perceived as a big-name manager rather than the upstart who rocked up from Hamilton. North End have undoubtedly overachieved for the past two seasons and they might have to settle for a season hitting par while the Scotsman finds his bearings.
The Tigers are looking short of depth and quality. It’s a situation that’s likely to be addressed by the end of this window, but a tough pre-season has left them stretched and the next 10 months could be a prolonged game of catch-up with Leonid Slutsky never really getting on top of the strength and conditioning.
Last season was an exception rather than the rule under Garry Monk, and though long-term prospects might have improved under new ownership, an influx of intriguing foreign captures might need a season to fully acclimatise. Thomas Christiansen is an unconvincing appointment too, having only ever managed in the UAE and Cyprus.
The signing of David Stockdale was a real statement of intent, yet it hasn’t been followed up by the volume of new arrivals initially anticipated. Harry Redknapp will probably go on a mad trolley dash come deadline day but it’s hard to imagine Blues generating the kind of consistency required for a promotion push.
Simon Grayson is a shrewd appointment under the circumstances but he has some significant fires to fight before he can begin to make headway. The January window could be vital with one eye looking towards next season. The extra resources at his disposal should enable the new man to match his achievements at Preston over the past two years.
10. Sheffield United
Chris Wilder is vowing to attack the division following promotion, much like Bournemouth did under Eddie Howe. It’s a bold strategy that could see the Blades on the end of a few hidings before Christmas, although it might reap its rewards with a late flourish and a top-half finish. Either way, expect plenty of goals.
A positive mood has come flooding back to the Welsh capital, so you could argue the season has been a success already. You’d bank on an old master like Neil Warnock flirting with the promotion race at some point, but there are too many big hitters about for the Bluebirds to suddenly muscle their way into the top six.
Wanderers are liable to be scintillating on occasions with a couple of young superstars in their ranks, but there’s an imbalance of resources and a lack of maturity from the likes of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota could prevent new boss Nuno from sustaining a promotion push.
The wholesale changes that accompanied a new blueprint two years ago are now a distant memory, and the Bees boast an enviable level of stability that enables them to go about their business in a pressure-free manner. The last three seasons have all ended in top-10 finishes and they look better equipped now more than ever.
Boss Daniel Farke has drawn inevitable comparisons with David Wagner, but his compatriot had seven months to survey the landscape before launching his project at Huddersfield. Farke has better players and might not need quite so much time, but the process might leave the Canaries with too much to do in the race for automatic promotion.
The Rams are strangely under the radar this season after several years crippled by the weight of expectation. They also have one of the shrewdest tacticians in the division as well. If Gary Rowett could get Birmingham into play-off contention on scant resources, he can certainly cement a top-six place on his budget at Pride Park.
4. Aston Villa
Villa have the personnel capable of mounting a title charge, but John Terry wasn’t brought in for his mobility. Steve Bruce is wrestling with a weak dressing room mentality, which needs fixing. Ultimately, the cut-throat anxiety of the play-offs after 46 gruelling matches might be just the stage on which the former Chelsea skipper thrives.
3. Sheffield Wednesday
It’s a make-or-break campaign for Carlos Carvalhal, and his tactics will surely be more positive than they were towards the end of last season. The Portuguese can navigate a path through early scrutiny to launch his first genuine assault on the automatic places, but once again he might come up short when it really matters.
Minor question marks hover around Garry Monk’s ability outfox the shrewdest tacticians in the division without the guidance of former right-hand man Pep Clotet. But if he gets Boro operating like the well-oiled machine he created at Leeds, he has the quality at his disposal to blow away most teams and get close to 90 points.
August is going to be a crucial month for the Cottagers. Providing the recruitment team come up with the goods and serve manager Slavisa Jokanovic with the options he requires, the Serbian can be trusted to build on last season’s blistering finish and get the fluid Cottagers cruising much sooner this time around.