The Championship has developed into one of the best second-tier leagues in Europe, with the level of drama, excitement and tension at both ends of the table epitomising the fact there is no such thing as an easy game. An increase in quality across the board has created a division in which anyone can beat anyone, with teams who drop down from the Premier League finding it increasingly difficult to bounce back up at the first attempt. The last few years have seen the race for promotion and battle to avoid the drop go down to the wire, and although Betway have had their own say on who they believe are in contention to reach the top flight in 2016/2017, there are a number of clubs who should value the Premier League as a realistic target.
Although some may argue that Norwich are the best equipped of the three relegated clubs to bounce straight back, having secured promotion from the Championship last summer with practically the same squad they have now, it is difficult to look past Newcastle as the clear favourites to top the division. Keeping hold of Rafa Benitez could prove to be their greatest signing this summer, with the board providing considerable financial backing that has enabled the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager to secure big-money deals for Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie. Newcastle have also agreed a deal to bring Blackburn centre-back Grant Hanley to Tyneside, and although Benitez may lose Georgino Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko before the transfer window shuts, the Spaniard would still have the strongest squad in the Championship. It remains to be seen whether their strength in depth produces results on the pitch, but their passionate fanbase will hope that Newcastle return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Carlos Carvalhal arrived at Hillsborough as a relatively unknown manager from Portugal, but he managed to transform Sheffield Wednesday from a mid-table team into play-off finalists. The Owls will look to bounce back after losing to Hull at Wembley thanks to a wonder goal from Mohamed Diame, and while Carvalhal will hope to take the team one step further in pursuit of glory, it remains to be seen whether they have the spirit and character to come back even stronger.
Sheffield Wednesday have been away from the Premier League since 2000, and although their decline has seen the club yo-yo between the Championship and League One, Carvalhal’s arrival appears to have breathed new life into the Owls. Their hugely convincing victory against Brighton in the play-off semi-finals illustrates just how good Sheffield Wednesday are when they hit full gear, with the signing of free agent Steven Fletcher representing superb business. The former Sunderland striker will undoubtedly add more firepower alongside Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri, and if Carvalhal is able to keep fellow key players Kieran Lee, Barry Bannan and Kieran Westwood, then Sheffield Wednesday could represent great value for promotion with Betway. The ability to change the odds to decimal numbers on their website paints a clearer picture as to how much can be won if the Owls end their seventeen-year absence from the top flight, but although they may be considered outsiders, Sheffield Wednesday have the quality to mount a serious promotion push.
Derby have somehow found a way of blowing wonderful positions in recent years, with the Rams ultimately falling short despite being amongst the favourites for promotion. Falling at the play-off semi-final stage last season was another case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for the Rams, and although they showed great character in the second leg to come within one goal of a remarkable comeback, Darren Wassall’s side gave themselves far too much to do after losing 3-0 at home to Hull. The board have turned to Nigel Pearson in the hope that he can use his experience and no-nonsense persona to get Derby back on track, with the former Leicester manager having strong experience of building teams in the Championship. He was instrumental in the Foxes’ resurgence from League One to the Premier League, and ultimately laid the foundations for their title-winning season.
Pearson’s arrival could prove to be the best signing of the summer for Derby, but he may face a fight to hold onto his best players. Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick have been linked with moves away from the iPro Stadium, and although the Rams are yet to make a move in the transfer market, deterring potential suitors from two midfielders that will be key to their promotion chances may be Pearson’s main priority. Derby certainly have the quality to sustain a promotion push with the likes of Chris Martin, Lee Grant and Richard Keogh at the club, and if Pearson instils a strong mentality that enables them to last the distance, then the Rams could return to the Premier League for the first time since 2008.