On Friday we have the first two Championship matches taking place for the 2017/18 season before the rest of the action gets underway on Saturday.
After a couple of winners in the preview last year, here’s this year’s with a number of tempting bets.
The most difficult league to get out say many and the three relegated Premier League clubs of last season have all undergone makeovers.
Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland all have new head coaches respectively and that comes with new philosophy plus the usually high turnover in playing staff following the said relegation.
I’ll put one thing out there now - I couldn’t be backing Sunderland. A heavy defeat in a friendly by a largely second-string Celtic side saw Darron Gibson launch a scathing attack on his fellow teammates and that disharmony is already showing since Simon Grayson took over.
The players they’ve brought in don’t exactly scream ambition with James Vaughan joining from Bury while Jason Steele has been signed to replace Jordan Pickford. They struggled for goals in the top flight and with Jermain Defoe now at Bournemouth then Vaughan and fellow signing Lewis Grabban will be set the task of firing them straight back up.
Simon Grayson is a canny manager and knows how the football league works after guiding both Leeds United and Huddersfield Town to promotions but they were both in League One. He had a decent season on limited money at Preston last year and has bough Aidan McGeady with him but he looks to have his work cut out here.
Hull City have undergone another big turnover in players and I don’t know what to expect of manager Leonid Slutsky. Given when he was the Russian national team coach it was mainly long ball to a target man then the Tigers fans won’t enjoy this too much.
The question is though, have they replaced what they’ve sold? The answer is probably no.
Scots David Marshall and Allan McGregor look set to fight it out for the number one jersey after Eldin Jakupovic left plus defensively they’ve loaned two Chelsea youngsters and bought Ondrej Mazuch from Sparta Prague to replace Harry Maguire, Curtis Davies and Andrew Robertson to name a few.
Like Sunderland I’d be expecting them to finish mid-table but miss out on the play-offs.
Garry Monk has the weight of expectation to carry at Riverside with his side fancied to bounce back.
That pressure could get to the players and Monk as a manager has never been promoted.
They lacked firepower in the top flight scoring just 27 goals – the fewest in the league, but the likes of Redy Gestede and Patrick Bamford have done better at this level in the past.
It’s quite bewildering that they’ve spent £15m on Britt Assombalonga and £9m on Martin Braithwaite given they were reluctant to spend during January’s window.
You can see why those two signings add to the appeal of an immediate return but with question marks over the future of Ben Gibson the club will need to make a decision whether to cash-in or hold there nerve without replacing him.
An obvious chance to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking but Monk has to get it right and impress the Boro faithful from the outset.
All the talk is about Aston Villa following some shrewd signings by Steve Bruce, who was just unable to guide them to the play-offs after taking over last season.
The experienced manager has signed John Terry and Chris Samba at the back with Ahmed Elmohamady joining from Hull and Glenn Whelan from Stoke.
If Terry and Samba are a centre-back partnership then you worry that in certain games they’ll get undone by a nippy speedy forward but they will do a job at this level, as will Whelan who’ll sit in front of the back four and offer solid protection.
Conor Hourihane and Scott Hogan will chip in with goals with the bulk of that burden to Jonathan Kodjia, who should be able to bag quite a few in this league.
They’ve got everything on paper but the price is a little short for my liking.
I’m looking across the Midlands to the east and to Pride Park because I really think Gary Rowett could be building a decent squad at Derby County.
He did inherit a good squad from Steve McLaren after his appointment in March and they didn’t end the season too badly under Rowett. In nine matches they won four, drew three and last twice plus you have to remember he got a very average Birmingham side to third in the table before his untimely and bizarre dismissal.
The Rams have lost Tom Ince and Will Hughes in the off-season to Premier League clubs but there is plenty of experience in the side to help them fight for promotion.
Andre Wisdom has joined and will replace Cyrus Christie while Tom Huddlestone adds bite into the midfield and Curtis Davies gives that extra know-how at the back.
