The 2021/22 season of the Football League Championship (EFL) kicks off on Friday, August 6, marking the 30th season under its current league format and the 18th season since moving away from the First Division name.
EFL Championship 2021/22
As per usual, six teams are no longer competing in the EFL Championship. That includes three teams that were promoted into the Premier League (Norwich City, Watford, Brentford), and three sides that got relegated into League One (Wycombe Wanderers, Rotherham United, and Sheffield Wednesday).
On the other side, the EFL Championship will welcome three relegated Primer League teams in Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, and Sheffield United. Joining them are Hull City, Peterborough United, and Blackpool, who secured promotion from League One.
There aren’t any big surprises as we look at the EFL Championship 2021/22 outright betting market. The demoted Premier League teams in Fulham (6.50 at Bet365), West Brom (7.50 at Bet365), and Sheffield United (8.50 at Bet365) are expected to do well as they compete for a ticket leading back into the English top flight.
On the other side, the bookmakers have no faith in the recently promoted Hull City (41.00 at Bet365), Peterborough United (67.00 at Bet365), and Blackpool (67.00 at Bet365), who are expected to struggle as they adapt to competing in a higher division.
Premier League Teams Expected to Shine
Due to the massive quality gap between the English top division football and the EFL Championship, it does not come off as a surprise that even the worst-performing teams of last year’s Premier League are expected to do well against the second-tier opposition.
Last year we saw two of the three relegated teams bounce back into the Premier League, with Watford and Norwich both securing the automatic promotion. Whereas Bournemouth finished in sixth, however, they were unable to make it through the qualifiers.
Obviously, Fulham, West Brom, and Sheffield United will all want to get back into the first-tier for next term, as there is more on the line than just pride in playing in the world’s oldest football league. With the impact of COVID-19, there are also financial implications.
Talking about finances, COVID-19 hasn’t been too kind on the second-tier football teams, who had to cut some corners and downgraded their rosters in a bid to keep their finances intact. That will indirectly hand the trio an even greater advantage as they look to climb their way back into the Premier League.
Not only are Fulham, West Brom, and Sheffield United entering the 2021/22 season of the EFL Championship with Premier League experience behind them. The trio have also made significant upgrades in the managerial position, signing Marco Silva, Valérien Ismaël, and Slavisa Jokanovic as their new managers respectively.
Fulham, West Brom, and Sheffield United?
Three teams will earn a promotion into the Premier League, but there can only be one champion. If we go purely off the team’s showings in the Premier League last term, Fulham are the most likely EFL Championship winners, and the bookmakers seem to agree.
The Cottagers might have lost many of their Premier League personnel during the offseason but, they still field plenty of talent and seasoned veterans. However, the biggest change this team has made is the signing of Silva, who has replaced Scott Parker.
With all due respect, Fulham should be in a much better spot without Parker. Although he led Fulham back into the Premier League two seasons ago, Fulham’s promotion wasn’t very convincing and could make you question whether they would manage the same feat by simply running it back from 2020.
You could also argue that Silva is a much better manager. He has been out of the game for two years, but that doesn’t take away from the success he has had with Hull City and Watford, where people quickly started to compare him to his compatriot, Jose Mourinho – and rightfully so.
One issue that Silva might have to deal with is getting to know the Championship. Although we don’t believe he will have a hard time getting a grip of the league, it might take some time.
We expect Fulham to do well and finish the league inside the top six. However, we don’t see the Cottagers as a team that will dominate the league the same way many expect them to and be a serious threat for direct promotion.
Next up, we have Sheffield United, who finished the 2020/21 Premier League season in last place, with 23 points and only seven wins to their name. Although they managed more wins than both West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, Sheffield United also drew only two games and lost the remaining 29.
Obviously not an excellent record, however, you have to feel optimistic about the Pirates and their chances to shine this season with Slavisa Jokanovic taking over as their new manager. It’s hard not to be bullish about a Jokanovic-led team, given his impressive track record.
The 52-year-old Serbian strategist promoted Watford and Fulham and is definitely the man to help Sheffield United back into the top flight. Although he needed a while longer to help Fulham get back into the Premier League, the way Fulham played under him was pretty impressive.
