The English football league season starts in earnest this weekend, with each of the three EFL divisions getting underway a week before the start of the Premier League. As always we will bring you our best bets for every round of games throughout the season.
Two of the Championships opening games that catch the eye immediately are those involving two of last season’s relegated sides – Middlesbrough and Hull. The former are favourites to win the title and earn promotion at the first time of asking, and they begin their campaign with an away match at Wolverhampton Wanderers. The latter also face an away game at a side relegated the season before last, Aston Villa. In Garry Monk and Steve Bruce Middlesbrough and Villa both have managers with recent top level experience, and anything less than promotion will be regarded as failure at their respective clubs. Surprisingly, both teams are available at very generous odds to get off to winning starts, and there are good reasons to believe both can land a result.
Another game which appeals is the one at Craven Cottage between Fulham and Norwich. The Cottagers lost out in the play off semi finals last term, while a disappointing Norwich failed to challenge for promotion at all. Both of these clubs are relatively well-financed in terms of the Championship, and both will expect a push for the top six at the very least. Another thing they have in common is that they were among the most entertaining last season, with goals flying in at both ends.
Wolves v Middlesbrough
Our first recommended bet is Middlesbrough to take three points away from Wolves at odds of +200 with Bet365.
Boro will start the season with former Swansea and Leeds manager Garry Monk in the hotseat, and the club have provided the means with which he can have a tilt at the title. They broke their own transfer record to capture striker Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest over the summer, and have also acquired the services of Johnny Howson from promotion rivals Norwich. Keeper Darren Randolph and striker Ashley Fletcher have also been brought in from West Ham, and it’s a new-look squad with more than its fair share of talent.
Boro struggled in the Premier League last term with many fans lamenting Aitor Karanka’s defensive approach, but a drop down to the Championship with Monk’s more progressive style of football is a combination which should see a more attacking outlook.
Wolves finished 15th in last year’s Championship and have re-established themselves as a second tier side three seasons after promotion back from League One. They might be a bit of an unknown quantity this year under former Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo, along with eleven new signings. Porto midfielder Ruben Neves has been brought in for a club record fee, and other notable signings include that of Norwich keeper John Ruddy. While fans may be hoping for a better season, it will be a difficult job to mould an almost new team especially without the services of last season’s top scorer Helder Costa – expected to miss most of the year with injury.
Fulham v Norwich
Fulham and Norwich were both involved in many high-scoring matches last season and over 2.5 goals looks a solid bet at -120 with SunBets.
The last three fixtures between the sides have had at least four goals each, and they were joint top-scorers last season with Newcastle on 85 goals. The defensive side of the game let them down in terms of promotion – Norwich conceded 69 goals more than anyone in the top half, while Fulham were not far behind letting in 57.
Norwich are another side with a new-look squad and a new manager, with former Borussia Dortmund II boss Daniel Farke taking the reins at the Norfolk club. Fulham stick with Slavisa Jokanovic, the man who led Watford to promotion in 2015, and retain much of the quality that saw them qualify for last season’s play offs.
Aston Villa v Hull
John Terry has made most Championship headlines after leaving Chelsea and dropping down a division to help Steve Bruce in Villa’s promotion push. The vastly experienced manager led Hull to promotion two seasons ago but left the club before the start of their ill-fated Premier League campaign last term. In hindsight his decision looks a prudent one, and these two clubs appear to be on different trajectories. Villa signed defender Elmohamady from Hull as well as Stoke’s Jon Walters, adding much needed experience and quality to the squad. After coming in part way through last season, Bruce led Villa away from the depths of the table and restored some consistency – particularly at home where they only lost three times all year. They are expected to be just as strong on home soil this time around and a promotion push is on the cards.
The same cannot be said of Hull, a club which has seen the departure of much of the talent that saw them promoted to last season’s Premier League. Tom Huddlestone is the latest to leave in a transfer to Derby County, while impressive goalkeeper Jakupovic has made the switch to Leicester. Full-back Andrew Robertson has left for Liverpool, and manager Leonid Slutsky is tasked with building a new side packed with loan signings. Marco Silva – the manager that almost saved Hull from relegation last season – has taken the post at Watford, and one suspects this is going to be a long hard season for the Tigers.
Middlesbrough to beat Wolves
Saturday 5th August, 15:00 GMT
Fulham v Norwich – Over 2.5 Goals
Saturday 5th August, 15:00 GMT
Aston Villa to beat Hull
Saturday 5th August, 17:30 GMT