The EFL is back and the upcoming campaign promises to be the most exciting one in recent memory.
While the Premier League remains the promised land, it’s the 72 clubs below who offer more drama than Eastenders and Coronation Street combined.
England’s second tier promises to be more competitive than ever, with 19 of the 24 clubs competing having played in the Premier League since its formation in 1992.
In an age where life in the top flight is the ultimate goal, it means that more than three-quarters of those competing will be desperate to get ‘back where they belong’.
League One will also add drama of a different kind with some of English football’s biggest names desperate to be back in the Championship mix after losing their way in recent campaigns.
Bolton, Charlton, Derby, Portsmouth and Wigan were top flight regulars in years gone by, meaning that they’ll be scrapping away to escape the clutches of traditional minnows Leyton Orient, Stevenage and Carlisle who will be desperate to claim a big scalp or two this term.
The fourth tier also promises to be as competitive as ever, however most eyes will be on Salford City and Wrexham who will be desperate to make a gigantic splash after returning to the Football League after 15 years away under the leadership of Hollywood elite, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
Among talkSPORT’s biggest EFL fans is Gameday Live presenter Adrian Durham who couldn’t hide his excitement ahead of the big kick-off.
Speaking to talkSPORT.com, he explained: “I’m always fascinated by how teams who fell short do the following the season. Take Middlesbrough for example, I expected them to win the playoffs and obviously it didn’t happen so how do they bounce back under Michael Carrick’s first full season?
“A player like Jamie Vardy has electrified the Premier League over the last seven or eight years. He’s been unbelievable, a legend of the club and quite possibly their greatest ever player and you go into the Championship and that cliché of playing two games a week, Saturday then Tuesday, but has he got the legs to do that? Can he still be effective at that level? How many games can he play?
“I like that there’s a club on the up like Plymouth. I was there at the end of last season and they get huge crowds – noisy crowds – so I love the fact that they’re back in the Championship, I love it.
“I’m a big fan of Russell Martin at Southampton, so I’m keen to see how he gets on. He loves a passing game and playing it out from the back and he won’t compromise on that.
“We had him on talkSPORT Breakfast and I asked what he’d do if fans get a bit dubious about the style of play because there will be mistakes and goals conceded; he asked fans to ‘strap in and enjoy the ride’ which I thought was a great answer but I’m not sure it’ll wash with the majority of fans!
“It sounds like it’s going to be an exciting season at Southampton anyway.
“Up and down the EFL there’s Leyton Orient back in the third tier – I love that because they did so well last season and how do my club, Peterborough, bounce back from that complete capitulation against Sheffield Wednesday.
“You’ve got the oldest league club, Notts County, back into the EFL too. They’ve made some great signings, David McGoldrick for one which is an unbelievable signing and Nick Powell to Stockport as well which, again, I’m excited to see how he gets on. He’s been blighted by injuries but clearly a very talented footballer.”
Everyone one of the 72 clubs involved has a story to tell and talkSPORT will be right across the action during this season, but here are some of the key things that we can’t wait to see as the EFL season gets underway.
A Hollywood arrival in League Two
Wrexham’s promotion to the Football League is massive news, not least because of the two blockbuster names who have guided them there.
Hollywood A-listers Reynolds and McElhenney completed their purchase of the Welsh side in February 2021 in a steady process of improvement, guided the club to the National League title with 111 points and 116 goals to their name.
As well as success on the pitch, the pair have taken Wrexham to the world stage with their brilliant ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary on Disney Plus, as well as lucrative sponsorship deals with TikTok, Expedia, United Airlines and many more.
Love it or hate it, Wrexham’s journey into the EFL is going to be a blockbuster watch as the newly-promoted side become the team with a target firmly on their backs.
But with Paul Mullin in their side you’d be brave to bet against them scoring a bucketload of goals and enjoying a very good season.
Who knows, clubs such as Accrington Stanley, Barrow and Harrogate Town may even get a visit from a Marvel superhero before the year is out…
A sporting GOAT at Birmingham City
The football world was left stunned on the eve of the new season when Tom Brady was announced as a new minority shareholder with the Blues.
Birmingham announced that seven-time Super Bowl winner Brady has entered into a partnership with Knighthead Capital Management LLC to become minority owner of the Championship club, leading to real excitement around St Andrews.
Brady is regarded as one of the greatest sports stars of all time and will become chairman of a new advisory board, working directly with the club’s board and members of the Blues’ leadership team.
His reputation could do wonders for the club as they look to grow and bounce back from their recent financial woes, something that Durham believes is truly exciting.
He said: “Tom Brady being minority owner at Birmingham City, it’s surreal to get a name like that and at the other end of the EFL you get Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney coming into the EFL.
“I’m excited because those names behind the scenes and those names in terms of ownership seem to be getting bigger and bigger and it doesn’t seem to matter where the club is in the pyramid, they’re still getting big names involved.”
The return of Leeds United
As competitive as the Championship has been in recent seasons, it’s just not the same without Leeds on board.
Every division needs a giant club – a team who are expected to run riot and offer a big day out for supporters up and down the country. But with great stature comes great responsibility as Leeds going the campaign in relative chaos.
