Newcastle United are by far the favourites to win the Football League Championship following the club’s relegation from the Premier League last season.
2015-16 was a pretty dismal season for the Magpies who spent 28 of the 38 game weeks in the bottom three. Steve McClaren was sacked in March despite spending over £80 million on new players, the majority of whom failed to live up to expectations.
Rafael Benitez surprised everyone by taking over the club in March but couldn’t secure the club’s Premier League status despite taking 12 points from the last 6 matches of the season. He astonished everyone again when he announced that he would remain as Newcastle manager for next season. The Spaniard has gone from managing Real Madrid to a Championship side in twelve months and is perhaps the most established person for the job in decades. As a result, his Magpies side are 4/6 to gain promotion back to the top flight with 32Red mobile at the first attempt.
There was the expected exodus when a club is relegated from the Premier League. Andros Townsend and Georginio Wijnaldum moved to Crystal Palace and Liverpool respectively, while Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cissé both headed for the exit door. But that’s not to say the squad is depleted, far from it in fact. As a whole, the Newcastle squad actually looks stronger now than it did last season.
The arrivals of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie provide goals and balance respectively, while a weak defense has been greatly improved with at least four signings. The impending arrival of Mohamed Diamé is also a shrewd piece of business. He was one of the stand-out midfielders in the Championship last season and will add strength and a driving presence in the centre.
The last time the club was relegated to the Championship was 2009. That summer saw the departures of Michael Owen, Sébastien Bassong, Obafemi Martins, and Damien Duff amongst several other first team players. Club legend Alan Shearer couldn’t save the club and ticket sales slumped. They were excellent in the Championship and a certain Andy Carroll helped the club to 102 points but that was not the feeling before the season started.
This summer feels a lot different to 2009. Rather than being let down by a manager, Newcastle fans are fully behind Spaniard Rafael Benitez who chose to remain at the club despite its relegation. There is optimism amongst Newcastle fans that they will win promotion and establish themselves as a Premier League side under Benitez in 2017-18.
The big rivals for promotion are naturally the two sides who were relegated last season, Norwich City and Aston Villa. Norwich are the second favourites and have kept the majority of their squad together. The biggest departure is Nathan Redmond who left for Southampton in a £10 million deal. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is the only other major first team player to leave. Alex Neil has brought in Hamilton goalkeeper Michael McGovern as well as the highly rated youngster Sergi Canos. The 19-year-old winger is a La Masia youth product and joined from Liverpool for £2.5 million. They’re a united squad with a good young manager and will hope to run Newcastle close for the title. The Canaries are currently 9/1 to win the English Championship this season according to the likes of Unibet and BetBright.
Aston Villa are a little more unknown. Last season’s team was one of the worst in Premier League history but they have made a couple of good signings this summer. Roberto Di Matteo brought in defender Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth as well as youngsters Pierluigi Gollini and Aaron Tshibola. Villa have Scott Sinclair and Rudy Gestede who both got close to 20 goals the last time they played in the Championship. Villa will be hoping that is enough to fire them straight back up to the Premier League but you get the impression they still need a few more reinforcements. Villa are also expected to lose defender Ciaran Clark who has had his transfer release clause activated by Newcastle – of all teams. Derby County and Brighton are two clubs who should run these three close at the top.
Newcastle have gambled a lot of money on securing promotion to the Premier League this season. They have an enormous budget, the strongest squad, and by far the most experienced manager so they really should do it. However, the Football League Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in the world and should be treated as such. Rafael Benitez and his Newcastle players must approach this season with caution.