EFL 2016-17: Championship, League One & League Two preview

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Meet the 'new' Championship managers
2016-17 EFL season
Dates: 5 August, 2016 - 29 May, 2017 BBC coverage: Live commentaries on Radio 5 live, 5 live sports extra and local radio; match reports and live text coverage on BBC Sport website, including a new dedicated live text offering every Saturday

The Football League has a new name, new managers and an influx of new players for 2016-17.

A near 10-month slog for promotion spots, play-off places and survival begins on Friday when Fulham host relegated Newcastle in the Championship's opening fixture.

So why does this season of the rebranded EFL promise to be one of the biggest and best ever?

  • The Championship boasts two Champions League-winning managers and another boss who won it as a player.
  • According to transfermarkt.co.uk, clubs have spent in excess of £100m in a bid to emerge successful from a wide-open race to the Premier League.
  • Nine former Premier League sides will play in the bottom two tiers.

Hopefully that is enough to get you started...

European pedigree

Newcastle and Aston Villa have both turned to former Champions League winners as they aim to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Steven Gerrard and Rafael Benitez
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005, in their first season with Rafael Benitez as manager

Rafael Benitez improved Newcastle's results and performances in the closing weeks of the 2015-16 campaign but the Spaniard was unable to save the Magpies from the drop.

Even so, many supporters were desperate for Benitez to remain at the club and there was real delight on Tyneside when he agreed a three-year contract in May.

Roberto Di Matteo
Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League and the FA Cup during his eight months as Chelsea boss in 2012

A large majority of Villa fans were almost resigned to relegation from an early stage of 2015-16 and they went down with just three wins and 17 points to their name.

However, with new Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia in place and Roberto Di Matteo installed as manager, there is an opportunity for a fresh start at Villa Park as they prepare for their first year outside the top flight since 1987-88.

Di Matteo has won promotion out of the Championship before, with West Bromwich Albion in 2010.

Reading, meanwhile, have gone down a different route, offering a first senior managerial post to a former Champions League-winning player.

Gary Neville, David Beckham, Jaap Stam
Jaap Stam (right) was part of the Manchester United side which won the Champions League in 1999

Ex-Manchester United and Netherlands defender Jaap Stam replaced Brian McDermott in June, completing the trio of European champions in the second tier.

And it is not just the managers who boast success on the continent...

John Robertson and Kenny Burns

Villa and Nottingham Forest are both European Cup winners, Ipswich won the Uefa Cup in 1981, while Leeds, Fulham and Wolves have all been beaten finalists in a European competition.

Hey, big spenders

A leading group of financial analysts estimated that promotion to the Premier League was worth £170m last season. With those riches on offer, it is no surprise that Championship clubs are willing to spend big in an effort to reach the top flight.

Newcastle have led the way with eight new signings costing a reported £40m, a figure offset by the big-money sales of Andros Townsend and Georginio Wijnaldum to Crystal Palace and Liverpool respectively.

Villa have spent more than £12m on Reading midfielder Aaron Tshibola, Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and Bournemouth defender Tommy Elphick - before paying out a further £12m to bring in Fulham striker Ross McCormack on Thursday.

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Michael McGovern was Northern Ireland's man of the match against Germany

Norwich, the other club to be relegated from the Premier League, have added Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern on a free transfer. Their only financial outlay so far has been on two midfielders - Liverpool's Sergi Canos and Tottenham's Alex Pritchard.

Leeds, Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday and QPR have each spent in the region of £5m, and it is likely that Wolves will be active before the end of the transfer window following their £45m takeover by Chinese investment group Fosun International.

At the other end of the scale, Burton have broken their transfer record twice since being promoted to the Championship for the first time in their history in May.

Their previous record transfer? The £20,000 they paid Kidderminster for midfielder Russell Penn in 2009.

Lee Tomlin and Lee Johnson
Former loanee Lee Tomlin has returned to ambitious Bristol City, who finished 18th in the Championship last season

Anything can happen

Last season was the year of the underdog, as Leicester spectacularly proved by winning the Premier League title.

In the second tier, unfancied Brighton contended strongly for automatic promotion and Wednesday - albeit after substantial investment on new players - were beaten play-off finalists.

Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday lost 1-0 to Hull City in last season's Championship play-off final

Most, if not all, Championship clubs will feel they could challenge for the top six in 2016-17...

  • Brighton and Wednesday have strengthened after narrowly missing out last time around.
  • Nine sides start the season with new managers - will Nigel Pearson, Garry Monk, Philippe Montanier or Walter Zenga restore Derby, Leeds, Forest or Wolves to the top flight?
  • Huddersfield have been one of the busiest clubs in the transfer market, adding 12 new players.
  • Can Will Grigg remain on fire and achieve back-to-back promotions with League One champions Wigan Athletic?

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Northern Ireland players sing 'Will Grigg's on fire'

Davids and Goliaths in Leagues One and Two

Seven of the 24 clubs in League One have Premier League experience, with two of them due to meet in their opening game on Saturday.

Bolton v Sheffield United was a top-flight fixture in 2006-07. While the Blades were relegated that season, Bolton finished seventh and qualified for the Uefa Cup - a competition in which they would draw at Bayern Munich and beat Atletico Madrid over two legs.

Neil Warnock and Sam Allardyce
Bolton host Sheffield United on the opening day in League One, 10 years after Sam Allardyce (right) and Neil Warnock were managing them in the Premier League

At that time, AFC Wimbledon were a seventh-tier club and they will play in League One for the first time in their 14-year history following their play-off final win at Wembley in May.

Cheltenham and Grimsby were promoted from the National League last season, and will take on former Premier League clubs Blackpool and Portsmouth during their first year back in League Two.

Blackpool have dropped from the top flight to the fourth tier in the space of five years, and Gary Bowyer will become the ninth manager in that period to take charge of a Seasiders match when they host Exeter on Saturday.

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