For years, the Championship has been heralded as one of the most competitive leagues in world football. This season’s Championship features 18 sides that have played Premier League football in the last 20 years and, with a third of the season to go, there are 19 clubs that retain ambitions of reaching the top flight.
With three East Midlands clubs amongst the favourites for promotion, we look at where the smart money is currently heading at the top of the Championship and who is likely to be playing League One football in 2015.
East Midlands trio lead the race for promotion
It’s been a great season for fans of football in the East Midlands. Leicester City lead the table by eight points and are 1/10 to win the Championship title while Derby County and Nottingham Forest are two of the favourites to join them in the Premier League next season.
Leicester City’s nine league wins in a row between 21 December and 1 February was a club record and has propelled the Foxes to the top of the table. Nigel Pearson’s side have outscored everyone in the division except Derby and haven’t lost in the league since a 3-1 defeat at Brighton over two months ago. They are 1/50 to go up.
Without their injury problems I think Nottingham Forest would be closer than they are. Billy Davies’ side should bag a play-off place, however, and can be backed at 5/2. I also like the chances of Steve McLaren’s Derby County who are just two points behind second place Burnley and good value at 11/10 to go up.
Back Reading to return to the Premier League
QPR looked the most likely to bounce straight back into the top flight for much of the season and will attract plenty of money at 6/4 to go up. While they boast a great squad and experienced manager, I’m not sure that QPR will have quite enough at the business end of the season.
Reading currently sit in the final play-off spot and have the pedigree and experience to get promoted via the end of season competition. While Wigan and Brighton should push the Royals all the way, I think they offer great value at 11/2.
Blackpool in free-fall and face battle to stay up
Just nine points separate Charlton Athletic in the final relegation berth and Sheffield Wednesday in 15th place. The battle to stay in the Championship is fierce and so who are the three teams most likely to drop into League One?
Yeovil have struggled for much of the season and sit bottom of the table. Gary Johnson’s side have won just two of their last thirteen league games and it’s no surprise to see them 2/7 to go down.
Barnsley are also odds-on to drop into League One although their form is slightly better. A vital win over fellow strugglers Millwall means they are just two points behind Ian Holloway’s side who are themselves 11/10 to be relegated.
The 9/5 on Charlton Athletic to stay up takes into account the three additional games they have to play but points in the bag are always better than games in hand. Even with more matches left I think Charlton could struggle to stay in the division and so the current price looks like good value.
Bolton, Doncaster, Bournemouth and Birmingham should do enough to stay up but one to watch could be Blackpool who are in free-fall. It’s now sixteen games without a win for the Seasiders whose poor form has seen them dragged into a relegation scrap. They currently sit eight points above the drop zone but another couple of defeats and the 7/2 currently available on them to slip into League One could look very generous.
If you’re a football fan, there’s nothing like the World Cup. 32 teams will be heading to Brazil this summer and at least half of those sides harbour genuine hopes of lifting the trophy in Rio on 13th July.
The hosts have long been the favourites to win the tournament for the first time since 2002 but there are plenty of other talented international sides in contention. We look at where the smart money is going ahead of the 20th FIFA World Cup.
Considering that a World Cup tournament held in South America has never been won by a team from outside the continent it’s perhaps no surprise that Brazil and Argentina head the betting this time.
Since Brazil lost to England in February 2013 they have only lost one of their subsequent 18 international matches. Impressive victories against Portugal, South Korea and Chile have boosted confidence as did their Confederations Cup win in the summer of 2013. The hosts beat France, Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay on their way to the final where goals from Fred and Neymar saw them run out comfortable 3-0 winners against world champions Spain.
The goalkeeping position remains problematic – first choice Julio Cesar has had to head from QPR to FC Toronto to get a game – but beyond that Brazil boast great strength in depth in all areas. They are a worthy 3/1 favourites.
Since Alejandro Sabella became manager of Argentina in 2011 the Albiceleste have been on a great run. They have beaten Brazil, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland in that time and lost just two of their World Cup qualifying ties.
The majority of the Argentina team ply their trade in Europe and it is up front where they boast an embarrassment of riches. Alongside Lionel Messi they can boast the likes of Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi and the quartet have over 80 international goals between them.
The defence is less experienced – in their current squad just Pablo Zabaleta has over 30 caps – although they have conceded just one goal in their last four internationals. Winning in Brazil is a tall order – it would be like England winning the World Cup in Glasgow – but they are 5/1 second favourites.
After a six year run of unbroken success, it is something of a surprise to see Spain installed as just 7/1 fourth favourites. They have won the last three international tournaments and, as reigning champions, are the team to beat in 2014.
Their opening match is a repeat of the 2014 final as they take on the Netherlands. The outcome of that tie could actually be crucial to the chances of either side as the loser is likely to face Brazil in the first knockout stage. If Spain can prevail they face a straightforward looking route to the semis where they are likely to play Argentina.
The 7/1 available on Spain takes into account the possibility of having to face Brazil in round two but I think the reigning champions can beat the Netherlands, top the group and go a long way in the tournament.
