TOP punter Daniel McCulloch (@DMcCulloch1984) delivers his best ante-post bets ahead of the 2020/21 big kick-off with six selections standing out from across the UK.
WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | Six selections to consider from across the UK
Leeds to finish in the top-half (9/4 Betway)
Backing a newly-promoted side to finish in the top-half of the table may be rare and seem illogical, but there are few teams that join the Premier League as well-equipped as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds team.
The West Yorkshire side join a year later than their performances merited but the fact that they won the Championship title by 10 points suggesting that they have a far better starting point than either West Brom or Fulham.
The job Bielsa has done at Leeds cannot be understated. They have rarely threatened promotion to the Premier League in the decade before he took over, yet he has built a side who have created far more than any other side in the Championship over the last two season and conceded so few chances themselves.
Additionally, their activity in the transfer market has already been impressive. Securing the signings of Rodrigo from Valencia and Robin Koch from Freiburg have made many sit up and take note and perhaps I would be getting far bigger than 9/4 (Betway) on a top-half finish had I penned this article a fortnight ago.
Still, I take heart from the fact that Wolves and Sheffield United have both been promoted and secured top-half finishes in the last two seasons. Admittedly, there are only a few places up for grabs and I would be loathe to lay any of the Big Six to make the top-10.
However, I think there are reasonable doubts over Leicester, Wolves, Sheffield United and Burnley managing to repeat last seasons achievements so I am happy to take the 9/4 with Betway on Leeds securing a top-10 spot.
Next Manager To Leave: Slaven Bilic (14/1 Paddy Power)
The Sack Race is always a tough market to predict, especially now that Watford are no longer a Premier League club. The Hertfordshire outfit sacked Javi Gracia just three weeks in to the season last term, although it was not until November that the second Premier League manager – Mauricio Pochettino – was relieved of his duties.
Positively, I do feel that the two jollies in this season's market – Roy Hodgson and David Moyes – are too short, which means there must be value elsewhere.
Hodgson is favourite because of Crystal Palace’s end to the season, managing just a single point from their last eight games of the campaign, while it has never really felt like Moyes has the overwhelming backing of the clueless trio of David Gold, David Sullivan and Karen Brady.
However, I have been impressed with the work Palace have done in the transfer market – Eberechi Eze is a particularly astute signing – and feel that West Ham have the players to ensure they have a relatively comfortable campaign under a solid – if slightly low-key – manager.
All that leaves me with three options at 14/1 – Sean Dyche, Scott Parker and Slaven Bilic.
Dyche has been critical of the Burnley hierarchy in the recent past but I don’t see him leaving until a better offer becomes available (and there are unlikely to be many of them any time soon), while I don’t think Fulham have ever been particularly impressive under Parker. The Whites achieved promotion thanks to a deserved play-off final victory over Brentford but a fourth-placed finish was pretty underwhelming given the quality within their squad.
I did initially consider the cowards way out and backing Parker to be the first to get the chop. Sadly, his contract signing was the final piece of evidence which convinced me I couldn’t make this call (their signings have also impressed me).
Therefore, I am left with the option I felt was unpalatable just a few weeks ago and taking the 14/1 on offer with Paddy Power on Albion manager Bilic to be the Next Manager To Leave.
The Croat achieved automatic promotion with the Baggies at the first time of asking, building an attractive, attacking side as well as a great rapport with the clubs fan base. However, the transfer budget at his disposal is far less than he envisaged and I think the expectations of club and manager feel quite far apart at the minute.
Albion have had a bid of Grady Diangana accepted but he was on the clubs books last season anyway. They desperately need a couple of strikers and the most common links – Troy Deeney and Callum Robinson – fill me with anything but confidence. I think my club need another centre half, central midfielder and two quality forwards. Filling these positions within the current budget is an unenviable task and one that I hope, rather than expect, them to do.
Therefore, the 14/1 on Slav to be the first to go seems a more than fair price to me.
Ivan Toney to be top Championship Top Goalscorer (10/1 Bet365)
Finding value in this market at this stage of the season is difficult, as often there are doubts about which division many of those at the top end of the betting will be in at the end of the summer transfer window, let alone the end of the season. However, I am fairly confident that Ivan Toney will be at Brentford given that the former Peterborough marksman only signed for them last week.
