The annual rat race to reach the promised land of the Premier League is back underway following the return of the Championship, a division often lauded as the most competitive in world football.
English football’s second tier may not possess the same quality as the more illustrious Premier League, but season upon season it makes for fascinating viewing with its enthralling entertainment and unpredictable nature.
Here are the five favourites to win promotion from the Championship to the Premier League:
Swansea – 5/1
Swansea finished just short in their quest to return to the Premier League last season after suffering defeat in the play-offs, the South Wales outfit having snuck into the play-off picture on a dramatic final day following a strong second half to the campaign.
Steve Cooper has moved to strengthen his side and once again utilised his connections with the shrewd signing of Morgan Gibbs-White on loan from Wolves, whilst young Chelsea defender Marc Guehi has returned for another temporary stint.
The Swans have the basis for a challenge and have begun the season with four points from two fixtures, securing back-to-back clean sheets after beating Preston and a securing a goalless draw with Birmingham.
Goals may prove a problem, however, with the loss of Rhian Brewster a major blow, the loanee having returned to Liverpool and set for a Premier League move should he depart Anfield once more this summer.
Bournemouth – 7/2
Bournemouth are back in the Championship after five seasons in the Premier League and regarded as fourth favourites for promotion, despite selling more than £80m worth of talent in Aaron Ramsdale, Nathan Ake and Callum Wilson.
Ryan Fraser has also departed on a free transfer to Newcastle and the Cherries are yet to invest as they prepare for a new era following manager Eddie Howe’s departure, former assistant manager Jason Tindall tasked with taking Bournemouth back to the Promised Land at the first time of asking.
The return to fitness of David Brooks and Lloyd Kelly will be a welcome boost with both players amongst the brightest young talents in the division, whilst players such as Jefferson Lerma, Lewis Cook and Joshua King make Bournemouth amongst the sides to beat on paper.
Four points from their opening two fixtures is a solid start to the campaign and Domonic Solanke opened his account for the season at Middlesbrough, the coming campaign shaping up as a huge season for the one-cap England international who has struggled to fulfil his initial potential in the Premier League.
Watford – 2/1
It just wouldn’t be a new season without managerial change at Watford, the Hornets incredibly on their 11th manager in just seven years following the appointment of Vladimir Ivic ahead of the campaign.
The Serbian is untested in English football having previously coached the likes of PAOK and Maccabi Tel Aviv, though arrives to find the nucleus of the Watford squad who competed in the Premier League last season.
Abdoulaye Doucoure has left for Everton in the major sale of the summer, whilst an additional £15m has been brought in through allowing Pervis Estupinan to join Villarreal, a left-back who failed to make a first-team appearance in four years on Watford’s books but impressed on a succession of loan stints away.
Those departures aside and Watford’s gigantic squad looks strong and well equipped to challenge, with a formidable spine at this level including Ben Foster, Craig Dawson, Will Hughes and Troy Deeney, whilst the experienced Glenn Murray has arrived on loan from Brighton to bolster the attacking ranks and defender Ben Wilmot has returned from a productive loan at Swansea.
Interest remains high in several notable names including Deeney and wingers Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr, but there is now less than two weeks until the closure of the transfer window for most of Europe’s major leagues.
If Watford keep their current squad together past the deadlines, they possess arguably the strongest in the division.
Brentford – 6/4
Brentford came agonisingly close to the Premier League last season after losing the play-off final to Fulham, the Bees having been right in the mix for automatic promotion until the final day of the campaign.
There are few clubs at this level who buy and sell talent with quite such success as Brentford, who will once again have to reshape their side following the sale of Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa, the Championship’s Player of the Year fetching Thomas Frank’s side an eye-catching £28m.
Brentford have replaced the second tier’s Player of the Year with the League One equivalent in Ivan Toney, a forward who has plundered 40 league goals over the past two seasons for Peterborough and will be expected to spearhead their charge.
The club’s free-scoring forward line of Watkins, Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo remains two-thirds intact and if those latter two remain beyond the transfer deadline, Brentford will have the firepower to challenge once more.
How Frank’s side respond to their play-off final heartbreak will be crucial, with only two of the previous 10 defeated play-off finalists bouncing back to earn promotion the following season.
Norwich – 6/4
The third of the relegated sides to feature on this list, Norwich are regarded as the joint-favourites for promotion despite a miserable one-season return to the Premier League.
Norwich have – somewhat surprisingly – kept the nucleus of the side that won promotion two years ago and possess a squad equipped to do well at this level, a team possessing the bright talents of Todd Cantwell and Ben Godfrey supplemented by the prolific Teemu Pukki.
Daniel Farke has also moved to bring in seasoned second tier performers in Ben Gibson, Kieran Dowell and Jordan Hugill, whilst Tottenham youngster Oliver Skipp will also want to make an impression amid regular first-team football.
Adam Idah and Bali Mumba are exciting prospects, whilst the jet-heeled Przemyslaw Placheta has arrived with a burgeoning reputation from Poland and is expected to challenge for a senior cap before too long.
Norwich’s recent promotion experience is also likely to stand them in good stead despite a draining season of defeats last time out, Farke hopeful his side can rediscover that winning habit.