The Championship may represent the second tier of English football, but there is nothing second class about the competition. The promise of a place in the Premier League, and the fact that there is often little to choose between many of the teams ensures that the Championship is one of the toughest leagues in European football, watched by millions, and this season’s Championship promises to be as compelling as ever.
The Championship is awash with cash, as teams that are relegated from the Premier League benefit from parachute payments and foreign investors seek to invest in a second tier team that can make it at the top level. While the gap between the richest and poorest is not quite as marked as you’ll find in the Premier League and teams like Huddersfield can spring a surprise, the general rule is that the teams with the biggest budgets will eventually prevail, unless they are held back by managerial incompetence or behind-the-scenes bungling.
A club in chaos or suffering from poor organisation or off-the-field troubles won’t be promoted, no matter how much money they throw at their squad. That’s why last season’s Premier League failures Sunderland and Hull have been friendless in the Championship betting this time round. Sunderland are available at 18/1 with Betfred, while Hull are 20/1 with Bet 365.
At the top of the market, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa dominate the betting. Villa can be backed at 8/1 with Unibet, after recruiting heavily this summer, and with an experienced squad and a manager who knows his way around this division, they have the raw materials for a promotion challenge. Villa’s main problem is likely to be the expectation of their fans, and a slow start to the season could put Steve Bruce under pressure.
Middlesbrough appear to be more of a solid bet to win the division. A lack of potency in front of goal saw them slip out of the Premier League last season, so new manager Garry Monk has brought in some fresh striking talent, adding Nottingham Forest striker Britt Assombalonga for a club-record £15million, Toulouse forward Martin Braithwaite for around £9million and West Ham’s Ashley Fletcher for £6.5million. With this extra striking power, combined with a wealth of Championship experience, Boro have attracted plenty of support from punters and are available at 7/1 with Unibet.
Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading all missed out in the play-offs last season, but while a lack of transfer action means that Reading are not fancied and can be backed at 25/1 with William Hill, both Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday are prominent in the betting this time round. Of the two, Fulham look the likelier to mount a title challenge, having improved steadily under Slavisa Jokanovic. You can back them at 9/1 with Betfred, while Sheffield Wednesday are available at 11/1 with Paddy Power.
As ever there are a number of clubs just below the leading contenders who all have a realistic chance of breaking into the top six and perhaps even causing an upset by winning the division. Wolverhampton Wanderers certainly come into that category. After another season of upheaval in 2016-17, they have recruited former Porto and Valencia boss Nuno, and he has already attracted some eye-catching talent to the club, including Porto midfielder Ruben Neves and defender Willy Boly on a season-long loan.
The manager has solid credentials in the Spanish and Portuguese leagues and leads a squad that is a potent blend of Championship experience and international flair. At 12/1 with Betfred, Wolves look an interesting outside bet to win the Championship in 2017-18.