Here are just a few of the many knee-jerk reactions you may have heard in response to the opening weekend in the Championship. Are any of them accurate? Nick Miller takes a look…
“Norwich are now favourites for promotion.”
The benefits of continuity were there for all to see at Ewood Park on Saturday. Newcastle might ultimately have the best chance to win the Championship, but Norwich City are in the best shape to start the season well, largely because their squad is the one that required the least work over the summer. Indeed, all of their starting XI in their 4-1 win over Blackburn were at Carrow Road last season, and while a couple of new additions – such as Alex Pritchard, who came on as a substitute, and Sergi Canos – need to be integrated, these are recruits that are designed to augment their existing team, rather than instigate a complete overhaul. Norwich need to buy at least one striker and possibly another defender, but Alex Neil’s team look pretty good at the moment.
“Blackburn are going down.”
When a team appoints Owen Coyle as manager, last seen not doing an awfully good job at Houston Dymano, you don’t readily predict huge success for them. Still, some of Blackburn’s summer signings – like talented young midfielder Jack Bryne on loan from Manchester City and doughty, reliable defender Gordon Greer on a free after leaving Brighton – were quite promising. That promise lasted about 25 minutes into the new season, by which time they were 3-0 down to Norwich and on their way to a demoralising defeat. This time last year they looked similarly hopeless, but at least had the crutch of Jordan Rhodes’s goals to lean on; now they’re looking to Danny Graham and Anthony Stokes up top. They have the sort of squad that, under a good manager, could scrap out a few results and achieve something respectable. Alas, they have Coyle.
“Rafa Benitez will struggle in the Championship.”
Once Rafa Benitez gets things figured out at Newcastle then the chances are they will be too strong for everyone else in the division. However, the concern that Benitez doesn’t have any experience in the English second tier (which he rather unconvincingly addressed by saying he’s managed in the Spanish equivalent – 16 years ago) was made apparent on Friday night when the Magpies lost 1-0 to Fulham. Benitez’s side went down to a header from Matt Smith, the Cottagers’ beefy centre-forward stealing in to score a header from a set-piece, in what was perhaps the most ‘Championship’ goal it’s possible to score. This is the sort of thing the naysayers were worried about: that Benitez isn’t fully aware of the threats the league poses, and will have to get up to speed fairly quickly. But when he does, and when he knits a team half-comprised of new arrivals together, Newcastle should run away with things. There may be doubts after Friday, but it’s a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
“Nigel Pearson is already finding it tough at Derby.”
The last three years at Pride Park have been less football seasons, more exhibitions in different ways to make a mess of things. It looked set to be different for Derby this time though, after appointing a manager who has enjoyed previous success in the Championship, putting them among the favourites for promotion. But Nigel Pearson’s team selection for their opener against Brighton raised a few eyebrows: Chris Martin, Will Hughes and Johnny Russell were all on the bench as Pearson opted for a midfield diamond, with Tom Ince at the tip and Darren Bent and Nick Blackman up front. Leaving out Hughes, arguably the best young midfielder in the division and Martin, still one of the better centre-forwards around, was a curious call by Pearson, and clearly didn’t work as Derby struggled to break down a makeshift Brighton defence. Pearson has plenty of options in his well-stocked squad, but if Derby are to keep up with the rest then he will have to figure out his most effective XI and formation very quickly.
“Kasey Palmer is going to be a star.”
There are worse ways to start life with a new club. Chelsea youngster Kasey Palmer was in demand over the summer, but he chose to join David Wagner and Huddersfield on loan for the season, making quite an impact on his debut. Coming off the bench with the score tied at 1-1 in Huddersfield’s opening game against Brentford, Palmer scored just 90 seconds after entering the field of play, jumping on a rebound, taking it round the keeper with his first touch, and stroking the ball home with his second. “Literally, the boss said ‘win us the game, be the decisive player in the game,’” he said afterwards. “I’m looking at him thinking ‘on my debut!’ So to score as soon as I touched the ball was unbelievable.” Plenty of youngsters have struggled to display their talent after being farmed out by Chelsea, but Palmer is highly-rated enough to think that his earliest contribution wasn’t a fluke.
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