EFL season preview: What is in store for Cardiff, Swansea and Newport?

The English Football League season kicks off this weekend and, after an extended 2019-20 campaign packed with highs and lows, the three Welsh clubs are ready to do it all over again.

In the Championship, Cardiff City and Swansea City will aim to build on promising seasons which saw them both miss out on promotion after losing in the play-off semi-finals.

And in League Two, Newport County will dust themselves off after six months of inactivity as they look to improve on a mid-table finish last time out.

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Cardiff City (Championship, last season: 5th)

What was their story last season?

Having lasted only one season in the Premier League, Cardiff made a shaky return to the Championship which led to the departure of manager Neil Warnock in November with the Bluebirds 14th in the table.

In came former Millwall boss Neil Harris, who oversaw a gradual improvement which took Cardiff to within two points of the play-offs when the coronavirus pandemic brought football to a halt in March.

Cardiff were superb when the season resumed in June and surged into the top six before losing to Fulham in the play-off semi-finals.

What do they need for promotion?

Despite finishing the season as the Championship's fourth highest goalscorers, Cardiff sometimes lacked a focal point to their attack with Lee Tomlin their top scorer with eight league goals.

With that in mind, Harris made Wales striker Kieffer Moore his first signing of the summer transfer window, spending £2m to recruit the big target man from Wigan Athletic.

Money is otherwise a little tight as Championship clubs count the cost of the coronavirus pandemic and all its financial effects, so Harris has turned to the loan market to add Arsenal right-back Jordi Osei-Tutu and Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo to his squad.

Harris might want to add a little more strength in depth - particularly at right-back, where Osei-Tutu is the only specialist - while there may be a vacancy out wide after Nathaniel Mendez-Laing's surprise exit, but the squad looks capable of mounting another promotion challenge.

Kieffer Moore
Kieffer Moore has scored three goals in his eight appearances for Wales

Key player: Kieffer Moore

The Wales striker seems ready-made for Cardiff's style, which remains direct despite a couple of tweaks under Harris. Moore, who scored 10 goals despite Wigan's relegation last season, is a handful at 6ft 5in but also skilful, capable of linking play between attack and midfield.

Signings: Kieffer Moore (Wigan Athletic, £2m), Jordi Osei-Tutu (Arsenal, loan), Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool, loan).

Departures: Danny Ward (Huddersfield, free), Ciaron Brown (Livingston, loan), Jazz Richards, Matthew Connolly, Omar Bogle (all released), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (contract terminated).

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Swansea City (Championship, last season: 6th)

How did they fare last season?

After a second successive summer of severe cost-cutting, Swansea unexpectedly flew out of the blocks at the start of last season and initially kept pace with the Championship's top two.

But they soon ran out of gas, a young side struggling for consistency under the guidance of new head coach Steve Cooper, who made excellent use of the loan market and his contacts from his time in charge of England Under-17s.

The Swans improved when competition resumed in the summer and reached the play-offs on a ridiculously dramatic final night of the season, before eventually succumbing to Brentford in the play-off semi-finals.

Steve Cooper with Swansea's players
Swansea beat Brentford in the first leg of their play-off semi-final but lost on aggregate

Money's tight again. What about this season?

Given the number of players on loan at the Liberty Stadium last season, there was always going to be a relatively high turnover of players this summer - but Cooper will be happy to have retained the nucleus of his side.

Goalkeeper Freddie Woodman and defender Marc Guehi have returned on loan, while yet another former England youth international - Wolves midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White - has also joined on loan for the season.

Korey Smith is a sensible signing in midfield but Swansea appear to lack strength in depth up front now that Rhian Brewster has returned to Liverpool after an impressive loan spell.

If Andre Ayew stays and sustains his goalscoring form - and perhaps if Cooper signs another forward - the Swans would appear to have the tools for another top-six finish.

Key player: Joe Rodon

The 22-year-old Wales centre-back's enormous potential has seen him linked with a Premier League move over the past two seasons, but his progress has been hampered by injuries. If Rodon can stay fit, he could be a real asset for Swansea alongside fellow young centre-backs Guehi and Ben Cabango.

Signings: Jamal Lowe (Wigan Athletic, £800,000), Korey Smith (Bristol City, free), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United, loan), Marc Guehi (Chelsea, loan), Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves, loan).

Departures: Mike van der Hoorn (Arminia Bielefeld, free transfer), Erwin Mulder (Heerenveen, free transfer), Nathan Dyer, Jefferson Montero, Courtney Baker-Richardson (all released).

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Newport County (League Two, last season: 14th)

Last season did not happen for them, did it?

Not after the high of the play-off final the season before, no.

Manager Mike Flynn is adamant County could have pushed into the top half had the season not been curtailed by coronavirus, but a club that normally punches above its weight could not quite land enough blows in the league before it all ended early.

Are they in better shape this time around?

It looks that way. Thanks to their money-spinning FA Cup exploits in recent years, the pandemic did not hit the Exiles as hard financially as some others.

The uncertainty did see Flynn have to put contracts and transfers on hold for a while, but he has responded well by signing a bit of youth on loan and experience on frees.

Liam Shephard - whose father was a Newport hero in non-league football - is a useful addition, while how 41-year-old Kevin Ellison does will be fascinating.

Kevin Ellison
Kevin Ellison taunts Newport's fans after Morecambe beat the Exiles in 2017

Dubbed Lord Voldermort for his record against Newport while playing for League Two rivals, the veteran was snapped up by former team-mate Flynn after his release from Morecambe. Word is he is among the fittest in the squad.

Oh, and they have already got another cup scalp to their name after knocking Swansea out of the Carabao Cup - and looking impressive as they did it, too.

Key player: Padraig Amond

The striker has 50 goals for Newport but his total of 13 last term was his lowest since arriving three years ago.

A lack of goals all round cost County last season, so if the 32-year-old can hit form it could have a big say in Newport's fate.

Signings: Scot Bennett (re-signed after being released), David Longe-King (free agent), Ryan Taylor (free agent), Liam Shephard (free agent), Kevin Ellison (free agent), Saikou Janneh (Bristol City, loan), Scott Twine (Swindon Town, loan), Brandon Cooper (Swansea City, loan).

Departures: Mark O'Brien (retired), Corey Whitely (Boreham Wood, loan), Mavel Ekpiteta (Ebbsfleet, loan), Daniel Leadbitter (Yeovil, loan), Jamille Matt, Dominic Poleon, Dom Jeffries, Momodou Touray, Jay Foulston (all released).