West Ham & Leicester for the Championship?
It is difficult to look beyond West Ham and Leicester City when picking the two teams to win automatic promotion from the Championship.
"Last season there was not a one clear outstanding team in the division, and I include QPR in that," said Rangers midfielder Shaun Derry, who played 45 league games last season as the London club won the second-tier title.
"I think there are two this year in West Ham and Leicester. Looking at their squads, they blow the rest of the chasing pack away in terms of quality."
The gritty Sam Allardyce and traditional footballing purists of West Ham might not appear to be a natural fit but the former Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn boss has the experience and leadership skills to oversee an immediate return to the top flight at Upton Park.
Realistically the club might lose some of their proven Premier League performers before the transfer window closes but so far pretty much all of their key players remain. In addition, the Hammers have signed two excellent Championship performers in Matt Taylor and Kevin Nolan, who skippered Newcastle to promotion back to the top flight in 2010.
Nolan knows the pressure is on to win promotion this season. Photo: Getty Images
"I want to get this fantastic club back to where it belongs," said Nolan in an interview to be broadcast on Football Focus on 6 August.
"There is no doubt about it, we want to be promoted and do it automatically. We have to win promotion to the Premier League, we deserve to be there with the players we have but we have to prove it.
"The fans at Newcastle were fantastic and when I finish here I want to be able to come back and watch a game and hope that the supporters come up to me to shake my hand rather than throw things at me. The expectation levels between West Ham and my former club Newcastle is very similiar."
In many ways, Leicester are the story of the summer in English football. Former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, bankrolled by the Thai consortium that took over the club last season, has spent beyond the reach of many top-flight clubs, let alone Championship sides.
Eriksson was busy in the transfer market after his arrival last October trying to fast-track his team into the Premier League. The likes of Darius Vassell, Yakubu, Diomansy Kamara, Souleymane Bamba and Miguel Vitor arrived, although the Foxes finished the season 10th, eight points short of the play-offs.
Undeterred, the Swede is once again spending to succeed. Neil Danns, Kasper Schmeichel, Sean St Ledger, David Nugent, Matt Mills, Paul Konchesky, John Pantsil and loan duo Michael Johnson and Gelson Fernandes have all been brought in as the Foxes make a full-on push for promotion.
"Leicester have not exactly built gradually but have gone all out for one of the top spots," added Derry.
"For me, everything revolves around West Ham but if Leicester can get on their coat tails and stick in there, I think both of them could be a number of points clear at the end of the season."
Beyond the Foxes and the Hammers there are numerous teams who could justifiably expect to push for a play-off place. The appointment of Steve McClaren at Nottingham Forest means there are two former England managers in this season's Championship.
"I'm from Nottingham and I get the impression the fans have taken to McClaren, and when there are 27,000 or so supporters backing the team at home, Forest take some stopping," added Derry.
"Jonathan Greening will be a good signing in midfield. Experience will be crucial for teams hoping to do well. A few years ago there was a strong emphasis on youth but we showed last season at QPR that having the right know-how throughout the side is vital."
In Greening and Andy Reid, Forest have two wily midfielders who are comfortable in possession and should be able to supply Forest's ample array of wide men and strikers.
This time last year a lot of the talk surrounded Gordon Strachan's Middlesbrough. That proved to be a spectacular failure and the Scot quit in mid-October "tortured" by his failure to build a winning side on Teesside.
They have gone relatively unnoticed this summer, with attention focused elsewhere.
However, they won six of their last 11 games last season under Tony Mowbray and look strong providing they can replace striker Leroy Lita, who has just been sold to Swansea.
Another team to keep an eye on is Ipswich Town, who might have lost talented youngster Connor Wickham but appear to have bolstered their squad wisely with the experienced trio of defender Ivar Ingimarsson, midfielder Lee Bowyer and striker Michael Chopra.
"I have got Ipswich in my top six," added Derry. "They are my dark horses, a team that appears to have slipped under the radar."
Birmingham have arguably lost too many important players that have not been replaced since their relegation, while Cardiff's entire forward line of Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd, Chris Burke and Craig Bellamy have left the club.
But to discount them entirely would be foolish as the Championship is a league that consistently confounds expectations. Hardly anybody tipped Norwich and Swansea for promotion before last season started, while many had the Swans down as relegation material.
"I tried to put a table together the other day," said Derry. "After my top two it was an impossible task. You could toss a coin with regard to about a dozen teams for the four play-off places."
However, I reckon that one thing is for sure. If West Ham or Leicester do not go up, the men currently in charge of them will be seeking employment.