The Sky Bet Championship is rightly regarded as one of the most exciting leagues anywhere and another season of unrelenting drama gets underway tonight.
Burnley, who return to second-tier football following six seasons as a Premier League club, get the action underway with a visit to beaten play-off finalists Huddersfield Town.
The match marks the starting gun for another marathon of 46 rounds of fixtures, divided this time around by the Qatar World Cup in November and December which will see a four-week mid-season break.
Fulham won last season’s Championship but who will succeed them in the season to come?
As a result, the fixture list will be more congested than ever, adding even more of a chaos factor to a league often noted for its unpredictability.
League One and League Two also get started this weekend and while they won’t be breaking for the World Cup, we can still expect plenty of entertainment ahead.
Ahead of this weekend’s big kick-off, Sportsmail looks at the main talking points in the EFL.
GOOD KOMPANY AT BURNLEY
A summer of considerable upheaval at Turf Moor as Burnley contemplate life in the Championship for the first time since 2016.
Sean Dyche is long gone now and so too the pillars of his Clarets team that defied gravity for so long in the top-flight.
Ben Mee has moved to Brentford, James Tarkowski has joined Everton and could be followed by the talented Dwight McNeil, while Nathan Collins (Wolves) and Nick Pope (Newcastle) have been sold to soften the financial blow of relegation.
Vincent Kompany is the new man in charge of Burnley as they look to return to the top flight
It has left a big rebuilding job for new manager Vincent Kompany. The former Manchester City captain, 36, remains a big name in the English game and arrives after three seasons leading Anderlecht.
Perhaps it’s little surprise Kompany has returned to his old club City for goalkeeper Arijanet Muric and defenders CJ Egan-Riley and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, the latter on loan.
The most exciting signing, however, is Scott Twine, named League One player of the season for his dynamic attacking midfield performances at MK Dons. He scored 20 goals and assisted 13 more as they reached the play-offs.
Scott Twine was the League One Player of the Season in 2021-22 and earned a move to Burnley
Although Kompany has said he wishes to retain the elements of a visit to Turf Moor that opponents hate, his style of football will certainly be more progressive than ‘Dycheball’.
Ordinarily, a relegated team would be strong favourite to bounce straight back but there remains a lot of uncertainty over how Burnley will get on following such sweeping changes.
YO-YO CLUBS ON THE UP AGAIN?
Far more fancied by the bookies to make an immediate top-flight return are Norwich City and Watford.
Both have yo-yoed between first and second tiers with dizzying regularity in recent years but the accumulation of cash from just one Premier League season at a time puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the Championship.
It means Norwich can go out and buy Brazilian midfielder Gabriel Sara from Sao Paulo in a deal that could eventually reach £12million with various add-ons.
The Canaries will hope Sara can offer the same kind of creativity as Emiliano Buendia did the last time they strolled to the title.
Norwich will look to Teemu Pukki again to deliver the goals given his fine Championship record
Manager Dean Smith has concentrated more on keeping the core of the team together this summer rather than wholesale changes and as a result they have many proven Championship performers.
Finnish striker Teemu Pukki will be licking his lips once again – his last two Championship campaigns have yielded 29 and 26 goals respectively, as opposed to 11 in each of his Premier League seasons.
Watford’s season could be more volatile but that’s hardly a novelty given their owners have made it the hottest managerial hotseat in football.
Rob Edwards, an eyebrow-raising appointment given he’s had only one season in professional football with Forest Green Rovers, had better hit the ground running.
Vakoun Issouf Bayo, an Ivory Coast international, is the eye-catching arrival at Watford
He is Watford’s eighth permanent manager in a little over four years but does come with a reputation for attractive football and has a very good squad for this level at his disposal.
The likes of Moussa Sissoko, Andre Gray and Ben Foster have moved on but the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis remain, at least for the time being.
Offensive options have also been boosted by the signings of Ivory Coast international Vakoun Bayo from Sporting Charleroi and Albanian Rey Manaj from Barcelona.
You’d expect both clubs to be right up there come the end of the season.
Rob Edwards was the surprising choice as Watford’s manager after success with Forest Green
BAGGIES BOUNCE BACK?
West Brom wilted in the bright glare of promotion expectation last season. Valerien Ismael wasn’t precisely what they were looking for but had them in the top six until he got the boot in February.
Under his replacement Steve Bruce, they collapsed miserably into mid-table. But Bruce has won promotion from this division four times and you can never discount a fifth.
They’ve focused on adding creativity to the side with the free signings of John Swift from Reading and Jed Wallace from Millwall, who should both help with the chance creation for forwards Daryl Dike and Karlan Grant.