After finishing second, third and third in the last three World Cups the pressure is on Germany to finally return home with the trophy. The Germans arguably boast the strongest squad of any team at the tournament and have been given a generous draw – although they are likely to run into the hosts Brazil in the semi-finals.
Of all the European challengers, Germany look the best equipped to prevail at 5/1.
While their form of late has been poor, the draw and previous experience point to it being a good summer for Uruguay. 2010’s semi-finalists are 25/1 to win in Brazil – as they did in 1950 of course – and the draw certainly helps them.
This all assumes that the final team to qualify for the tournament can overcome England or Italy in the group, of course. If they do, they could certainly be a team with momentum as they enter the knockout stages.
England are a 25/1 chance but it would be a major achievement to progress from the group, never mind go on and win the tournament. With old foes Argentina waiting in the knockout stages, it could be a tough summer for Roy Hodgson’s side.
If you’re looking for a long shot then Switzerland are a solid side, one of the tournament seeds and could well surprise one or two sides in Group E and beyond. A win over France is not out of the question and they could represent decent each way value at 100/1.
With a third of the season left, the Premier League is as intriguing as it has ever been. Four teams have genuine title ambitions, five more are gunning for European places and just eight points separate the bottom eleven sides.
So, as we enter the final straight, we look at where the betting value lies in this season’s Premier League.
A four horse race for the title
With twelve matches left, just four points separates the top four sides in the Premier League. Chelsea lead the way from Arsenal with Manchester City and Liverpool in close pursuit.
City remain the 6/5 favourites for the title and there will be plenty of backers for Manuel Pelligrini’s side. Their home form this season has been excellent and there is plenty of strength in depth in the squad. And, their next four Premier League games are against Stoke, Aston Villa, Hull and Fulham and so they could be in a strong position come the middle of March.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that City have four very tricky away fixtures to negotiate. They travel to Arsenal and to neighbours Manchester City in five days at the end of March before awkward ties at Liverpool in April and Everton in early May.
I actually much prefer the chances of current table toppers Chelsea at 17/10. The Blues’ most difficult away match is on the very last day of the season when they travel to Anfield but in the meantime trips to the likes of Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Swansea look more straightforward.
Yet again, Arsenal’s season looks to be petering out. A heavy defeat at Anfield and a bore draw at home to Manchester United suggest the team is running out of steam. They also have a difficult set of fixtures and face Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton in an 18 day period. They represent decent value – just a point off the top and available at 8/1 – but it looks like being another disappointing season for Gunners fans.
Brendan Rodgers insists that Liverpool remain in the title race and on the evidence of their recent displays you’d have to take him seriously. Their fate is in their own hands – they play two of the teams above them at Anfield in the run-in – and if they can avoid slip-ups at the likes of West Ham, Cardiff and Palace then they could still have a say in the title race. They are 8/1 to win their first title since 1990.
European spots up for grabs
Will Manchester United finish in the European places? It’s a question that would have seemed ludicrous at the start of the season but David Moyes’ side remain three points behind Everton and eleven points off a Champions League qualification berth.
We’ve been waiting for the United revival all season but perhaps it’s now time to acknowledge that it is unlikely to happen. Their form is terrible and it’s hard to see where a win against a decent side will come from, especially considering they have only beaten one of the top 9 sides in the league this season. The 1/2 on them overhauling Everton or Spurs looks one to swerve.
I like Everton’s chances of a top 6 finish at 4/6. Roberto Martinez has done a great job at Goodison and I expect them to secure enough points over the remaining games to keep United at bay. Spurs should complete the top 6 although the 1/8 doesn’t represent much value.
The tightest relegation race in years
Two months ago West Ham were in the bottom three and Sam Allardyce was facing the sack. Fast forward to now and the Hammers sit in eleventh position, four points above the drop zone. Earlier in the season it seemed that Sunderland and Crystal Palace were doomed but both of those teams have also been revived under new management.
It’s that kind of league this season and picking the three teams that will go down is tough. Fulham look the weakest team in the league right now and, in Felix Magath, have appointed their third manager in as many months. They have a set of winnable home matches against relegation rivals to come and so maximum points against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace could be key to their survival.
Despite their managerial change I do think it could be tough for Cardiff City to stay up. I’m not sure they have the firepower to survive and they have to welcome the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool before the end of the season. The Bluebirds are 8/11 to be relegated.
I think Swansea, Hull, Stoke, West Brom and Sunderland will all so enough to stay up and so the final relegation place looks like a battle between Crystal Palace, Norwich and Aston Villa. A couple of weeks ago I’d have said that Norwich looked the most likely, but having considered the fixtures I think it may finally be the turn of Aston Villa to lose their top flight status.
Paul Lambert’s side are in no form at all and have to play both Manchester sides, Chelsea and Spurs before the end of the season. Their home form is dreadful and so even winnable looking matches against Norwich, Stoke and Fulham look like being a test and they could very easily be dragged into serious trouble.
