5 Championship Players Who Should Be On Your Radar.
As the season draws to a close and we enter into the play-offs, the championship has been just as enthralling as ever this season, some teams underperforming spectacularly such as Derby County who could well face a shock relegation, (dependent on the events of this weekend’s last round of fixtures), while others made unlikely pushes for promotion with Barnsley securing a surprise spot in the play-offs. Standout players like Ivan Toney and Emi Buendia amongst others, have deservedly received their fair share of media hype and attention following incredible levels of consistency delivered throughout this season, however for every player with plenty of buzz surrounding them there is a vast array of players who have been quietly brilliant all season with recognition of their performances not matching their ability and displays throughout this season. Here are 5 players who may have slipped under the radar in the 2020/21 EFL Championship season.
1. Francisco Sierralta
Chile International Sierralta joined Watford on a 3 year deal from Italian Serie B side Empoli this September. Sierralta had to wait until late November to make his debut and it wasn’t until mid to late December where he really established his place in the Hornets’ starting XI. It’s no coincidence that Watford have kept a formidable 14 clean sheets in Sierralta 26 championship outings. From his 24 starts Sierralta averages 0.9 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game, in comparison Grant Hanley ( captain of dominant title winners Norwich) has averaged the same number of tackles from 17 more starts, established Brentford centre back Ethan Pinnock has only 1 interception averaged per 90 compared to Sierralta’s 1.2, and additionally Bournemouth Centre Back Llyod Kelly ( an England U21 international) who has the highest market value for a championship defender after full back Max Aarons, only averages 0.3 blocks to Sierralta’s 0.5, with Kelly starting 8 more games than Sierralta this season. At 6’4 Sierralta is an aggressive and dominant centre back backed up by over 3.5 aerials duels being won per 90 by the Chilean. Sierralta has only just turned 24 and having only played well short of 100 games so far, in Chile and a handful of times in Serie A and B, he has excelled in his appearances in a Watford shirt so far. Obviously, the next step for Sierralta is to carry over his dominant performances into the premier league. So far, he looks like he has all the physical attributes to perform at the top level and he has plenty of time to polish other attributes of his game if Watford choose to stick with him as a starter as the bounce straight back up to England’s top flight.
2. Callum styles
No Barnsley fan will be at all surprised to see Style’s inclusion in this list, yet opposition fans and fans outside the championship may be unfamiliar with just how versatile and talented Styles is. Still only 21 and having spent most of his career in League One and Two with Bury prior to his 2018 switch to Barnsley , Styles has racked up 41 Championship appearances this season and recorded 4 goals and 3 assists. Styles has featured at Left Midfield, Left wing back and Attacking/central midfield throughout his career so far. It is on the Left side of Barnsley’s 3-4-2-1 where Styles has really excelled for the Tykes, in one of their best Championship seasons in recent memory. Defensively Styles is energetic and gets stuck in with 2.7 tackles per 90 as well as 1.2 interceptions per 90-that’s More than double the tackles Robertson has averaged for Liverpool in the Premier League this season and only 0.1 less interceptions. In possession Styles average 0.8 Key Passes per 90 and completes 0.5 crosses a game this is only just fewer key passes than Swansea’s Andre Ayew has averaged and significantly more crosses than ex Celtic attacker Scott Sinclair has managed per game this season. A versatile and tenacious young player, Styles appears to have a very high ceiling in English football, should Styles get another productive season in the championship with or without Barnsley under his belt, then you would imagine he would be more than ready to test himself in the Premier League- all before the age of 23. The speed of Style’s development is remarkable, and he would be a real asset to all of the championship’s top half sides and a number of lowly Premier League teams.
3. Vitaly Janelt
Brentford have been renowned for the constant conveyer belt of talent they seem to churn out, all stemming from attention to detail when it comes to shrewd business and their recruitment and scouting process. Last season it was Benrahma and Watkins who stole the show and this season it has been Championship top scorer Toney with a stunning 40 G/A and flashy French winger Bryan Mbuemo who have caught the eye the most and taken most of the limelight. Despite Brentford’s obvious quality upfront, hardworking midfielder Vitaly Janelt has been as consistent as anyone for Brentford, looking to finally secure promotion after getting closer and closer every year. The German Youth international was signed from Bochum in the 2. Bundesliga and previously was a part of the RB Leipzig youth academy and second team. A solid defensive midfielder, Janelt is versatile having also played as a makeshift centre back and left back at times. Vitaly has been nearly ever-present for Brentford playing 40 times, making 35 starts and also contributing a respectable 3 goals and 3 assists as a more reserved midfielder. Averaging 1.5 interceptions and 1.7 tackles per 90, Janelt is the ball winner Brentford need in holding midfield and has been a key cog in another season with the club vying for promotion. With 27 caps for Germany’s youth side from U17 upwards, Janelt has a very bright future, and it would be no surprise if he is the next Brentford player to make the step up to the premier league, or even be a regular starter back in his homeland, in the Bundesliga.