Even though many recognise Jokanovic by “his way of football”, we don’t quite believe there is such a thing. He might have been using a specific playstyle while at Fulham, but Jokanovic is not so much a “that style of football” coach rather than someone who will use the style the players feel most comfortable using.
In other words, we don’t expect Sheffield United to change by much, at least not as far as their preferred style of play is concerned. We expect Sheffield United to be a contender, but they might get off to a slow start while trying to get over what happened to them last term.
Last but not least are West Bromwich Albion, who acquired Valérien Ismaël as their new manager. The 45-year-old achieved brilliant things at Barnsley last season, leading the team to a fifth-place finish in the EFL Championship after the Colliers finished 21st a year prior.
What we like the most about Ismaël and what he has shown last season was Barnsley’s high-press playstyle, which made it very difficult for their opponents to get even close to the goal. Barnsley effectively suffocated their opponents, and Ismaël managed to achieve that with a side that no one expected to do well, largely due to their low budget and overall lack of quality.
Barnsley were priced as high as 26.00 to win the league last year, yet still managed a solid finish, 12 points short of direct promotion. The team started to struggle by the end of the season, mainly because other teams figured them out.
That could concern you for West Brom; however, if Ismaël comes up with a plan and a different style of play, West Brom could be a very scary team to face. It’s also important to note that West Brom haven’t finished outside of the top-six in any of their last eight seasons in the Championship, which includes five promotion campaigns.
For this term, Ismaël also acquired Alex Mowatt and Matt Clarke, while keeping Grady Diangana, Callum Robinson, Robert Snodgrass, and Karlan Grant. Much like it’s the case with Fulham, West Brom field a roster that is more than capable of beating any Championship team.
Like any of the top-three teams, West Brom will need some time to get up to speed under a new head coach. But once they get their wheels rolling, West Brom will be a daunting prospect, building on the already established synergy between the key players.
Prediction: West Brom to win – 0.50 Units – 7.50 at Bet365
Prediction: West Brom to finish top in top 2 – 0.50 Units – 4.50 at Bet365
Are Luton Underestimated?
Fulham, West Brom, Sheffield United, and Bournemouth lead the outright betting markets as four teams that are most likely to earn promotion this season. We can’t argue with that, but behind that group of teams, there are a few sides with experienced managers looking to cause an upset and earn a ticket for the Premier League for themselves.
Each year, we get a team that proves everyone wrong. Last year, Ismaël-led Barnsley made it into the playoffs, even though they were expected to finish the season in the bottom half. This term, we expect Luton to be the team that proves many doubters wrong.
While under Nathan Jones, Luton did an exceptional job getting out of League One. The Bedfordshire boys dominated the league with an energetic playstyle and perfected a system that made their opponents look like fools.
With the departure of Jones, Luton started to struggle and seemingly couldn’t make it work. Similarly, Jones couldn’t deliver at Stoke, which was a blessing in disguise for the team, who got their man back into the door to help them recover from a shaky period, and it worked.
The Hatters improved seemingly overnight and started playing much more organised and disciplined, finishing last term in a respectable 12th place. For this season, Luton will need to make some changes if they wish to improve upon that showing, largely by looking to step away from the traditional 4-4-2 and into 4-3-3, which would allow Jones to take full advantage of the midfield options at his disposal.
A big factor we should consider heading into this season is the return of fans in the stands, which should make Kenilworth Road a key asset in the Hatters’ chase for a strong finish of the season. The traditionally hostile venue helped Luton to an unbeaten home record in their 2018/19 campaign (while under Jones), and we can expect Kenilworth Road to be a fortress for this side once more this season.
It’s tough to doubt Luton Town’s chances to end yet another season inside the top half of the Championship, knowing that they have all the pieces needed to do well. However, we’re going bigger with our prediction and are picking Luton with a +20 points headstart to win the league.
The season handicap market offers you a chance to bet on who will win the league with a points handicap, which increases based on the teams’ perceived strength. With it, you’re essentially betting on which team will overachieve the most.
