It's back. After a summer of transfer rumours, pre-season friendlies and crusty pie mascots, the Football League season begins in earnest this weekend.
And here is a rundown of what we might expect from the 2019/20 Championship, League One and League Two seasons.
England’s second division is a notoriously difficult league to escape and this season’s tussle may prove to be the tightest and most difficult to call for some time. At the outset, there appears no standout title contender for this season’s Championship, rather a cluster of sides bunched together, many of whom seem to be proverbially on the brink of promotion.
Leeds United must be considered a serious contender for automatic promotion once again, and Marcelo Bielsa is the main reason for that. The Argentinian worked wonders to propel a small squad from mid-table to third last season, but he does not believe that his side will be able to reproduce the same levels of performance as last time.
Former club captain Pontus Jansson has left but shrewd loan signings in Jack Harrison, Ben White and Helder Costa will bring added vigour and hunger to a squad that currently only has one fit striker available: Luke Ayling and Kemar Roofe have both suffered injuries during a physically gruelling Bielsa pre-season - some things never change.
Also those clubs that have recently returned back from England’s top flight will be desperate to ensure that their time in the Championship lasts only one season.
Fulham have added firepower, especially in attack where Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, from Brighton & Hove Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively, who will join Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic in a creative looking diamond.
Defence was where Fulham’s problems largely lay last season in the Premier League. Rookie manager Scott Parker has not addressed the soft defence with signings, but he will no doubt be working hard on the training ground to ensure the backline isn't as leaky as it was last season.
Huddersfield Town will also feel confident that they can bounce back at the first time of asking. Jan Siewert has signed Tommy Elphick to sure up what was a haphazard defence and brought in Polish goalkeeper Kamil Grabara on loan from Liverpool to replace Jonas Lossl. Like Fulham, the West Yorkshire side will look to return to winning ways after a season in which they, well, didn't win a lot of games.
Naturally, Derby County must be involved in any promotion talk while it will be interesting to see how Middlesbrough and Swansea City get on with young new managers, Jonathan Woodgate and Steve Cooper. Bristol City have impressively improved under the guidance of Lee Johnson, their vibrant squad has seen the addition of Tomas Kalas on a permanent deal from Chelsea, and one would expect them to be there or there about come May.
Those that could be fearing the worst about their prospects come May, will include the three promoted sides: Barnsley, Charlton Athletic and Luton Town. Reading’s youthful team will be aiming for a higher standing this season having just about avoided relegation last season. Wigan have struggled to add personnel during the summer and that may pay the price, while Millwall, who have strengthened, will need results to improve drastically if they don’t want to be close to the bottom this time around.
It is difficult to know where to start with League One. In short, Bury and Bolton Wanderers are currently in administration and it is not impossible for both to end this season in an even worse position.
Bury’s opening game against MK Dons has been called off after the Football League were not satisfied with how the club is to be financed going forwards. Owner Steve Dale put the club into administration as soon as they were promoted from League Two in April, but it doesn’t look good for the Blues.
Bolton’s game on Saturday will go ahead against Wycombe Wanderers but still their situation is far from clear. They along with Bury will start with a 12-point deduction and this entire season could feel similar to crawling over nails for all involved. The sad situation may prove beneficial for AFC Wimbledon, who avoided the drop last season, and Accrington Stanley, who looked pretty weak in certain areas during the last campaign.
Portsmouth and Sunderland are both ‘big’ clubs in terms of League One and there are reasons for each to be optimistic. Portsmouth were remarkable for the first half of last season, largely thanks to a super debut season from Ronan Curtis, but stuttered in the latter half, consistency and the ability to last the distance are now required.
Sunderland only lost five matches last season but froze in the play-off final against Charlton, they do however still have arguably the most talent at their disposal in the league.
Ryan Lowe sought sanity from the mess at Bury, and consequently moved down a division, to take the reins at Plymouth Argyle. Five key players in Bury’s promotion run have moved with the manager to Home Park, but can they instil a promotion winning mentality to a club that moved in the opposite direction last May?
Mansfield Town also appear appealing, despite spurning their chance last season, they have however purchased League Two’s leading marksman in Nicky Maynard.
Exeter City will be rejuvenated with new faces and will look to go one further than last time out, while Forest Green Rovers will hope to continue making huge strides under Mark Cooper, not only in terms of football but also their status as the leading ‘green’ club in the country.
Experiencing their first season in the football league is Salford City, and who’s to say that a fifth promotion in six seasons won’t occur for Peter Lim and the ‘Class of 92’?
As usual, Morecambe will have a tough task to stay in the division with resources being against them. There continues to be monetary issues at Macclesfield Town who still have Sol Campbell in charge, while there appears to be more experimentation at Oldham Athletic whose plan of action is hard for anyone to ascertain.