Championship 2020/21 Season Preview: New Signings, Key Players, Rising Stars, Predictions & More

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney will be looking to guide Derby back to the Premier league | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

All good things have to come to an end - but if they endured a three-month postponement due to a worldwide pandemic then they'll be back as soon as you know it.

Alright, it's not particularly catchy, but it's true of the Championship.

A little over a month after we waved goodbye to English football's frantic, pulsating, unpredictable but always entertaining second tier, it's back again as Watford kick off the season at home to Middlesbrough on Friday.

If a month without Championship football has felt like a lifetime and you've no idea what to expect from this season's runners and riders - never fear, 90min's got your back with the ultimate club-by-club breakdown of what to expect from the upcoming campaign.

Barnsley

Alex Mowatt
Alex Mowatt will be hoping to avoid another relegation battle | Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Last Season: 21st

Key Player: Alex Mowatt

Breakout Star to Watch: Elliot Simões

Manager: Gerhard Struber

Major Ins: Domink Frieser (LASK)

Major Outs: Samuel Şahin-Radlinger (SV Ried) Mallik Wilks (Hull City), Dani Pinillos (released), Kenny Dougall (released)

Barnsley escaped relegation by a few cells of teeth skin last season, with Wigan's points deduction ultimately ensuring they retained their Championship status.

However, in truth they deserved a bit of luck, stringing together some fine results to give themselves a fighting chance after winning one of their opening 18 games. Struber's men will fancy their chances of a much safer finish this campaign.

Prediction: 16th

Birmingham City

Aitor Karanka
Aitor Karanka will take charge of the Blues next season | Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Last Season: 20th

Key Player: Lukas Jutkiewicz

Breakout Star to Watch: Jayden Reid

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Major Ins: Jonathan Leko (West Brom), George Friend (Middlesbrough), Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough), Jon Toral (Hull City), Iván Sánchez (Elche)

Major Outs: Jude Bellingham (Dortmund), Álvaro Giménez (Cadiz CF), Jacques Maghoma (released), Jonathan Grounds (released), Kerim Mrabti (KV Mechelen), David Stockdale (released), Cheick Keita (released), Craig Gardner (retired), Lee Camp (released), Wes Harding (Rotherham)

The Birmingham hierarchy had to take action after the Blues failed to pick up a win in any of their final 14 games, with Pep Clotet losing his job in the midst of their end-of season collapse.

The arrival of Aitor Karanka is a solid appointment, and while Birmingham are unlikely to trouble the playoff spots, the Spaniard's second-tier nous should be enough to avoid any further relegation scares.

Prediction: 15th

Blackburn Rovers

Bradley Dack
Bradley Dack will be key to Rovers' season | Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Last season: 11th

Key Player: Bradley Dack

Breakout Star to Watch: Harry Chapman

Manager: Tony Mowbray

Major Ins: Thomas Kaminski (KAA Gent)

Major Outs: Richard Smallwood (Hull City), Dominic Samuel (released), Danny Graham (released), Sam Hart (released), Jayson Leutwiler (released)

Blackburn lingered around the playoff spots for much of the 2019/20 campaign, but some patchy form post-lockdown spelt the end of their promotion dream.

The loss of Bradley Dack for the majority of the season through injury was a bitter blow, but with the midfield maestro back to full fitness, Rovers should be looking for a place in the top six at least.

Prediction: 6th

Bournemouth

Jason Tindall
Jason Tindall has been named Eddie Howe's replacement | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Last Season: 18th, Premier League (relegated)

Key Player: David Brooks (if he stays)

Breakout Star to Watch: Nathan Ofoborh 

Manager: Jason Tindall

Major Ins: N/A

Major Outs: Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United), Jermain Defoe (Rangers), Artur Boruc (Legia Warszawa), Ryan Fraser (released), Jordon Ibe (released), Charlie Daniels (released), Simon Francis (released), Andrew Surman (released), Brad Smith (released)

The first part of Bournemouth's rebuild following relegation is well underway, with a whole host of high-profile players departing the club.

