Could this year’s race to the Premier League be the toughest yet?

The Championship is already the 5th biggest league in European football and with the new season kicking off in less than three week it looks to be one of the hardest campaigns yet in the race to the promised land of the Premier League.

There are only six teams in the league who have not had previous experience in the Premier League and there are number of sides that have had long-term spells in the top-flight and will be looking to return there this season.

The likes of former double European Cup winner’s Nottingham Forest, Leeds United with their intensive history and recently relegated West Ham are all clubs associated with the higher echelons of the English game, not the second tier.

These sorts of clubs are capable of attracting high-profile managerial names such as former England manager’s Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren who will both be looking to set their career back on the right-path with Leicester City and Nottingham Forest respectively.

West Ham’s new man at the helm, Sam Allardyce is a highly regarded manager in the lower regions of the Premier League and probably one of the main reasons why both Bolton and Blackburn are now established clubs in the Premier League. Although the football under ‘Big Sam’ won’t be that pretty, I don’t think Hammers fans will mind if come the end of the campaign they are back in the top tier of English football.

Then you have the other relegated teams, Birmingham City and Blackpool who will both be hoping for an instant return to the Premier League. Birmingham have recovered from losing Alex McLeish to rivals Villa by appointing Chris Houghton as boss. Houghton did an excellent job taking Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and Birmingham fans will be hoping he can repeat his magic at St Andrews this term. Blackpool may have lost key men in Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell but under Ian Holloway they still stand a chance of challenging this year and also have the benefit of parachute payments to help them achieve an quick return.

Leicester City look like title contenders after their summer spending and they have made a statement of intent with their high-quality signings. They have strengthened an already established team and I would not be surprised if it didn’t pay off with a promotion season under Sven.

Another team who could be in with a shout are Reading who will still be picking themselves up from the disappointment of their playoff final defeat to Swansea but the success of their season may hang on keeping last year’s squad together.

Other clubs who will be disappointed not to be involved in the playoffs in May are Burnley who under Eddie Howe look a good bet to have a better campaign after a transition season last term. The list goes on of teams who will be in with a reasonable chance of competing for the playoffs.

Middlesbrough who ended last season in impressive fashion will be hoping to continue this improvement and mount a push, while Ipswich look a lot stronger this year and under Paul Jewell have a manager with experience of reaching the Premier League.

Add teams like Hull City, Bristol City, Cardiff City, Milwall, Portsmouth and Watford to the equation and you can see just how tough it will be this year, with all these outfits looking for a place in the higher reaches of the league.

Then you have to consider the three promoted teams who all have plenty of cash to spend after winning promotion from League One. Southampton look an outside bet for playoffs under the leadership of Nigel Adkins as do Brighton who will be in a new home with over 18,000 season ticket holders. Both could well upset the odds this season and repeat Norwich’s trick of a double promotion.

The new Championship season is set to one of the most competitive ever and it will be hard to predict the winner in any game making it very difficult for even the biggest of teams. I expect to see a few of these major teams disappointed at the end of the year and trying to pick out of any of the teams that will finish in the playoffs is a bit of lottery, a lottery worth an estimated £90m to the victor. I can’t wait for it to kick off now!