Bristol City kick off their third full season under manager Lee Johnson against Leeds United in just 10 days timem and will be hoping to start with a win as they push for the play-offs once again.
The Robins returned to the Championship in 2015, after a brief two-year stint in League One, and have seen their fortunes improve gradually over that period–climbing out of the relegation dogfight and into play-off contention.
In today’s six pointer, we spoke to FLW writer Ned Holmes about where they stand heading into the 2019/20 campaign.
Firstly, how did they fare last season?
“City ended the season eighth in the Championship, four points off the top six.
“They finished with an improved league position for the fourth consecutive year since rejoining the Championship but, ultimately, that was marred by the disappointment of narrowly missing the play-offs after losing some big games in their run-in.
“Much of their success was built around a really solid defensive unit. The Robins conceded the fourth-fewest goals in the Championship, while Adam Webster drew plaudits, and attention, from across the country for his performances at centre-back.
“Despite an early flourish from Andi Weimann and some important goals from Famara Diedhiou they lacked a consistent goalscorer. Diedhiou top scored with 13, meaning 2018/19 was the first season a Robins’ player hadn’t scored 19 or more goals since their return to the Championship.”
How has their summer transfer business been?
“Really smart–they have filled all their needs, apart from the addition of a new striker but there is still time for that.
“Johnson needed to bolster his goalkeeping options and the signings of Rene Gilmartin and Daniel Bentley have done just that.
“It is only pre-season but Sammie Szmodics, an attacking midfielder from Colchester United, looks a great addition and has been a real live wire in pre-season, scoring in every game so far.
“City’s success last season was built on a strong defensive unit and the permanent signings of Chelsea duo Jay Dasilva and Tomas Kalas should allow that to continue this season.
“The return of Kalas looks particularly important as it allows him to reunite with Webster in central defence, they formed partnership last season that was described by some opponents as the best in the Championship.
The two centre half’s at Bristol city, kalas and Webster best partnership for me I didn’t get a ???????? ????
— Oli McBurnie (@oli_mcburnie) March 3, 2019
What should they be aiming for?
“They have to be qualifying for the play-offs this season.
“The South West club have come close over the past few years but their target will undoubtedly be to take the next step this season.
“You would have to worry about them keeping some of their influential players, such as Webster and Josh Brownhill, if the club are unable to achieve that goal.”
What are the potential stumbling blocks?
“The Robins struggled for goals last season. Despite finishing just four points off the play-offs, they scored 10 fewer goals than any side in the top six and 34 fewer than league winners Norwich City – that gap needs to be made up this season.
“Under Johnson, they have been prone to getting stuck in runs of bad form, having gone at least four games without a win eight times over the past two seasons, and that needs to change.
“As do their late-season wobbles. In 2017/18 they were second at the turn of the year and slumped to an 11th-place finish, while last season they were fifth with six games to go and finished the season in eighth after a poor run of form.”
Who will be the standout performers?
“I think Kalas and Webster are going to be hugely important at the heart of their defence.
“The latter was sensational last season, finishing as the highest-rated defender in the Championship, according to Whoscored, winning two Player of the Season awards, and reportedly attracting the attention of numerous Premier League clubs–if they can keep him, he will be vital.
“I fancy this to be the year where it really clicks for winger Niclas Eliasson, he has made just 24 Championship starts across two seasons at Ashton Gate but last season he made led the side in assists, average crosses per game and, average key passes per game–according to Whoscored.
“Szmodics is an energetic playmaker who looks a perfect fit for the side and I expect him to hit the ground running in the Championship.
“Brownhill has quietly been developing into a fantastic midfielder at Ashton Gate and I think this could be the season where he begins to really control games.”
Finally, where do you think they’ll finish?
“This is a tough one.
“I like what City have done over the summer and I think they will continue to improve under Johnson this year but they face competition from a lot of quality teams in the Championship.
“I am optimistic about their chances, especially if they can add one or two more attacking players. The Robins have improved their league position for four consecutive years since returning to the Championship and I think that will continue this season.
“I don’t think they quite have what it takes to challenge right at the top yet but I think they’ll end up in the play-offs in fifth or sixth.”