Jason Tindall has a huge job on his hands at the Vitality Stadium, and with no major arrivals of note, the new boss may well have to be content with a season of 'steadying the ship' rather than looking to bounce back at the first time of asking.

Prediction: 7th

Brentford

Thomas Frank, Rico Henry
Thomas Frank's side were within a whisker of the Premier League last season | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Last Season: 3rd

Key Player: Ivan Toney

Breakout Star to Watch: Halil Dervişoğlu

Manager: Thomas Frank

Major Ins: Ivan Toney (Peterborough), Charlie Goode (Northampton)

Major Outs: Kamohelo Mokotjo (Cincinnati), Luka Racic (Northampton - loan), Dru Yearwood (New York Red Bulls), Julian Jeanvier (Kasimpasa), Nikos Karelis (released)

Brentford had promotion in their hands last year yet they somehow still find themselves in the Championship. Just one win from their final two games of the regular season would have secured a place in the top two, yet they lost both games as well as the play-off final.

The acquisition of Ivan Toney is a quality piece of business, yet with Premier League vultures still circling their standout players and a potential hangover from last season's heartbreak, they may not be as unstoppable as some people are predicting.

Prediction: 3rd

Bristol City

Famara Diedhiou
Famara Diédhiou's goals weren't enough to secure a play-off place for Bristol City | George Wood/Getty Images

Last Season: 12th

Key Player: Famara Diédhiou

Breakout Star to Watch: Ryley Towler

Manager: Dean Holden

Major Ins: Chris Martin (Derby County), Joe Williams (Wigan), Alfie Mawson (Fulham - loan)

Major Outs: Matty Taylor (Oxford), Bailey Wright (Sunderland), Korey Smith (Swansea), Niki Mäenpää (released), Marley Watkins (Aberdeen - loan)

Bristol City looked a shoo-in for a playoff spot last campaign, only for a nine-game winless run to demolish their top-six hopes.

The appointment of Dean Holden as caretaker boss following Lee Johnson's dismissal saw an upturn in form, and with Holden offered the job on a permanent basis, the Robins look to be in good hands and should be challenging.

Prediction : 4th

Cardiff City

Lee Tomlin, Danny Ward
Lee Tomlin was instrumental in Cardiff's play-off push | Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

Last Season: 5th

Key Player: Lee Tomlin

Breakout Star to Watch: Oliver Denham

Manager: Neil Harris

Major Ins: Kieffer Moore (Wigan), Jordi Osei-Tutu (Arsenal)

Major Outs: Danny Ward (Huddersfield), Jazz Richards (released), Matthew Connolly (released), Omar Bogle (released)

Cardiff have managed to keep hold of the majority of their key players from last season, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be looking to challenge again.

Neil Harris' side always looked strong at home in the 2019/20 campaign, and if they can improve on their away record they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

Prediction: 5th

Coventry

Matt Godden
Matt Godden's goals saw Coventry top the League One table | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Last Season: 1st, League One (promoted)

Key Player: Matt Godden

Breakout Star to Watch: Will Bapaga

Manager: Mark Robins

Major Ins: Gustavo Hamer (PEC Zwolle), Julien Da Costa (Chamois Niort), Callum O'Hare (Aston Villa), Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest), Leo Østigård (Brighton - loan), Ben Sheaf (Arsenal), Ryan Giles (Wolves), Marcel Hilßner (SC Paderbon)

Major Outs: Zain Westbrooke (Bristol Rovers), Jordan Ponticelli (Wrexham), Jordy Hiwula (released),
Reise Allassani (released), Junior Brown (released), Charlie Wakefield (released)

Mark Robins has worked wonders at Coventry, taking them from League Two to the Championship in just three seasons. The Sky Blues suffered just three defeats in their 34 league games last campaign, with their solid backline key to their success.

Promotion to the Championship is of course a step up in class, however, Robins has experience of keeping sides in the second tier, and if his team can maintain their mean defence they might just have enough to survive.

