BY LUCAS BALL
With the World Cup being enjoyed by all this summer, club football has very much taken a back seat in England.
The country is at its most united, and the World Cup may well be heading back to England after a 52-year wait.
Transfer activity has certainly been limited in all of Europe’s major leagues, but particularly the Premier League, which has had a knock-on effect to the rest of professional English football.
Clubs won’t let players go until they have someone in the building, making it very hard for signings to be made.
Despite the limited activity, LUCAS BALL looks at who he thinks could be the main challengers for Championship promotion this campaign.
The Baggies have a seemingly tight-knit squad once more since the permanent appointment of former player Darren Moore as manager.
There have been few outgoings as yet, and the squad looks well-placed to mount a title challenge in the second tier in 2018-19.
Jonny Evans, the captain, did leave for a minimal fee to join Leicester after a relegation-release clause was activated.
The outgoings that have occurred have given Moore a chance to refresh an old squad with some younger talent.
Ben Foster, Boaz Myhill, James Morrison and Claudio Yacob have all left too (each of those were aged over 30) whilst Gregorz Krychowiak returned to PSG after a loan spell in the Midlands.
Former Millwall man Sean Dyche is interested in bringing Jay Rodriguez and Craig Dawson to Turf Moor for a combined fee of £35million, although the Baggies are said to want £40m. Nacer Chadli is also rumoured to be leaving the club, whilst Salomon Rondon is set to leave.
Moore re-revitalised the Baggies at the end of last season and almost led West Brom to a miraculous survival campaign.
The signing of Sam Johnstone looks to be an impressive one, however, after he did well for Aston Villa last season.
Stoke are another side who have somewhat of a rebuilding job on their hands this summer after Gary Rowett left Derby to become the new manager following Paul Lambert’s exit.
They have already made three signings, whilst Giannelli Imbula and Bojan have returned to the bet365 Stadium after loan spells away at Toulouse and Alaves respectively.
Benik Afobe’s surprise move from Wolves adds to Rowett’s striking options, while Oghenekaro Etebo and Adam Federici have also joined the club. Federici’s top-flight experience may prove useful as Stoke bid for an instant return to the Premier League.
As would be expected, a few players have already left the Potters, including Ramadan Sobhi and Lee Grant, with Xherdan Shaqiri expected to follow them after links to both Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks.
Rowett is a proven manager at this level and will aim for success once more, with much greater resources at his disposal.
Frank Lampard will be hoping to better the success of his former England midfield partner Steven Gerrard as the two take their first steps into management at the same time.
While they have had to cut back their spending this year, I expect Lampard to be extremely successful at Pride Park due to his seemingly excellent understanding of the game from his experience as a pundit on both the BBC and BT Sport. They have maintained the bulk of their squad, with only four players leaving so far – two of which spent the second half of last season on loan at Millwall (Jason Shackell) and Burton Albion (Darren Bent).
They are currently in talks with Chelsea over a move for youngster Kasey Palmer and had a bid rejected for Brentford winger Florian Jozefzoon last week, both of which would add more attacking threat to the squad.
Their weaknesses bore through against Fulham in the play-offs, something that Lampard and his new backroom team (including Jody Morris) will need to address.
Millwall boss Neil Harris has already said that anyone who finishes above Middlesbrough this season will go up to the Premier League. Tony Pulis has moved quickly to strengthen his defence – a problem position for Boro last season and normally an area the former Crystal Palace chief gets right.
Antonio Barragan has left the club, while Aden Flint joined from Bristol City for £8m – a centre half who provides a huge threat at the other end of the pitch due to his height. Paddy McNair has moved to the Riverside from Sunderland, adding versatility to the ranks given he can play as both a centre-back and central midfielder.
The former Stoke and West Brom manager is keen to add James Morrison to his squad too, according to reports, which would re-unite the Welsh manager with the ex-West Brom midfielder. Pulis clearly believes his creativity and delivery is still a worthwhile asset to a second tier side, something which Darren Moore was obviously not convinced on.
How Millwall could fare in 2018-19
The Lions have made just the one signing so far, that of centre-back Murray Wallace from Scunthorpe United after he impressed again in League One last season.
Neil Harris will be keen to ensure that ‘second-season syndrome’ does not set in for Millwall, as they again look to upset the odds in the second tier.
Missing out on Ben Marshall dealt a blow to transfer activity but Harris remains hopeful of bringing in the players that he needs ahead of the transfer deadline on August 9.
Provided they do bring in some fresh faces, it looks set to be another mid-table finish for the Lions, and possibly a play-off push if Harris can repeat the early 2018 momentum in 2018-19.
It’ll be a tough ask but the club’s record-goalscorer-turned-manager won’t let standards slip, as emphasised by his activity on the touchline at Dartford on Saturday.
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