Their takeover at the hands of 49ers Enterprises was only sanctioned by the EFL in recent weeks, with new boss Daniel Farke only linking up with the club in early July.
Leeds also lost their sporting Victor Orta, at the end of last term with Nick Hammond currently in the role on a short-term basis.
That has certainly impacted recruitment, with just two signings – Ethan Ampadu and Karl Darlow – coming in and nine first team stars leaving the club including Rodrigo, Robin Koch, Brenden Aaronsen, Rasmus Kristensen and Marc Roja, most of whom left on loan or on a free transfer.
Discussing their situation, Durham said: “Leeds are a huge story. The fact that so many of their players are going out on loan suggests that they’re going to bring them back after getting promoted when they’re back in the Premier League so it feels like they’re confident, but I’m not so sure that their fans are as confident.”
Captain Liam Cooper summed up the mood at the club perfectly, saying: “If you don’t want to be here then f*** off” – a clear message, but one that has left them a little bit thin ahead of the big kick-off.
Michael Carrick’s first full season in charge
It was nearly the perfect start to Michael Carrick’s managerial career after he took charge at Middlesbrough last October.
After just four matches in the Manchester United dugout as interim boss following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking at Old Trafford, Carrick’s managerial credentials would only be put to the test in his first proper job.
As far as first seasons go, the former midfielder also enjoyed a dream campaign.
Taking charge of Middlesbrough with the club 21st in the table, the Teessiders pushed their way up to the cusp of the automatic promotion places, playing some stunning football in the process.
Ultimately Middlesbrough fell short after being beaten by Coventry in the play-off semi-finals, but with admirers aplenty, football fans can’t wait to see what Carrick can do this term.
Promotion is the aim for supporters at the Riverside Stadium and for the neutrals, the hope will be that Middlesbrough can showcase more of their glorious, attack-minded play that saw the rookie boss linked with both West Ham and Tottenham towards the end of the campaign.
Another side who missed out on promotion via the play-offs last term, Sunderland have a clear upward trajectory in their sights.
Unlike the previous ownership groups, the Black Cats finally have the sort of business model that is the envy of most clubs in the EFL under Kyril-Louis Dreyfus.
That includes a ruthless approach to transfers that consists of spending money on the most talented young players from England and around Europe.
While Amad Diallo returned to Manchester United after his stunning loan last term, Sunderland boast a wealth of talented young stars who could set the Championship alight.
If fit, Ross Stewart has the ability to be the top striker in the Championship, while Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts and Alex Pritchard are players who will take it the the opposition.
Keep an eye out for 16-year-old Chris Rigg, as well. The midfielder is a player who is seen as something of a teenage prodigy and he could be one to watch out for as the next Jude Bellingham, should he be able to force his way into Sunderland’s technically-gifted midfield.
Jude Bellingham’s brother
Among Sunderland’s wonderkids is a player who will attract more attention than most due to his family connections.
Jobe Bellingham arrived at the Stadium Of Light this summer, completing his move within just a few days of his brother, Jude’s blockbuster move to Real Madrid.
Jude is arguably the top young player in world football after tearing it up for Birmingham City and then taking to life with Borussia Dortmund like a duck to water.
That career trajectory saw him join Real Madrid in a deal worth up to £115million.
Let’s be clear, Jude’s career so far has been the stuff of fairytales and while the Stadium Of Light might not be the same as the Santiago Bernabeu, the 17-year-old Jobe will be desperate to take the opportunity of playing for a club like Sunderland.
The Black Cats have a very real chance of securing promotion to the Premier League this term and if Jobe plays his cards right, he might just become a core player in that journey.
Promotion races for the ages
We’ve discussed the role that Leeds will play in next season’s Championship, but they won’t have things all their own way.
Leicester and Southampton also suffered relegation from the Premier League last term, losing key players too.
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Coventry all fell just short in last season’s promotion race as Luton pinched the final Premier League spot at Wembley Stadium, meaning they have genuine ambitions of challenging again.
However clubs including Norwich, Watford, Millwall, West Brom and Stoke City will also be keen to push for a top six finish in the hope of sneaking into football’s financial promised land.
One to watch out for is Ipswich Town, who despite only securing promotion from League One last term, look like real dark horses for a surprise promotion push under Kieran McKenna.
The third tier is also set to be a ruthless battle after Reading, Blackpool and Wigan suffered the drop.
However they’re unlikely to get things their way with Derby, Barnsley, Bolton, Peterborough and Portsmouth all considering themselves as genuine contenders for promotion this term.
In League Two, the spotlight will firmly be on Deadpool-owned Wrexham as they look to see the club to a second-successive promotion this term.
Stockport also look like frontrunners, as do Notts County who also won promotion from the National League last term and will be led by former Ipswich and Sheffield United striker, David McGoldrick this term.
The talkSPORT network will bring you 120 exclusive EFL commentaries this season, including every playoff game, and it all kicks off this Friday night with Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton.
Plus we’ll have the best round up of the weekend’s action with EFL All Access with Hugh Woozencroft, every Monday at 6pm on talkSPORT2, also available as a podcast.