After what seems like a very long international break it’s back to the nitty gritty of domestic football, and a full Championship fixture list at the weekend. Five games into the season and the table has an unusual look about it with Huddersfield topping the league ladder, followed by Fulham. Those two will hope to continue their great starts and will be dreaming about unlikely promotions, but the big hitters are not far behind.
Newcastle have put together a run of three straight league victories under Rafa Benitez, and their summer recruitment has been exceptional. Several bottom half Premier League teams would be happy with the sort of business the Magpies have done, and it looks like they are leaving little to chance in their efforts to make a swift return to the top flight. Brighton were always there or thereabouts last season under Chris Hughton, and they’ve had another good start this time around – despite losing to Newcastle last time out. Norwich also had a good first few games, but a shock 3-0 defeat at Birmingham in their last match has taken the shine off a little. They will be looking to regain the winning thread this week in a very winnable match at home to Cardiff.
Those three sides make up our best bets for the weekend, and it’s Newcastle that stand out the most at a big price on their visit to Derby.
Derby v Newcastle
Nigel Pearson is looking to rebuild his managerial career with the Rams, but is under no illusions that promotion is the target after the club missed out the last two seasons. He’s brought in some good signings to complement his squad, including Matej Vydra, James Wilson and Ikechi Anya. However, he’s also lost the services of Irish international Jeff Hendrick and striking talent Chris Martin.
Any talk of promotion should be put on ice for the moment though, after a poor start to the season. Draws against Aston Villa and Brighton have been fair results, but defeats to Barnsley and Burton Albion are not befitting of a side that is going to challenge at the top. Their sole win this season was the 1-0 victory over Preston. They’ve also won just one of the last seven competitive home games.
Newcastle have signed almost half a new squad this summer, aided by the big-money sales of Wijnaldum and Sissoko. Diame, Gayle, Murphy, Atsu and Ritchie are just some of the names who have come in under Rafa Benitez, and there is a depth of quality at St James Park.
After back-to-back opening defeats against Fulham and Huddersfield, they’ve now won the last three Championship games to storm up the table into 4th position. The wins have come against Reading, Bristol City and Brighton, with an EFL Cup win over Cheltenham sandwiched in-between. They’ve also won five of the last seven away games (including friendlies), and although Derby is not an easy place to go, the Magpies are fancied to come away with all three points.
Norwich v Cardiff
Another relegated side from last year’s Premier League, Norwich, can be backed at -161 with Coral to get the better of Cardiff on home soil.
The Canaries shook off their opening day hoodoo with a 4-1 win at Blackburn, and proceeded to go the first four games unbeaten. An uncharacteristic 3-0 defeat at Birmingham followed before the international break to send them to their first loss of the new campaign, so they need to bounce back at home to Cardiff.
Nelson Oliveira has signed from Benfica after scoring 9 Championship goals while on loan at Nottingham Forest last term. He’ll add some guile to an already talented squad, and Norwich are expected to be in the top six at least come the end of the season. They beat Cardiff 3-2 here in the corresponding game two seasons ago and have won their last two matches at Carrow Road.
Cardiff have had a pretty poor start to the season, although former England striker Ricky Lambert has signed from West Brom. Whether he will have enough to help them progress remains to be seen. Their only victory this season has been against bottom side Blackburn, and they haven’t won a competitive game on their travels since March.
Brighton v Brentford
The Seagulls are a very strong side at this level and were unfortunate to fall just short of promotion last year. Having kept much of the squad together and added some quality, Chris Hughton will be hoping for a similar outcome this season. They’re well placed in 8th after two wins and two draws, and the only time they’ve been outclassed is in the 2-0 defeat at Newcastle. Three home games so far this season have yielded 3-0 league wins over Rotherham and Nottingham Forest, and a 4-0 EFL Cup win over Colchester.
Brentford will be hoping for much better than their current 14th position in the league, but away form could be their undoing this term. They’ve lost all three competitive games on the road so far, going down 2-1 at Huddersfield, 1-0 at Rotherham, and 1-0 after extra time at Exeter in the EFL Cup. There are few tougher Championship away games than Brighton, and the Seagulls look good for three points.
Newcastle to beat Derby
Saturday 10th September, 17:30 GMT
Norwich to beat Cardiff
Saturday 10th September, 15:00 GMT
Brighton to beat Brentford
Saturday 10th September, 15:00 GMT