The 2018-19 EFL Championship season got underway this weekend, with the opening day results throwing out a few surprises.
But it’s a long haul with Pep Guardiola rightly calling it the “hardest second division in the world”. There will be plenty of twists and turns before we find out which three teams will reach the promised land of the Premier League.
Ahead of a pulsating campaign, the Novibet EFL Championship 2018-19 Season Preview looks at the title contenders and promotion hopefuls.
Last season’s trio of relegated teams harbours genuine hopes of returning to the top flight at the first time of asking. However, are they realistic? While West Brom and Swansea may challenge for the play-offs, it’s hard to see them as title contenders.
The Favourites for the EFL Championship Title With Novibet
Stoke City (9/2 for the EFL Championship title with Novibet) are many people’s favourites to win the title. Gary Rowett is an experienced manager at this level albeit without winning promotion. His squad is largely intact, with the only player who left of any note being Xherdan Shaqiri. Coming in, Tom Ince and James McClean bring plenty of experience with them.
Rowett will bridge the gap between Tony Pulis’ rambunctious style which kept the Potters in the top flight for so long and Mark Hughes attempts to build a footballing team. Always tough to beat at home, Stoke’s promotion hopes rest on being able to forge strong away form.
Their meetings with Middlesbrough (8/1 for the EFL Championship title with Novibet) are sure to be tough matches. Tony Pulis guided his team to the play-off semi-final where they fell short against Aston Villa, but only just.
Patrick Bamford left this summer, continuing his journeyman career with Leeds United as part of the deal which brought Andy Lonergan to the Riverside.
After an initial rocky spell on taking over, Pulis guided ‘Boro to the play-offs on the back of strong 14-match run (W8, D4); he needs to keep that run going, as well as solving the problem of his goalshy attack – the lowest scorers in last season’s top six – if they are to take the step up to the Premier League as champions.
West Bromwich Albion (8/1 for the EFL Championship title with Novibet) made a strong fight of avoiding the drop. Or they flattered to deceive, depending on how you look at it. Darren Moore inspired them to an unlikely set of victories and now has the chance to take the Baggies back to the Premier League.
His biggest task is convincing Salomon Rondon that the club is geared to achieving that goal. A move to Newcastle United fell through due to personal terms, so it’s a tough battle. The 2 – 1 opening day defeat to Bolton Wanderers was the wake-up call everyone needed to underline how tough this division is to win.
Jay Rodriguez, last season’s top scorer, is wanted by Burnley although that talk has died down after the Baggies rejected a low bid by the Clarets. Add to this mix the departure of Ben Foster and Jonny Evans, and it’s no surprise Albion aren’t runaway favourites for the title.
Equally surprising is how far Aston Villa (14/1 to win the EFL Championship title with Novibet) have drifted. Steve Bruce’s side reached the play-off final where they were beaten by a hugely talented Fulham.
With the club’s former owner Tony Xia now off the scene, the Villans are settled and unlikely to lose Jack Grealish. The squad which did well last season and almost grabbed automatic promotion is largely intact. Ruling them out of the title race seems foolish at this early stage.
With the transfer embargo now lifted, Bruce has the chance to spend, particularly on a first-class goalkeeper, who can send Villa back to the big time.
The Outsiders for the EFL Championship Title With Novibet
The managerial merry-go-round threw out the tantalising prospect of Marcelo Bielsa taking over at Leeds United (11/1 to win the EFL Championship title with Novibet). The wily Argentinean was favoured by Lionel Messi to take over when Pep Guardiola left Barcelona; to Leeds delight, it didn’t happen.
It’s been a difficult few seasons for the Peacocks. Promotion chases were often undermined by off-the-pitch mismanagement or bizarre choices as managers. Patrick Bamford is an interesting addition but Bielsa’s summer has been more about pruning his squad.
Tactically, Leeds will be tough to beat but is that enough to take them to the title? It’s hard to see that high, but a run to the play-offs in well within their grasp.
Swansea City (12/1 for the EFL Championship title with Novibet), have new manager Graham Potter in charge and are the outsiders of the three relegated clubs to win the title.
There’s been a fire sale down at the Liberty Stadium with many key players – Ki Yeung-seung, Lukasz Fabianski, Alfie Mawson – leaving for Premier League clubs. Coming in, Joel Asoro is a highly-rated Swedish youngster, previously with Sunderland. But other than that, no-one exciting arrived.
That makes the former Oestersunds boss’ job more difficult. Coming in, he has bags of potential after his tenure in Sweden, but a tough task in lifting them into the title race. Swansea, this season at least, are likely to be on the fringes of the promotion race.
Having said that, more of the spirit which saw them win 2 – 1 at Sheffield United on the opening day and the sky is the limit.
The East Midlands brings the final two contenders to the table. Nottingham Forest (9/1 for the EFL Championship title with Novibet) spent heavily in the summer with £25m going out the door on 11 players. That’s a lot of new players to mould into a title-winning squad but Aitor Karanka, one of the divisions most widely-respected managers, is more than capable of doing that.
Strong additions in Michael Dawson, Jack Colback, Costel Pantilimon, and Lewis Grabban bring plenty of Premier League experience to the City Ground, which was missing previously.
There’s little in Forest’s form last season which warrants the optimism that they will challenge for the title. Karanka joined on 8th January, with Forest losing nine of his 20 games in charge (W5, D6).
At best, the City Ground might see a run to the play-offs. The same can be said of Derby County (10/1 to win the EFL Championship title with Novibet)
The Rams fell away horribly last season, ending up looking over their shoulders nervously as they clung onto a play-off place for dear life. Fulham despatched them quite comfortably in the semi-final.
Frank Lampard’s appointment as boss is another intriguing managerial move. Brave from Mel Morris, the Derby owner, with the former Chelsea star having no experience in coaching. A winning start at Reading – and a last-gasp winner at that – shows initially that the new boss is taking the squad with him.
The summer signings show plenty of potential but is it enough to take them to the Premier League. Another play-off appearance is the best they will get.
Our Predictions For The EFL Championship Title Winners
As ever, the EFL Championship is difficult to predict. There are a few strong outsiders – Forest, Leeds, Villa – but hand on heart, we find it hard to look beyond Middlesbrough to win the EFL Championship title @ 8/1 with Novibet.