The Sky Bet Championship is back with the big kick-off just around the corner. Tom Carnduff looks at some of the best bets.
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The Sky Bet Championship season is set to get underway with the league possessing a real open feel ahead of the first kick-off. EFL expert Tom Carnduff looks at some of the best bets for the upcoming campaign.
The league will see a number of returning faces this season, with West Brom, Stoke and Swansea all looking to bounce straight back to the Premier League following relegation last season.
Further down the pyramid, Blackburn and Wigan did exactly that by earning promotion from League One with the minimum of fuss, while Rotherham's time away was short-lived too as they won the play-offs.
Previous big-hitters in Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday aren't expected to live up to what remain lofty expectations, which could pave the way for a few surprise teams to emerge by the time May comes around.
EFL title sponsor Sky Bet are offering four places instead of three (1/5 the odds) on all outright bets placed until August 4 and they also have a number of daily EFL price boosts lined up for those looking for pre-season positions.
The transfer window will shut on August 9th this year, rather than the end of the month, which gives us a better indication of how teams will shape up at this point.
Those gripped by Financial Fair Play continue to be frustrated by a lack of activity, which could cost them as the season goes on. Others have used that as an opportunity to pounce, trying to gain promotion in a league that a number of teams can take.
Here are Tom Carnduff's best bets for the upcoming Sky Bet Championship season.
When I looked at the antepost angle of this division in mid-July, Nottingham Forest provided real value when it came to lifting the Sky Bet Championship trophy.
With a week to go until the first kick-off, Forest still look a great price at 10/1 to end the season top of the tree.
The appointment of Aitor Karanka back in January was a positive step forward following the doomed spells of Philippe Montanier and Mark Warburton, with this summer bringing a number of impressive additions.
Attacking midfielder Joao Carvalho has joined from Benfica for a fee reported to be around the £15m mark and Lewis Grabban, who finished as the league's second highest scorer at the end of the last campaign after loan spells at Sunderland and Aston Villa, has made the switch from Bournemouth for what could be a bargain £6m price.
Gil Dias, El Arbi Hillel Soudani and Tobias Figeuiredo are a trio of other signings that rate as particularly shrewd business and should help to propel Forest further up the table.
By all accounts, their business isn't done yet. Sam Byram has been touted for a move from West Ham having fallen down the pecking order following recent arrivals.
The Hammers' loss is certainly Forest's gain here, with Byram proving to be one of the division's best young full-backs during his time at Leeds.
The East Midlands men have all the right ingredients to create success this season. Even with the attacking power that they now possess, they could be low-scoring title winners come May.
Karanka's Middlesbrough conceded just 31 goals when they reached the Premier League in 2016, the lowest in the division, but only scored 63 which was less than any other side in the top-six.
The Spaniard will build his side on defence, and you'd imagine this Forest team will be a tough one to breakdown. That could prove a problem for a number of top-end teams who have made impressive forward additions.
Recommended bet: Nottingham Forest
It's difficult to get huge odds in this market, but the value here lies in backing two teams.
The first being Leeds United, who can be found at a best price of 7/4 to finish 6th or above.
The appointment of Marcelo Bielsa as the club's new head coach can be noted as one of the most remarkable additions made by a club in this division.
The Argentine has been an inspirational figure for the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola and is viewed as a godfather of innovation in the game by so many.
The club have achieved a real coup in bringing him to West Yorkshire and they're fancied for a good season given the figure they have leading them.
Leeds may have been slow in the transfer market so far, but it's evident that their business is far from done.
The Whites are obviously in the market for a top-end striker and a forward who can prove to be a handful, while a winger is desirable to help contribute in both the goals and assists column.
The impending arrival of Wolves full-back Barry Douglas is a fantastic signing, given the impact he had on helping Nuno Espirito Santo's men reach the Premier League last time out.
Despite a slow start, Leeds have still made additions and called upon one of the Premier League's top sides to provide them with quality.
Goalkeeper Jamal Blackman fills the void left by the departures of Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan - who both had spells as first choice during their time at the club - with midfielder Lewis Baker experiencing success with England at youth level.
