English football’s second tier is one of the most competitive in Europe – season kicks off on 3 August
The new season of the EFL Championship – the second tier of England’s footballing pyramid – promises to be one of the most open in years, with arguably half the teams in the league in with a chance of reaching the top six and a play-off place. Only three can eventually reach the promised land of the Premier League and watching the battle unfold over the coming months will be intriguing to say the least.
First things first
Before you go any further, head on over to the Oddsshark website, find your favourite betting agency and get your account up and running through your credit card. As a new customer and with the EFL Championship campaign all set for its big kick, there should be several promotions and sales on offer.
Where should I be investing my money?
The new season starts this Friday night (3 August) as Reading host Derby County. Both of these clubs have played in the Premier League previously, but only one has a realistic chance of returning to the top flight come the end of this season.
Derby fell at the semi-final stage of the play-offs last season but, under rookie manager Frank Lampard, will be hoping to emulate their form of the previous campaign. Derby come in as the favourites to win this league opener at a price of 2.25, with Reading further out at 3.25, according to Oddsshark.
Another club who qualified for the play-offs but were eliminated before the final last term is Middlesbrough. The Teeside club kick off the new season away to Millwall, who have play-off aspirations of their own, and this has all the makings of an opening day cracker.
The London side finished just two places and three points off the play-off places last season, and just two wins in their last five games looked to end their chances. And they come into this first game as slight underdogs against a Middlesbrough side which can harbour genuine aspirations of challenging for an automatic promotion spot.
The visitors are at 2.50 to pick up a win on the road, with Millwall right behind them at 2.70. A draw is priced at 3.30, but with home advantage on the opening day Millwall may well just scrape this – a 1-0 win for the Londoners is priced at 7.50.
The first Sunday of the season sees two more clubs with promotion hopes going head to head. Leeds United and the freshly relegated Stoke City lock horns at Elland Road in what could be a tense and challenging game for both sides.
Stoke’s dreadful form last term saw them finish next to bottom, but they are the favourites to win the Championship title this season at a price of 6.00. Leeds, meanwhile, hope to break into the top six and you can back them to do just that at 2.75.
In terms of this match, it is neck and neck between two promotion hopefuls. Leeds are priced at 2.62 to pick up all three points in front of their own fans, with Stoke City ever so slightly in front of them at just 2.60 – you could more than triple your money by backing a draw at 3.30.
However, there is no escaping the fact that it is Stoke who have the more technically gifted squad, and in Gary Rowett they have hired one of the most promising young managers in the country. A 1-0 away win for the recently relegated visitors is priced competitively at 8.50.
And the first edition of Monday Night Football in the new season also comes from the north-east, as Hull City host Aston Villa. Hull look to be one of the few clubs to find themselves in a mid-table quandary before a ball has even been kicked – they are not expected to make a push for promotion, nor are they expected to be relegated.
Villa, on the other hand, came desperately close to reaching the Premier League last season, eventually succumbing against Fulham in the play-off final at Wembley. There have been huge changes at the club since then and it remains to be seen whether they will challenge once again.
One thing for sure though is that it is the home side who are the favourites to make a winning start to the season. Hull are at just 2.45 to take all three points, with visitors Villa further out at 2.87 to get off to a winning start.
EFL Championship Round 1 fixtures:
Friday, 3 August
(3.25) Reading x Derby County (2.25); draw (3.20)
Saturday, 4 August
(2.37) Birmingham x Norwich (2.87); draw (3.40)
(1.44) Brentford x Rotherham (7.00); draw (4.33)
(2.50) Bristol City x Nottingham Forest (2.80); draw (3.25)
(2.50) Ipswich Town x Blackburn Rovers (2.75); draw (3.30)
(2.70) Millwall x Middlesbrough (2.50); draw (3.30)
(1.95) Preston x QPR (4.00); draw (3.30)
(1.44) West Brom x Bolton (7.50); draw (4.20)
(2.25) Wigan Athletic x Sheffield Wednesday ((3.10); draw (3.40)
(2.25) Sheffield United x Swansea City (3.10); draw (3.40)
Sunday, 5 August
(2.62) Leeds United x Stoke City (2.60); draw (3.30)
Monday, 6 August
(2.45) Hull x Aston Villa (2.87); draw (3.25)