In many ways, the EFL Championship is the world’s most competitive and fierce domestic league – and to think that it’s actually England second division. The opportunity to take part in the financial recipe of the English Premier League is nothing short of immense. Alongside significant economic gains, the glory that awaits teams who will duel Manchester United, Chelsea, City or Arsenal is another great prize.
The league itself is also setup for greatness: 24 teams, three who just failed to cope with the rigorous Premier League, other three which have emerged as the best teams in the League One. With so many differences, both in style as well as in financial power and approaches, the EFL Championship is surely one of the most interesting competitions out there. And it’s 2017/2018 season has just started.
We all know that the first few days of the new season are a great chance for lots of teams to show us what they can do, but no results are taken very seriously so far. The biggest talking point it still around the winners and losers of this championship – who will fight for the crown, who will challenge for promotion, and who will ultimately end up just too down in the table and well on their way to the League One?
While most of what we will discuss today is speculation, it is clear that some teams are better than others, and we will try to explain our view to the best of our abilities. Today, we’ll talk about three categories of teams: the title challengers, the promotion contenders, and the ones fighting to avoid relegation.
1. Title challengers
Middlesbrough – 7.00 or 6/1
Aston Villa – 8.00 or 7/1
Fulham – 9.00 or 8/1
There can only be one winner, but in the case of the EFL Championship, second place is also great – it leads directly to the Premier League, without participation in the dreaded playoffs. Usually, teams relegated from the Premier League are the first three which come to mind as title challengers. This year, these teams are Hull, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough – although only the latter can be called a serious championship contender.
Boro is gearing up for promotion, after signing some good players and producing some good football in the Premier League as well. Assombalonga is a great striker for the Championship, and since they haven’t lost lots of players, they will undoubtedly challenge for the title – unlike Sunderland (weakest team in the PL last year) and Hull, who pay the price of too many failed signings and apparently need a season to restructure.
Aston Villa will also surely prepare for a run at promotion. After disappointing everyone two seasons ago in the PL, the team has looked better and better in the second part of the 2016-2017 season, and will certainly challenge for one of the two direct promotion spots. Their squad is clearly well above the average quality of the Championship.
Reading, Derby and Norwich are the rest of the teams which can challenge for a top-2 spot. Reading can build on last season’s success, where they finished 3rd, while Derby has made some very exciting signings (Huddlestone being the biggest) in an already good team. Norwich has also passed their reconstruction year, and return to the Premier League is surely the only thing on their mind.
2. Promotion contenders
Middlesbrough – 2.75 or 7/4
Aston Villa – 3.25 or 9/4
Fulham – 3.50 or 5/2
Wolverhampton – 3.50 or 5/2
Norwich City – 4.50 or 7/2
As we can all see, we’ve mentioned five teams above with good chances at the first two spots. Naturally, we expect all the above to at least make it into the playoffs, where anything can happen – from total disappointment to Premier League promotion. Apart from the teams we already discussed, there are a few others which we think have what it takes to finish on a playoff spot, with a chance at promotion.
Leeds United are coming after a good previous season, narrowly missing the 6th spot by 5 points. They’ve shown quality, stability and maybe just lacked a little luck. With the new season quickly coming, Leeds will surely aim for a top 6 finish – and they surely have the quality to achieve it.
Fulham is a fascinating team, although completely unpredictable. They could have another typical mediocre season, but they could build on last year’s success where they finish 6th, just 1 point behind 4th place. The squad had quality and kept most of their players, so there really is no reason for them to fail this year.
Sheffield Wednesday also cannot be ignored when considering playoff contenders. One of the best defenses of last season should be able to produce a good outing this year as well, especially if they manage to score a little more – 60 goals in 44 games cannot bring you success (last year’s tally).
Wolves are, last but not least, serious playoff contenders this year. After being bought by some wealthy Chinese investors who have profoundly strengthened the first team (including the acquisition of Portuguese international Ruben Neves for a Championship record of 15 million pounds), the club just cannot fall short of expectations. A top 6 spot is the lowest any fan would go.
Apart from these, teams like Birmingham, Brentford or Ipswich (who are preparing for their 17th consecutive season in the Championship) could produce a surprise, given a good run of games. We’re still considering them extreme long shots, and a high mid-table standing should be viewed as decent success.
3. Relegation battlers
Barnsley – 2.20 or 6/5
Burton Albion – 2.50 or 6/4
Bolton – 2.50 or 6/4
Millwall – 3.25 or 9/4
Ipswich Town – 4.50 or 7/2
The relegation battle is a lot simpler. The three teams just joining the Championship are Sheffield United, Bolton, and Millwall. While we consider the first two almost sure victims in this division, Millwall has a significantly better squad and has some better chances of competing in the Championship.
These three teams are joined by the ranks of Burton and Nottingham Forrest in what should be a very straightforward relegation battle. Out of these five teams, we think that three will go down – and if we’d had to put money on it, we’d say Sheffield Utd, Bolton and Burton. Additionally, we want to mention that Preston might be hurdled into this fight as well, especially due to their financial difficulties.
4. Top goalscorer
Chris Wood – 8.50 or 15/2
Britt Assombalonga – 10.00 or 9/1
Jonathan Kodjia – 12.00 or 11/1
Additionally, there is one more trophy we want to discuss in the article: the top goalscorer award. Traditionally, it’s more of a stepping stone towards greater things – most of the Championship’s goalscorers have moved to better teams following an excellent season in the second division.
This year, the contenders are incredibly diverse, ranging from classics like Wood, Assombalonga, Kodjia or Hernandez to the likes of Sharp, Gestede, Fletcher, Stuani, Martin, Bamford, Forestieri or McCormack.
Predicting who will be the best striker in the division is always hard, since it’s a very long season, with significant ups and downs for each side. If we’d had to pick a winner, we’d go with Assombalonga – he plays for a promotion contender and is likely to be the star of this year.
That being said, we want to encourage all our readers to view as many games from the EFL Championship as possible this year. We seriously regret all seasons where we prioritized other competitions over England’s second tier.
It is surely one of the most interesting, dynamic and passionate football competitions out there – also full of plenty of betting opportunities, for those of you who enjoy placing some money on your favorite team.