The new season gets underway this weekend for Villa, Blues, Walsall and Wolves so we've had a look at what's new, including the takeovers, the transfers and the title chances.
Talks of a takeover have dominated the sports pages in Wolverhampton this summer as Steve Morgan finally sold the Club to Chinese international conglomerate and investment company Fosun, for an estimated figure of between £30m and £45m. New Wolverhampton Wanderers supremo Jeff Shi wasted little time in disposing of head coach Kenny Jackett and appointing eccentric former Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga as the new man at the helm. The former Italy international comes with an interesting managerial CV as Wolves becomes his 16th club in 18 years. As sceptical as some fans and journalists may be, Zenga insists that the Wolves job is not a risk and although he cannot promise promotion at his first attempt, he does promise that his Wolves players will give 100% in every game they play.
Fans’ favourite Kevin McDonald has been sold to Championship rivals Fulham for a rumoured fee of £1.2m and the likes of Bjorn Sigurdarson, Razak Boukari, Tommy Rowe, Zeli Ismail, Liam McAlinden and Aaron McCarey have all been released, whilst Adam Le Fondre and Emiliano Martinez return to their respected parent clubs. First team players Nouha Dicko, Jordan Graham, Ethan Ebanks-Landell & Michal Zyro are all set to miss the start of the season due to injury, which has left Wolves with a thin looking squad going into the start of the 2016/17 season. Wolves only signing of the summer came in the form of veteran goalkeeper Andy Lonergan who arrived on a free transfer from Fulham.
Jeff Shi stated in his first press conference that money would not be an issue when it came to the purchasing of players for his new club. He has also said that football agent Jorge Mendes is a close friend of his and that the super-agent will be working closely with Wolves to help bring in players. Lisbon born Mendes has wasted no time in bringing in Portuguese trio Sílvio (free transfer), João Teixeira and Hélder Costa (both loans), which was then followed up with the £1m signing of 6ft 2” Icelandic Striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who became Wolves fourth signing in five days. Heavy links to Benfica man Anderson Talisca for a reported €25 million has had Wolves fans licking their lips and refreshing their social media feeds in excitement but as of yet there has been no confirmation from either club or players representatives’. It’s going to be an interesting month or so before the transfer window slams shut, and it seems Wolves have an endless pot of money to spend on new players. This being all well and good, but with Zenga only being appointed six days before the start of the season, it’s going to take some wizardry and hard work for the new manager to mould his new team together. Is this season just a rebuilding process or can Wolves mount a promotion challenge?
thebestofBirmingham prediction: 5th
Championship winners odds: 16/1
A summer of optimism for some Villans after Tony Xia and the Recon group bought the Club from Randy Lerner. Whilst some fans remain sceptical of the Chinese billionaire, most fans will be looking to put last season’s horror show behind them. When Lerner took over ‘Proud History, Bright Future’ was the rhetoric, but this time it’s much more specific. Tony wants to take Villa back to the top, with a domination, the likes of which, the Villa fans haven’t seen since the Victorian and Georgian eras.
Aston Villa have wasted no time in the transfer market bringing in Pierluigi Gollini from Italy, Championship winning captain Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth, highly rated youngster Aaron Tshibola from Reading and the most recent, headline catching signing is of course Ross McCormack from Fulham, who could be the difference between Villa finishing 12th and second. The exit door has also been in use this summer as Brad Guzan departed for Premier League Middlesbrough, Ciaran Clark joined Championship title favourites Newcastle United after his release clause was activated, Idrissa Gueye joined Everton in a similar fashion, and Carles Gil has gone on a season long loan to Deportivo de La Coruña. Other significant departures include both Charles N’Zogbia and Kieran Richardson, however there are still a number of other players whose future at the club is uncertain, with Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, Leandro Bacuna and Gabby Agbonlahor being linked with moves away from Villa Park.