John Swift scores for West Bromwich Albion during a pre-season game with Hertha Berlin
Given the Baggies were the lowest scorers in the top half of the table last season, it didn’t take much detective work to identify where the problem was.
We can expect an improvement this time around and they are expected to challenge Norwich and Watford for the top two.
THE PROMOTION PICTURE
Elsewhere, a cluster of clubs will be dreaming of making the Premier League either automatically or through the play-offs.
Middlesbrough have Chris Wilder at the helm and he masterminded Sheffield United’s elevation in 2019. Performances gradually improved after Wilder replaced Neil Warnock last November but in the end they fell just short of sixth.
Left-sided midfielder Ryan Giles, who has come in on loan from Wolves, offered extensive experience at this level and should be an effective wing-back.
Ryan Giles in action for Middlesbrough during their pre-season friendly against Marseille
Having made the play-offs last term, you can’t discount Wilder’s old club from Bramall Lane.
Morgan Gibbs-White, who played a hand in 23 Blades goals last season, has returned to parent club Wolves and the challenge is to replace his threat.
Paul Heckingbottom has brought in young Manchester City talent Tommy Doyle as well as Brighton’s Reda Khadra on loan, with Ciaran Clark and Anel Ahmedhodzic signed to strengthen the back line.
Nothing would surprise us with Luton, who reached last season’s play-offs, because Nathan Jones is such a canny operator.
He has bolstered his attacking options by signing the Barnsley duo Cauley Woodrow and Carlton Morris, and the Hatters specialise in upsetting better-resourced opponents.
Sonny Bradley celebrates with team-mates after scoring for Luton in a friendly with West Ham
Swansea are ones to watch. Russell Martin was only appointed six days before last season started and they couldn’t ultimately elevate themselves above mid-table. A 4-0 thrashing of Cardiff in April was a glimpse of good things, however.
With a full pre-season on the training ground, the return to Wales of Joe Allen and a raid on old club MK Dons for defender Harry Darling, the Swans could once more be a play-off contender.
The likes of Preston, Millwall, QPR, Stoke, Blackburn, Coventry and Bristol City will all be looking towards a play-off challenge too.
Joe Allen poses with the Swansea City shirt after coming back to Wales from Stoke City
SUNDERLAND ARE BACK
It may have to be one step at a time for Sunderland, however, after they finally escaped League One after four purgatorial seasons there.
Alex Neil was the man who guided them back to the Championship via the play-offs, to the enormous relief of a club that averaged over 30,000 at the Stadium of Light last season.
The first mission is to avoid being sucked into a relegation fight and Neil has moved for a couple of young defenders in Daniel Ballard from Arsenal and Aji Alese from West Ham to shore things up.
Sunderland are finally back in the Championship after a succession of painful seasons
Sunderland have also made permanent two of last season’s loanees in Jack Clarke and Leon Dajaku.
They suffered just one defeat in 18 games under Neil after he took over last season and will hope that momentum will continue.
IN RELEGATION TROUBLE
Inevitably, the sides that have just come up from League One are among bookmakers’ favourites to go straight back down.
That’s especially true in the case of Rotherham and Wigan, who have spent the last few years flip-flopping between the second and third levels.
Wigan have been quiet in the market and seem to be relying on the togetherness of their title-winning squad, while Rotherham have hardly been helped by losing key players Michael Ihiekwe and Michael Smith to Sheffield Wednesday.
Wigan are back in the second tier but naturally rank as immediate favourites to go down again
Fans of Birmingham City should be worried despite a takeover by former Barcelona striker Maxi Lopez and businessman Paul Richardson inching closer.
While the EFL have granted the consortium exclusivity in talks, CEO Trevor Birch said this week the buy-out remained in the ‘very early stages’.
Manager Lee Bowyer was sacked in early July and replaced by John Eustace but the off-field uncertainty have hampered efforts to bolster the squad after a 20th-place finish last season.
Reading also sailed close to the wind last term and Paul Ince knows he’s likely in for another season of struggle.
Incomings, which include the manager’s son Tom, have all been freebies or loans.
Tom Ince was bought in by dad Paul at Reading as they gear up for the campaign ahead
Championship opening weekend
Huddersfield Town vs Burnley (8pm)
3pm kick-off unless stated
Blackburn Rovers vs Queens Park Rangers
Blackpool vs Reading
Cardiff City vs Norwich City
Hull City vs Bristol City
Luton Town vs Birmingham City
Millwall vs Stoke City
Rotherham United vs Swansea City
Wigan Athletic vs Preston North End
Middlesbrough vs West Bromwich Albion (5.30pm)
Sunderland vs Coventry City (12pm)
Watford vs Sheffield United (8pm)
DERBY PREPARE FOR LIFE IN LEAGUE ONE
For the first time since 1985-86, Derby County will start a new season in the third division.
