People often say that the Premier League is the best league in the world, but there are plenty who will also tell you that the Championship is the most exciting. Twenty-four teams and forty-six games a season means that the games come thick and fast, and on any given match day anybody can beat just anybody else.
Although Wolves finished nine points clear at the top of the Championship in 2017-18, winning automatic promotion, the second automatic place went down to the last day, with Fulham’s loss away at Birmingham City seeing Cardiff City go up in second. However, Fulham were able to atone for their surprise loss at St Andrew’s by coming through the play-offs to earn promotion to the Premier League, beating Derby 2-1 over two legs and then triumphing over Aston Villa 1-0 in the play-off final at Wembley.
Coming back down to the Championship from the Premier League in 2018-19 are Swansea City, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. They will no doubt quickly discover, as do all sides who get relegated, that getting out of the Championship and back into the top tier is far from easy — just ask Sunderland, who went straight down into League 1 last year, along with Barnsley and Burton Albion. Their places were taken by Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and Rotherham United, who come up from League 1.
Even though it’s the second tier of English football, there is still plenty of money sloshing around in the Championship, with substantial amounts being paid for transfers (although they can’t, of course, match the astronomical amounts paid in the Premier League).
For instance, new boys Swansea City have paid £2 million for centre forward Joel Asoro from Sunderland; Stoke City shelled out £10 million for Tom Ince from Huddersfield Town, £6.35 million for Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo from Feirense, and £5 million for Irishman James McClean from West Brom; the Baggies then paid out £6.5 million for Man United ‘keeper Sam Johnstone and £4 million on Kyle Bartley from Swansea City.
Other big deals that have gone down during the summer transfer window include the moves of Aden Flint (Bristol City) and Paddy McNair (Sunderland) to Middlesbrough for £7 million and £5 million respectively; while Nottingham Forest have clinched the biggest deal of the summer so far, paying £13.2 million for João Carvalho from Benfica.
Two of the three favourites for promotion back to the Premier League are two of the relegated sides from last campaign — Stoke City at 11-2 and West Bromwich Albion at 8-1 (at William Hill and Ladbrokes). The third relegated team, Swansea City, have drifted quickly to 14-1 (at Unibet), a long way behind Middlesbrough at 9-1 and Nottingham Forest at 10-1. In terms of a value bet, Derby County, beaten in last year’s play-offs and now under the management of Frank Lampard, might worth looking at with a price of 14-1.
The favourites for relegation from the Championship are Rotherham United, one of the three teams to come up from League 1, who are priced at 5-4 with William Hill to drop straight back down. However, the bookies think the other two promoted sides, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic, are good chances to stay up — you can get 6-1 and 9-1 respectively on their being relegated. Other sides in the bookies’ sights for a slide down to League 1 include Bolton Wanderers at 6-4, Ipswich Town at 7-2, or you can 5-1 on Reading being relegated at the end of the season.
Love them or loathe them, there is no doubt that the play-offs have added great drama and tension to the Championship. Stoke City are favourites to be in the play-offs at the end of the season at 11-5 with Ladbrokes, Middlesbrough are 9-4 at Coral, or you can get 5-2 on West Brom with SkyBet. Others in the bookies’ reckoning are Swansea City at 11-4, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest at 3-1, and Aston Villa at 7-2.
Stoke City loanee Benik Afobe is the current bookies’ favourite to be the top goalscorer in the Championship at 9-1 with Coral (although he’s as short as 7-1 with other sports books). You can get a best price of 14-1 on Forest’s Lewis Grabban, or Leeds’ new signing from Derby Matej Vydra netting the most goals with SkyBet.
Picking the three sides to be relegated is always a good bet as you can get some excellent value in this market. Bolton/Ipswich/Rotherham are currently the favoured three to go down at 33-1 at SkyBet, or you can get 40-1 on Hull/Bolton/Rotherham being the sides who are relegated.