Prediction: 21st

Derby County

Chris Martin, Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney's arrival wasn't enough to end Derby's stay in the second tier | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Last Season: 10th

Key Player: Wayne Rooney

Breakout Star to Watch: Max Bird

Manager: Phillip Cocu

Major Ins: Mike te Wierik (Groningen), David Marshall (Wigan), Matt Clarke (Brighton - loan)

Major Outs: Chris Martin (Bristol City), Ikechi Anya (released), Mason Bennett (Millwall), Scott Malone (Millwall - loan), Tom Huddlestone (released)

Wayne Rooney's arrival at Derby in January didn't quite have the impact the Rams hierarchy would have hoped for, though the former Manchester United man's quality on the ball was there for all to see last season.

After years of failed promotion bids, the club are clearly looking to rip up the faulty blueprint and start again, with stalwarts like Richard Keogh and Chris Martin moved on. It's certainly a step in the right direction, but instant success might be a bit much to ask.

Prediction: 12th

Huddersfield

Juninho Bacuna
Juninho Bacuna will be hoping to avoid another relegation battle this season | John Early/Getty Images

Last Season: 18th

Key Player: Lewis O'Brien

Breakout Star to Watch: Rarmani Edmonds-Green

Manager: Carlos Corberán

Major Ins: Danny Ward (Cardiff), Joel Pereira (Manchester United)

Major Outs: Jon Gorenc-Stankovic (Sturm Graz), Herbert Bockhorn (VfL Bochum), Reece Brown (Peterborough - loan), Joel Coleman (Fleetwood), Elias Kachunga (Sheffield Wednesday), Danny Simpson (released), Collin Quaner (released)

Huddersfield are in a bit of a crisis. The club are in danger of dropping through the leagues having survived relegation to the third tier by just three points last season.

The decision to sack Danny Cowley certainly raised a few eyebrows, with former Leeds Under-23 boss Carlos Corberán named as his replacement. The Spaniard has worked with a whole host of top managers, and if he can keep hold of top scorer Karlan Grant the Terriers should have enough to survive.

Prediction: 17th

Luton Town

Kazenga Lualua
Kazenga LuaLua's creativity had a big part to play in Luton's survival | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Last Season: 19th

Key Player: Kazenga LuaLua

Breakout Star to Watch: Rhys Norrington-Davies

Manager: Nathan Jones

Majors Ins: Jordan Clark (Accrington Stanley), James Bree (Aston Villa), Tom Lockyer (Charlton),
Rhys Norrington-Davies (Sheffield United - loan)

Major Outs: Callum McManaman (released), Jacob Butterfield (released), Lloyd Jones (released),
Marek Štěch (Mansfield Town), Jake Jervis (SJK Seinäjoki), Donervon Daniels (Crewe Alexandra)

Luton's 19th place finish last season may look reasonably comfortable, but in reality it was anything but. The Hatters looked nailed on for relegation back to League One, however, a superb run which saw them pick up 11 points from a possible 15 ensured they would retain their place in the Championship.

The club's Achilles heel last season was their defence, and it's difficult to see anything other than another relegation battle with such a leaky backline.

Prediction: 22nd

Middlesbrough

Ashley Fletcher
Ashley Fletcher's goals were key to Middlesbrough's survival | James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Last Season: 17th

Key Player: Ashley Fletcher

Breakout Star to Watch: Nathan Wood

Manager: Neil Warnock

Major Ins: Grant Hall (QPR)

Major Outs: George Friend (Birmingham), Adam Clayton (Birmingham), Daniel Ayala (released), Ryan Shotton (released), Rudy Gestede (released)

Last season didn't go as chairman Steve Gibson would have hoped, with rookie boss Jonathan Woodgate dismissed and Neil Warnock parachuted in to ensure the club remained in the second tier.

While many Boro fans will be dreaming of a promotion push, Warnock's main objective will be to steady the club and give them a platform to build on in years to come. The Teessiders' transfer activity has been sparse despite a whole host of first-team players departing, and it'll take all of Warnock's nous and guile to see them safe.

