By Paula Marcus
After all those months of waiting, it seems hard to believe that we are already four games into the 20017/18 season. But here we are, one week from the start of September and one week from the transfer window shutting till next year. So what are the big stories in the first month of the season.
Transfer fees on the way up
It is somewhat unsurprising that, with transfer fees across Europe breaking records for shear absurdity, the Championship would also see a sharp increase in spending. Wolverhampton Wanderers topped the Championship spending with a monstrous $20 million for FC Porto midfielder Ruben Neves. That might pale into insignificance when compared with the spending in the top flight, but it is more of a worry in a division where big spending is generally considered anything in the tens of millions. With almost no money coming in for transfers, it will be interesting to see how they fair against Financial Fair Play, although promotion is a sure fire way to avoid that issue.
One team not having to worry about how much they spend is Middlesbrough. Fresh from their one year stint in the top divisions, Boro have the advantage of bumper parachute payments to help offset their $19 million signing of striker Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest. There is always a concern with big money transfers, but with two goals already to his name this season, it looks like the gamble might pay off.
The table never lies?
So four games in is probably a little early to really start looking at the table, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it. Cardiff have started this season as well as they finished the last, and currently occupy top spot with Ipswich just behind on goal difference. One win behind the top two are Wolves, with Forest, Leeds and QPR finishing the top six. This time 12 months ago, Huddersfield sat top, with Brighton just behind. Both these teams finished top six and achieved promotion, whilst Fulham (also in the top six) claimed a playoff spot.
That aside, a slight word of warning to Wolves, this time last year they also sat third, and they ended up with a season to forget. Going back two years ago and after four games Ipswich were sitting pretty at the top, only to miss out on promotion in the playoffs. A look at worst case scenario also saw Charlton, who started the season well, eventually finishing in the bottom three after off field issues destroyed their season.
Looking at the other end of the table and two of the teams that started in the bottom (Rotherham and Blackburn), finished off there. That aside, two years ago they also started in the bottom three only to make very narrow escapes, whilst Bolton Wanderers were not quite as lucky. Either way, it seems a bad start is much harder to escape than a good one, so Bolton, Millwall and Brentford should beware.
The three relegated teams have all had uneventful returns to the second tier. So far all three are in the top half of the table and they all have that vital first win under their belt. Both Hull City and Middlesbrough are back after one year absences, and with a little more stability at Hull, they will both be hoping to make a quick return.
Sunderland, on the other hand, have had a good hiatus from the Championship, returning after ten years in the top flight. Like Villa last season, their return has been on the back of numerous years of underperforming but, unlike Villa, they never really had that car crash feel last season. It is still a big ask for them to go straight up, but it is always possible.
Two of the three promoted clubs have probably not had the return they had hoped for, as they both sit in the bottom three. Millwall and Bolton both featured on the relegation favorites list before the season started, and both will be hoping to prove the pundits wrong. But they have only made small scale changes to their side, relying on free transfers and experienced players to keep them up and this might not be enough.
Every season one team comes up and does well, and the bookies favourite this year was Sheffield United. Despite being out of the division for a few years, they are a very strong side as their dominance last season showed. Reaching 100 points (14 more than Bolton) with an equally impressive 92 goals certainly made many in the Championship take note, and they could still be an outside bet for the playoffs.
Live, or not live, that is the question
One big change this season is the introduction of the online service iFollow that allows fans to watch matches live. Whilst the new platform is proving popular with the majority of fans, there are still a few issues. Despite assurances that replays of games would be available to overseas fans six to eight hours after the game, they are now not appearing till 24 hours after the match has finished.
Watching the games live is great if you are living on the East Coast and have just a five hour time difference, but add on the three hours for the West Coast and you start to see an issue. Much as I love my team I would struggle to get up at 7am every Saturday to watch them. Assume you live in Australia and things become even trickier. Then there is the fact that you would have to avoid the internet to not hear any scores before the 24 hours have passed. Hopefully the issue can be resolved to allow all fans the opportunity to enjoy ‘live’ games on delay.
A great season
Whoever you support and whatever division your team is in, this is always the best part of the season. Football is back and, for now at least, there is the promise of ups and downs and a fantastic season. Whatever happens in the next few months, try and remember this feeling.
Listen to Paula’s latest Championship podcast at Premier Punditry.