The Championship is one of the most entertaining leagues in the world: the old adage “anyone can beat anyone” truly does apply to England’s second-tier.
When it comes to betting, then, it can prove difficult territory. Two seasons ago, eight clubs were priced up as 12/1 or shorter to win the title, yet it was Norwich City who ended up as champions despite being 25/1 prior to a ball being kicked.
Indeed, last season Leeds United became only the third pre-season favourite to win the title since the turn of the century. That said, 45% of the favourites or joint-favourites in that time-frame have secured promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, so it’s far from a jinx to be heavily-fancied.
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Norwich are marginal favourites this time around to be crowned champions for a second time in three seasons at a best-price 6/1 (bet365). They struggled with the step-up to Premier League life last campaign, earning only 21 points with a -49 goal difference, but they have surprisingly retained the vast majority of their talented squad so far while adding the likes of Ben Gibson, Oliver Skipp, Kieran Dowell and Jordan Hugill either permanently or on loan.
Having been relegated from the Premier League a record five times, the Canaries are now the number one yo-yo club in the country, so it’d be no surprise to see them live up to their billing and bounce straight back. Unlike Watford and Bournemouth, they will not have to adjust to life under a new manager and that continuity should serve them well.
Brentford are heavily tipped to bounce back from their gruelling Play-Off Final defeat to rivals Fulham last month at 13/2 (William Hill). The Bees have finished in the top-half in each of their six Championship seasons, with their underlying numbers – both offensively and defensively – second only to Leeds last campaign.
Top-scorer Ollie Watkins has departed to Aston Villa for an eye-catching £28m, with Said Benrahma expected to follow him out of the door, but Ivan Toney looks a fantastic replacement. The 24-year-old scored 24 goals in 32 appearances for Peterborough in League One last season and is generally regarded as a Premier League striker in waiting.
Thomas Frank’s side will have to adjust to life at a new stadium, but without fans in the ground (for the time being at least) this shift may not prove as disruptive as other examples in the recent past. There’s every chance the Bees finally end their 74-year top-flight exile.
Watford make up the last of the trio of single-digit favourites at 7/1 (William Hill). As things stand they probably have the strongest squad in the division, with Andre Gray, Troy Deeney, Danny Welbeck, Ismaila Sarr, Gerard Deulofeu (once he returns from injury) and new signing Glenn Murray a scary front-line at this level.
There’s plenty of experience and physicality supporting them from behind, too.
However, it remains to be seen how a demanding group of players react to new manager Vladimir Ivic. The Serb performed wonders in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but it’s a new country and a step-up in quality for him to adapt to.
It’s also unclear which players he will have available to him once the transfer window closes.
Abdoulaye Doucoure has joined Everton, with the likes of Deeney, Welbeck, Sarr and Etienne Capoue not featuring in pre-season having been linked with moves away.
The Hornets feel like a side who could storm the division if they retain most of their squad and everything clicks, but equally there’s probably a little more risk about backing them than Brentford and Norwich.
Heading up the chasing pack is another relegated side in Bournemouth at 12/1 (bet365). It’s an end of an era for the Cherries with Eddie Howe’s long-reign as manager coming to an end, and the likes of Callum Wilson, Nathan Ake, Aaron Ramsdale and Ryan Fraser returning to Premier League sides.
In Howe’s stead is his former assistant Jason Tindall.
This appointment – along with the lack of incomings to replace the raft of sales – makes me sceptical about Bournemouth’s chances this season. At least one relegated side usually struggles and I don’t see it being either of the two aforementioned sides, so I’ll be leaving them well alone in this market.
Another side I’m surprised to see as short as they are is Stoke at 14/1 (bet365). Michael O’Neill guided the Potters away from relegation after taking over in November, but it wasn’t all plain sailing with their away form remaining pretty shocking.
Steven Fletcher has arrived on a free transfer to bolster what already looked a top-heavy squad, but I’m not convinced there’s an awful lot of technical quality about them.
They’ll undoubtedly improve on their 15th-placed finish last campaign and be tough to beat, but I’m struggling to envisage an automatic promotion challenge to be honest.
Nottingham Forest are equally priced at 14/1 (Sky Bet) and probably represent better value given how well they fared for most of the last campaign before dramatically falling out of a play-off spot on the final day.
Snapping up Lyle Taylor on a free transfer from Charlton is a great piece of business and will decrease the over-reliance on Lewis Grabban in terms of putting the ball in the back of the net.
Joe Lolley will miss Matt Cash’s driving runs beyond him after the popular full-back joined Aston Villa, but manager Sabri Lamouchi should have learned plenty from his side’s struggles against low-blocks last season.
However, I make Cardiff great value at 16/1 (Sky Bet). The Bluebirds went on a very good run after appointing Neil Harris as manager in November, losing only eight of 37 games to steadily climb up the table and secure a play-off spot.
Harris’ side narrowly fell short against Fulham, but with the addition of striker Kieffer Moore from Wigan they should finally have a consistent focal point while retaining much of the squad which battled hard against relegation from the Premier League in the 2018/19 campaign.
They’re not always the easiest on the eye but Lee Tomlin, Josh Murphy and Junior Hoilett are as good as any trio of attacking midfielders in the division and can make the difference in tight matches.
I expect their Welsh rivals Swansea to have another strong season, too, having leapfrogged Forest into the final play-off spot on the last day of last season. They were outplayed by Brentford in the Bees’ last ever game at Griffin Park, but there’s no real shame in that.
Failing to retain the services of Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster on loan is a blow, but the addition of Jamal Lowe from Wigan may see the excellent Andre Ayew move into a more central role. Morgan Gibbs-White has the ability to be the best creative central midfielder in the division and has joined on loan for the season from Wolves.
At 20/1 (bet365) they look a good each-way punt.
My other each-way punt will be Millwall at 25/1 (Bet Victor). With two eighth-placed finishes in the last three seasons they’ve been knocking on the door of a return to the top-flight for the first time since 1990 and I think they have a very good chance of finally breaking into the play-offs.
Gary Rowett has successfully improved the playing style of the side while retaining the solidity and aggression which must make them absolutely no fun to play against. Jed Wallace is arguably the division’s most under-rated player and with 18-year-old Ireland striker Troy Parrott joining on loan from Tottenham for the season they may finally possess the goals to take them up a level.