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November 9, 2018

Scouting the EFL Championship's Breakout Stars

By James Socik

In the last year or two the Championship has become a breeding ground for players who have gone on to become established not just in the Premier League but internationally players as well. England’s second tier allows younger players to test themselves in a highly competitive league, whether those players are on loan from Premier League side or just coming through the ranks at clubs within the league. To that effect I wanted to find the breakout stars of the Championship from the season so far. I looked at players who had played less than 1000 mins in the 17/18 season (although this was loosely applied) but had contributed at least 600 minutes in the current campaign to find those excelling in their various roles who might just be the names that light up the future. My only other caveat was that I kept my searches to players who 24 or younger. Also, in order to look at a diverse group of prospects, I decided that I would pick two players from each area of the pitch; defenders (inclusive of fullbacks), midfielders and forwards to give a fair reflection of players who are shining in those areas.

Defenders

Jayden Bogle – Derby County – Age 18

Bogle’s rise at Derby under the faith and guidance of Frank Lampard has been nothing short of incredible. Bogle did not make one senior appearance for Derby prior to this season and yet his assured performances and the athleticism he’s added to a previously ageing back four have contributed greatly to Derby’s outstanding form. The young fullback possesses the perfect blend of the more “old school” characteristics mixed with the attacking outputs expected of a modern day wide defender. He shows great strength and tenacity in 1 v 1 situations. His pace and athleticism allow him to make a high volume of tackles and interceptions, well above the league average. On the offensive side Bogle is highly accomplished on the ball with a very good technical skillset. Bogle is currently hitting 6.86 deep progressions (pass or dribble into opposition final third) per 90 minutes. That is far above the league average for a full back and shows his composure and quality. Bogle is also a very adept dribbler of the ball, crucial for a modern day full back who often find themselves in 1 v 1 situations out wide. He currently leads the way in successful dribbler per 90 for Derby. This allows him to beat his marker and open up space to play into with his control and technique to manipulate the ball. In the last year we have seen the rise of two fullbacks at Liverpool who also have the perfect fusion of defensive attributes with attacking output, Bogle’s upside suggests he could hit similar heights, and is certainly one to monitor his progress as the season wears on. A future England international? Perhaps too early to hazard a guess but without doubt the ceiling on the talent and potential is extremely high.

 

Joe Rodon – Swansea City – Age 21

A name that may be unfamiliar to more casual EFL viewers but definitely one to remember. A direct product of the increasingly successful Swansea academy, Rodon has taken the opportunities afforded to him by progressive head coach Graham Potter. Another who had not played a senior game for his club before the start of the season, Rodon has benefited from a huge reduction in the Swans squad size and a transformation under Potter to a younger more vibrant side. The Welshman has the outstanding blend of a dominating “old-school” center back while having the technical qualities expected of a defender in the modern game. The 21 year old has been integral to Swansea’s successful start to the campaign, amassing 13 appearances and contributing significantly to a defense which is, at the time of writing, the joint second best in the league in terms of goals conceded.  Rodon possesses excellent distribution with his passing. He’s both accurate and incisive, often starting creative moves from the back. This is particularly vital with the Swans due to the style Potter is trying to implement by moving the ball quickly and vertically through the team. The Championship is an exceptionally physical league for center backs, featuring teams with direct styles with highly physical forwards. This is does not appear to bother Rodon who has the physicality to win duels and be dominant in the air. The Radar below shows Roden compared to the league average for center backs.

Rodon is performing above the league average for a center back in aerial wins per 90. He is as fiercely combative as he is technically proficient on the ball and is showing fantastic potential that will no doubt raise awareness to clubs in the Premier League. His xGBuildup is highly impressive too (0.46 per 90) showcasing his ability to contribute to good attacks from the back. He’s an outstanding young defender performing exceptionally in his first foray into senior football.

 

Midfielders

Mason Mount – Derby County – Age 19

Whilst I wanted to try and find players who the wider readership may not be acutely aware of it seemed completely remiss to write an article on breakout star players in the Championship without covering one of its best performers in the season so far. Mason Mount’s season under Frank Lampard has been one of the most highly anticipated narratives of the EFL. Mount set alight the Eredvise last season and big things were expected of his time at Derby. One of Mount’s major strengths, is actually an off the ball event in terms of his pressing. From the eye test Mount looks to press the ball in high, advanced areas, and he presses with lots of intensity. His defensive activity map below shows exactly this. Lampard has deployed Mount as an attacking no 8 this season, pressing opposition defences high up the pitch. It’s been a huge part of Derby’s recent style which has seen them achieve fantastic results. Mount ranks as high as 7th in the league from all Attacking midfielders/wingers for pressure regains per 90. He presses the ball with intent and with large success and has become the platform for Lampard to base a high intensity pressing game on.

As a creative midfielder Mount also contributes greatly. The Englishman ranks sixth in the league from all attacking midfielders/wingers for open play key passes. The quality of those chances created is also high with Mount producing 0.16 expected assists per 90. Mount has been integral to Derby’s build up play this season, offering variety and incisive passes that have opened up opposition defences. What makes the Chelsea loanaee stand apart is the extra goal scoring threat he offers from that deeper midfield position. Naturally there have been comparisons with Lampard and there may be some merit in that comparison, not in terms of style but output. Mount’s shot map is indicative of his confidence in his own technique. Many of those out of the box shots are from direct free kick attempts. Mount will always back his ability to strike the ball with conviction even from distance. However, it’s those penalty box shots that truly showcase the midfielder’s strengths. Mount carries a goal scoring threat due to his intelligently timed runs into the box. Naturally, some of these shot selections could be hugely improved, Mount’s xG per shot is not of the highest quality. As a young player there will always be improvements to be made and Mount’s decision making is certainly one aspect he will look to better as he progresses. The platform is set though for Mason Mount to be the star of this Derby team this season, and he has had a very encouraging start.

