Championship 2018/19 preview: Top tips for all outright markets
We assess the best bets for promotion, relegation and more, as English football's most unpredictable division gets back under way.
For a division that is one of the most competitive in the world, it is not unusual for the Championship to be dominated by one side.
Five of the last 10 champions have won the title by at least seven points, with excellent Newcastle, Leicester and Wolves sides among them.
And there is little worth in looking beyond Stoke City as the likeliest team to take command this term.
From the moment that Joe Allen signed a new contract in June, their intent to make an immediate return to the Premier League was made clear.
While the loss of Xherdan Shaqiri was inevitable, Marc Muniesa and Ramadan Sobhi are the only other first-team players to depart.
Their spine of Jack Butland, Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Allen, Badou Ndiaye and Benik Afobe is formidable. And with Afobe joined by Oghenekaro Etebo, James McClean and Tom Ince in signing for Gary Rowett’s side, there is an abundance of class and experience.
Rowett himself is perhaps the only question mark, having fallen short in each of several promotion races while in charge of Burton and Derby.
He has never taken charge of a squad this strong, however, and there is no reason to believe that he isn’t a good enough manager to achieve automatic promotion.
There are no obvious candidates to join the Potters in the top two, but of the usual promotion contenders, Derby County are an intriguing prospect.
The loan signing of Mason Mount – who Gareth Southgate has earmarked as a future England international – from Chelsea is exciting, after he scored 14 goals from midfield for Vitesse Arnheim last season.
Mount is joined by Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson and Florian Jozefzoon, while last season’s Championship top scorer Matej Vydra could still be involved after his proposed move to Leeds broke down.
Most fascinating of all is the appointment of Frank Lampard. Hiring a managerial novice is a risk, but the Rams needed to do something to shake themselves out of a cycle of falling short, and Lampard appears to have the makings of a good coach.
They are not alone in going for something different, after Leeds United completed one of the coups of the summer by appointing Marcelo Bielsa as their new head coach.
It is difficult to imagine a season of mid-table mediocrity under Bielsa, with chaos – relegation is – or brilliance surely the only two possible outcomes.
The impressive signing of Barry Douglas from Wolves, in addition to Patrick Bamford and three Premier League loans, tips the balance towards the latter.
All of the five teams that finished just outside the play-offs last season are worth consideration in this market, including Millwall, Sheffield United and Bristol City.
The two that really take our fancy, though, are Brentford and Preston North End .
The Bees dominated the data last season, producing comfortably more chances than any other side in the division, with their xG also the best of any side.
They have scouted extensively and bought well again this summer, while in Neal Maupay they have a striker who is yet to scratch the surface of his potential. More on him later.
Preston are also a fantastic bet to break into the top six.
Manager Alex Neil has already achieved promotion to the Premier League with Norwich, and has everything he needs to repeat the trick after quietly guiding his side to seventh last term.
A three-month injury to Sean Maguire is a blow, but Billy Bodin and Tom Barkhuizen can plug that gap, while the signing of Ryan Ledson from Oxford improves their midfield.
With such a young squad, the necessary improvement to move up one position is eminently achievable.
Reading ended a bad 2017/18 campaign in dreadful form under Paul Clement, and their summer business does little to inspire confidence that they can reverse that trend.
Marc McNulty and Sam Baldock – signed from Coventry and Brighton respectively – will require some service to score many goals, and that is unlikely to be forthcoming from last season’s third-least creative side.
John O’Shea and David Meyler, meanwhile, are surely not the signings to improve a defence that conceded nine goals in the final four games of last season.
Should they lose their best player Liam Moore – who handed in a transfer request this week – things will look hopeless for the Royals.
They could well be joined in the shake-up by Sheffield Wednesday , whose squad still looks dispiritingly familiar from that which lost the play-off final at Wembley more than two years ago.
The Owls, admittedly, improved to steer clear of relegation danger when Fernando Forestieri returned from injury last season, but there is still some doubt as to whether their talisman will hang around this season.
Even if he does, Jos Luhukay has been unable to make a single signing this summer, and has lost Jack Hunt, Ross Wallace and Jordan Rhodes in the process.
His ageing squad are spiralling, and are a big price to be relegated.
Those Brentford creativity stats are impressive enough that Neal Maupay stands out at .
The Frenchman scored seven goals in his last 17 appearances for the Bees last season, a return that he could have significantly improved with better finishing and a bit more luck.
Aged just 21, Maupay is one season wiser and fully acclimatised to life in England. Back him to take advantage of the most creative supply line in the division and come out on top at a price that will not last long.
Elsewhere, Jay Rodriguez will surely flourish if West Brom manage to hold onto him, while David Nugent’s price of looks big given he has been Derby’s starting striker in pre-season.
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