Championship season preview: Bielsa rides again as Warnock takes final bow
Neil Warnock insisted the 2019-20 season is "absolutely" his last as a football manager as he prepared for a return to the Championship, where his Cardiff City side will battle for promotion in a division of contrasting football philosophies.
Former Leeds United boss Warnock will relish the Bluebirds' games against his old club more than ever as he pits his wits against Marcelo Bielsa following a turbulent first season in England for the former Argentina coach.
Slaven Bilic will embark upon his first adventure as a Championship boss as he aims to steer West Brom back into the Premier League, while Fulham's Scott Parker, Derby County's Phillip Cocu and Charlton Athletic's Lee Bowyer all make their managerial debuts in the division.
West Brom, Derby and Leeds come into the new season still smarting from play-off disappointment in 2018-19, while Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff arrive having tumbled out of the top flight last term.
Luton Town, Barnsley and Charlton are the newcomers from League One and all three will fancy their chances of causing more than a few surprises as they take on a division that looks wide open.
One day closer.
Sharpenin' up our tools. #FFC pic.twitter.com/Pwrs8Rz0F5
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) July 31, 2019
BIELSA IS BACK FOR A SECOND CRACK
Leeds fans breathed a sigh of relief when Bielsa agreed a one-year extension to his Elland Road contract, having seen their side transformed under the 63-year-old's guidance in 2018-19. While 'Spygate' and Leeds' play-off defeat to Derby dominated the headlines last season, they played some of the most attractive football in the division with veteran playmaker Pablo Hernandez instrumental in attack.
They acquired Helder Costa from Wolves and Ben White from Brighton and Hove Albion, while losing centre-back Pontus Jansson to Brentford, but Leeds will rely on many of the same faces that helped them finish third last term. Bielsa's ability to get the best out of his resources - particularly influential midfielder Kalvin Phillips - should ensure they challenge for promotion once again.
| Miss last night's pre-season clash against Cagliari? Catch up on all the highlights from the 1-1 draw at the Sardegna Arena pic.twitter.com/xCJOAl6Ft6
— Leeds United (@LUFC) July 28, 2019
WARNOCK TO HAVE ONE MORE GO
Last season was a difficult one for Cardiff, the disappointment of relegation put into context by the tragic death of Emiliano Sala before he even played for the club. The experience left Warnock shaken as he reflected on his bond with Bluebirds fans, and he has promised a title tilt to bring the curtain down on his long career.
Aron Gunnarsson and Victor Camarasa have departed, but Warnock has brought in Will Vaulks from Rotherham to reinforce his midfield, while £5.5million forward Robert Glatzel will be expected to deliver goals.
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) July 31, 2019
BEES AND ROVERS HARBOUR TOP-HALF HOPES
Brentford finished 11th last season after manager Dean Smith joined Aston Villa in October, but Thomas Frank got them playing attractive football again as they won four of their final six games. Said Benrahma and Neal Maupay will be out to fire the Bees up the table and turn Griffin Park - where they have lost just one league game in 2019 - into a fortress.
There is similar optimism around Ewood Park, where Blackburn Rovers lost just one of their final five Championship games last term, and where former Southampton striker Sam Gallagher will hope to rediscover the goalscoring touch he showed in a loan spell in Lancashire in 2016-17.
Great to end pre season with another win. One week to go pic.twitter.com/9vIeSonXz7
— Elliott Bennett (@Ebenno88) July 27, 2019
FULHAM AIM TO BOUNCE BACK, BAGGIES REINFORCED
Anthony Knockaert knows all about Championship promotion pushes, having starred in Brighton's ascent in 2016-17, and his creativity and goals could be vital to Fulham's hopes of bouncing straight back after he signed on a season-long loan.
The Championship's bargain hunters are West Brom, who have signed Romaine Sawyers, Darnell Furlong and Semi Ayaji for less than £6m combined, but the £8m capture of forward Kenneth Zohore from Cardiff is a real statement of intent.
Let's all take a minute to remind ourselves this man scored eight goals in all competitions during the 2018/19 campaign.@SemiAjayi is a defender.
How many do you think he will bag for us this season?#WBA pic.twitter.com/zpSEsGq0Zx
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) July 28, 2019