I was surprised Toney did not manage to secure a Premier League move – I would certainly have taken him at West Brom – but Brentford are so astute in the transfer market that it isn’t surprising that they have snapped him up before any top-flight clubs could strike.
Toney managed 24 goals in 32 games in League One last season, and with Ollie Watkins likely to leave West London before the summer transfer window ends, he will surely be the Bees central presence up top.
While so many of Brentford’s attacking players have been linked to other clubs, I am confident in both their strength in-depth and ability to replace players they have lost. The Bees proved that last season, when selling Neal Maupay to Brighton and converting Watkins into a striker. The latter duly managed 25 league goals last term as the West Londoners were a whisker away from promotion.
I fully expect Brentford to challenge for automatic promotion once again and while I can understand why Teemu Pukki is favourite in the Top Goalscorer market, so few of the other names at the top of the betting are certain to last the full campaign with their current club.
Brentford have managed to have players within the top three of the top scorers table in each of the last two seasons – Maupay and Watkins – and I see no reason Toney cannot make it three in a row. At 10/1 with a quarter odds for a top-four spot, I like the Toney angle this term.
Odsonne Eduoard to be top Scottish Premier League Goalscorer (6/4 Bet365)
Backing a 6/4 shot in a market in which dozens of players can seemingly win may seem foolish but barring some improbable events – Odsonne Eduoard leaving Celtic or suffering a long-term injury – I think the Frenchman wins this by a street.
Eduoard scored 22 league goals last term, nine more than his nearest challenger, and I would not be surprised if he won this title by an even greater margin this term.
Since returning to Celtic, Neil Lennon has showed little faith in any of the peripheral strikers. Leigh Griffiths and Vakuon Bayo got little game time last term while Lennon preferred not to play a recognised striker in Eduoard’s absence against both Ferencvaros and Motherwell last week. The Frenchman featured in 27 of Celtic’s 30 league games last term and I expect him to start a similar percentage of matches this season.
While Celtic do have goal threats from other areas, Eduoard is their focal point both domestically and in Europe and his goal return at every level shows that he is a class apart from the rest of the players in this market. The forward has managed 12 goals in 30 games in Europe for Celtic as well as average two goals every three matches domestically.
Rangers are likely to sell Alfredo Morelos and I expect game time to be split between Cedric Itten, Jermain Defoe and Kemar Roofe and while Hibs’ Kevin Nisbet does hold some appeal at 20/1 in the each-way market, I am confident that Eduoard will have both the chances and ability to score more than his rivals.
6/4 with Bet365 is plenty big enough for me.
Nottingham Forest to finish in the Championship's top-six (2/1 Bet365)
Initially I was looking to back Stoke in this market but seeing Nottingham Forest's transfer activity has convinced me that the 2/1 on the East Midlands side to finish in the Championship's top-six is the way to go.
Forest have secured the services of Lyle Taylor, retained Jack Colback and managed to sign Luke Freeman on a season-long loan. Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban are excellent attacking options at this level, while their defence – aside from that ridiculous game at the end of the season against Stoke – has rarely been a concern.
Matty Cash’s departure is a blow but they have secured £16m for the right-back and I expect them to reinvest some of that before the transfer window shuts.
Clearly there will be some scar tissue from the horrific ending to the season, with Forest denied a play-off spot at the last thanks to some incredible results at both The City Ground and Madejski Stadium. However, I believe Sabri Lamouchi has the players at his disposal to ensure that there is not a long-term lull at the club. If there is the Frenchman will almost certainly find himself out of a job.
Brentford and Norwich currently head up the title winner market and I think that is fair enough. However, there has been much upheaval at both Bournemouth and Watford and there are doubts about all the other challenges. Either way, we only need Forest to finish in the top-six and at 2/1 with Bet365, I am confident they will manage that.
Premier League 2020/21 – Leeds to finish in top-10 (9/4 Betway)
Premier League 2020/21 – Slaven Bilic to be Next Manager To Leave (14/1 Paddy Power)
Championship 2020/21 – Ivan Toney to be Top Goalscorer (10/1 each-way Bet365)
Championship 2020/21 – Nottingham Forest to finish in the top-six (2/1 Bet365)
Scottish Premiership 2020/21 – Odsonne Eduoard to be Top Goalscorer scorer (6/4 Bet365)