Championship challenge race for the Premier League. The race to win promotion to the Premier League gets underway this weekend and Newcastle are already one shortest priced favourites to win the Championship in history, so can anyone stop them?
Newcastle, who suffered relegation from the Premier League last season, are determined to ensure their stay in the Championship is short-lived and they have been busy in the transfer market reshaping their squad.
On paper Newcastle have the best manager in the league and the strongest squad, but as so many before them have discovered matches are played on grass and not paper.
The Championship is an unforgiving league and games come thick and fast and despite Benitez’s illustrious CV it remains to be seen how he will cope with the rigors of England’s second league.
This time last year Benitez was working with the superstars of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, but fast forward a year and the Spaniard is preparing for trips to Burton and Barnsley.
Keeping hold of Benitez in the wake of their relegation was a major coup for Benitez and they have backed their manager in the transfer market with some expensive and astute signings.
The arrivals of the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwigh Gayle, Grant Hanley and Ciaran Clark all look like smart moves by Benitez and they been able to keep hold of most of their stars with only Georginio Wijnaldum and Andros Townsend leaving to return to the Premier League with Moussa Sissoko expected to follow them out of the exit door.
If Newcastle get off to a flying start it could be hard to halt their momentum with everyone involved with the club appearing to be on the same page which is something that has not been said about Newcastle for some time.
Benitez has brought unity to the club on and off the pitch, but things can soon turn sour if results do meet the expectations of a demanding Toon Army.
It’s hard to look to beyond Newcastle for the title and promotion, but they will not have it all their own way with.
The Magpies are the standout contenders for success, but Norwich City, Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday will all have their own say on the outcome of the title.
Aston Villa who along with Newcastle dropped out of the Premier League last season are rebuilding under new ownership and a new manager and a tilt at promotion might come a little too early for them after tumultuous campaign last year which will live long in the memory of the Villa faithful for all the wrong reasons.
Norwich were the other team relegated last term, but apart from losing Nathan Redmond the Canaries have managed to keep hold of the majority of their squad and they have recent experience of getting out of the Championship.
Brighton missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference last season before seeing their hopes ended in the play-offs and Chris Hughton’s men will be determined to go one better this year.
Last season’s losing play-off finalists Sheffield Wednesday failed to reach the heights in the Wembley showpiece, but another big season is expected from Carlos Cavalhal’s troops as they appear to be a club on the up.
Derby have turned to former Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson to lead them to the promised land of the Premier League and he could be just the man to get the best out of an under-performing squad.
Of the rest could Leeds United be the dark horses as it looks like they have made an astute move with the appointment of former Swansea boss Garry Monk as their new manager. As long as owner Mr Cellino lets Monk get on with his job this could be the season Leeds end their long wait to return to England’s top flight.
The Championship is notoriously difficult to get out of, but the prize at the end of it is worth all the troubles and I for one cannot wait for the thrills and spills of domestic football to return after a below par European Championships this summer so let the games begin.