(Starts Friday 2nd August 2019)
We take a quick look at the 14 most prominent teams in the betting and how they are looking to shape up at the start of the season and how we think they will realistically go this season. There are still a couple of weeks left before the season kicks-off and a number of these squads may change markedly, some bringing in quality players, but more importantly it will pay to keep an eye on the sides that lose decent young players such as Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham who is fundamental to their chances.
Leeds are the clear favourites with the bookmakers, partly due to the fact that Marcelo Bielsa has agreed to stay on and continue where he left off last season. Bielsa has already been shrewd in getting in two Barcelona youngsters, Mujica and Amor who will add to the depth of their squad along with loan signings Jack Harrison and Ben White plus the experience of Helder Costa. There is no doubt that they have the strongest squad, but with that comes added pressure and that could be exacerbated if they get off to a slow start. At the prices, they are far too short.
Fulham will also be popular with the punters, but Scott Parker is a “rookie manager” and even at this level, the competition will test him. On paper they should be challenging next May with the likes of Alfie Mawson, Cyrus Christie, Anguissa, Sessegnon, Cavaleiro and Mitrovic all capable at a higher level. It would be no surprise to see them well involved at the business end of the season, but I cannot have them at the current price with doubts about Sessegnon staying.
Cardiff are a difficult side to weigh up as they should have a strong enough squad to compete in this league, but I feel they need to add a little quality to be title contenders. Warnock has purchased Vaulks from Rotherham and he will add to their midfield, but they desperately need a 15 goal a season striker and that will be his priority. If they get one, they have the talent in Murphy and Bacuna to provide them with chances and it will be a surprise if they are not in and around the promotion race next May.
West Brom under Slaven Bilic have so far recruited just one player, Filip Krovinovic on a season long loan from Benfica. They will surely be more active in the transfer market before the window ends with a striker probably the main priority, although they do have Oli Burke returning from a loan spell with Celtic. They have money to spend following the transfer of Rodriguez to Burnley, but they have a small squad for a tough league so Bilic will need to bring in a few more players. That can mean time in the getting the team to gel, so at current prices they are not huge value.
New manager Woodgate will have the support of the fans after the Pulis era but will need to hit the ground running and also play a more exciting brand of football. He looks to have a squad capable of at least making the play-offs and this team has goals in it with Assombalonga, Gestede and Braithwaite more than useful at this level. If they can make the Riverside a fortress, they will be very tough to keep out of the top six. My only real worry is that it is not the youngest squad in the league, but experience is crucial in the Championship and they might have enough to get over the line.
Nathan Jones has a strong squad at his disposal and anything less than a play-off place will be a disappointment. Stoke believe they should be in the Premier league and last season was a very poor effort, although Jones did steady the ship with eleven draws so if he can add goals they could be challengers. He has a big squad which will need trimmed down and the sooner he finds his best eleven the better, with solid yardsticks at this level, Shawcross, Butland, Joe Allen, James McClean, Afobe and Berahino, crucial to their chances.
Brentford could be dark horses this season under their Danish manager Thomas Frank and I am interested in following them closely in the early stages of the season as they have been pretty active in the transfer market with Pontus Jansson a particularly good signing from Leeds. Up front may be their achilles heel with Maupay and Marcondes vital in their search for goals and if the manager can build a strong team ethic, they can be play-off contenders.
Derby may struggle until new manager Cocu gets the squad that he wants, and a system developed that will suit his style of play and the fits with the players he has at his disposal. A lot may depend on whether he can get some young loan players in, as was the case with Lampard last season. With too many imponderables, they cannot seriously be considered as title challengers with a play-off place probably the best they can aim for. George Thorne could be a welcome return to the side if he is finally fit again and they do have goals in them with the likes of Waghorn, Lawrence, Marriott and Mason Bennett.
Relegated last term, this may be a season of consolation, but they should not be written off totally, as they have an exciting young manager, who will use his contacts in Germany to recruit some talented young players. With those additions to a squad that is very much the same as last year, they will be one of the tougher sides to beat but I don’t think they have the “X factor” to see them finish top two, so a play-off place may be their best hope.
Sheff Wed are, at the time of writing, without a manager and are at best outsiders this season. The squad doesn’t look to have a great deal of depth and a lot of pressure will be heaped on the shoulders of Forestieri, Reach and Bannan as it looks likely that Rhodes will return to Norwich. I’m not sure that they are defensively strong enough and that could be their downfall.
The loss of Lloyd Kelly to Bournemouth will affect the stability of the defence and it may be a case of getting a settled side early on and then pushing on from there. They will be a tough side to beat with solid defence in Webster, Kalas and Baker but I’m not sure that they enough firepower up front and there will be a lot of pressure on Famara Diedhiou to improve on last year’s thirteen goal tally.
Surely this is a club in transition and it remains to be seen how French coach Sabri Lamouchi can galvanise a squad consisting of many different nationalities. They have plenty of experience at the back with the likes of Michael Dawson and Yohan Benalouane, but a lot will depend on whether there are enough goals up front with Daryl Murphy the focus and recalled loanee Tyler Walker looking to prove that his goalscoring exploits last year at Mansfield, can be transferred to this higher level.
A lot may depend on how much of the transfer fee that Swansea received from Man Utd for Daniel James, is made available to Steve Cooper with rumours that he is also likely to lose Oliver McBurnie, meaning he will need a proven goalscorer. The squad needs an overhaul and they are easily looked over this season, possibly with a view to consolidating and building for the future.
Preston were one of my fancies last season and would have finished much closer but for a poor run of form at the start and end of the season. Alex Neil is an exciting young manager and is building a solid young squad, although Callum Robinson will be a big miss following his transfer to Sheff Utd. There are no superstars in the side and their progress will be down to hard work and a solid team bond.
Most people will find it difficult to rule out Leeds and Fulham, on account of the strength of their squads, but we are looking for value and I cannot consider them at the prices available of 9/2 and 8/1. Cardiff at 10/1 and Stoke at 12/1 will both be popular each-way selections particularly with one firm offering four places, but I prefer to chance Middlesbrough at 14/1 generally, as I believe that they could go from strength-to- strength this season and in the hope that they are tough to beat at home I will put them up as a trade to lay back later in the year. Of the bigger price teams, Brentford might be worth a small saver, again to trade back at some point.
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