Championship Countdown: Middlesbrough and Villa the fancied picks

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The 2017-18 Championship season kicks off in earnest on Friday night with a full programme of fixtures to look forward to over the weekend.

Notorious for being one of the most competitive divisions in world football, we take a look at the movers and shakers: the potential champions, play-off chasers and the relegation candidates.

Champions: Middlesbrough @ 13/2

This is a particularly difficult call between two clubs who have put together formidable squads. Middlesbrough and Aston Villa are the two big favourites and rightfully so given their options.

Garry Monk and Boro, though, have to be given the benefit of the doubt over Steve Bruce’s Villa here. The former Leeds United manager plays an expansive style of football that has shown to be particularly productive in this league over recent seasons.

Chairman, Steve Gibson, has backed Monk to the hilt with some big-money buys including goal machine, Britt Assombalonga, and Denmark’s tricky wide forward, Martin Braithwaite.

As he proved with Leeds this time last year, Monk can integrate his style of football almost instantly and with a high-calibre squad available to the ex-Swansea man, odds of 13/2 look justified.

Promotion: Aston Villa @ 2/1

Apologies for being predictable here but simply put, Aston Villa have to make the top two this season.

With the quality at Steve Bruce’s disposal, and his ability to put together a side capable of promotion, all logic points towards the Villans going up automatically.

Bruce has now fully put his stamp on this squad. The additions of John Terry and Glenn Whelan will allow them to control games a little better than last season, letting the likes of Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury, Albert Adomah, Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan to cause a bit of chaos.

They certainly won’t play expansive football – it’ll be a grind – but a top-two finish will be expected and should be backed.

Play-offs:

As ever with the play-off positions, it’s a free-for-all. There are a host of clubs in with a shout given certain conditions.

Having kept a hold of their star players, Slavisa Jokanovic’s vibrant young Fulham side will again challenge strongly and at 10/11 look a lumpy punt for a Top Six finish.

Norwich are an interesting proposition, indeed. Daniel Farke has been brought in from Borussia Dortmund II to replace Alex Neil and already seems to have put a BVB-style stamp on the team.

They’ve been absolutely banging the goals in during pre-season and look a great prospect at 11/10 to finish Top Six.

Wolverjhampton Wanderers, too, look a nice price at 11/8. Under the pseudo-rule of super agent, Jorge Mendes, they have made some eye-opening buys in the form of Portuguese starlet, Ruben Neves, and Atletico Madrid’s, Diogo Jota.

Leeds United, Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading and Brentford should be in with a shout come April or May.

Relegation:

In terms of value punts, they don’t come much juicier than Hull City and Sunderland, particularly in the latter’s case.

The Black Cats are in a right mess at the minute. One wonders why Simon Grayson left a developing young team like Preston North End to take over at the Stadium of Light. With an ageing squad, lacking much depth, quality and divisional know-how, 14/1 feels big.

Hull City, too, could have problems. Ex-Russia coach, Leonid Slutsky, needs to get out of the traps quickly or things could snowball. A lot of senior stars have left the KCOM Stadium over the summer with loanees drafted in to replace them. The Tigers are another 14/1 shot to go down.

Elsewhere Millwall at 12/5, Bolton Wanderers at 15/8 and a squad-gutted Barnsley at 7/4 look like they’ll be near the mire come May.

Click here for all the latest Championship odds.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Cian Carroll

Starting life as a football columnist for his local paper in Dundalk, Cian has written for a number of media outlets with pieces published in The Birmingham Mail and Spain’s El Mundo Deportivo. A lover of football, GAA, boxing, rugby and MMA, he’s a big Aston Villa and Dundalk fan. He can be regularly spotted on various mountain tops.