FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Outright Winner and Promotion markets ahead of the 2019/20 Championship season.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | Championship: Promotion
Picking the winner of the ultra-competitive Championship is normally a thankless task. Twelve months ago we were presented with eight clubs at odds of 12/1 or shorter in the Outright Winner market but it was Norwich (25/1) who took title honours ahead of our recommended each-way play on Sheffield United (28/1).
The Canaries were the joint-biggest price winners this century and claimed gold having posted a bottom-half finish the season previous, following in the footsteps of Wolves (2017/18) and Bournemouth (2014/15). Indeed, exclude relegated sides (Newcastle in 2016/17 and Burnley in 2015/16) and the last three title winners were bottom-half dwellers the season previous to taking top spot.
The average odds of a Championship champion since the start of 2000 is 14/1 with 10 of the past 14 triumphs featuring a side chalked up at 12/1 or larger. Meanwhile, only two ante-post favourites have justified their position at the top of the market this century; Stoke flopped when well-fancied 11/2 shots last term, but jollies do boast a decent overall record.
Nine (43%) favourites or co-favourites have gone on to clinch promotion since 2000 with 12 (57%) completing the campaign in the top-six; the aforementioned Potters were the first and only side this century to end the season outside the top-half having topped the ante-post market. A similar screw up isn’t anticipated at the Bet365 funded club this time around.
Are Leeds fair favourites for the Championship title?
Leeds head the market coming into 2019/20. Marcelo Bielsa’s men are rated 9/2 (Bet365) shouts – a price that takes up 18% of the outright book. Considering the Whites dominated all the major performance data metrics in El Loco’s first taste of English football, it’s easy to see why the West Yorkshire giants are so well respected. I too make Leeds favourites.
In eight of the past nine seasons, a team that lost out in the play-offs bounced back with another top-six finish and Bielsa’s boys appear far better suited to enhance that record considering the likes of Derby and West Brom lost key playing personnel in the summer, as well as being under new (admittedly, respected) management.
Only two of the past 19 play-off final losers bounced back to take title honours in the second-tier this century but five (26%) claimed promotion and eight (42%) registered another top-six berth, suggesting Leeds could again enjoy a fruitful campaign. However, Bielsa’s boys are just too short at a below average price for a Championship jolly.
The Whites’ set seriously high standards in 2018/19 and have added attacking class in Helder Costa with a view to being more clinical in the third-third. However, lingering doubts remain over the team’s ability to handle the radical mental and physical intensity imposed by Bielsa over a 46-game campaign, and it may take time to plaster over last year’s scars.
Fulham (15/2 Betway)
The financial imbalance between the top two divisions in English football ensures relegated sides enjoy a head-start in the race for promotion. Fulham (15/2 Betway) and Cardiff (11/1 Betway) have both been earmarked for a top-three finish according to the odds, and with relegated clubs taking title honours five (26%) times this century, the pair deserve respect.
Of the duo in question, it’s the Cottagers who get the nod after an eye-catching summer. Surprisingly, Fulham’s outright odds have only shrunk slightly – 15/2 from 8/1 – despite the Whites reinforcing their credentials with the additions of Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro, plus long-term contract extensions for Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Quite simply, Fulham’s firepower is unrivalled and if rookie boss Scott Parker can find the right balance, and extinguish the memories of a forgettable top-flight campaign, the Cottagers are sure to go very close. The squad is supremely stocked and the only concerns surround Parker’s potential, as well as that possible Premier League hangover.
The top-scoring side in the Championship has been crowned champions in 12/19 (63%) seasons this century, winning promotion on 14 (74%) occasions, with an average league position of second. Therefore, the Cottagers look a smart each-way selection at 15/2 with place money paid out on a top-three finish.
Brentford (16/1 Sportingbet)
Brentford have threatened a promotion challenge in each of their five seasons since arriving at Championship level, although the time might now be right for the Bees to make a serious tilt towards top honours. The data darlings’ unique transfer model has seen the Londoners cash-in on a collection of quality operators in recent summers but 2019 feels distinct.
Of course, the likes of Neal Maupay and Said Benrahma have been linked with moves away from Griffin Park – and the sale of either could put a major spanner in the works – but insider reports suggest Brentford’s hierarchy see this season as a great opportunity to finally make the step-up to the Premier League. The loss of Romaine Sawyers is a blow but there tends to be method to the Bees' apparent transfer madness.
The club have invested in Pontus Jansson, Ethan Pinnock, David Raya, Mathias Jensen and Christian Norgaard to add size, leadership and a battle-hardened edge to the squad with head coach Thomas Frank no longer obsessed over aesthetics. The Bees’ former assistant is keen to implement a sturdier system to make Brentford more robust, particularly away from home where they fell short last time out.
Frank’s tactical tweaks could prove pivotal as Brentford eye-up a top-six berth. The average price of a Championship winner this century is 14/1 and with a potential front-three of Maupay, Benrahma and Ollie Watkins spearheading the Bees’ challenge, an each-way outright interest is advised at a very reasonable 16/1 (Sportingbet).
Bristol City (22/1 Blacktype)
Bristol City have also shown ambition in the transfer market, with the Robins also indicating that 2019/20 could be the right time for a decent promotion push. Lee Johnson has engineered year-on-year progress at Ashton Gate and City’s flirtation with the play-offs last term has put in place firm foundations for another strong season in the West Country.
City deserve immense credit for taking their top-six push to the final day of the season, especially so after losing Aden Flint, Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan in the summer. A slow start was understandable but ‘streaky’ Johnson guided the group to W13-D10-L6 in the final 29 outings, a 1.69 points per-game average that included a seven-game winning run.
The Robins have made the loan signings of Tomas Kalas and Jay Da Silva permanent during the off-season, have kept hold of Adam Webster, and added goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, and will therefore set-up with one of the division’s strongest defences; encouraging considering the league’s best backline has won promotion in 15/19 (79%) seasons this century.
Johnson is still on the hunt for another striker that could complete his set. Famara Diedhiou will carry the offensive threat as Bristol City bid to improve on a record of scoring twice or more on only 16 occasions, and should the Robins supremo bolster the attacking ranks further, a genuine assault on the automatic promotion places could materialise.
City again make each-way appeal at their 22/1 (Blacktype) offering and backers will be keen to learn that in 16 (84%) of the 19 Championship seasons this century, a side priced up at 20/1 or larger has finished in the top-three places, whilst five (26%) of the past 19 league winners were quoted at 20/1 or larger ante-post. There’s certainly precedent.
2019/20 Championship – Fulham to win outright (15/2 each-way Betway)
2019/20 Championship – Brentford to win outright (16/1 each-way Sportingbet)
2019/20 Championship – Bristol City to win outright (22/1 each-way Blacktype)