Following the meteoric rise of Aston Villa striker, Ollie Watkins from the championship to the England national set-up, many football fans are of the opinion that the chasm between the English second tier and the top leagues is not as wide as earlier believed. The best championship players of previous seasons have slotted seamlessly into several Premier League teams like Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze, West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma.
Also Marcelo Bielsa’s swashbuckling Leeds United side, who won the 2019/20 Championship title have been a constant pain in the neck to several big six sides. Even the best prediction sites, couldn’t analyse nor predict final outcomes when the peacocks were involved.
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This has led us to compile this list of the best championship players in 2021. Norwich top the league in number of points accrued, but have not proven as adventurous as Brentford’s attack. Watford are one of the leagues best defense but Barnsley remains the the team of the top tacklers. However for showboating and the ultimate dribbling experience, Reading are the team to follow.
With this variety of skills, ability and predatory awareness evenly distributed throughout whole league, let’s dive into the best championship players in 2021.
15. Francisco Sierralta – Watford
South American are known for their attacking brilliance, but when a defender comes from the continent, they do so with the full package.
Chilean centre-back, Sierralta pairs Nigeria’s vice-captain, Troost-Ekong, to form the best defence in the league. At 23 and 27, they form one of the youngest defensive pair in the league. Yet surprisingly enough, both players are making their debut in English football.
Sierralta is extremely affordable, as his value stands at just half a million euros. No other player in the rank of the cottagers makes more clearances. He is also very adventurous as only 5 players, namely: three forwards & two midfielders have missed more big chances than him.
14. Todd Cantwell – Norwich
Cantwell only ranks this low on the basis of the brilliance of other players and not any deficiency of his. The Norwich midfielder has been predominantly deployed on the left side of the wings this season. Here he has returned over 9 goal contribution, which is very modest as his side top the standings.
However his quality is indisputable as he is Premier League proven, registering 6 goals and 2 assists in his debut top-flight campaign.
Cantwell, whose contract expires in 2022, is the most valuable midfielder in the Championship.
13. Ismaila Sarr – Watford
Senegalese forward, Ismaila Sarr, announced himself to the world February 2, 2020, when he single-handedly destroyed Liverpool. The Reds who were unbeaten prior to the encounter were chasing an invincible campaign, but their rearguard was no match for the blistering Senegalese.
In humbling fashion, Sarr scored two and assisted a third to humiliate the eventual champions of 2020. Since then he has been on the radar of the Premier League’s best including his victims, Liverpool themselves.
His performances this season have done nothing to quell this links as he has been a leading attacker in Watford’s firing frontline. The 23-year-old right-footed right winger, similar to countryman, Sadio Mane, in his early days.
Not only is he one of the best championship players, he also qualifies as one of the most promising talents in English football. Sarr is the second most valuable player in the division.
12. Ben Cabango – Swansea
Born in the 2000s, Cabango is one of the youngest established centre-backs in the championship. The Welshman is the joint-second highest scoring defender in the league, chipping in with an assist also.
Only ten defenders, aged older, make more clearances per game than Cabango. His young age doesn’t typically translate to ineptitude as he has made the second most interceptions of any Swansea player.
Cabango has a very long contract, which sees his value peaked at €5 million for any potential suitors. However a premium would be stamped on his head, as he was bred in the country.
11. Matthew Clarke – Derby
Derby County’s most used player, Matthew Clarke has been a pivotal player in his club’s uninspiring season. Although staring relegation in the face, the Englishman has kept over 11 clean sheets this campaign.
A left-footed defender, Clarke is a player that values precision over any other characteristics. Despite getting involved in over 8 duels per game Clarke wins 73 percent of those, one of the leagues highest. He has been so tidy that only two bookable offences have been attributed to him.
The 24-year-old is a loan acquisition for Brighton, but he might not be returning to the top-flight side as his contract expires in May 2021.
10. Robert Dickie – Queens Park Rangers
Although bearing a typical English name, there is nothing archetypical about Robert Dickie’s game. The 25-year-old has been a brilliant ray of light in an otherwise ordinary QPR side.
Not afraid of the ball, Dickie makes the most touches of any player in the league per game. Clubs would require just €2.5 million to price him away from Loftus Road, making him one of the best value for money on this best championship players list
9. Shaun Hutchinson – Millwall
The captain, leader and rock of the Championship’s fourth best defence is English man, Shaun Hutchinson. The 30-year-old reads the game like an elite, making more interceptions than any player in the league, which is even more impressive as a defender.