There is plenty of firepower in the squad for Rowett to choose from too. His striking options include Darren Bent, Chris Martin, Matej Vydra and David Nugent, so plenty of goals at this level.
One big positive is that George Thorne is back after suffering a double leg break that ruled him out of last season. If he is able to recapture his best form then he could shine without Ince or Hughes around.
Derby finished with the sixth best defensive record in the league but they did lack goals scoring just 54 goals all season. If they can resolve that this time around, and they look like they have the players to do then they’ll be quite strong.
Rowett will make them hard to beat and that steel is something required in tis league – if you aren’t going to win, make sure you don’t lose and for me they have all the makings of a side set to mount a strong challenge for promotion.
Fulham will be thereabouts having kept hold of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon. Oliver Norwood will do a good job in the middle of the park but I can see them falling short.
Norwich City have tried to replicate Huddersfield last season by appointing a German head coach in Daniel Farke.
Nelson Oliveira is the standout in the team in attacking areas and is he is able to play the full season then the Canaries could follow in the Terriers footsteps but the thing that worries me most is the high turnover of places, which includes a number of good players at this level and the question is if they’ve been properly replaced.
Wolves have the Jorge Mendes influence and it could go one of two ways. They could thrive with the Portuguese signings of Ruben Neves for a club record fee and Roderick Miranda but it’s their domestic signings that might go under the radar with Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy giving them that league experience.
What’s happened over the summer at Molineux may give the fans plenty of confidence but I’d be looking at Wolves to Finish Bottom Half (2/1 – SkyBet & Betfair) with the likely pressure on Nuno Espirito Santo to get off to a quick start.
Many of the bookies offer specials before the season and William Hill have been running #YourOdds for all the leagues. One in this one that caught the eye was Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Derby all to Finish Top 6 (7/1) was something I didn’t mind given the strength of all three squads and how well fancied they are.
Derby County to be Promoted (9/2 – Bet365 & Unibet)
Out of all the things I found this the toughest to decipher with the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic dropping down, so I’ll keep this short.
Both sides will be fancied to bounce back, especially Rovers with Tony Mowbray staying at the helm at Ewood Park but they are short at 9/2 to Win the League.
They should have the players to manage promotion with Charlie Mulgrew, Peter Whittingham, Elliott Bennett and Danny Graham all at the club.
The latter should be able to score quite a few goals this season in this league despite his woes in front of goal in the last couple of seasons.
I’m interested by Charlton Athletic this season. They’ve had a full pre-season to get to grips with the demands Karl Robinson’s footballing philosophy and seem to have taken well to it in their friendlies.
They finished last season on a five-match unbeaten run, which saw them finish 13th overall.
If they can carry that form into this season then I’d be expecting to see them mounting a challenge for the play-offs at the very least.
Robinson has signed players with good experience at this level with Bradford pair Mark Marshall and Billy Clarke plus he gone for some youth with 19 year old left back Jay Dasilva and 21 year old winger Tariqe Fosu joining the club.
The Addicks look to have a solid side on paper with Marshall, Jason Pearce and Chris Solly at the back with two old heads in Johnnie Jackson and Andrew Crofts in the middle of the park with Jake Forster-Caskey offering some legs and youth.
They have a wealth of attacking options, which many rival managers would dream of. Billy Clarke, Ricky Holmes, Josh Magennis, Tony Watt and Lee Novak are those to be chosen to lead the line and it was Holmes who finished the season strongly with four goals in Charlton’s last five matches.
A strong side on paper with that fine blend of youth and experience, so expect the good times to return to The Valley this season.
Oldham are the favourites for the drop but one team I’d be eyeing up in this market is Bury.
They finished 19th last season, just one point off those relegation places having won just once in their last eight matches, however their squad has had a makeover this time around.
In the off-season they’ve got in 13 players on free transfers with on another four on loan.