Prediction: 13th

Millwall

Gary Rowett
Gary Rowett very nearly guided Millwall to a play-off spot | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Last Season: 8th

Key Player: Jed Wallace

Breakout Star to Watch: Billy Mitchell

Manager: Gary Rowett

Major Ins: Troy Parrott (Tottenham - loan), Ryan Woods (Stoke - loan), Mason Bennett (Derby County), Scott Malone (Derby County - loan)

Major Outs: Aiden O'Brien (Sunderland), Jason McCarthy (Wycombe Wanderers),

Millwall were the surprise package of last season's second tier, finishing just two points outside of the playoffs.

The club have recruited well this summer, and with very few departures Gary Rowett's side could well be set for another solid campaign.

Prediction: 9th

Norwich City

Teemu Pukki
Norwich will have a great chance of promotion if Teemu Pukki can replicate his 2018/19 form | Visionhaus/Getty Images

Last Season: 20th, Premier League (relegated)

Key Player: Teemu Pukki

Breakout Star to Watch: Adam Idah

Manager: Daniel Farke

Major Ins: Jordan Hugill (West Ham), Przemyslaw Placheta (Slask Wroclaw), Bali Mumba (Sunderland), Oliver Skipp (Tottenham - loan), Xavi Quintillà (Villarreal - loan), Kieran Dowell (Everton), Ben Gibson (Burnley - loan)

Major Outs: Sean Raggett (Portsmouth), Mason Bloomfield (Hartlepool)

Norwich's first season back in the Premier League was nothing short of a disaster. While many neutrals praised Daniel Farke for refusing to alter the club's style of play, they did in fact stray from the tried and tested, with mainstays of their Championship side like Marco Stiepermann afforded very few chances once results took a turn for the worse.

The club's summer business is a clear indication that they want to bounce back at the first time of asking, and if they can get the best out of loanee Ben Gibson and Teemu Pukki can reproduce his form the last time they were in the Championship, they'll be a tough team to beat.

Prediction: 2nd

Nottingham Forest

Joe Lolley
Joe Lolley was superb for Forest last season | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Last Season: 7th

Key Player: Joe Lolley

Breakout Star to Watch: Brennan Johnson

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

Major Ins: Lyle Taylor (Charlton), Jack Colback (Newcastle), Tyler Blackett (Reading), Miguel Ángel Martín (Olympiacos), Fouad Bachirou (Malmo FF), Luke Freeman (Sheffield United - loan)

Major Outs: Matty Cash (Aston Villa), Liam Bridcutt (Lincoln City), Tyler Walker (Coventry), Costel Pantilimon (Denizlispor), Luke Steele (released)

Nottingham Forest are probably still wondering how they managed not to finish in last season's play-off places. No wins in their last six and a final day collapse at Stoke City saw them miss out on goal difference, with Swansea City stealing in late on.

The club have recruited relatively well, but after such a dramatic late collapse last season there could well be a hangover which impacts their early form.

Prediction: 8th

Preston

Alex Neil
Alex Neil's side finished just four points outside of the play-off spots | Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

Last Season: 9th

Key Player: Daniel Johnson

Breakout Star to Watch: Ethan Walker

Manager: Alex Neil

Major Ins: n/a

Major Outs: Tom Clarke (Salford), Josh Ginnelly (Hearts - loan)

Consistency is key to any successful Championship campaign, and unfortunately for Preston that's something they sorely lacked in 2019/20. Alex Neil's men would all too often embark on four or five-game runs without a win, severely hampering their promotion hopes.

Very little has changed at Deepdale over the summer in terms of personnel, meaning a similar campaign is probably on the cards.

