The new championship season begins tonight and more excitement is expected in one of the most entertaining leagues in Europe as 24 teams are challenging for just three places in the Premier League in 2012-13.
And there have never been as many teams who have a realistic chance to follow in the footsteps of QPR (pictured celebrating above), Norwich and Swansea in gaining promotion to the best league in the world.
From the teams who suffered the agony of relegation from the Premier League last year to the teams joining the division having gained promotion from League 1, so many clubs have cause for optimism heading into the first games of the season.
Here are eight of these teams that should fancy themselves to be challenging for those three places in the Premier League next season.
Birmingham City, despite winning the Carling Cup in February, will be spending this season in the second tier, but the side that upset Arsenal is hardly recognizable to the one that will be playing Derby County tomorrow.
The list of departures seems endless, as the likes of Craig Gardner, Roger Johnson, Ben Foster, Barry Ferguson, Sebastian Larsson and James McFadden among others have left the team and more are expected to go before the end of the summer transfer window.
If this wasn’t bad enough, this summer has seen the Birmingham owners surrounded in controversy, as Carson Yeung was arrested in Hong Kong for money laundering, causing his assets to be frozen and the club will inevitably be affected financially over the course of the new season.
But, despite these problems, there are reasons for optimism at Birmingham heading into the new season.
Firstly, the club has managed to sign some players despite their off the field problems, including Marlon King, Chris Burke and Steven Caldwell, all on free transfers.
But the main cause for optimism has to be the appointment of Chris Hughton as manager at St. Andrews. The man who led Newcastle back to the Premier League in 2009-10, after they were also relegated from the top flight, is an appropriate choice after Alex McLeish left to manage city rivals Aston Villa in June.
Although Birmingham's season will depend more on their fate off the pitch than on it, they have the players and coaching staff to challenge towards the top of the division come May.
Despite propping up the Premier League table in a forgetful 2010-11 season, changes at Upton Park during the summer have left West Ham as one of the favorites to return to the top flight.
All this is expected despite losing the likes of Demba Ba, Matt Upson and the likely departure of Scott Parker, as well as potential financial problems resulting from relegation.
The first change was replacing Avram Grant, who was sacked after a poor season in the Premier League, with Sam Allardyce, who was successful in taking Bolton into the Premier League and making them an established force in the top flight.
A similar job at West Ham would be appreciated and the owners at West Ham have done all they can to help Allardyce get the side promoted at the first time of asking by buying many of the players that Allardyce managed at Bolton, including Abdoulaye Faye, Joey O’Brien and Matthew Taylor.
But the most significant signing made by West Ham was that of Kevin Nolan, an influential player for Bolton during their success over the last 10 seasons, is expected to work well under Allardyce yet again. Also, he was a key player in Newcastle’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2009-10, being named the PFA Championship Player of the Year in the process. The Liverpool-born midfielder, who has already been named the new captain of West Ham, is one of the main reasons why West Ham is expected to return to the Premier League.
The side who lost out to Swansea in the playoff final at Wembley in May will be pushing once again for a place in the Premier League this season, having finished in the top 10 in every season since relegation in 2008, including two playoff appearances.
Brian McDermott’s side impressed with a run of eight consecutive victories towards the end of last season to put them in playoff contention, only to fall at the final hurdle to Swansea at Wembley.
And although teams tend to struggle immediately after losing in the playoff final, due to an inevitable loss of players as a result of failure to gain promotion, Reading has managed to keep the majority of the players that almost led them to glory at Wembley in May. Matt Mills, the center back and captain, left for Leicester in the summer, but many other big names such as Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff remain at the Madejski Stadium.
But the most important player for Reading to keep is striker Shane Long, who has attracted interest from many Premier League teams as a result of the 25 goals he scored in all competitions last season.
Should these players stay on at Reading when the summer transfer window ends on September 1, the team stands every chance of pushing for promotion once again in 2011-12.
After a second consecutive defeat in the semifinals of the playoffs last season, Nottingham Forest will look to go one better this season and they do so under new management.
Billy Davies was sacked after once again failing to get Forest back into the Premier League and was replaced by former England manager Steve McLaren, who will manage in England for the first time since that ‘Wally in the Brolly’ night at Wembley when the national team failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
But much is expected of a manager who has since won the Dutch League with FC Twente and the owners have supported him by buying George Boateng, Andy Reid (who played for Forest as a youngster) and Jonathan Greening, all experienced players with Premier League experience, to support an already talented squad assembled as a result of Forest’s large budget and one of the best football academies in England.
