Having asked fans around the Championship about how they think the new season will turn out, we thought we’d do the same with some of our writers. We’ve asked them how Reading’s season will go, the players we should look out for and what might happen in the rest of the division.
Up for this are editor Simeon Pickup, assistant editor and podcast host Marc Mayo, assistant editors Olly Allen and Adam Jones, and ‘View From The Dolan’ writer Ben Thomas. Please send any complaints to their respective Twitter pages.
How do you expect Reading to get on this season?
AJ: I think I said 13th in the final podcast of last season - but little did I know we would make major changes just weeks before the start of this campaign! We have the ingredients to go on and do well. However, I think it’s likely we will have a slow start with Paunovic’s quarantine shenanigans and the current lack of signings. I’ll go with 16th.
MM: Inconsistently. The Pauno era might well get off to a good start but, as this side has proven time and time again, other teams find it quite easy to work us out. I do believe the new boss will be flexible, according to our friends in Chicago, but not everything will work and that will send us bouncing around mid-table. 19th.
BT: 17th - I expect we will end the season with a different manager. We will start poorly and be near the foot of the table, before results pick up around and after Christmas, much like last season.
OA: After the last few weeks, I honestly have no idea. We’re heading into the unknown and I’m not sure if I’m scared or excited. Relegation doesn’t worry me based on the lack of quality in other sides, but equally we’re hardly likely to trouble those at the top of the league. Based on our recent managerial record, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Pauno didn’t make it until the end of the season either. It might well end up being a fairly similar season to the last one, so I’ll say 15th.
SP: This season’s impossible to predict really; it could come together brilliantly, fall apart horrifically or end in another frustrating mid-table slog. Although I am overall optimistic - we’ve got some quality players and some younger talent that should progress well this season - Pauno’s lack of experience, not to mention the general turmoil behind the scenes, means I’m concerned at the same time. I’ll say that Reading will have a slow start, pick up and finish 10th.
Who will our key player be?
SP: I’ve got different answers depending on how you define ‘key player’. The best in our squad is John Swift - he’s one of the most creative players in the division and makes the whole team tick. If we’re to target promotion this season, keeping him on the books and continuing to get the best out of him will be key.
But our most important player is certainly Lucas Joao. Besides his knack for goalscoring, his hold-up play and ability to bring others into the game give the team another element. When he’s out, we miss his all-round presence hugely.
OA: It’s remarkable how much better the side looks with Lucas Joao in it, and you only have to look how our form suffered when he was injured last season. If he can stay fit, he could well score 20 goals. Might be a big if though.
MM: John Swift, if he doesn’t go. But I expect he will, if we start by being average and a couple of Premier League clubs get panicky later in the window. So we will turn to Lucas Joao. Scoring goals was the big problem last season and he is the only man who has the all-round game to occupy the lone striker role.
AJ: The guys have already mentioned Lucas Joao and I would 100% agree with that. However, Yakou Meite has performed well under multiple managers including Paul Clement, Jose Gomes and Mark Bowen. The winger/forward can be unbelievably frustrating at times with his first touch - but there’s no doubt he can score. If he can improve on a few aspects of his game, the sky is the limit for him and I think he will perform well again this season.
BT: Andy Rinomhota. Showing a lot of experience already for such a young player. Solid in possession and is able to get forward with increasingly effective results.
One to watch out for?
MM: Ethan Bristow. If we cannot sign another left-back, the academy product’s starting role versus Colchester could be telling that he is to get a big chance in the first-team this year. Omar Richards is a good but not spectacular defender, so there is a real chance for Bristow or Imari Samuels to make a mark.
BT: If we don’t sign any more full backs, I expect Ethan Bristow to become more involved in the match day squads.
OA: Is Michael Olise still eligible for this? He had somewhat of a breakthrough season last year but he’s likely to get even better in 2020/21. Being given the number seven shirt suggests he’ll have a fairly prominent role, and he’s just an absolute joy to watch glide around the pitch. Hard to believe he’s still only 18 years old.
AJ: There is a lot of hype surrounding Tom McIntyre and rightly so but keep an eye out for Tom Holmes. The central defender performed admirably against Tottenham Hotspur despite their strength in attack. Just one or two injuries/suspensions could put him firmly in contention for a place in the starting lineup. I hope we can keep hold of him and use him to our benefit in 2020/21!
