Derby and Middlesbrough a cut above Championship competition
In this year’s Championship, there are only really two leading contenders for the title; Derby County (11/2 favourites with Coral) and Middlesbrough (6/1).
Paul Clement takes to the Rams hotseat, succeeding Steve McClaren at Pride Park, and prepares to cut his managerial teeth after a lengthy spell under the wing of three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti.
Backing their new head coach to the hilt, Derby have done by far the best deals in the division; signing loan star duo Darren Bent and Tom Ince permanently – the latter from a direct promotion rival in Hull City.
Austrian attacker Andreas Weimann followed Bent from Aston Villa in crossing the Midlands, plus the Rams rearguard gets a considerable and experienced remodelling. Chris Baird will plug gaps or shield the back four, joining Alex Pearce as a canny free transfer, and Jason Shackell, signed from Burnley for £3m who are weakened themselves as a result, to give extra solidity.
Clement and the County hierarchy are taking no chances here; a repeat of that desperate slump of the last dozen games of McClaren’s reign cannot be tolerated. Premier League promotion thus seems certain for Derby at 13/8.
Beaten play-off finalists Boro, meanwhile, have lost attacking trio Patrick Bamford, Lee Tomlin and Jelle Vossen. Aitor Karanka and Riverside chairman Steve Gibson are pursuing Blackburn Rovers marksman Jordan Rhodes ruthlessly but, because the Ewood Park outfit have sold Rudy Gestede to Villa, they may not follow suit with their other star striker.
A reported £14m bid has been knocked back, but completing their raid on Rhodes would give Middlesbrough’s promotion prospects (7/4) that seal of approval. Stewart Downing’s homecoming should be a successful one, but he needs more than Kike to supply up top.
Steve Bruce has almost £20m in player sales to reinvest in Hull, but who they potential might lure to the KC Stadium doesn’t change the fact that Ince, a proven Championship performer, was sold to strengthen a direct opponent in the promotion race.
What remains of the Tigers roster have plenty to prove following a dismal top-flight campaign last term, and further raids for the likes of left back Andrew Robertson and Egypt international right-sided player Ahmed Elmohamady could be on the cards.
Any further decimation to Hull rules them out of consideration for immediate promotion at 5/2. Their fellow relegated sides, Burnley and QPR, take different approaches to being in the Championship, meanwhile.
Turf Moor’s model is one of calm stability, selling players for the right price and allowing Sean Dyche to invest appropriately. Allowing Derby to swoop for Shackell freed up funds to get ex-Boro loanee Vossen (pictured above), who in turn replaces Danny Ings, as Sam Vokes’ strike partner.
Kieran Trippier was also taken to Tottenham, but the Clarets captured Matt Lowton from Villa in to cover the right back berth. Dyche is doing sensible deals that maintain the sustainable approach to how the East Lancashire outfit is run. They didn’t bounce back straight away last time they fell from Premier League grace, but Burnley must be considered at 9/2 to do so here.
At Loftus Road, there has once again been plenty of player turnover. Eight first-team departures are offset by as many arrivals. In place of Joey Barton, Richard Dunne, Adel Taarabt, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Bobby Zamora have come less lauded names either solid, such as Paul Konchesky, Jamie Mackie and James Perch, or that have potential like Tjaronn Chery and Massimo Luongo (pictured below).
The jury is thus out on Hoops coach Chris Ramsey, with QPR 5/1 to make an immediate return to the top flight.
Brentford and Ipswich Town, who fell at the penultimate play-off hurdle, will both find it harder this season to challenge. In the case of the Bees, Hull have done to the Londoner what Derby did with Ince to them.
As Tigers boss Bruce also pursues Brentford top scorer Andre Gray, right-sided player Moses Odubajo has has moved from Griffin Park to Humberside for £3.5m. The Bees hierarchy also sold Northern Ireland duo Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic) and Stuart Dallas (Leeds United) for a combined £2.3m.
Under a foreign manager, Marinus Dijkhuizen, with no experience of English football, Brentford also look worth avoiding at 10/3, especially as Alex Pritchard, another star turn last term, looks set to fight for a first-team place at parent club Spurs. So many eggs would be in the basket of new-look strikeforce of Denmark international Lasse Vibe (pictured above) and German youngster Philipp Hofmann, supported by Alan Judge and Jota.
Mick McCarthy overachieved with Ipswich Town in 2014/15, and here’s hoping he’s not a victim of his own success. While his Tractor Boys team is largely intact, defender Tyrone Mings has made an £8m move to Bournemouth and his replacement is long-throw specialist Jonas Knudsen.
Rory Delap tactics will serve veteran stager Daryl Murphy well, though there is a body of thought his Championship top scorer exploits were something of fluke last season. Brett Pitman came the other way from the Cherries as part of Mings’ Dean Court deal, so there is another attacking option to join David McGoldrick and Freddie Sears at Portman Road too.
McCarthy’s Irish connections continue with the clever Bosman addition of experienced midfielder Jonathan Douglas from Brentford, but the Hunt brothers have been let go. Giles Coke, yet another free transfer which has been the story of the manager’s reign in Suffolk, could partner Douglas in the engine room.
Talented youngsters Teddy Bishop, Ryan Fraser (on loan from Bournemouth) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (owned by Arsenal) will have to live up to their potential and provide guile to go with the aerial bombardment. Ipswich are awesome at 11/2 to go up, if everyone excels in East Anglia again.
Last, and by no means least, Wolves will be dark horses once more at 5/1. Although they’ve lost star man Bakary Sako, but Kenny Jacket has drafted in three youngsters. Midfield duo Conor Coady and Jed Wallace join wide Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo.
Up top, Leon Clarke and Kevin Doyle are finally off the Molineux wage bill, and Adam le Fondre in on loan is a smart acquisition. If the Wolves defence can continue to be solid, and a youthful setup express themselves, then they have every chance.
Coral’s top tip: If they can snare Rhodes, Middlesbrough are magnificent value for promotion at 7/4.