The likes of Lewis McGugan, Radoslaw Majewski and Paul Anderson are also worth keeping an eye on, as the young midfielders have impressed over the last two years and could well be the key players for Forest in another season where anything less than promotion will be viewed as a failure.
Despite missing out on the playoffs last season, Leicester City is now considered one of the favorites for automatic promotion, having strengthened their squad in the summer.
With financial support from the club’s Thai owners, the team that finished in 10th position last season will expect better after nine players joined the West Midland team in a bid to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004. Players such as Matt Mills, John Paintsil, David Nugent, Paul Konchesky and Kasper Schmeichel, all Premier League quality players, are part of the revolution led by one of the most experienced managers in the division.
Sven-Goran Eriksson (above) has managed across the world at a variety of different clubs, including the England, Mexico and Ivory Coast national teams, as well as top club sides in England, Italy and Portugal in a managerial career that has spanned over 30 years. Although getting promotion to the Premier League is one of the hardest achievements in club football, Eriksson is certainly the man to do it.
In the most basic terms, Leicester ticked all the boxes of a team destined to win promotion to the top flight, with an experienced manager, top players and financial backing, meaning that anything less than promotion will be viewed as a failure this season.
Somewhat of a dark horse for promotion, the side who finished in mid-table after a horrible start to the season now looks to climb up the league and, judging by their spending, intend to do so this season.
Despite losing the talented Connor Wickham to Sunderland in the summer, they have only gotten stronger since the end of last season by bringing in strikers Michael Chopra and Nathan Ellington and midfielder Lee Bowyer, all of whom have Premier League as well as Championship experience.
But one of the main reasons for optimism is manager Paul Jewell. Not only did Jewell guide the club to a comfortable mid-table position when they were slipping towards the bottom three under the management of Roy Keane, but he also has experience in getting teams to the Premier League, having done so at both Bradford City and Wigan Athletic.
Although they are not expected to win promotion this year, don’t be surprised to see them climb up the table come May.
The team that ran away with the League One title last season is expected by some to challenge towards the upper reaches of the Championship and maybe actually record successive promotions.
The idea of a team going from League 1 to Premier League in two seasons is not that bizarre, just look at Norwich City.
And Brighton has reason to be as ambitious, as they ran away with the division and have only strengthened an already talented squad as they get ready to challenge in their new division. Despite losing Glenn Murray and Elliot Bennett, the club have chosen their replacements wisely, including Craig Mackail-Smith, Will Buckley and Kazenga LuaLua (on loan), all of whom are talented attacking prospects who could well cause problems for opposing defenders.
Then there is manager Gus Poyet, who has done a fantastic job in his first managerial role. Last season was his first full season as a manager and he has to be credited as a major reason for the club's recent success, implementing an exciting attacking style of football that no one could keep up with last year.
And if that wasn't enough, the club's long wait for a permanent home is now over, as they moved into the AMEX Stadium (pictured) on the outskirts of the city, which could prove to be a difficult place for away teams to get points this season.
In basic terms, Brighton is riding a wave of momentum and there is no reason why this can't take them towards the Premier League in the new season.
Another team promoted to the Championship is Southampton, who have ambitions of their own to return to the top flight, where they have spent the majority of the last thirty years.
But since relegation from the Premier League in 2005, the side has gone through financial trouble and slipped into the third tier for the first time in fifty years.
But the progress in the past two seasons, especially in the last year under manager Nigel Atkins and through investment from the late Markus Liebherr, it appears that Southampton are on the rise once again.
Liebherr's investment took the club out of administration and led to the acquisition of the likes of Rickie Lambert, Lee Barnard, Dan Harding and Jose Fonte, all of whom were excellent last season in League One, and are more than ready for Championship football.
And their success has also been down to the most recent generation of Southampton academy prospects. The academy, which produced the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Wayne Bridge in recent years, also has representation in the current Saints first team, with the likes of youngsters Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressing and catching the eye of many Premier League teams in the process.
If the Saints can maintain this strong squad, and if new midfielder Jack Cork can live up to expectations after signing from Chelsea, there is no reason why this team can't cause havoc in their new division.