The 2021-22 campaign was one of existential crisis for the club but at least the future looks rosier following the takeover by local property developer David Clowes in July.
It means the Rams are out of administration after nine months and the partial lifting of a transfer embargo has seen them bring in a host of free signings, including Conor Hourihane, David McGoldrick and James Chester.
Derby boss Liam Rosenior is preparing his side for the club’s first third-tier season since 1986
Wayne Rooney has left for Washington, leaving Liam Rosenior to attempt to mesh together a mixture of youth and experience to put Derby in the promotion picture.
They were utterly defiant last season and would have been safe by some margin but for points deductions. If they can harness that fighting spirit again, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge.
THIRD CLASS GIANTS
Derby find themselves in a land of giants in League One and all of them believe they should be playing at least one level higher.
Sunderland may have escaped, but this season’s line-up still features Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth, Ipswich, Charlton and Bolton.
Wednesday are the bookies’ favourites for promotion, having lost out narrowly to Sunderland in the play-off semi-final.
Lee Gregory shoots during Sheffield Wednesday’s play-off semi-final loss to Sunderland
The pressure from their big fanbase will be on Darren Moore but he’s recruited well with the aforementioned Rotherham duo and Will Vaulks from Cardiff.
Ipswich are positively itching to get out of the division after three underwhelming mid-table seasons and things did improve when Kieran McKenna came in from Manchester United back in December.
They’ve signed Freddie Ladapo from Rotherham, who scored 11 goals at this level last season, as well as defensive midfielder Dominic Ball from QPR.
Peterborough and MK Dons will also expect to have a say in the promotion conversation, while Ian Evatt’s Bolton had a lot of momentum behind them during the second half of last season.
Kieran McKenna improved Ipswich last season – can they push on towards the Championship?
League One openers
All 3pm kick offs
Accrington Stanley vs Charlton Athletic
Bristol Rovers vs Forest Green Rovers
Cambridge United vs MK Dons
Cheltenham Town vs Peterborough United
Derby County vs Oxford United
Ipswich Town vs Bolton Wanderers
Lincoln City vs Exeter City
Morecambe vs Shrewsbury Town
Plymouth Argyle vs Barnsley
Port Vale vs Fleetwood Town
Sheffield Wednesday vs Portsmouth
Wycombe vs Burton Albion
League Two openers
All 3pm kick offs
AFC Wimbledon vs Gillingham
Bradford City vs Doncaster Rovers
Carlisle United vs Crawley Town
Harrogate Town vs Swindon Town
Leyton Orient vs Grimsby Town
Northampton Town vs Colchester United
Rochdale vs Crewe Alexandra
Salford City vs Mansfield Town
Stockport County vs Barrow
Sutton United vs Newport County
Tranmere Rovers vs Stevenage
Walsall vs Hartlepool United
STOCKPORT vs SALFORD IN LEAGUE TWO?
The new League Two campaign looks intriguing. Stockport County have returned to the EFL after 11 years in the non-league wilderness and some are tipping them to win a second consecutive promotion.
Their squad was too strong for the National League and should have plenty of firepower to launch a promotion charge up to League One.
Mark Hughes will hope to bring a fresh lease of life to Bradford City, another former Premier League club languishing in the lower levels.
Stockport County returned to the EFL at the end of last season after 11 years away
It was a big drop down the divisions for Hughes, formerly manager of six top-flight clubs, but he insists the fires burn as brightly as ever.
And you can never rule out Salford, the rich kids of League Two. The Class of 92 owners replaced Gary Bowyer with former Man United academy coach Neil Wood at the end of last season.
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
EFL highlights are set to return to ITV after a number of years elsewhere. All the day’s action from all three divisions will be shown each Saturday at 9pm on ITV4, with a late night rerun on ITV.
There will be a Sunday morning repeat on the main channel at 9.25am and the programme will be available on demand on ITV Hub.
Jules Breach and Hugh Woozencroft will front the show and be joined by a panel of pundits.
Meanwhile, EFL referees have been told to clamp down on time wasting and to adopt a higher threshold of penalising contact in tackles to keep the games flowing.
Although last season’s play-off finals at Wembley had VAR in operation, it won’t be in place for the season to come.