Both have joined on season-long loan deals and should be a key part of Leeds' campaign.
Samuel Saiz has already shown his quality and there could be more to come from the likes of Ezgjan Alioski and Adam Forshaw, who are both expected to thrive under Bielsa's guidance.
The other side who I'm interested in is Norwich City, who experienced a bit of a dip by their standards last season.
That said though, whilst their 14th place finish wasn't what they would have wanted, giving time to manager Daniel Farke to adjust in this division could pay off for them this season.
City have been active in the transfer market, adding seven new faces already.
The signing of goalkeeper Tim Krul can be viewed as a great addition given Angus Gunn's loan impact during the 2017/18 campaign, he has since joined Southampton on a permanent deal from Manchester City.
Ben Marshall also enjoyed a positive second-half of the season on-loan at Millwall, scoring three goals and assisting a further six as they narrowly missed out on the play-offs.
Combine that with Jordan Rhodes arriving on-loan from Sheffield Wednesday, someone who will be hungry to hit previous heights at this level, then it highlights how Norwich might have the right mix to challenge at the right end of the table.
Recommended bet: Leeds
Recommended bet: Norwich
Every team wants a prolific goalscorer, and with the money floating around at this level, most teams probably have one.
Scanning through the market, the price of 25/1 available on Britt Assombalonga to pick up the top goalscorer prize screams great value.
The 25-year-old should lead the line once again for Middlesbrough, and Boro are fancied to be at the right end of the division throughout the entire campaign.
Assombalonga is a forward that a lot of Championship sides desire, and his track record at this level shows that he can be at the top end of the charts.
He's scored a combined 29 goals over the last two seasons, with 15 goals also coming in the 2014/15 season before injury disrupted his efforts in 2016.
With each-way terms giving four places paid at 1/4 of the odds, being paid out at around the 5/1 mark for Assombalonga to finish in the top-four looks too tempting to turn down.
Looking elsewhere, Derby's addition of Jack Marriott should be seen as a great bit of business by Frank Lampard.
Marriott was a star for Peterborough in Sky Bet League One, scoring 33 goals in all competitions in a team that didn't even reach the top six.
In a deal that's been reported around the £6.5m mark, the value that the Rams are getting looks outstanding in the modern transfer market.
The player is in-form, and signing for a Derby side who we're not quite able to put our finger on where exactly they'll finish in the table come May.
Marriott is a best price of 33/1 to finish as the division's top goalscorer this season. On each-way terms, you'll get a decent return for your stake.
Even if Derby don't hit the same heights as their fans would expect from the team, Marriott has shown that he can be prolific in a side which doesn't necessarily have to win the league.
There are questions surrounding the step up for Marriott, but you can't argue with the track record that he brings with him.
Recommended bet: Britt Assombalonga
Recommended bet: Jack Marriott
There's always a surprise package in this league. Last season, Cardiff City earned that title, and this time around it's the turn of Wigan Athletic.
The Latics were relegated in 2017, but bounced back at the first time of asking with the Sky Bet League One trophy to show for it.
The infamous Will Grigg led the line with vital goals throughout the season, including the winner in their shock FA Cup victory over Manchester City, with Nick Powell a threat in midfield.
Their summer has seen a return for Callum McManaman, with Kai Naismith making the switch from Portsmouth and Leonardo Da Silva Lopes coming in from Peterborough, with the latter having a big future ahead at the age of 19.
Wigan also have a manager in Paul Cook who has experienced success in the EFL. He won the League Two title with both Chesterfield and Portsmouth before guiding his current club to England's second-tier.
Cook is the right man for Wigan and it wouldn't surprise me to see him linked with jobs at this level as the season progresses, he knows what is required to succeed throughout the leagues.
As odd as it sounds, the pitch at the DW Stadium could play into Wigan's hands in the second-half of the season, where teams may struggle to pick up points.
The winter months will see the pitch tear up with poor weather playing a part, and ground-sharing with rugby league side Wigan Warriors won't see it drastically improve towards the end of the campaign.
The influential players such as Powell will know the surface, which may be an issue for visiting players and teams to play the style of football that they want.
