It is an old cliche but the Championship remains one of the most competitive divisions in the game.
Once again, there has been plenty of off-field intrigue over the summer and Friday sees the English second tier kick-off for what is likely to be another roller-coaster campaign.
Boing-boing Baggies can bounce back – 5/2 to be promoted
The Championship is notoriously tough to get out of and only nine of the 30 teams relegated in the last decade have bounced straight back.
If anyone can it looks like West Brom will be the side of those who have come down to have the biggest impact.
Although Jonny Evans, Ben Foster and James McClean have left, they have recruited well, with Sam Johnstone an excellent goalkeeper and Kyle Bartley a classy player in the second tier.
Darren Moore calmed things down last term and rather than crash out of the Premier League, the momentum he built can help them get off to a good start, with Bolton first up at The Hawthorns.
Fresh approach can help Stoke – 8/5 to be promoted
Much like at West Brom, things seemed to have gone stale at Stoke and the board have reacted by appointing an exciting young manager in Gary Rowett.
While Xherdan Shaqiri may have left for Liverpool, Benik Afobe, Tom Ince and the aforementioned McClean are all excellent fits in the Championship. Of the other new boys, Oghenekaro Etobo’s form for Nigeria at the World Cup suggests his signing could prove a steal.
Rowett has shown encouraging signs at both Birmingham and Derby and this could be the perfect chance for him to guide a team to the Premier League.
When you think of Stoke it does not take long to gather an image of Tony Pulis whos these days is in charge at Middlesbrough.
After taking over at Christmas, he almost steered them to promotion last term, losing to Aston Villa in the play-offs, and with a full summer behind him will have one thing at the forefront of his mind – getting back in the Premier League.
Beating West Brom, who dispensed with him last term, will also be in his thinking and this looks a team in his image with Aden Flint bolstering the defence and at 3/1 to go up they could be a good price.
Old favourites on the rebound – Nottingham Forest 5/4 top six finish
Of all the teams in the Championship, Nottingham Forest have done the best business with Joao Carvalho and Tobias Figueiredo exciting additions to go along with some hardened Championship signings.
The English second tier is a small place and like Pulis, Aitor Karanka will have an eye on former club Middlesbrough and looks to have the ingredients to mount a play-off push, with it now almost two decades since Forest were in the top flight.
It has also been all change at Leeds where Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa is the latest man to take the Elland Road hot seat. The eccentricities of all involved mean it could be either abomination or alchemy but Bielsa has recruited well, especially Patrick Bamford.
8/5 for a top-six finish is a great price but Derby’s 9/5 in the same market is perhaps more tempting due to their recent history but they too have a question mark hanging over them as Frank Lampard takes his first steps into management.
The former England midfielder has had a good team left to him by Rowett and another play-off finish has to be a minimum.
Off-field issues may trouble Aston Villa, while Preston may well be ones to watch under a canny coach in Alex Neil.
Punishment at Portman Road – Ipswich 11/4 to be relegated
After years of disquiet, Ipswich will be without Mick McCarthy this season with Paul Hurst taking his job. McCarthy may not be fun but he is functional and keeps you mid-table.
Hurst did well at Shrewsbury but this is another level and with money tight and a despondent fan base, it could be a tough year in Suffolk.
McClaren may struggle at QPR – 9/2 to be relegated
After a disastrous spell at Newcastle, a so-so spot at Derby and period consulting with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Steve McClaren is back in management and with a point to prove.
The 57-year-old splits opinion and his time at Loftus Road has got off to a rocky start due to a transfer embargo and a substantial fine handed to the club for past FFP sins. Strangely, this could help McClaren as he will be able to use his skill of coaching players to mould his side but a lack of quality could make life hard.
Underpowered Rotherham to struggle – 23/20 to be relegated
Of all three clubs promoted to the Championship, Rotherham appear in the most danger. Both Blackburn and Wigan looked a cut above last year but the Millers came through the play-offs and even then Paul Warne was uncertain about those available to him.
A limited summer will not have dampened his infectiously positive mood, but Warne has done wonders in transforming a side who lost 33 games in 2016-17 and will soon find another job if he leaves.
Bolton will likely be their biggest rivals, leading the market at 11/10, but Phil Parkinson’s experience is an asset for the Trotters, despite their lack of spending.
Heartache for Hull? – 4/1 to be relegated
The malaise off the field continues at Hull with the discourse between the fans and owners still overshadowing things.
Nigel Adkins steered them to safety last term but the quality, and just as important, experience, of those going out far outweighs those coming in.
They are 4/1 to be relegated and another team who could find themselves in a similar state are Reading.
The Royals’ own transfer business has been disappointing, with money for Paul Clement to spend sparse, while Millwall’s lack of cash means they could be stretched despite Neil Harris’ expertise.
From the outset, the gulf in class on paper suggests there could be almost two tables in the Championship this season. However, as we all know, football is not played on A4 and this most wonderful of leagues is sure to throw up plenty of surprises.
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