Continuing our in-depth look at the opposition we face this coming season in the Sky Bet Championship.
Nickname: The Sky Blues
Stadium: St Andrew’s
Manager: Mark Robins
Last Season: 1st in League One
The Reds will face newly promoted Coventry City in the Sky Bet Championship for the first time since 2012 after the Sky Blues topped League One last season.
Having been crowned clear champions on an unweighted Points Per Game basis following the early end of the campaign due to the coronavirus, Coventry City will be playing their football in the second tier of English football for the first time in eight years.
It was a season to remember for the Sky Blues, who didn’t lose a single league game until October, before they went on to go unbeaten for another eight matches to take them top at Christmas.
Their exceptional form continued all the way from January through until March as they maintained their unbeaten status, picking up an extraordinary 32 points out of 36, until it was decided by the EFL that League One would be curtailed following the coronavirus outbreak, which left Coventry City top of the table by five points.
Looking ahead to 20/21, manager Mark Robins has a big task on his hands as the Sky Blues will look to consolidate their position in the Sky Bet Championship and avoid instant relegation back to League One.
Having been in the Coventry dugout for over three years, the former Barnsley boss will look to get the Sky Blues playing fluid, passing football with some interesting tactical concepts.
Setting up with an initial 3-4-2-1 formation on the ball, this interchangeable system converts to 5-2-2-1 out of possession.
As with many possession-based systems that play three-at-the-back, the centre-backs split wide to provide width to the build-up. This causes issues for the opposition press as there is now greater distance to cover. The wing-backs then take up positions on the touchline to offer the pass down-the-line. Higher up the pitch, Robins elects for a more unconventional approach by essentially playing two number tens. This duo has a freer role to operate between-the-lines and in the half-spaces, allowing for striker Matt Godden to poach in and around the area.
If Barnsley are to get success against Coventry, they will need to keep both number tens quiet to avoid the through ball in behind the defensive line.
It’s sure to be an interesting season for the Sky Blues who, for the second year in a row, will be ground sharing with fellow Sky Bet Championship side and neighbours Birmingham City at St Andrews, 22 miles away from their own home in Coventry.
Since joining Coventry City at the start of last season, striker Matt Godden has been an influential factor in Mark Robins’ side.
Known for his instincts and natural finishing, Godden has been labelled as a goal poacher for much of his career. He enjoys making runs in behind the opposition defence to stretch the play and create opportunities for himself.
Godden notched a total of 15 goals in League One last season, seven more than any other Sky Blues player and will be a force to reckoned with in the Sky Bet Championship during the new campaign.
This fixture has been a mixed one for Barnsley over the years, winning only two and drawing two of the last eight meetings.
The last time the two sides faced each other was in March 2019, where they played out a 2-2 draw at Oakwell after Coventry pegged back the Reds twice.
Alex Mowatt put Barnsley ahead, before Jordy Hiwula pulled one back for the away side. Cauley Woodrow’s second half strike then put the Reds in the lead once again, but now a Red, Luke Thomas scored the equaliser to salvage a draw for Coventry.
Previous to that, the last meeting in the Sky Bet Championship between the two took place in February 2012, when Coventry ran out as 1-0 winners. Clive Platt scored the only goal of the game in that one.
Barnsley will be looking to get their first win against the Sky Blues for the first time since 2016 this season.
Nickname: The Rams
Stadium: Pride Park
Manager: Philip Cocu
Last Season: 10th
With a full season in the Sky Bet Championship under his belt, Derby County boss Philip Cocu will be hoping to improve on the club’s underwhelming 10th place finish last season as they chase promotion back to the Premier League for the first time in 12 years after narrowly missing out in 2018/19.
Cocu replaced Frank Lampard last summer, but the Dutchman found the transition from Turkish to English football challenging, despite only two losses in their opening six league matches.
Derby’s strong start continued throughout October and November as they looked to gain a stronghold in the playoff’s but a poor stretch of games over the Christmas period saw them go five matches without a win and as a result, they quickly dropped to 17th in the table by the new year.
Cocu’s side experienced another tough spell just before lockdown, as they endured a mixture of results which saw them stay in mid table.
Following the resumption of football, Derby hoped for a late push into the playoffs, but three wins followed by four losses cost them another shot at promotion as they could only manage a disappointing 10th by the end of the season.
However, looking ahead to 2020/21, Cocu will look to use the steep learning curve from last season by adapting to a new way of life in English football.
A typical Cocu team likes to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation where they enjoy building up from the back with the ball on the deck and use a striker who runs off the defender's last shoulder into space in behind.
By using the defensive high line, he likes the full backs to overlap the wingers and operates with a deep midfielder who can pull the strings, but this tactic can leave a lot of space open for quick players to run into and Barnsley’s forwards will enjoy exploiting the Derby defence with their pace in behind.
As one of the legends of the game, Wayne Rooney knows a thing or two about how to inspire his team to victory on the pitch.