At +20 points handicap, you’re left to pick between Luton, Milwall, Bristol City, or Reading. We have to like the Hatters the most out of the four, as they have a bit more to them and can be trusted to achieve higher highs than the remaining three.
Prediction: Luton +20.00 – 0.25 Units EW – 19.00 at Bet365
Blackburn and Barnsley Could Be In Trouble
Blackburn’s attempt to mount a playoff challenge sizzled last time out, thanks to a disastrous run from February. Despite their best efforts, Tony Mowbray’s men ended the season entrenched in the bottom half after losing 10 of their last 20 games of the campaign.
You could argue that Blackburn were a bit unlucky to end the season outside of the top-six, but we view Mowbray imposed impractical playstyle as the main reason for Rovers’ lack of success, and that likely won’t change this season. To make matters worse, the team’s finances are tight, and the transfer embargo doesn’t help the situation one bit.
Blackburn have failed to acquire any major signings, while last term’s loan stars have yet to return, leaving Mowbray in a very tough situation, knowing that 11 faces have departed Edwood Park.
Barnsley acquired Markus Schopp as their new head coach, who will take over as the second Austrian head coach after Gerhard Struber, who led Barnsley in 2019/2020.
The Colliers gave an impression as a club that seemingly know what they’re doing over the years. They have acquired young, cheap players and tried to build from there. With Ismaël, Barnsley played well last term, and it’s fair to say that the club hit the nail on the head when they were looking for a manager is similar to Strubre – both in using a high pressing style and in terms of personality.
As impressive as we have been with Barsnely up to that point, it doesn’t make much sense for them to sign Schopp. Going to Austria again and acquiring Schopp might seem alright since they’re getting a coach that fits on a technical level, but does he have the personality of his predecessors that would allow him to get the players on board and motivate them to deliver?
Expecting him to do so might seem a bit unrealistic since Schopp will need to find a way to convince the players they haven’t lost anything with the departure of Ismaël and Struber. What’s more, what are the chances that Barnsley found a third coach from the Austrian league that can achieve the same success as Ismaël and Struber?
If Schopp proves he is good, we can expect Barnsley to finish somewhere mid-table, but things could turn sour quickly. Everyone knows what Barnsley are all about and how to beat them by now, which could be a problem Schopp will need to find a way to fix, and it won’t be by using the same style of play Barnsley have been using over the years.
Will he manage to do it? Perhaps, but if things don’t fall into place, Barnsley could easily find themselves in a relegation battle.
Prediction: Blackburn to be relegated – 0.50 Units – 9.00 at Bet365
Prediction: Barnsley to be relegated – 0.50 Units – 11.00 at Bet365 (13.00 at Sky)
Bournemouth Hitman Expected To Shine
This seems like the perfect season for Dominic Solanke to shine and push to take the league. The former England U21 international ended last term with 15 goals from 40 appearances for Bournemouth; however, we feel like he could have done much more.
The Cherries finally got their hands on Scott Parker, who they had their eyes on and from the looks of it, he has joined Bournemouth for a long stint. This is definitely a nice change, following a season of managerial changes.
Solanke has played 63 games at the top level in his career; however, He has yet to show his potential in the Premier League. Some of it had to do with his young age, but at 23, he should look to bring his game to the next level and improve his goal tally from the season, which doesn’t seem like an unachievable goal at Bournemouth.
The Cherries have plenty of attacking options to help Solanke receive the service he requires to shine, namely in David Brooks and Emiliano Marcondes. What’s more, Bournemouth don’t really have another player who could compete with Solanke for the starting spot, suggesting he will be seeing him play regularly. That is assuming Arnaut Danjuma ends up leaving the team.
It’s also worth noting that Solanke averaged 2.70 shots on goal last term, so he is obviously confident in taking a chance when the opportunity arises.
With Solanke, you’re getting a player who has scored 15 goals last term, is not scared to take a crack at goal, has the right support around him, and is highly likely to be Bournemouth’s go-to man in the front, following Danjuma’s departure to Liverpool.
Solanke is priced as high as 19.00 to end the season as the top goalscorer, which seems a bit too high.
Prediction: Top Goalscorer – Dominic Solanke – 0.25 Units EW – 19.00 at Bet365