While Norwich or Palace may end up being the ones that go down, the 10/1 available on Villa dropping into the Championship looks too good to ignore.
With a third of the season remaining there’s plenty to play for in the third and fourth tiers of English football. There are only a handful of teams that aren’t involved in either a race for the play-offs or a relegation battle and so there’s plenty of value to be had in these two leagues.
Here’s our League One and League Two betting preview as we enter the home straight of the 2013/14 season.
It looks like a two horse race for the League One title with the spectacularly in-form Brentford the 10/11 title favourites from 6/5 shots Wolves.
It’s been a stunning run by Brentford who, despite losing manager Uwe Rosler to Wigan, are on a 19 match unbeaten run. They were 11th in the table when they lost 2-1 at Stevenage in October but since then have won a staggering 16 of their 19 league matches and sit two points clear at the top of the table.
Mark Warburton has done a great job with the Bees since taking over as boss in December and a win over their nearest rivals on Saturday would surely see their odds for the title tumble.
Wolves are also on a great run – five league wins on the bounce – and look likely to secure the second automatic promotion berth. Kenny Jackett has steadied the ship after two successive relegations and I expect them to bounce back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
The play-offs can always be something of a lottery but I like the chances of Preston and Peterborough. Preston have been solid under Simon Grayson and look nailed on for a play-off berth. I think their experience and the goals of Joe Garner could pay dividends and they are 15/8 for promotion.
While their season has been inconsistent I don’t think you can overlook Peterborough’s promotion chances at 4/1. While they only occupy the final play-off space with 16 games to go, I do think they have the talent to secure a top six spot and then, on their day, can beat anyone.
At the other end of the table it’s an incredibly tight affair with just 9 points separating Sheffield United in the bottom three and Gillingham in 11th place. I actually think Nigel Clough’s side will do enough to avoid the drop and so then it’s a case of who will join Stevenage and Shrewsbury – who I think are doomed – in League Two next season.
With their pitch in terrible shape and having played more games than their rivals, I fear for Notts County. Despite an initial recovery under new boss Shaun Derry it’s been a disappointing season for the Magpies who have lost more matches than anyone else in the division. What should have been a season in which they fought for a play-off place could end up seeing them go down at 4/6.
Just seven points separate the top six in League Two and with 48 points to play for, it’s still anyone’s title.
Since parting company with manager Brian Laws in November, Scunthorpe United haven’t lost a league game. Despite five consecutive draws in early 2014, the Iron are on a 15 match unbeaten run and have registered wins against some of their promotion rivals during this spell of good form.
It’s the first time that Scunthorpe have been at this level of football since 2005 and I like their chances of going up as champions at 11/4.
Chesterfield are a regular League One/League Two yo-yo club and I expect them to also secure promotion at 1/7 while I can see Oxford United grabbing the third automatic promotion berth at 5/4.
In terms of the play-offs, Rochdale and Southend United are the two to watch. Rochdale are evens to be promoted while Southend are a tasty 3/1 chance.
Northampton Town have been a football league fixture since 1920 but this season could finally see the Cobblers lose their league status. Chris Wilder’s team are three points adrift at the foot of the table and have won just two of their last ten league games. They do face the three teams directly above them between now and the end of the season but it’s a long road back from the foot of the league and they are 4/5 to go down.
I think Bury, Mansfield and Bristol Rovers will do enough to survive but I fear for Accrington Stanley. It’s been a tough season for James Beattie’s side and their top goalscorer has just four goals to his name. Stanley sit just four points above the drop zone and are 16/5 to go down.
Ronaldo and the rest of the Portugal squad appear to be in confident mood ahead of their second leg qualifier against Sweden, and why not!
Having bagged a couple in the Community Shield, Robin van Persie looks in good nick ahead of the new Premier League season and the Dutch striker will be trying to make sure it is he slipping on the Golden Boot again at the end of the campaign
The close season, summer break or, as they insist on calling it on TV, the transfer window, has been dominated this year by who might be leaving rather than who’s arrived.
The parachute payments awarded to clubs relegated from the Premier League is a real bone of contention for the other teams in the Championship. The compensation certainly gives teams an advantage but doesn’t guarantee success, as Wolves found to their cost last season.
Undoubtedly, the best two teams have made it through to the Confederations Cup Final, justifying their seeding in the process. But while the tournament has been a success for Brazil from a footballing viewpoint, events on the pitch have been largely overshadowed by massed protests on the streets on the country’s major cities.
The real object of the Confederations Cup is to convince FIFA that the host nation for the following year’s World Cup has the infrastructure in place to take care of the thousands of football fans that will arrive at airports and expect to get to their hotels and the stadiums without tasting the gun culture that exists in many Brazilian cities.
It’s likely to be all about goals as Giovanni Trapattoni’s side prepare to face minnows the Faroe Islands at the Aviva Stadium. The Irish need to rattle up a big score against the Faroese with goal difference likely to play a part in a tight group behind the Germans.