So – in about two weeks’ time the SkyBet Championship kicks off. One of the toughest leagues in Europe, and probably the hardest to get out of. This season you see the likes of Burnley, QPR and Hull come down from the Premier League, while Bristol City, MK Dons and Preston coming up. As well as those, you have Middlesbrough, Brentford and Ipswich who fell in the playoff’s last season. Derby were all set for auto-promotion but blew it – and with Paul Clement coming in along with the likes of Tom Ince, they should be well up there this season!
However – one team that have struck me as excellent value, even for a top 6 finish – are Brentford. After such a strong end to the season, ending in a Playoff semi-final loss to Middlesbrough. They may have lost loan signings Alex Pritchard and Jon Toral, they have signed very well with new manager Marinus Dijkhuizen coming in from Excelsior in Holland (who is a very young coach, with great tactical knowledge and awareness).
They have maintained the rest of the squad – with Andre Gray, Jota, Jonathon Douglas and ex Arsenal youngster Nico Yennaris all likely to feature heavily. It’s the signings that have raised a few eyebrows though. Here are their main dealings so far:
1. Philip Hofmann – A German Under 21 international, who is still playing for them. He is very highly rated, and has taken a leap leaving Germany for the first time. The ex-Schalke and Kaiserslautern forward is a great hold-up striker, who has bags of potential. It’s not clear how much he cost, but it’s a terrific deal!
2. Lasse Vibe – The Danish striker has scored 45 goals in 76 appearances for Goteborg over the last few seasons. At 28, he is no kid – and is clearly a goalscorer. He scored 29 in 36 games last season, as is upto 13 in 23 already this season. He can cover all forward positions and is a full Danish international. Good signing.
3. Josh McEachran – This young lad was being chased by Real Madrid a few years ago, and possibly made the wrong choice in signing an extension at Chelsea. He’s one of those that had to get out and re-start lower down in order to make a career, as loan spells in Holland at Chelsea’s feeder club is not his thing. He could have a similar influence that Pritchard did last season. Huge signing, for very little money!
4. Andreas Bjelland – the Danish defender comes in after captaining Twente for a season. He had 3 spells of 3 years at clubs, but seems to have had a lot of injury problems. He has played 21 games for Denmark, with a couple of goals – but with his versatility meaning he can cover the fullback positions, centre back and defensive midfield he will be a very useless player
Look at the squad overall – all through the team there is quality – with the four above mentioned, and then the likes of Jon Douglas, Odubajo, talented Scotsman Lewis Macleod, Jota, Sam Saunders, Scott Hogan and then a couple of ex-Premier League youth players in David Button and Nico Yennaris. If luck stays on their side, they have an outstanding chance.
There were a few more deals – but these four are the impressive ones. Vibe and Hofmann are 20 and 25/1 respectively to be top scorer, which tells you their pedigree! Andre Gray is 20/1 as well – and in a 46 game season plus cups you need 2/3 good strikers, so all will get a chance.
The team on the whole are fairly well fancied, with a top 6 finish 13/8 (possibly my favourite) and then to be promoted is 4/1. To win the competition, you will get odds of between 12 and 16/1, depending on who you back with – Bet365 are offering 12/1, while SkyBet are at 14/1.
Others around them have lost players, while they have only gained. The Premier League boys will have been ravaged of any decent players once the league kicks off, and will need to adapt back to the league. QPR won’t have the muscle they did last time, with trouble still looming over their huge overspend. Burnley have lost their two best players in Trippier and Ings, while Hull look a decent outfit, but still need to shed some of the Premier League wages, with big-time flops such as Abel Hernandez still on the books. Middlesbrough have lost Bamford too.
Derby, Middlesbrough and Hull are three the bookies fancy – but Brentford should easily be in the top 6 and if they do very well could find themselves in the top two come May. My personal pick from the Championship to go up one way or another!