Sheffield United are primed to return to the Premier League but they face a potential battle to avoid losing some key stars on free transfers.
Man Utd, meanwhile, could also get themselves a bargain as one of their striker targets is soon to be out of contract.
GK: Wes Foderingham (Sheffield United)
The former Rangers shot-stopper joined the Blades on a two-year deal in 2020 and he has surpassed expectations at Bramall Lane after dropping down the pecking order at Ibrox.
The 31-year-old has Wales international Adam Davies behind him as a capable back-up, as well as ex-Borussia Dortmund youth product Jordan Amissah.
Sheff Utd could look to sign a younger and more consistent replacement should they get promoted. They would certainly lose more sleep if the other two entries in this team move on than if Foderingham goes.
RB: Sam Byram (Norwich City)
Billed as a potential future England international from a young age, Byram’s career has not quite panned out as many hoped it would.
Now 29, the defender has overcome several serious injuries to keep his career afloat but he is behind Max Aarons in the pecking order at Norwich City.
Byram may benefit should Aarons finally leave the Canaries, though an exit in the summer for more game time is likelier.
CB: Tomas Kalas (Bristol City)
A former victim of Chelsea’s hoarding system, Kalas joined the Championship outfit for a club-record fee of £8m in 2019.
The 29-year-old has been a phenomenal signing for the Robins. Before this season began, they would have been desperate for him to stay.
But Kalas has only managed two substitute appearances in the league this season as he has been hampered by an ongoing groin issue.
Nigel Pearson, Bristol City boss for now, hinted before the New Year that Kalas is finally nearing full fitness, and he will be desperate to end the season well to boost his renewal hopes.
CB: Jake Cooper (Millwall)
The giant centre-back has been a reliable component of Gary Rowett’s impressive Millwall side, who are mounting a serious push for the play-offs.
The London outfit do simple things very well and Cooper’s presence has helped form one of the division’s meanest defences this season.
The 27-year-old is approaching his prime and to continue their current growth, it is vital for Millwall that they retain players like Cooper in the long term.
LB: Ryan Manning (Swansea City)
The Republic of Ireland international has come into his own since being utilised at wing-back instead of central midfield and he has become a vital cog in Russell Martin’s preferred 3-4-2-1 formation.
He is a great creative force down the flanks and he clearly knows his worth with wing-backs being used increasingly in modern football.
Manning seems unlikely to commit to Swansea, with Martin recently admitting that “his agent is saying it’s unlikely we are going to sign the current deal he’s been offered and I’m not convinced we as a club can go any further”. Time to say goodbye.
RM: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley)
The Iceland winger is closing in on 200 Burnley appearances but he has been hampered by Vincent Kompany’s revolution at Turf Moor.
The Man City legend has tended to prefer Manuel Benson and Nathan Tella over Gudmundsson and both have more than justified his decision with 20 goal involvements between them.
Gudmundsson, 32, will feature even less when Burnley are inevitably back in the Premier League next season. Maybe a couple of seasons in Iceland could be on the cards before retirement.
CM: Ollie Norwood (Sheffield United)
The second Blades star in this team has arguably been the Championship’s best player this season.
The central midfielder is proven in the second tier and he is in the form of his life heading into Sheffield United’s likely return to the Premier League.
Norwood said earlier this season that he “loves it” at Bramall Lane as the club’s main man. A contract extension and deserved pay rise cannot be too far away.
CM: Dan Barlaser (Rotherham United)
The Millers’ midfield maestro has been in stellar form this season, providing two goals and six assists in the league.
Barlaser’s passing range is sensational and he is worthy of playing at a higher level. Middlesbrough have seemingly been impressed by his form as Michael Carrick’s side are ‘set to move’ for him this month.
As Rotherham continue to slip nearer to the relegation zone, it may be a good idea for them to sell Barlaser and invest elsewhere to give Matt Taylor a better chance of saving them from relegation.
LM: Ben Brereton Diaz (Blackburn Rovers)
The 23-year-old’s rise over the past 18 months has been extraordinary. The unlikely Chile hero netted 22 Championship goals last season and already has 10 this term.
Rovers did well to keep him last year but a move to the Premier League beckons for the striker in the summer at the latest.
Everton are known to be keen but even Man Utd have been keeping an eye on him as an option to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
ST: Teemu Pukki (Norwich City)
Unless new manager David Wagner works some magic, Championship specialist Pukki does not look like he will be part of a promotion side this season.
But the 32-year-old has done well himself as he has eight goals in 25 league outings. He now has 63 goals in 109 Championship games. Daft.
Pukki is showing few signs of slowing down so it would not be a surprise if Norwich look to retain him for their rebuild under the former Huddersfield Town boss.
ST: Ollie McBurnie (Sheffield United)
The £20m striker has finally rediscovered his goalscoring touch this season.
After failing to score in 28 games last term, most Sheff Utd fans would not have been too fussed had he left for nothing this year.
But a few months on, his situation is completely different with him sitting on nine goals in 19 league outings in 2022/23.
The 26-year-old could easily reach 20 goals this term and the Blades will hope that he is a different animal in the Premier League, assuming they do end up back there.
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