 

Kalvin Phillips – Leeds United – Age 23

Admittedly this one is slightly against my minimal minutes in the 17-18 season rule, however, for good reason. I am acutely aware that much of the analysis of midfielders centers on their creative contributions or their chance creation. Kalvin Phillips has been the base for Leeds United’s Bielsa ball style this season. Most likely the biggest managerial shock appointment of the summer, Marcelo Bielsa has gone about transforming Leeds into a fluid, high intensity and possession dominant team. However, the glue that holds that side together and gives the likes of Samuel Saiz and Pablo Hernandez opportunity to concentrate on creating is Phillips. Under previous managers Phillips has been a more advanced midfielder but despite having some excellent technical attributes playing the game on the half turn and in tight spaces did not suit his skillset. One of Bielsa’s first acts this season was to drop Phillips further back, making him the team’s primary defensive midfielder and the player to win the ball and give it to those highly creative players further forward. Phillips has responded in fine manor. As the team’s main, and pretty much only, defensive midfielder, Phillips is tactically restrained to those central deep areas for his work, as can be seen from his defensive activity map. Generally not much over the half way line and summing up the role Phillips has been asked to play by Bielsa.

Phillips has excellent distribution with his passing both long and short. He ranks sixth overall for passes per 90 (from all midfielders) and is constantly recycling the ball for Leeds to those in more dangerous areas. Defensively, Phillips ranks second for combined tackles and interceptions (adjusted by their team’s possession) from all midfielders too. The Leeds man’s positioning and reading of the game are also integral to the side’s success, as the areas he protects and takes up allows Leeds’ wing backs to drive forward and wide, opening up the pitch as wide as possible helping to exploit space for their creative players. Phillips may not appear, on the face of it, to be one of the more impressive performers in the numbers but their aren’t many better in the whole division in that defensive midfield role, even more impressive considering how quickly Phillips has transformed himself into this role in a Bielsa team.

 

Forwards

Harvey Barnes – West Bromwich Albion – Age 21

I almost feel under pressure writing about Barnes due to affection StatsBomb’s fearless leader Ted Knutson has shown “Harvey Danger” this season, and quite rightly so. I could have put Barnes in the midfield section but felt his positions as a no 10 or winger suited the more advanced category. For an indicator of just how good Barnes has been; only three players in the Championship this season have an xG and open play xA per 90 above 0.2. Barnes is one of those. He is one of the most potent and dangerous attacking players in the whole league, either from creating for others or taking up goal scoring positions.

Barnes is one of the best technicians in the league. He has a brilliant touch, a great weight of pass and a very strong shot. His skills make him a standout in a team that possess some of the best attacking talent in the Championship. A look at which players create chances and the quality of those chances sums up his importance to the team.

From a numbers perspective, Barnes is far and away the most important player to that West Brom attack. Those other offensive players may look clinical on paper, but Barnes appears to be the imagination and the creative spark that West Brom need to mount a challenge this season. Barnes will be Premier League ready next season, perhaps even now. I also don’t think it will be long before we see him in an England shirt. Leicester have a serious talent on their hands.

 

Neal Maupay – Brentford – Age 22

As I was piecing this together it dawned on me, I haven’t actually included a proper striker. The predator type striker who simply scores goals. That is why I chose to abandon the rule of limiting mins from previous season and just provide a view of the Championship’s current most lethal man. An outstanding, technically gifted striker with pace and dynamic movement, Neal Maupay has all the tools to be a star. He is another of the three players spoken about above who have over 0.2 for xG and xA per 90, even more impressive when you consider the other 2 are wingers and Maupay is a centre forward. This ability to not only be on the end of moves but be involved in creating chances stands Maupay apart from many of his peers at this level. Ranking as the highest player in the league for passes and touches in the opposition box, the Frenchman is more than just a finisher. Brentford have long been revered for many aspects of their operation. In football style terms they play almost clinically and with an analytical approach, trying to create the highest quality chances for their forward players. This results in a lot of six yard box attempts on goal and consequently a LOT of goals. Maupay’s shot map shows the benefits of playing in such a system.

A striker is naturally judged on goals and how clinical they are at taking their chances. Despite the fact Maupay is the top scorer in the league one of the criticisms against him is that he can miss the odd easy chance, which quite frankly can be true of all great strikers. However, his conversion rate is still high which shows he can be a clinical striker. An overall non penalty xG of  8.77 with nine non penalty goals shows that Maupay is indeed clinical enough especially at this level to score goals on a consistent basis if presented with chances. His radar speaks for itself in terms of the quality of the player in general.

Maupay doesn’t shirk any of his defensive duties either. The young Frenchman is Brentford’s second best player in terms of pressure regains per 90. He works extremely hard but his pressing isn’t just functional, it is actually highly tactical. Look at Maupay’s defensive activity map in terms of the areas where his defensive activities take place.

The majority of Maupay’s actions and those with the highest intensity and frequency just happen to occur centrally and on the last line of defence or on the last midfielder. Happy coincidence? I highly doubt it. Brentford are an exceptionally intelligent side and they will be well aware that regains in this area will have a high % of a good quality chance on goal. Maupay is key to this strategy with his work rate, athleticism and mobility key factors in setting the tone for his team mates. Without doubt one of the long line of exceptional talents bought to the EFL by Brentford, however Maupay could easily be the best.

 

Thanks for reading guys! I hope I have peaked some interest in one of the most intriguing and brilliantly chaotic leagues in the world of football!

Article by James Socik