Championship Preview: Gameweek 1


Teddy Bishop

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the opening day of the Championship season. Brentford and Ipswich, play-off semi-finalists last season, go head-to-head at Griffin Park, while newly-promoted MK Dons make the journey to South Yorkshire, as they take on Rotherham United.

Brentford v Ipswich

Brentford and Ipswich share a similarity in that they both reached the Championship play-off semi-finals last season, but the two clubs have had hugely contrasting summers. Brentford have controversially parted company with manager Mark Warburton, replacing him with a lesser-known head coach in Marinus Dijkhuizen, and signed 9 new players. On the other hand, Ipswich have kept Mick McCarthy in charge, retained their key players, barring Tyrone Mings, who joins Bournemouth for a hefty £8 million fee, and had a summer of relative stability.

There is a significant difference in the way both teams play football, too. Brentford’s approach is to play out from the back, and the signings of ball-playing defenders such as Yoann Barbet and Andreas Bjelland suggest they will stick to that plan this season. Because of this, and because Brentford’s new defenders may take time to adapt to the English game, there is potential for Ipswich to cause problems with their physical, bullish approach.

A hallmark of the Ipswich team under McCarthy is high pressing. Their strikers, Daryl Murphy and Freddie Sears, are both tireless workers, and they will aim to put Brentford’s new centre-backs on the back foot as early as possible. Ipswich have plenty of energy in midfield too, particularly in Teddy Bishop, who could have an outstanding season if he stays fully fit.

Brentford, on the other hand, may have a challenging start to the campaign. They have signed a lot of players from abroad, and it may be overly ambitious to expect 9 new players, 6 of them being foreign, to settle in instantly. Ipswich will kick-off their season with a win at Griffin Park.

Rotherham v MK Dons

MK Dons won promotion from League One last season playing free-flowing, attacking football, but teams in the Championship will provide a sterner test of their defensive resolve. The Dons picked up 41% of their league wins by a margin of at least 3 goals, and although that is good in many ways, it also shows that the team has not yet proven that it has the organization needed to absorb long spells of pressure. They will need to acquire the art of winning tight games in the Championship, because they will not be able to blow teams away with attacking quality, in the same way they did last season.

That is partly because they have lost a number of key players. Benik Afobe, who starred for them in the first half of last season, left back in January, while Will Grigg has opted to join Wigan Athletic after his loan deal expired. It remains to be seen whether Simon Church, a striker who has not hit double figures since the 09/10 campaign, will be able to fill the void. Added to that, MK Dons will be without key midfielder Dele Alli, arguably their best player last season, who is now at Tottenham Hotspur.

Rotherham, on the other hand, have a more defensive approach than MK Dons. Only Ipswich Town played more long balls per game than the Millers (94) last season, as Steve Evans’ side opted to defend from deep in most matches. Ultimately, Rotherham stayed up, finishing the season with 46 points.

If the Millers are to survive again, they will rely heavily on the form of Matt Derbyshire. The 29-year-old seemed to thrive on the responsibility of being Rotherham’s main man, after Alex Revell’s January departure, and could be the man that fans will hang their hopes on this season.

This blog will back Rotherham to record a narrow win, as their defensive approach means MK Dons may not get the same space in the final third they were afforded at times last season. Many of Rotherham’s players are injury-prone, however, and the challenge for them will be to maintain a settled team over the course of the season.