For me this screams of what Port Vale did last season. They signed a big number of players, started the season well but fell away and ended up relegated.
It could be similar for the Shakers and despite signing the likes of Jay O’Shea, Chris Maguire and Jermaine Beckford they all need to gel and that takes more than just pre-season.
All the signings made by Lee Clark could make him look shrewd in pretty much replacing last season playing staff but for me it’s concerning and they’ll have to be much improved if they want to better last season, so Bury to be Relegated (7/1 – Stan James) is something also to consider.
Charlton to Make the Play-Off’s (7/2 – BetFred)
This is the league where I’ve been eyeing a bet up since the backend of last season and I can’t ignore the price.
Crewe Alex look a big price in either winner or promotion market here given how they ended the season under David Artell after he took over from Steve Davis, who was dismissed in January.
Artell’s record when he took over was P21, W8, D3, L10. You will still point out he lost more than he won but his hands had been tied in the transfer market and his squad was fully made up of academy players due to injuries.
Some notable scalps came on the road at the backend of last season when winning at play-off side Carlisle 2-0 and they went to Fratton Park and beat eventual league winners Pompey 1-0 in a game that saw Paul Cook say that Crewe were one of the better sides they had faced all year.
Alex Kiwomya loan ended and he’s now with Doncaster but the Railwaymen have placed his goals.
Chris Dagnall scored 14 last season with 12 of them coming when Artell took over and he’ll link up this campaign with new signing Chris Porter, who is a big signing for the club in this league.
Porter got 16 goals for Colchester last year and if he and Dagnall can link up like they have during pre-season then the Railwayman look strong in attacking areas.
It’s a fairly youthful midfield but ones who have experience with George Ray going into his sixth season as a professional while Brad Walker looks a decent signing from Hartlepool.
So at a double figure price I’m taking the Railwaymen to be on a journey of success for the upcoming season.
Mansfield Town are favourites for promotion mainly because Steve Evans is the manger and he knows how to work on a shoestring budget.
The Stags team has seen plenty of fresh faces, no fewer than 13 new players have joined the club with the likes of experienced defenders Zander Diamond and David Mirfin, as well as forward Lee Angol.
Luton are also well-fancied after finishing fourth last season before losing to Blackpool in the play-offs.
The Hatters have had to replace Craig Mackail-Smith, Jack Marriot and Cameron McGeehan during the off-season but look to have done so with the loan of Andrew Shinnie and permanent signing of James Collins.
The latter got 20 goals for Crawley last season and his partnership with Danny Hylton, who got 22 goals, will be vital in seeing them power towards League 1. Either of those two would be a good bet for top scorer this time around after Luton scored 70 goals last season with only the top three and Exeter scoring more.
Wycombe aren’t without chances if they can keep key players fit. Towards the backend of last season they petered out to finish ninth mainly because of a poor February resulted in one win, one draw and five defeats.
A small squad playing seven fixtures in a month is quite tough going and that knocked the stuffing out of them but they did respond well in March and April.
One discovery was Scott Kashket, who got ten goals in an injury-hit season. The 22 year old has had a full pre-season behind him this year, which should help him remain fit plus playing alongside Adebayo Akinfenwa may teach him a thing or two.
It does remain a small squad, which has to be the concern, especially if they have a run of fixtures in close proximity. Adam El-Abd is a vastly experienced defender and he’ll had some leadership quality at the back around a younger spine.
There is talk of Lincoln City recording back-to-back promotions and you can see why with their recruitment.
Michael Bostwick, Billy Knott and Matt Green will all do a good job at this level with two of them stepping down a division from League 1 clubs.
If Danny Cowley can get them as organised as he did in the National League then there is a good chance of that.
What they achieved last season what sensational given the cup run they also went on, which saw fixture congestion, but they did beat Burnley, Brighton and Ipswich proving they’ll be capable in this league.
Crewe Alex to be Promoted (10/1 – Bet365, William Hill & Paddy Power)
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