English Championship Preview: Soccer Betting Picks Ahead of Season
Stu Forster/Getty. Pictured: Hayden Hackney.
One of the most exciting soccer leagues in the world kicks off on Friday. No, I am not talking about the Premier League, but rather I am talking about the English Championship.
Leicester City, Southampton and Leeds United have been relegated into the Championship, while Plymouth Argyle, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday were promoted from League One.
For those who don't know how the Championship works, the top two teams in the table receive automatic promotion to the Premier League, while the third through six place teams go to a playoff for the final spot with the final match being a winner take all game for promotion to the Premier League.
"LUTON TOWN WILL BE A PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB NEXT SEASON!"
The moment the club secured promotion at Wembley 😱 pic.twitter.com/IIn6AK8eQb
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 27, 2023
Unlike the Premier League, the level of competition is much closer throughout the table rather than being top heavy with a "Big Six." That is why you saw a team like Luton Town, who had the third lowest wage bill in the Championship, achieve promotion into the Premier League. So, anything can happen.
Middlesbrough (+1100 via FanDuel)
Middlesbrough came up just short last season, finishing third in the table and catching the wrong side of variance over two legs against Coventry City.
Michael Carrick has turned Middlesbrough into one of the best teams in the Championship and they play a style very similar to that of Arsenal. Since his arrival on October 25th, he’s taken Middlesbrough from 15th to 4th in the table, and they have a +0.57 xGD per 90 minutes.
In fact, outside of Burnley and Sheffield United, the two automatically promoted teams, Middlesbrough finished with the best xG differential in the Championship by a pretty wide margin.
image via fbref.com
They play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it’s incredibly fluid, especially on build up play. Middlesbrough will typically push a full back high when they start building out of the back, which creates a 3-2-5 build up shape. That allows them to create overloads against the last line of defense.
This type of system has former Arsenal striker Chupa Akpom flourishing. He won the Golden Boot in the Championship with 28 goals and a 0.63 xG per 90 minute scoring rate.
Being a dominant team in the Championship is all about game control and being able to defend in transition. There are so many low block counterattacking teams that counter-press effectively when you lose the ball.
Middlesbrough check all three of those boxes. They created 54.82 xG from open play, which was the most in the Championship. They also had the fourth-most high turnover and only allowed 1.05 xG per match.
Opta's The Analyst has Middlesbrough at 19.9% to win the Championship in their model, which equates to odds of +400. So, at +1100 you are getting 11.66% of value on them winning the Championship.
Top 6 Pick
West Brom (+260 via bet365)
It was really unfortunate that West Brom didn't make it into the playoffs last season. They finished with a +17.2 xG differential, which was the fourth-best mark in the Championship.
What made West Brom so good is their style of play that changed once Carlos Corberán took over on October 25th. West Brom became a versatile attacking side that will usually play out of the back. They also showed the ability to go long and play in transition when necessary against some of the better Championship sides.
West Brom had a good blend of 68 build up attacks and 54 direct attacks, showing how versatile they are. They also finished with the second-most xG off of set pieces, so this is a very dangerous offense that can score on anybody in the Championship.
What makes West Brom really good, however, is the the intensity of their pressing when they are out of possession. West Brom were fourth in the Championship in high turnovers forced and when they win the ball they look to attack quickly when the opposing defense is out of possession.
image via The Analyst
The good news for West Brom is outside of losing their best center back Dara O'Shea to Burnley, they will have the same starting XI. Corberán also signed a new deal after Leeds United tried to hire him the middle of the season last year.
Sheffield Wednesday (+350 via bet365) & to finish last (+1200 via bet365)
Before we dive into the current squad, we need to talk about what has been happening at Sheffield Wednesday the past few years. Sheffield Wednesday have been going through some financial issues in recent years. Two years ago Sheffield Wednesday were hit with a 12-point deduction before they started the season over a breach of Financial Fair Play rules during the 2017-18. They were relegated into League One when they were able to get back into the Championship via a 1-0 playoff win over Barnsley.
Sheffield Wednesday are owned by Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri. He has deep pockets, but with Sheffield Wednesday under heightened scrutiny due to their Financial Fair Play breach they haven't spent a great deal in the transfer market. So, Sheffield Wednesday were heavily in debt last year. Their promotion to the Championship does help their financial situation, but it's a club that is still in a bad position and is not able to spend in the transfer market.
There is also the manager situation. Darren Moore was the caretaker turned full time manager for Sheffield Wednesday during the 2021-22 season when they got relegated. He stayed on as manager to guide the club to promotion back into the Championship, only to part ways right after the promotional playoffs due to disputes over his contract.
Sheffield Wednesday have hired former Watford boss Xisco Muñoz, which is a downgrade to Moore. Muñoz guided Watford to automatic promotion over the second half of the 2020-21 season in the Championship, but he was sacked after a poor run of results to start the Premier League season in 2021-22. Since then he's had really poor results managing Huesca in the Spanish Second Division and Anorthosis Famagusta in the Cyprot First Division.
The club were good in League One last season, putting up a +0.72 xGD per 90 minutes, which was second-best in the division, but this is one of the least talented teams in the division. Per transfermarkt.com, Sheffield Wednesday have the lowest total squad transfer value in the Championship.
image via transfermarkt.com
Opta have Sheffield United projected at 31.2% to be relegated, which translates to +220 odds. They also have them projected at +1000 to finish bottom, so I think there is tremendous value on Sheffield Wednesday to be relegated at +220 and to finish last at +1200.