With just under three weeks to the start of the season, and still almost six weeks left of the Summer Transfer Window, it’s difficult to make a solid case for any side in the Championship as so much is still likely to happen in terms of incomings and outgoings.
Right now, the 24 second tier clubs are ‘jostling for position’, playing regular pre-season friendlies in an attempt to determine which areas they still need to strengthen, and of course, they’re all waiting to see which Premier League players will be available on loan.
And it’s those loan players who can make such a huge difference to a club’s promotion chances.
Last season’s Championship Player of the Season, Patrick Bamford, very nearly helped secure promotion for Middlesbrough while on loan from Chelsea and the 21-year-old is expected to be much sought after again after he was left out of the Blues’ first team tour of North America.
Bamford believes he deserves a crack at the Premier League however, but he is only looking for first team football at this stage of his career, and if he can’t get that guarantee from a top flight side then he will have no hesitation stepping down to the Championship once more.
There isn’t a club in that division that wouldn’t take him… and that’s a perfect example of the dilemma we have with betting at this early stage.
Some clubs will be massively strengthened in the next six weeks or so while some will stand still, so it’s always worth re-assessing at the start of September and having another wager if needs be.
But for now, this is what we know…
Derby started last season as favourites to win the Championship and despite failing to even reach the play-offs they start this season as even stronger favourites – currently trading at [7.4] – which is slightly surprising.
Steve McClaren has departed, and former Chelsea, PSG, and Real Madrid coach Paul Clement is about to embark on his first stint in football management. Few can doubt his credentials but it’s a big step for such a renowned coach – so many have failed to make the transition previously.
Personnel wise the Rams seemingly have a better squad than last season so they’re undeniably well-equipped to challenge for the title. Tom Ince and Darren Bent – who scored 21 league goals between them in just 29 appearances while on loan – are now permanent fixtures at the Ipro, and the addition of Andreas Weimann from Aston Villa is also a big plus.
Incoming defenders Alex Pearce and Chris Baird will add some vital experience in a division where it perhaps counts most and it’s therefore impossible not to see Derby mounting a serious challenge. I can’t put anyone off them.
The market seems to have it correct however with last year’s beaten play-off finalists Middlesbrough currently trading as the second favourites, [8.2], for the title.
Having finished eight points ahead of Derby (as well as beating them both home and away) and strengthened equally well during the summer having made arguably the two most eye-catching signings, I’m a little bit surprised that Middlesbrough aren’t the clear favourites as things stand.
Stewart Downing, signed for £5.5m from West Ham, is a terrific acquisition for the Teesside club. Downing, by some distance, was the leading English player in the Premier League last season for chances created and now stepping down a division his ability to open up defences will be a huge asset.
Uruguayan striker Christian Stuani also looks a ‘cut above’ Championship level having scored 15 times for La Liga side Espanyol last term. The 28-year-old will arrive in the north-east with a big reputation, and perhaps a lot of expectation, but if he can handle that then he’ll surely go close to firing Middlesbrough to the title.
Jonathan Woodgate has been so impressed with Boro’s ambition that he has signed on for another year after initially intending to retire, while boss Aitor Karanka has already been to see his old friend Jose Mourinho to secure the loan services of defender Tomas Kalas.
Like Derby, it’s impossible to envisage Middlesbrough not being in contention throughout the season and right now they have to be the selection to win the title. They have a superb manager, an even better chairman, and they have a squad brimming with quality that, like other clubs admittedly, is likely to be strengthened even further.
Of the relegated clubs QPR are priced as the outsiders of the trio at [16.0], though Burnley are only marginally more fancied at [15.0], while Hull are currently third favourites for the title at [11.0].
Of the three it’s QPR who appeal the most, purely on price. They have recent history of bouncing back immediately after being relegated and they’ve so far retained much of the squad that served them in the Premier League.
Of course, there are sure to be players leaving Loftus Road, not least high profile striker Charlie Austin, but as long as there aren’t a plethora of outgoings then Chris Ramsey‘s men should be there or thereabouts.
There was a feeling that Burnley were always going to struggle in the top flight last season and so it proved. They struggled for goals as their doomed campaign came to an end and with the loss of Danny Ings to Liverpool you sense they’ve been severely weakened. They’ll do well to bounce back at the first time of asking.
As will Steve Bruce’s Hull, who strike me as the team most likely to grind out key results and keep in touch, but might just lack that ability to put together an unbeaten run against the ‘lesser’ sides that would make them serious title challengers.
The only other clubs trading at under [20.0] in the Winner market are Brentford, [14.0], and Wolves, [16.5], both of which enjoyed fine seasons last term but will need to improve significantly to challenge for the top spot this term.
When looking for a spot of value in the Promotion market it’s important to remember that you’re not just looking for a club capable of finishing in the top two – if we were then Boro and Derby would be the very unimaginative selections – but for a side capable of making the play-offs and therefore giving you a chance of promotion that way.
For the last couple of seasons we’ve had surprise packages at this level, Burnley two years ago and both Bournemouth and Brentford last term, and you can almost guarantee that the top six clubs fancied in this market won’t be the top six clubs at the end of the season.
Newly promoted Bristol City are a side that I really like and at [9.0] to be promoted I think they’ll give supporters a run for their money by being in and around the top six for most of the season.
The Robins ran away with Leauge One last season and the confidence you can bring forward from such a campaign – take Brentford last term for example – can be invaluable.
They are yet to significantly improve their squad but they have time, and under their vastly experienced manager Steve Cotterill it won’t be the biggest surprise in the world to see them in the play-off hunt, and therefore challenge for promotion, for a second successive season.
At a similar price Sheffield Wednesday must be watched. They finished 13th last season but now have the potential to improve markedly on that with money behind them thanks to the ownership of Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri.
In terms of a wager however I prefer to sit this one out for now and see how the next few weeks pan out, how club strengthen, and how they start the season.
Back Middlesbrough to win the Championship @ [8.2]