FOOTBALL JOURNALIST Adam Goodwin (@agjournalism) has trawled the ante-post markets to unearth his delivered his four favourite fancies from across England's top four divisions ahead of the big 2019/20 season kick-off.
West Ham to finish higher than Wolves (13/8 Sky Bet)
Last season, West Ham finished five points behind Wolves, with the Hammers ending the season in 10th – a successful first season under Manuel Pellegrini. After winning promotion the season before, Wolves finished seventh in the Premier League, securing Europa League football for the first time in the club’s history.
The only deals Nuno Espirito Santo has done this summer is tying Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker down permanently, both good bits of business, but not necessarily strengthening the squad. Assuming they win their Europa League qualifying games (the first of those as early as 25th July), they’ll be playing on Thursday’s once every other week.
You need a big squad to deal with the demands of these extra games, something that Wolves currently don’t have.
More often than not, Nuno’s side were at their best when playing on the counter-attack last season but struggled to break some of the weaker teams down. They achieved good results against Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City last term, however, I think these sides will be wiser to it this campaign.
West Ham, on the other hand, have significantly strengthened their side with two new signings. Sebastian Haller and Pablo Fornals have joined the club, with the aim of adding more goals to their side.
The East London outfit have now gotten rid of a lot of deadwood and replaced it with class, leaving them with quality across the pitch. A front-four of Fornals, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Haller is arguably the best outside of the top-six, with Issa Diop and Lukas Fabianski offering consistency at the back.
For me, West Ham have a better starting XI and a far superior squad than Wolves – without the distraction of European football also benefitting them too, making the 13/8 (SkyBet) look a great price.
Leeds to be Top Yorkshire side (5/4 Sky Bet)
Leeds have lost Pontus Jansson, and with Kalvin Phillips and Kemar Roofe being linked with moves away from the club, it’s not been an ideal pre-season for last season’s play-off semi-finalists. Nevertheless, they’ve kept hold of their most important asset – Marcelo Bielsa.
The former Argentina boss signed a one-year contract extension, with the hope that this will finally be their season to win promotion.
The Whites are currently favourites to win the league, which I’m not quite sure about, but I’m confident they’ll finish above the other teams listed in the ‘Yorkshire’ category in the Championship on Sky Bet – Middlesbrough, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull and Barnsley.
Middlesbrough, which only just creeps into the Northern border of Yorkshire, have appointed the unproven Jonathan Woodgate as their replacement for Tony Pulis. They’ve promised to “develop a new identity”, but with rookie Woodgate working with the squad Pulis assembled, I think it’ll be difficult to implement immediately and a transitional season could be on the cards after the end of their parachute payments.
Recently-relegated Huddersfield have Jan Siewert in charge, who is someone I’m not entirely convinced about. The Terriers have some decent players who will do well at this level – Karlan Grant and Alex Pritchard just to name a couple – but it’s easy to forget how poor they were last season. I can’t see them finishing in the top-six, and I certainly can’t see them challenging Leeds at the top of the table.
Sheffield Wednesday and Hull are in similar positions. Wednesday have just lost Steve Bruce and are looking for a replacement, whilst Hull have former Doncaster man Grant McCann at the helm. There is quality amongst both squads, but it would require one hell of a season to finish in the top-six, something I’m confident Leeds will do.
Barnsley are favourites for relegation after losing their first-choice goalkeeper, centre-backs and – potentially – their centre-forward. I don’t think they’ll struggle as much as some people suggest but they’ll almost certainly be in the bottom-half.
To put it simply, Leeds are significantly better than the other teams in this ‘Yorkshire’ category. At 5/4, this looks a nice play.
Lincoln to be the Bottom Midlands side (9/2 Sky Bet)
I’m not particularly anti-Lincoln but, in a contrasting theory to the bet above, I’m quite keen on the other teams that join them in the ‘Midlands’ category in League One. Peterborough, Burton, Coventry and Shrewsbury are all joined by the Imps in this particular group, with Sky Bet pricing up three of those sides below Danny Cowley's charges.
My first scepticism about Lincoln is where the goals will come from. Their defence looks solid, but with John Akinde and Matt Rhead as their only out-and-out centre-forwards, I can’t see either getting 15 or more goals. Another worry is that Cowley may be poached from Sincil Bank midway through the campaign, with a few Championship sides reportedly sniffing around, which would certainly leave them in the lurch.
I don’t think Lincoln will go down, but bottom-half is all that I’m expecting from the Imps.
Peterborough will be up there having brought in some real quality this summer. I have doubts about Darren Ferguson but their starting XI is full of top-class players and I think this could finally be their year for promotion.
Burton and Coventry will both be looking to build on their mid-table finishes last time out. Both have experienced managers in Nigel Clough and Mark Robins, respectively, and there’s some really talented League One players across both squads. After finishing last season strongly, I think they’ll both be comfortably in the top-half, if not pushing for the play-offs.
Which leaves Shrewsbury, who are the only reason why I could think that Lincoln are 9/2 in this market. They appointed Sam Ricketts in December and eventually guided them away from relegation.
Salop have significantly reinforced this summer, however. Max O’Leary, who was Bristol City’s no.1 goalkeeper for a while during the 2018/19 campaign, along with experienced pro Steve Morison, have both joined the club with Championship experience. They’ve also secured the services of highly sought-after Chelsea midfielder Luke McCormick on-loan for the season.
So, again, I think Shrewsbury might shock a few people and might well be pushing for the top-six spots in League One. At just over 4/1, I think this is cracking value.
Exeter to finish in the top-half (1/1 Betfred)
Exeter were expected to struggle last season after long-serving gaffer Paul Tisdale departed for MK Dons. Former player Matt Taylor was bought in with next to no experience as a manager so, a ninth-placed finish – one point off the play-offs – was a successful season, to say the least.
Taylor has continued to add to his squad and the intentions for this season will almost definitely to get into the top-six – and why not? They’ve lost two key players from 2018/19, with Christy Pym and Hiram Boateng both leaving to go to League One. But they’ve replaced them well, with ‘keeper Lewis Ward joining from Reading after seriously impressing on-loan at Forest Green’s during their play-off run last campaign, whilst Nigel Atangana has been signed from Cheltenham as a like-for-like successor to Boateng.
The Grecians have also signed Nicky Ajose and Alex Fisher, both reliable EFL goalscorers, along with centre-back Robbie Cundy on-loan from Bristol City.
I was baffled that this was priced up at even-money, with Exeter one of my picks to challenge the play-offs next season, so I’ll jump on them to finish in the top-half at this price.
You can also back the accumulator at 64/1 with Sky Bet, which will definitely give you a run for your money.