Prediction: 11th

Queens Park Rangers

Mark Warburton
Mark Warburton has a big task on his hands to replace the void left by Eberechi Eze | Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Last Season: 13th

Key Player: Ryan Manning

Breakout Star to Watch: Ilias Chair

Manager: Mark Warburton

Major Ins: Lyndon Dykes (Livingston), George Thomas (Leicester), Luke Amos (Tottenham), Rob Dickie (Oxford), Tom Carroll (released)

Major Outs: Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Grant Hall (Middlesbrough), Toni Leistner (Hamburger SV), Marc Pugh (released), Angel Rangel (released)

QPR were solid if not spectacular last season, never looking like being dragged into a relegation scrap but similarly never really threatening the top-six spots.

The club will be without Eberechi Eze and Jordan Hugill next season - their two top scorers from the 2019/20 campaign - and it's difficult to see them being able to replicate their solid campaign without their biggest goal threats.

Prediction: 18th

Reading

Veljko Paunovic
Veljko Paunović has been named the new Reading boss | Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Last Season: 14th

Key Player: Ovie Ejaria

Breakout Star to Watch: Tom McIntyre

Manager: Veljko Paunović

Major Ins: Ovie Ejaria (Liverpool), Josh Laurent (Shrewsbury)

Major Outs: Danny Loader (Porto), Tyler Blackett (Nottingham Forest), Modou Barrow (Jeonbuk Motors), Adrian Popa (released), Vito Mannone (released), Jordan Obita (released), Charlie Adam (released), Garath McCleary (released), Chris Gunter (released)

Reading have embarked on a summer clear-out with a number of their senior players leaving the club. The appointment of Veljko Paunović is a bit of a gamble given his limited experience, and things may get worse before they get better given the amount of changes in such a short period of time.

However, the signing Ovie Ejaria could prove to be a solid piece of business as the Royals look to add some much-needed creativity to their ranks.

Prediction: 19th

Rotherham

Paul Warne
Paul Warne worked wonders in seeing Rotherham promoted | James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Last Season: 2nd, League One (promoted)

Key Player: Michael Ihiekwe

Breakout Star to Watch: Jake Cooper

Manager: Paul Warne

Major Ins: Mickel Miller (Hamilton), Kieran Sadlier (Doncaster), Angus MacDonald (Hull City), Viktor Johansson (Leicester), Wes Harding (Birmingham), Jamal Blackman (Chelsea - loan)

Major Outs: Jerry Yates (Blackpool), Joshua Kayode (Carlisle - loan)

Paul Warne's side were one of the most entertaining sides to watch in League One last year, with their full-throttle displays seeing them bounce back to the second tier at the first time of asking.

If the Millers can carry their goal threat up to the Championship then they'll not only prove great value for money but they should also have enough to fight off relegation.

Prediction: 20th

Sheffield Wednesday

Garry Monk
Garry Monk has a huge job on his hands if Wednesday are to overcome their 12-point deduction and avoid relegation | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Last Season: 16th

Key Player: Barry Bannan

Breakout Star to Watch: Fisayo Dele-Bashiru

Manager: Garry Monk

Major Ins: Josh Windass (Wigan), Chey Dunkley (Wigan), Elias Kachunga (Huddersfield), Izzy Brown (Chelsea - loan), Fisayo Dele- Bashiru (Manchester City)

Major Outs: Morgan Fox (Stoke), Steve Fletcher (Stoke), Sam Hutchinson (released), Sam Winnall (released), Fernando Forestieri (released)

Garry Monk has got arguably the toughest job in the Championship on his hands this season. Wednesday start off on -12 points after breaching financial rules, and if that wasn't bad enough they ended the 2019/20 campaign in pretty dire form.

The club have also lost last season's leading scorer in Steven Fletcher and one of their most creative players in Fernando Forestieri. Monk is going to have to work wonders to avoid relegation.

Prediction: 24th

Stoke City

Sam Clucas
Sam Clukas will yet again be key for Stoke | James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Last Season: 15th

Key Player: Sam Clukas

Breakout Star to Watch: Nathan Collins

Manager: Michael O'Neill

Major Ins: Morgan Fox (Sheffield Wednesday), James Chester (Aston Villa), Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday), John Obi Mikel (free agent)

Major Outs: Adam Federici (Macarthur), Mame Diouf (Hatayspor), Stephen Ward (Ipswich), Ryan Woods (Millwall - loan)

If you were to look at Stoke's summer signings and imagine it was 2013 you'd probably think they had a got shot at promotion - unfortunately it's not and it's difficult to see what the club's hierarchy are thinking.

