It feels like a truism to say that the gulf between the Championship and the Premier League is growing ever greater and yet, financially at least, it's hard to deny. As the new television deal ensures a 70 per cent leap in revenue for teams in the top flight, those a division below are having to trim budgets to meet stringent new financial regulations.
The result is that the Championship is open and competitive, magnificently unpredictable and prone to generating the sort of drama that characterised the final day last season when virtually every team in the division was either fighting for promotion or to avoid relegation. But that gulf also means that prize for winning the division is the dubious one of being promoted and risking weekly drubbings. There seems no surer way for a promising British manager to sully his reputation than by performing miracles to take a club that isn't ready to promotion only then to endure a season of constant defeats.
There can be at times a certain gallows humour to promotion: a realisation that it often means a season of hardship. And yet, even as the mood of realism sinks in, examples rise of teams who are promoted and prosper: Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion are perhaps the best examples, sides who have gone up with a clear financial plan that can accepts relegation as a possibility, but establish themselves as Premier League fixtures. The likes of Stoke, Sunderland and Norwich have done similarly in the past decade and what has become clear is that survival can be achieved playing aggressive attractive football; the traditional idea that you clung on to a Premier League place by packing men behind the ball and scrapping for dear life no longer seems to apply.
But still, the three promoted sides - Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace - are the three favourites with the bookmakers to be relegated. Cardiff perhaps look the most likely of the three to prosper. They won the Championship relatively comfortably last season - having repeatedly come close to promotion in previous seasons - and have in Malky Mackay one of the most promising young managers in the British game.
Fans are divided about the club's Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan: on the one hand they have provided around £20million for signings in the summer - with a reported £10m or so still available - but, on the other, they forced the club to switch from their traditional blue kit at the beginning of last season to red supposedly for reasons of luck (although that does seem to have worked). Of those signings, the most eye-catching was that of Steven Caulker, the 21-year-old centre-back, from Tottenham. He has already won England recognition and has looked a composed and elegant presence; more than that, he seems a statement of intent and his partnership with Mark Hudson, excellent last season, could be a real strength. At least as significant to Cardiff's hopes of survival, though, is how the lanky Danish forward Andreas Cornelius settles. He scored at a goal every other game for FC Copenhagen last season, but £7.5m for a 20 year old is a risk, and if he doesn't get goals, the back-up options look slim as Craig Bellamy begins to slow down with age.
The other concern over Tan is how he will react if Cardiff suffer a slow start to the season - and with their first three home games being against Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham, that is possible. He bought Cardiff to be a Premier League concern and the risk is that he takes precipitous action if they're in the bottom four or five come, say, November: for all his promise, Mackay is a manager who could soon come under threat.
Hull have recent Premier League experience - and experience of surviving, having stayed up in 2008-09. Their squad is limited, but there have been a number of intriguing acquisitions. Danny Graham has come on loan from Sunderland, needing to rebuild his reputation after a miserable six months on Wearside, while Maynor Figueroa is a solid attacking left-back who played under the Hull manager Steve Bruce at Wigan. Bruce has made a habit of raiding his former clubs and Hull also feature the former Sunderland players Paul McShane, Ahmed El Mohammedy and David Meyler. Meyler is of particular interest, having looked a midfielder of potentially the highest class before suffering two serious knee injuries.
The least likely to survive are Crystal Palace, who seemed to stun even themselves by coming up through the play-offs. With the winger Wilfried Zaha sold to Manchester United and the forward Glenn Murray out till at least the New Year with a knee injury, it may even be that Palace are weaker this season than they were last. Marouane Chamakh looks likely to arrive, and may prefer being away from the scrutiny he was under at Arsenal, but unless there are other signings, and unless a steps are taken to bolster a back four that leaked 31 goals last season - more than any other side on the top eight of the Championship, Crystal Palace's season looks likely to end the same way their previous four top-flight seasons did: with relegation.