The English Championship would have to be one of the world’s most competitive divisions yet it is easy to make a case for backing Fulham to win this season’s edition.
One week before the English Championship gets under way and bookmakers are got either Aston Villa or Middlesbrough at the head of their markets. The English Championship is so unpredictable that one would not be so bold as to say that neither Aston Villa nor Middlesbrough will take out the title but Fulham should be the favourite above of them.
Aston Villa has recruited former Chelsea captain John Terry and the Villans boss is Steve Bruce, who knows what it takes to escape the English Championship from the right exit door, but the one-time European champion finished last season 13th on the ladder, more than 30 points behind Newcastle. Aston Villa scored only 47 goals in its 46 English Championship matches and it will take a remarkable upturn in fortunes for the Villans to go from the bottom half of the ladder to top spot. One rates Aston Villa as a classic false favourite.
And one is almost as enthusiastic about Middlesbrough, which is attempting to rebound from its English Premier League relegation. Middlesbrough was one of the disappointments of the English Premier League last term, playing far too much conservative football – Boro focused too much on defence and, when they had to chase victories towards the end of the season, they could not muster enough goals to register them.
Fulham is the English Championship third favourite with most bookmakers despite being the division’s form side for the bulk of last term. Fulham made a poor start to last season’s English Championship campaign but the Cottagers hit their straps, topping the form ladder for five games, 15 games and 25 games to cite just three example sets. The 15-match form table of a 46-round tournament is particularly instructive and Fulham was 9-4-2 in last term’s English Championship, accruing three more points over that period than any other team. It was one of the shocks of the English Football League that Fulham crashed out of the play-offs.
What makes Fulham so attractive at odds of +900 with several bookmakers, including SkyBet, Bet365 and Bwin, is that the Cottagers look stronger than Aston Villa and Middlesbrough and it is difficult to fancy any of their other rivals all that strongly. One expects that Wolverhampton will improve under Nuno, particularly if Wolves over Fosun International continues to splash the cash. Wolverhampton has spent big money on former Porto skipper Ruben Neves and its links with super agent Jorge Mendes means that one would be surprised if more stars did not arrive at Molineux. But Wolverhampton will take time to gel under Nuno and taking time to gel is precisely what proved Fulham’s undoing last season. Another English Championship side than one expects to make progress this term is Brentford but the Bees, like so many teams, have too much ground to make up on Fulham from last term.
The English Championship will kick off on Friday 4 August when Sunderland and Nottingham Forest entertain Derby and Millwall respectively. Fulham will host Norwich in its first English Championship fixture, followed by Reading (away), Leeds (away), Sheffield Wednesday (home) and Ipswich (away) before the end of the month. Fulham managed to retain the services of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon during the close season and, with the Cottagers making a number of permanent and temporary additions to what was already a strong squad, they look certain to give punters a run for their money.
Fulham to win the Championship
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