The Potters definitely have enough quality in their squad to avoid relegation but anything more than that could be a tough ask.

Prediction: 14th

Swansea City

Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper has a big job on his hands filling the void left by Rhian Brewster | David Rogers/Getty Images

Last Season: 6th

Key Player: André Ayew

Breakout Star to Watch: Conor Gallagher

Manager: Steve Cooper

Major Ins: Jamal Lowe (Wigan), Korey Smith (Bristol City), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle - loan), Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves - loan), Marc Guehi (Chelsea - loan)

Major Outs: Erwin Mulder (Heerenveen), Mike van der Hoorn (Arminia Bielefeld), Courtney Baker-Richardson (released), Jefferson Montero (released)

Swansea did brilliantly in sneaking into the playoff spots late on last season, and Steve Cooper can be pleased with his first year at the Swans (despite failing to achieve promotion).

However, Rhian Brewster was key to their end-of-season charge and the loss of their former loanee will be a tough void to fill.

Prediction: 10th

Watford

Glenn Murray
The signing of Glenn Murray could prove to be a great piece of business | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Last Season: 19th, Premier League (relegated)

Key Player: Ismaila Sarr

Breakout Star to Watch: Jeremy Ngakia

Manager: Vladimir Ivić

Major Ins: Jeremy Ngakia (West Ham), Glenn Murray (Brighton - loan)

Major Outs: Dimitri Foulquier (Granada), José Holebas (Olympiacos), Pontus Dahlberg (Häcken - loan), Cucho Hernández (Getafe - loan), Heurelho Gomes (released), Adrian Mariappa (released)

To say last season was a shambles at Watford would be a bit of an understatement. Including interim boss Hayden Mullins the club saw four different managers at the club in the space of one season, and relegation looked an inevitability after so much upheaval.

However, they've have managed to keep hold of a lot of their top players (so far), while the likes of Pervis Estipunan and Luis Suarez (not that one) could return from last season's loan spells in Spain to add quality.

Even if the odd few leave they should still be left with a quality squad. Coupled with a few brilliant additions in Glenn Murray and Jeremy Ngakia, the Hornets should be targeting an immediate return to the top flight.

Prediction: 1st

Wycombe Wanderers

Gareth Ainsworth
Gareth Ainsworth enjoyed play-off delight at Wembley | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Last Season: 3rd, League One (promoted)

Key Player: Joe Jacobson

Breakout Star to Watch: Alex Pattison

Manager: Gareth Ainsworth

Major Ins: Giles Phillips (QPR), Ryan Tafazolli (Hull City), Uche Ikpeazu (Hearts), Jason McCarthy (Millwall), Daryl Horgan (Hibernian), Curtis Anderson (released)

Major Outs: Sido Jombati (Oldham), Jamie Mascoll (Bolton), Craig Mackail-Smith (released), Jacob Gardiner-Smith (released)

It would be hard to begrudge Wycombe Wanderers their success at Wembley in the League One playoff final. The club have a unique model but under the stewardship of Gareth Ainsworth they've done brilliantly to reach the second tier.

The current squad aren't blessed with a wealth of Championship experience, and that may be something which proves to be their downfall if they don't make further additions.

Prediction: 23rd

Predicted Final 2020/21 Championship Table

1. Watford

2. Norwich City

3. Brentford

4. Bristol City

5. Cardiff City

6. Blackburn Rovers

7. Bournemouth

8. Nottingham Forest

9. Millwall

10. Swansea City

11. Preston

12. Derby County

13. Middlesbrough

14. Stoke City

15. Birmingham City

16. Barnsley

17. Huddersfield

18. QPR

19. Reading

20. Rotherham

21. Coventry

22. Luton Town

23. Wycombe Wanderers

24. Sheffield Wednesday