Mining the Championship Diamonds

Chelsea approach the early stages of the 2019-20 Premiership in a bittersweet frame of mind. Sweet, because one of the club’s greatest ever players, Frank Lampard, has taken over as head coach from Maurizio Sarri (a generally miserable guy, caused by the fans’ underwhelming response to his ‘Sarriball’ principles). Hopes are high for a resurgence of the attacking style and flair which Lampard himself was renowned for. The bitter part comes from being banned from the transfer market for two windows (domestic and international) after being found guilty by FIFA of systemic breaches of regulations in how they dealt with young overseas players.

Youth gets a break at the Bridge

However, what tastes bitter at the start of the season may be more palatable by the end, if Chelsea can leverage the undoubted talent of the large number of young players they have had out on loan in the Championship. Tammy Abraham is a great example. He was on loan at Villa and managed a very respectable11 goals in 15 games. Mason Mount, at Derby last season, will be helped in pressing his case by Lampard’s knowledge of his talent and contribution to Derby’s creditable sixth-place Championship position.

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Leeds Utd – back to former glory?

One of those teams which are ripe for mining excellent players is Leeds United. This once-great club so very nearly made it back to the premiership last season. Back in the ’70s, they were giants under the tutelage of Mr Taciturn (Don Revie), who would defend to the hilt their questionable tackling and gamesmanship. His loyalty to the team was rewarded with some of the most impressive teamwork in the history of the game. ’70s Leeds had some outstanding players but were also that era-defining case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

After a ten-year dip in form during the ’80s, Leeds briefly glanced in the direction of greatness once again in the early ’90s, reaching the semi-final of the then recently inaugurated Champions League. However, this was to be only fleeting glory, and, within the space of a few years, the team was languishing near the bottom of the newly formed Championship and bleeding out financially. Since then, it’s been more pain than glory for a club whose city they represent is the fifth largest in the UK. The arrival of maverick (but highly experienced) Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa as coach kick-started their campaign this time last year, and he’ll be around with his innovative approach and brutal training regime for another season (unless things go horribly wrong at Elland Road!).

Spread yer bets!

You’d be hard-pushed to choose a dead cert for 2019-20 promotion, and Championship betting should get interesting as the weeks pass and surprise contenders rise and fall and rise again. There’s a wide array of teams worth setting odds on and, clearly, Leeds are very well-fancied again. Currently at 11/2 on bet365, they may be worth a punt now because the odds will surely shorten if they make a good start to the campaign. There again, they were odds-on favourites from early on last season and were in the automatic promotion places until shortly before the business end of the season. At the death, some say they choked, but they did get to the playoffs before getting bundled out after a disastrous second-leg home defeat to Derby.

A property on millionaires’ row

It’s good to see young, promising players getting more than a passing chance of first-team football at the Bridge this season. It may be by accident rather than by design, but hopefully, more than one of them will grab the chance and run with it. As for Leeds, of course, no team has a God-given right to a property on millionaires’ row (otherwise known as the Premier League), but for fans of a certain age, Leeds were part of the Division One tapestry while growing up. It would be good to see them back, and as the largest county in England, Yorkshire demands more than one team in the Premier!

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