SP: Get his confidence up and work out how to use him properly, and George Puscas will score goals for fun. His first season in England was a decent debut campaign, netting 14 in all competitions, but there’s much more to come from him.
Who’s getting promoted this season?
OA: I think Norwich City have recruited well following relegation and in general seem to have a good plan and structure in place to challenge at the top again. Watford also look well-placed to go straight back up with plenty of Premier League quality left in their squad. Finally, I saw Brentford’s play-off final defeat last season as only delaying the inevitable and it is surely a matter of time before they go up - they’re so well run that heartbreak at Wembley and the loss of Ollie Watkins is unlikely to deter them.
SP: Norwich City and Brentford will be the two teams to beat for me. Both are sensible, well-run clubs who’ve put together quality sides that play very good football. Although both will have to overcome some trauma - relegation and losing at Wembley respectively - they’re stable enough to brush that off and get promoted automatically. They’ll be joined by Nottingham Forest through the play-offs. They’ve done well under Sabri Lamouchi and I fancy them, with the canny addition of Lyle Taylor, to get over the line.
AJ: Brentford have been working towards promotion for a while now and you feel it’s only a matter of time before they go up. Despite losing Watkins, they will be in a good place to gain promotion - and perhaps win the league. Watford will also be contenders and I can’t help but feel they will gain promotion even if they have to make a change managerially. Norwich City have recruited very well so far this summer by making some shrewd signings. Daniel Farke staying provides stability - and that will work in their favour. This could help them win the playoffs.
BT: Norwich will be champions. The rest is hard to call. If Brentford can overcome the new stadium syndrome and keep the squad together, they have a chance. The Welsh sides will be strong. I’ll settle for Brentford and Swansea to join Norwich.
MM: Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth. Boring, I know.
And the three relegated teams?
AJ: Luton Town narrowly escaped relegation last year - but I don’t think they will be able to escape it again this year, even under Nathan Jones who has done well in Bedfordshire before. Recently-promoted side Coventry City are up against it but their fans deserve success after instability off the pitch in recent years. Sheffield Wednesday also face a major uphill battle after their points deduction - and that must be a huge blow psychologically to Garry Monk. They may just fall through the trap door. I have a weird feeling Wycombe may just make a great escape.
SP: Sheffield Wednesday would need mid-table form at least to stay up, and this side isn’t good enough for that. Neighbours Rotherham United for me won’t have enough to stay in the division, continuing their yo-yo run between the second and third tiers, and they’ll be joined in relegation by Luton Town, who’ll come out on the wrong end of a relegation dogfight with Wycombe Wanderers.
OA: As much as I’ll be rooting for them, I think this season is going to be a real struggle for Wycombe Wanderers. Their story is a fairytale, but it’s a big step up to an unforgiving league. Likewise, Coventry City did superbly to earn promotion when not even playing in their own stadium, but haven’t added enough Championship experience or quality to their squad. Sheffield Wednesday’s points deduction leaves them in a perilous position, and although I think they’ll come close to surviving, it might be too much of a mountain to climb.
MM: Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe and Rotherham. Huddersfield are my outside bet if Wednesday can get on an early run.
BT: Luton, Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe - in that order.
Who are you watching out for in the rest of the Championship?
OA: Rather a what than a who, but more points deductions. In Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday, we’ve seen more Championship clubs docked points for financial irregularities in the last two seasons than the previous 11 combined. That trend is only set to continue due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that some business models in this league are just absolutely crazy - and that includes Reading’s.
AJ: It’s hard to admit this - but I am always fascinated to see how Neil Warnock does regardless of the team he manages. Over the years, he has established himself as a brilliant manager at this level and as he approaches the end of his managerial career, he will want to do as well as he can before he bows out.
BT: Kieffer Moore at Cardiff is a great signing. It will be interested to see how Rob Dickie gets on at QPR and Ethan Pinnock at Brentford who looks a really lovely player.
MM: Stoke still have a really decent squad and popped up with some surprise routs at the back end of last year. I expect them to remember how to play football more consistently now Michael O’Neill has got his feet under the table. And, as much as it pains me to say it, never count against a Warnock revival up at Boro.
SP: How well Wycombe Wanderers do. It’s been the classic fairytale story of a small club succeeding against the odds so far for them, and avoiding the drop in 2020/21 would cap all their previous achievements. As previously mentioned, I think they’ll just about be able to stay up - due to Gareth Ainsworth’s management and the collective spirit they’ve got going there.