Racking up close to 500 Premier League appearances and 120 international caps, the former England captain has notched a total of 290 goals in that time, including six for Derby last season after he joined the Rams in January from DC United in the MLS.
As Manchester United’s top goalscorer of all time, the striker turned midfielder is one of football’s most creative and energetic players who combines great technical ability with strength and physicality, making him one of hardest players in the game to mark.
On the ball, he has fantastic vision and range of passing and in the newfound attacking midfield role, has freedom to pull the strings in this Derby County side, who at times lacked in creativity last season.
As he approaches his 18th year as a professional, Rooney is still as motivated as ever in his quest to guide his team to success.
The Reds have only won two of their last 11 meetings with Derby County in all competitions. We have to go back to September 2017 when Barnsley last beat the Rams. Goals from Adam Jackson, Tom Bradshaw and Adam Hammill saw the Reds progress into the third round of the League Cup on that occasion.
Since then, the Rams have had much better fortune in this fixture, winning three and drawing one of the last four. After the 2-2 draw at Oakwell last October, Jack Marriott’s goal on the stroke of half-time and Martyn Waghorn’s second half strike, secured three points for Derby at Pride Park, despite Elliot Simoes notching his first Barnsley goal to reduce the scoreline to 2-1.
The Reds will be looking to beat Derby in the Sky Bet Championship for the first time since 2016 when they two face off again this season.
Nickname: The Terriers
Stadium: The John Smith’s Stadium
Manager: Carlos Corberan
Last season: 18th
The Reds will be relishing the prospect of another Yorkshire derby when they face Huddersfield Town this season.
The Terriers will start the campaign with a new man at the helm in Spaniard Carlos Corberan who left his role as Under 23’s manager at Leeds United to become head coach at West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town in what will be his first senior position in English football.
The 37-year-old succeeds Danny Cowley at the John Smith’s Stadium who was relieved of his duties in mid-July despite steering the Terries away from relegation to a comfortable 18th place finish.
Following Huddersfield’s relegation back to the Sky Bet Championship at the end of 2018/19, it was expected that the Terriers would hit the ground running in 2020/21.
The season started with German Jan Siewert in charge, but a run of four games without a win in all competitions which included defeat to League One Lincoln City in the first round of the Carabao Cup marked the end of his reign as Terriers’ manager in August.
Cowley was brought in from Lincoln to replace him at the beginning of September, but results continued in the same vein for Huddersfield, who didn’t register their first win of the season until October with a 1-0 victory over Stoke City.
From there, results improved vastly, as the Terriers went on a six-match unbeaten run to lift them out of the drop zone, however, they started to slip again in the new year, leaving them on the cusp of relegation for much of the remainder of the season.
It wasn’t until the restart that Huddersfield would secure their Sky Bet Championship status for another season, but once safety was confirmed in July, Cowley was sacked with just one game remaining.
Just weeks later, it was announced that Corberan would take over as head coach for 2020/21.
Having learnt much of his trade under Marco Bielsa, it will be interesting to see how Corberan takes to English football. Given the youth system and setup at Leeds United, it will be expected that the Spaniard will play expansive, exciting football, but he will go into the new season as a rather unknown quantity in the Sky Bet Championship and could well spring a few surprises.
Despite Huddersfield’s struggles last season, striker Karlan Grant was one of the shinning lights for the Terriers as he hit an impressive 19 goals in the Sky Bet Championship, 11 more than anybody else in the Huddersfield side.
Having started his career at Charlton Athletic, the forward spent five years with the London club before making the switch to Huddersfield in 2019.
Since then, Grant has gone on to make 56 appearances for the club and has scored 23 times, making him the subject of interest around the Sky Bet Championship.
Prior to Barnsley’s 2-1 win against the Terriers at Oakwell back in January, the Reds hadn’t beaten Huddersfield since 2013.
However, after goals from Alex Mowatt and Conor Chaplin ensured bragging rights in the Yorkshire derby, the Reds will be hoping to make it back to back wins against the Terriers for the first time in 15 years this season.
Nickname: The Hatters
Stadium: Kenilworth Road
Manager: Nathan Jones
Last season: 19th
One of the stories of last season saw Luton Town escape relegation on the final day thanks to a 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers as they retained their place in the Sky Bet Championship for only the second time in 12 years.
With fan favourite Nathan Jones back at the club for his second spell in charge, the Hatters will be looking to establish themselves as a regular outfit in England’s second tier after exceeding expectations in 2019/20.
However, last season wasn’t all plain sailing for Luton. After spending much of the campaign in the relegation zone, it was predicted that the Hatters would be relegated back to League One.
They started the year with Graeme Jones in the dugout after he guided them to promotion in 2018/19, but it was a rough start for Englishman, who only managed one win in his opening five league matches.
The Hatters then picked up form with three back to back wins in all competitions, but through October and November they only mustered two wins from 11 matches. Their poor form continued in December into the new year, as their next victory didn’t come until the end of January.