For a player who has featured in the highest level of club football, the UEFA Champions league, Hutchinson is in the form of his life. He has kept over 14 clean sheets this season, with only clubs above him boasting better returns.
8. Arnaut Danjuma – Bournemouth
On the back of his mediocre showings in the top flight, Danjuma is a shock inclusion in this list of best championship players. This is as a result of the 24-year-old finding his level in the championship.
He has been involved in over 14 goals for the Cherries, becoming a sort of creative force. The Lagos-born left winger is enjoying his best ever season in his career.
Already a Dutch international, Danjuma is worth over €12 million.
7. Michael Olise – Reading
A wonderkid, Michael Olise, 19, is the youngest player on this year’s list of best championship players. The teenage prodigy is also the recipient of a national tug of war as he is eligible to represent France, England and Nigeria.
He has scored and assisted over 14 goals for a very inconsistent Reading side and is worth €12 million. However rumours from the mill have reported a release clause of just €8 million inserted into his contract.
Nevertheless, Olise will be hot property this transfer window as his contract expires in 2022 .
6. Nick Powell – Stoke City
Stoke City’s Nick Powell is one of the highest scoring midfielders in the English second tier. With over 0.4 goals per game, his goal rate easily betters some of the division’s strikers.
As well as being a creative spark, the 27-year-old English man is also strong in the tackle. His combative nature has however seen him commit the most fouls in the league. Ironically or perhaps strategically, he is also the most fouled player in the division.
With Stoke unable to secure a promotion berth Powell whose contract expires in June will be available on a free.
5. Lucas Joao – Reading
Portugue forward, Lucas Joao, is the fifth man on our list of best championship players in 2021. The Watford striker is primarily responsible for holding up play for the cottagers and has chipped in with over 17 league goals.
That figure could have been more, as the 27-year-old been guilty of missing big chances, the 5th worst in the league. However his goal+assist return of over 24 make up for these misses.
For those willing to overlook his age, he might prove a shrewd addition at €5.5 million. This is coupled with the fact that his deal expires in two years.
4. Grant Hanley – Norwich
Having the best player in the league is not enough, as Norwich also boast the best defender within their ranks. With a name that any rock star would be proud of, Grant Hanley also has a goal to his name.
But goals are not his call to fame, as the 29-year-old is the leader and captain of an impregnable back-line that has kept over 14 clean sheets. He is also the league’s tidiest player in possession as about 90 percent of his passes find their targets. He also appears neat in his tackles, as he has only been booked thrice in the campaign in his over 35 games.
With Norwich suffering a relegation in their last top flight campaign due to a shoddy defense, they will be desperate to secure the long-term stay of the Scottish international.
Hanley scored the crucial second goal of Scotland’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers which came in the two-all draw against Austria.
3. Kieffer Moore – Cardiff
One of the older players on this list of best championship players, Cardiff’s Kieffer Moore, might not appear catchy to the eye.
However as his side’s top scorer and performer, he has been one of the Championships best striker over the last 24 months. His biggest strength is in his ability to take to the air like an eagle as no player wins more aerial duels than him per game.
He famously scored the winner as Wales sunk Mexico by a lone goal in their second World Cup qualifier.
At just €4 million, the Welsh man is the most affordable forward on this list.
2. Ivan Toney – Brentford
With over 67 goal contributions in the last two seasons across the League One and Championship, Ivan Tooney would be one of the most courted player this year.
The 25-year-old Brentford man is the league’s most valuable and best striker. He has scored or assisted over 10 goals more than any other player in the division. In shocking brilliance, he has missed just 6 big chances, which ranks him as the league’s most efficient finisher.
With this deadly instinct in front of goal, he looks primed, set and ready to face even the world’s best goalkeepers.
In addition, no player in England’s top four leagues have netted more than the Englishman.
Any club looking to sign him might need to fork out more than his €18 million market value, as his contract doesn’t run out till 2025.
Premier League clubs, Arsenal and Leeds, are keen admirers of the striker.
1. Emiliano Buendia – Norwich
Emiliano Buendia is already proven at the highest level, as he delivered in his first season in the Premier League. He was one of the most-sought players in 2020 as his side were relegated from the top flight.
In loyal solidarity with his club, the Argentine chose to wallow in the muddy crypts of the Championship rather than soar with the top birds. His loyalty seems to have paid of as he is currently the most valuable player in the second tier at €22 million.
The right winger is known for his dribbling ability and elite creativity that has seen him score and assist over 22 goals. No player has created more big chances than the 24-year-old.
Buendia has been linked with Premier League side, Arsenal, for the past 12 months.
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