Bristol City season preview: Leicester City reunion, relegation favourites but full of optimism
The 2021/22 EFL Championship season is only days away from beginning and like every other side, Bristol City are dreaming of the Premier League.
Top-flight football couldn’t feel much further away after an appalling end to last season, with the Robins losing their last four league games and only avoiding relegation thanks to their superb start under Dean Holden.
But Nigel Pearson continues to be the man in the Ashton Gate dugout, having signed a three-year deal with the ultimate goal to be in the Premier League by the end of that contract.
Ins and Outs
The playing staff has had an immense overhaul, with 12 players leaving the club on free transfers including Senegalese international Famara Diedhiou the most high-profile of the departures.
The trio of Andreas Weimann, Nathan Baker and Danny Simpson have all extended their stay at Ashton Gate on a three, two and one-year deal respectively to ensure some consistency in the squad.
But the Robins have made no secrecy of their limited transfer funds thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the only transfer fee paid so far for Oxford United defender Rob Atkinson.
The 23-year-old has signed a three-year deal for a fee believed to be in the region of £1.5 million and may finally replace the ball playing centre-back role that has been lacking since Adam Webster’s departure to Brighton in 2019.
Pearson has used the free agent market himself to bring in a few old faces from his Leicester City days as Matty James and City fan Andy King have joined the Ashton Gate ranks.
James impressed on loan at Coventry City last season, but King has struggled to feature consistently in recent years, but both have experience of not only winning the Championship but the Premier League.
It’s been repeatedly stated that the Robins will have to sell to buy further this window and with Pearson previously stating that he would like one more striker having lost Diedhiou, maybe another signing is on the horizon.
City have played a variety of teams throughout this season including Scottish giants Celtic and Premier League high-flyers Aston Villa.
There were draws with both Celtic and Portsmouth, where young winger Marlee Francois scored against the Robins having turned out for Pompey due to their short numbers.
The two wins of pre-season came on the same day against Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle, however, the gap from the top-flight was made more evident as Villa ran out 3-0 winners at Ashton Gate.
One of the best signs for the Robins fans is that midfielder Joe Williams has played multiple matches as he seems to have finally overcame the injury that limited him to only one league appearance since signing from Wigan.
But both Antoine Semenyo and centre-back Robbie Cundy are yet to feature having suffered with injuries at the end of last season, with the club hopeful they’ll be available again soon.
There has been little involvement for the Czech Republic’s Tomas Kalas since his return after Euro 2020, leading to some questioning whether he has a consistent starting place in Pearson’s plans for the season.
The Robins have often lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of pre-season with Atkinson and Baker have featured at centre-back, something that doesn’t seem able to carry on for the rest of the season with Kalas’ high pre-pandemic wages.
One to watch
My pick for a player to watch this season is Alex Scott, the 17-year-old attacking midfielder played three times at the end of last season, impressing every time.
Jokingly referred to as the Guernsey Grealish, due to his direct style of dribbling (and the rolled down socks) he appears to have skipped out on a loan move and instead is heading straight into the first team.
With Kasey Palmer the only other obvious attacking midfielder who plays centrally, there should be multiple opportunities for Scott to play and effect matches in the 46-match season.
Although one of the favourites to go down with many bookmakers, I think City will finish midtable this season due to a couple of quality additions and a changed medical department.
The Robins were crippled by injuries last season and that coincided with their downturn in form, the new medical department have completely changed the issues so far and if that continues safety should be assured.
I think that Bristol City will finish 14th this season.