If the recent Middlesbrough friendly is anything to go by, then Villa’s return to the second tier could be a difficult one, though with new championship record signing, Ross McCormack up front, the Villans could also go all the way. With Newcastle United favourites for the title, the pressure may be slightly off Villa as they push for promotion at the first time of asking, though expectations could still be high.
thebestofBirmingham prediction: 6th
Championship winners Odds – 12/1
The Blues have managed to keep hold of Manager Gary Rowett going into the new season, and while Villa, Wolves and the Baggies have changed ownership, the Blues remain under the same regime, and there has been no significant investment for the Small Heath side this summer, leaving the two-time League Cup winners to rely on the expertise of Gary Rowett to get them another high finish this season.
With only Daniel Cleary and Robert Tesche coming through the door since the end of the last campaign, fans may be hoping for more, although the Blues are chasing Sheffield United’s Che Adams in a bid to bolster the squad for the upcoming season. Despite a lack of signings, the Blues faithful will be able to revel in the fact the kids looked decent against Kidderminster Harriers, especially former Paget Rangers man Jack Storer. The promise of talented youth will give Bluenoses hope for the future…perhaps another Demarai Gray is waiting on the wings?
With a lack of funds and investment it wouldn’t be a shock to see Rowett prised away from St. Andrew’s sooner or later, and in which case Blues could see themselves getting dragged into a relegation battle.
thebestofBirmingham prediction: 15th
Championship winners odds – 66/1
The only West Midlands team left in the Premier League, West Brom will hope to avoid the dreaded drop that close rivals have succumb to in recent years. However it’s almost a guarantee that a Tony Pullis side will stay in the league, so the Baggies shouldn’t be looking behind them too much this season, and instead focussing on moving in the opposite direction after it was announced they too have been taken over by Chinese billionaires.
Yet again Albion transfer news has been dominated by Saido Berahino, but this time it seems he may actually depart the Club and has been linked with a move up the M6 to Stoke-on-Trent. West Ham United’s Diafra Sakho was supposed to be the potential replacement but the deal has so far failed to materialise, and with the new owners we may see the Saido saga extended. It’s now a matter of waiting if anyone will join Matt Phillips, who completed a £5.5m move from Queens Park Rangers earlier in the window.
A similar finish to last season should be expected, safe and secure in the Premier League, as it might be too late in the window for the new ownership to have any meaningful effect…though that’s more than what can be said for their Midlands rivals though.
thebestoBirmingham prediction – 16th
Premier League winners odds – 1500/1
The Saddlers agonisingly missed out on automatic promotion last season by one point, as Burton Albion pipped them to second place. A 6-1 aggregate score in favour of Barnsley FC in the play-off semi-finals ensured Walsall will play their football in the third tier for a further season.
Failure to secure promotion has seen eight of last year’s squad leave the club, including key players Anthony Forde, Romaine Sawyers and top scorer Tom Bradshaw, who have all joined Championship clubs. The Saddlers who are known for their wheeling and dealing in the loan and free transfer market, have this summer broken their transfer record in signing Cypriot forward Andreas Makris for a fee of £300,000 from Anorthosis Famagusta. Makris scored 18 goals in 82 appearances for ΜεγÎ¬λη ΚυρÎ¯α and comes with big boots to fill in replacing the departing Bradshaw. Makris looks set to be partnered up top with free transfer Simeon Jackson. The Canadian international has a pedigree of scoring goals in the top five tiers of English football.
League One looks wide open this coming season, with several teams feeling they have a great chance to win the League. Walsall will be battling it out with the likes of Sheff Utd, Millwall, Bradford City, Peterborough United and Coventry City who all fell short last season along with relegated sides MK Dons, Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers. It could be a tough season for Jon Whitney’s side this year but if they can get off to a good start and build some consistency early doors like they did last season, then the they could certainly rustle some feathers.
thebestofBirmingham prediction: 12th
League 1 Winners Odds: 25/1