Rafael Benitez is masterminding a new era at Newcastle United – but the bookmakers have pushed the club out to second favourites as the 2016-17 Sky Bet Championship title race reaches its climax.
Benitez was brought to Tyneside as the replacement for Steve McClaren in March 2016 and although he improved Newcastle’s form significantly towards the end of last season, he could not prevent relegation from the Premier League.
Having started that campaign as the new coach of Real Madrid, where he was in charge until being sacked in January 2016, Benitez went from El Clasico to facing Burton Albion in the space of 12 months!
But while his side were expected by the bookies to make short work of the second tier, as they did the last time they were relegated in 2009 and bounced straight back up as champions by 11 points, they may have to settle for being promoted in second position on this occasion as they have been usurped as title favourites by Brighton.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton (Getty Images)
Of those who just missed out on promotion last season, Brighton are sustaining another challenge having been the odd one out in what developed into a three-way tussle for the automatic spots with Burnley and Middlesbrough and then missing out in the play-offs.
With five matches of this campaign remaining, Newcastle and Brighton had 10 points and more in hand of the other teams chasing the automatic promotion places.
The biggest surprise packages in the Championship so far are proving to be Huddersfield Town, Reading in their first season under manager Jaap Stam, and Leeds United, who have made considerable improvement since former Swansea boss Garry Monk took charge. But that trio are all now rank outsiders to finish top of the table, Huddersfield at 750/1 and the others at odds of 4,000/1 and bigger.
Our tip for the trophy all season has been Newcastle United. In Benitez they have a manager who has experience of winning trophies at a higher level than this and the signings they made last summer added Championship experience to a squad packed with quality in players such as Chancel Mbemba, Jonjo Shelvey and Ayoze Perez.
2016-17 Championship title best odds
11/10 Newcastle United (Marathonbet