With the three relegated teams in various states of decay and the promoted trio looking more competitive than usual, this could be a very good Championship season for spectators and punters to enjoy.
At the top end of the table you would expect Newcastle and Norwich to battle it out for supremacy with perennial challengers Brighton and Derby, while Aston Villa may have to settle for a season of consolidation.
At the bottom, Rotherham United have lost their messiah in Neil Warnock and face a mighty struggle for survival, while two former Premier League giants in Fulham and Blackburn Rovers look on a slippery slope to oblivion themselves.
Here are our pick of the Championship betting tips:
Winner – Newcastle (19/10)
It has been a number of years since the Championship title race saw such a clear and obvious winner, and when the best set of players combines with the best manager in the division t the biggest club….well, nobody would be surprised if the Magpies romped to victory this term.
Rafa Benitez is a Champions League winning manager that will surely be, from a tactical perspective, head and shoulders above the rest, and his transfer dealings thus far indicate a sound judgement at this level: Grant Hanley is a proven performer who will run through brick walls for the cause (a trait the Geordies were severely lacking last season), Matt Ritchie is, if his performance levels last season were anything to go by, a Premier League player, while Dwight Gayle has been Crystal Palace’s top scorer for the last three seasons.
Yes, Andros Townsend and Gigi Wijnaldum have left and Moussa Sissoko is likely to follow, but look at those who remain at St James’ Park: Tim Krul, Chancel Mbemba, Jack Colback, Alexander Mitrovic, to name but a few. If Benitez can get his squad motivated and fired up, they surely cannot be stopped in their quest for an instant return to the top flight.
Promotion – Norwich City (11/4)
Norwich are one of those sides that tends to slip under the radar somewhat, and that’s surprising given that the squad Alex Neil will have at his disposal in 2016/17 is pretty much the same as that which got promoted from this very division two years ago and who were only relegated by a resurgent Sunderland in the spring of this. That consistency will greatly aid the Canaries cause.
Their squad is made up of players who perhaps aren’t quite good enough for the Premier League but who are more than capable in the Championship: Cameron Jerome, Jonny Howson, Alex Tettey, Russell Martin etc. They have lost the talented Nathan Redmond to Southampton, but replaced him with the precocious James Maddison, who could well be one to watch this term.
Neil seems like a canny and thoroughly competent manager who has already secured one promotion in his young career. Smart punters are getting involved in a second this time around, too.
Relegation – Fulham (10/1)
The fall from grace at Craven Cottage has been quite stark, and having witnessed the likes of Leicester, Leeds, Southampton and Blackpool go from Premier League outfits to League one fodder in the not too distant past all involved at Fulham FC will be hoping history isn’t about to repeat itself.
Ross McCormack looks set to leave a side who finished just eleven points off the relegation places in 20th, and how crucial were his 21 goals to the cause? The Scot will follow the likes of Moussa Dembele, Maarten Stekelenburg, Alexander Kacaniklic and Emerson Hyndman out of the door, and the roll-call of replacements – Sone Aluko, Kevin McDonald and David Button is less than convincing.
Slavisa Jokanovic did a great job in getting Watford promoted a couple of years ago, but there he was supported by a club with an upwardly mobile structure. Fulham look like they are stuck in reverse; and that generally never tends to end well.
Top Goalscorer – Dwight Gayle (9/1)
In the Championship generally strikers that are short in stature but big on pace tend to thrive: Andre Gray and Nakhi Wells scored a combined tally of 42 last season, for example. If there is a pattern emerging, then Gayle looks well placed to take advantage.
A player that has scored goals wherever he has been may finally have found a spiritual home at St James’ Park, where he will act as the perfect foil for Mitrovic’s physicality and the clever probing of Ritchie and Ayoze Perez.
If Benitez opts for a 3-5-2 formation, as appears likely given his defensive dalliances in the transfer market, then the Gayle-Mitrovic partnership will surely blossom.
Top Goalscorer – Gary Hooper (33/1)
Sheffield Wednesday were outstanding last season, and of the main contributory factors to that was the forward partnership between Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri.
The duo notched 27 goals between them as the Owls fell agonisingly short of a return to the big time, and the addition of Steven Fletcher to the ranks suggests that he will partner Hooper in leading the line with Forestieri tucking in just behind.
What a mouth-watering prospect that is for Wednesday fans, and surely Hooper will reap the benefit most.