Recommended bet: Wigan
Sheffield Wednesday finished last season in 15th, and they've done little this summer to show that they will improve on that this time round.
Multiple transfer windows of spending means that Financial Fair Play has a grip on the Owls, who have failed to bring in any new players.
In fact, the biggest bit of business done was the shipping out of Rhodes to Norwich - which was rumoured to potentially be a catalyst for incomings at Hillsborough.
Jack Hunt has also made the switch to Bristol City, with little in terms of replacements heading Wednesday's way.
Their chances are damaged by reports saying that they are looking to trim their squad even further, with the emphasis looking to be on clearing players out.
Therefore, it's difficult to see how they will significantly improve without the additional quality that is required and the 10/11 price available on a bottom-half finish looks more than tempting.
It'll be bitterly disappointing for the Wednesday faithful, who saw their side 90 minutes from promotion with a play-off final defeat to Hull City in 2016.
Follow that up with a semi-final penalty shootout loss to Huddersfield Town, and you can see why there will be some desperation to return to those previous heights at this level.
Unfortunately though, looking at it on paper, Wednesday don't seem to have the tools to challenge once again in 2019.
Writing in a statement on the club website following the conclusion of the season, Owls owner Dejphon Chansiri said: 'We now look forward to a summer of preparation to ensure we try to challenge at the top part of the table next season.
'After two years of finishing in the play-offs the expectation levels go up, this is normal. But there are no guarantees in football so we must put this season behind us, dust ourselves down, and as I say, move forward in a positive way.'
We're now two weeks away from the end of the transfer window, and there's little to show that they have progressed positively over the course of the off-season.
Recommended bet: Sheffield Wednesday
I looked at QPR as relegation candidates a few weeks ago, and their odds have shortened since as the season approaches.
They finished last season in 16th, and I wouldn't be backing them to improve on that given what we've seen this summer.
Ian Holloway's departure paved the way for a potential revival of the West London outfit, but the appointment of Steve McClaren leaves a lot to be desired.
The 57-year-old arrives on the back of poor spells at Newcastle and Derby, alongside a stint at Maccabi Tel Aviv where he found himself as a 'coaching consultant' - their third-place finish in the Israeli Premier League does little to increase enthusiasm.
Given his track record in recent years, it's a little hard to understand why clubs continue to look upon McClaren as the answer to their problems - certainly, among fans there has been a sense of bewilderment to go with fear that things could be about to get worse at Loftus Road.
Whilst the managerial appointment doesn't inspire, the lack of activity in the transfer window will provide further concern for fans of the R's.
Toni Leistner is their only addition from Union Berlin, joining on a free transfer, and Ilias Chair and Aramide Oteh have made the step-up from the under-23s.
QPR's financial spending has been well documented in recent years, and it looks like it's starting to cost them with recruits failing to arrive.
Trent Sainsbury has been linked with a move across, but reports suggest that they're hitting stumbling blocks when trying to get that one over the line.
Even then, it's not enough from Rangers to provide you with some optimism that they will be anything other than a bottom-end side in this division.
The best price available is 9/2 on relegation, and they could be joining Rotherham and Bolton in Sky Bet League One come August 2019.
Rotherham come into this season on the back of a great play-off victory over Shrewsbury Town in the League One showcase, but face an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their head above water at this level.
It's no secret that they don't have the biggest budget in this division, far from it, and whilst I'd really love to see Paul Warne do well and keep them up, it's difficult to do so.
The Championship will be an uphill battle for the Millers, but they'll be hopeful of significantly improving on the 23 points they managed to post in 2017, 28 points away from safety.
Meanwhile, at the Macron Stadium, Bolton's pre-season has been disrupted by players going on strike which has seen friendlies cancelled.
Like Rotherham, their finances are limited but in fairness they have made some decent additions with Erhun Oztumer's arrival from Walsall being the headline.
That said, the cloud of uncertainty that constantly surrounds the club creates a nervous atmosphere, and that could hold Bolton back as the season develops.
The 13/8 best price available on them dropping out of the division looks the right price given their circumstances.
Recommended bet: QPR
Recommended bet: QPR, Bolton & Rotherham
Updated at 1510 BST on 30/07/18.