4. Marc Guehi
Swansea City Boast the third best defence in the championship this season, with Freddie Woodman recording an incredible 20 clean sheets in net for the Swans this season. At the forefront at Swansea’s defensive performances this season has been Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi. Guehi initially joined on loan last January playing 12 times, his loan was extended over the summer and he has gone on to be a standout out performer this season making 39 more appearances at the Liberty Stadium this season- all these appearances being starts. What stands out about Guehi is his composure on the ball, looking at ease when bringing the ball out from the back. Guehi also fantastic positional awareness and great aerial ability for a Centre-back “only” standing at 6ft, in addition Guehi is solid in recovery and puts his body on the line when it matters as all good centre backs should. Joe Rodon looked like he was far and away the best centre back at times during his time at Swansea and he has since made the big move to Spurs, looking comfortable at the top level in multiple appearances for an out of sorts Spurs team at times this season. Guehi is a different mould of centre back to Rodon. Rodon is aerially dominant and aggressive while Guehi is more intelligent with how he uses his strength and speed to win the ball, Guehi also attempts more progressive passes and likes to dribble more than Rodon. For a 20 year old loanee playing his first full season as a professional Guehi has looked remarkably assured in one of the championships’ best defences this season. Guehi has 11 caps for England’s U21s however he is eligible to play Ivory Coast, something which may tempt the youngster if it can offer him a Fasttrack into playing regular senior international football. Chelsea will be pleased with Guehi’s progress this season and it would not be surprising if they try and ease him in with more senior appearances in cup games etc. next season. If Chelsea look to loan Guehi once more then it would seem logical for Guehi’s next destination to be at a higher level that will test him even further. A move abroad could aid his development, it has done wonders for Fikayo Tomori on loan at A.C Milan, with Tomori having a similar path to Guehi making his name at Derby before looking to break into the Chelsea first team.
5. Dominic Solanke
Looking to include only one forward on to this list was a tough ask considering the standard of strikers in the championship at present. Cardiff and Wales targetman Keiffer Moore came close to making the list, as did Australian born Scottish International Lyndon Dykes who overall has had a productive first season at Queens Park Rangers. I have opted for the inclusion of Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke. There have long been high expectations on Dominic Solanke’s shoulders, he was immensely prolific for all of Chelsea’s youth sides, had a decent spell scoring his first senior goals in Holland with Vitesse Arnhem and was then signed by Liverpool were Jurgen Klopp entrusted Solanke with a healthy amount of first team appearances. At the same time Solanke was even called up to the England Senior team, coming on against Brazil in his solitary cap. Things all seemed to be coming too fast for Solanke however, he scored just once in 27 outings for Liverpool and made a big £19million switch to Bournemouth. Bournemouth were relegated in his second season and Solanke became ridiculed for the fact that it took him 39 games to score for the club, only scoring 3 goals in the premier league for the Cherries after over 40 appearances, albeit important goals in a 4-1 win over Leicester and a 3-1 win over Everton. Finishing the season with a small handful of goals for Bournemouth towards the end of last season seems to have given Solanke the confidence boost he needed as he has flourished in the championship this season, looking like a different player from last season at times. Solanke has had by far the best season of his career with 23 goals and assists this season ( 15 goals, 8 assists). Solanke has always had really good hold up play ability, being unselfish and drawing others into play-highlighted by his 8 assists. Solanke finally looks comfortable in front of goal and many of his 15 goals have displayed a range of technical ability coupled with scrappy goals, earnt from getting into good positions. Solanke has looked hungry this season and you can tell he is playing with a point to prove. In Bournemouth’s November win over then Play-off contenders Reading, Solanke was instrumental in the 4-2 victory and all his talents were clear to see. After trailing 2-0, Solanke scored a true poacher’s finish, and then sealed the victory with a fine 4th goal by outmuscling the keeper and firing the ball with precision, from outside the box and into the top left corner. Should Bournemouth get promoted via the play offs Solanke will have another crack at the premier league as a more complete and confident player, if not he could do a lot worse than play one more season in the second tier and attempt to break the 20 goal mark. This is easily within his abilities and a feat that would signify how far he has come, instead of being labelled as a flop, and a waste of money. The only way is up for Solanke now.
Written by- Joe Langlands
LinkedIn- Joe Langlands