However, the Hatters turned fortunes on their head in the remaining eight matches before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season, as they picked up 11 points out of 24, but that still wasn’t good enough for Graeme Jones to keep his place, as he was sacked and replaced by Nathan Jones in May before the season restarted.
As Nathan Jones returned, Luton really pushed on, losing just one of their final nine matches which saw them make a late surge up the league table as they battled relegation to stay afloat by three points come the end of the season.
Looking ahead to 2020/21, Nathan Jones will be hoping his second managerial job in the Sky Championship is more successful than the first after a difficult time at Stoke City.
Jones likes his team to play with a free-flowing style of football from defensive to attack as he ushers a high-tempo mentality throughout his squad, but by deploying a man-marking system out of possession, he also makes it difficult for opposition teams to break them down.
However, Barnsley could get success by bypassing the midfield, as Luton’s pressing approach allows teams to aggressively pass around them in the centre of the park, leaving the defensive vulnerable on their own at the back as the rest of the team races forward.
Striker James Collins continued his inspired form last season after winning the League One golden boot in 2018/19.
The prolific marksman hit 14 goals on his way to becoming Luton’s top scorer once again, steering them to safety in final part of the season.
The 29-year-old started his career at Aston Villa, but couldn’t break into the first team at Villa Park so joined Shrewsbury Town in 2011. Collins then left to go to Swindon Town, followed by a spell at Hibernian across the border in Scotland.
In 2014, Collins returned to Shrewsbury for two seasons before moving on to Crawley where he really started to make a name for himself, scoring 20 goals in 45 appearances which earnt him a call from Luton in 2017.
Since then, the striker has played a total of 132 times, netting on 58 occasions as he looks to guide Luton to another successful season in 2020/21/
Prior to last season, there haven’t been many meetings between the Reds and Luton. The two sides met in League One in 2018/19 as they both earnt promotion to the Sky Bet Championship, but before that, the last fixture took place way back in 2007.
Barnsley’s last success against the Hatters came in 2018 as goals from Brad Potts, Cameron McGeehan and Mamadou Thiam secured the win at Oakwell, but in the Sky Bet Championship last season, Luton picked up four points against the Reds with a 3-1 win and a 1-1 draw.
Stadium: The Riverside
Manager: Neil Warnock
Last season: 17th
After being drafted in to save Middlesbrough from relegation in late June, Neil Warnock steered the club to a disappointing 17th place finish in 2019/20, but it is anticipated that the veteran manager will improve Boro’s standing this season in his first full year in charge.
At the beginning of the season, it was hoped Middlesbrough would challenge for the play-offs after they lost out to Aston Villa in the semi-final the previous year, but Jonathon Woodgate’s first managerial job didn’t go as planned, as Middlesbrough struggled for the majority of the campaign.
Boro only picked up a total of two wins in their opening ten matches in all competitions, in a run of games which also saw them exit the Carabao Cup in the first round after a shock defeat to League Two’s Crewe Alexandra.
Middlesbrough’s horrific form continued until December when they eventually found a second gear, as they were able to pick up 20 points out of 30 over the busy Christmas and new year, which saw them rise to mid table.
Boro’s form them slumped again across February and March, as they managed only one win before lockdown.
As the season restarted, defeat against Swansea saw the end of the road for Woodgate who was replaced immediately by Warnock with the club only just above the relegation zone on goal difference.
However, Warnock’s first three games in charge continued in the same vein as they failed to register a single point until mid-July, but three wins in their remaining five matches saw Middlesbrough climb to safety come the end of the season.
Looking ahead to 2020/21, Warnock will be hoping to use his experience to great effect as he looks to turn a struggling Middlesbrough into a promotion contender again.
Over the years, Warnock has built his reputation on a style of play considered boring to many. His tactics are placed emphatically on dispossessing the opposition and trying to turn defence into attack in the quickest way possible, even if that means hoofing the ball long to a tall, powerful centre forward to win in the air. Any Warnock side also likes to utilise height and power from set-pieces and defensively, they tend to keep a good shape operating in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
No manager has a better record in the football league than Warnock, so expect to see Middlesbrough firing once again in 2020/21.
Ashley Fletcher is a man Barnsley fans know well following his loan spell at Oakwell in 2016, where he notched five goals in 21 appearances.
Since then, Fletcher has found home in Middlesbrough and has rejuvenated his career following a loan at Sunderland in 2018. The attacker was one of the first names on the teamsheet under Woodgate last season and that continued under Warnock.
His persistence paid off on his way to Middlesbrough’s leading player in both goals scored and assists in 2019/20. The striker netted 13 times and chipped in with seven assists in 46 games played and will be hoping for more of the same in 2020/21.
Barnsley don’t have a good record against Middlesbrough of late, in fact their only victory in their last six meetings, came at The Riverside last season in a 1-0 victory, where Conor Chaplin’s second half strike settled the points.
However, the Reds will be hopeful they can improve this record when they face Boro in October and April.
PART THREE TOMORROW!