The EFL Championship always provides an entertaining spectacle, and the excitement is beginning to build ahead of the opening day, along with the intrigue of the players ready to line up in the second tier for the campaign. Here are 12 that I’ll be keeping a close eye on, whether they’re hot prospects, interesting fits to new systems or players ready to revive their careers – these are sure to provide a fascinating watch.
Birmingham City – Juninho Bacuna
The Curacao international made the move south from Rangers in the January window in 2022 and provided a different angle to the Blues midfield since his arrival.
Adept at carrying the ball and drawing defenders in, it’ll be interesting to see how Bacuna fares under new boss, the well-thought of John Eustace.
His good range of passing, complete with 5.55 passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes played during 2021/22, means Bacuna can add progression and creativity to Eustace’s side.
Blackburn Rovers – Bradley Dack
It’s been four seasons since Dack’s 22-goal contribution haul of the 2018/19 campaign where he dismantled second-tier sides as the lynchpin of Blackburn’s attack. However, injury problems have hampered the attacking midfielder from regenerating that form.
If he finds his fitness, Dack can be unplayable on his day and could be the man to lift some of the goalscoring burden from Ben Brereton-Diaz (if he stays).
Blackpool – Marvin Ekpiteta
With Michael Appleton ready to begin his second spell as Blackpool boss, the new head coach will be ready to call upon those who helped to guide Neil Critchley’s side to a 16th-placed finish last season. Ekpiteta is a star performer amongst the well-oiled Tangerines outfit that have secured a place in the Championship for another season.
With outstanding defensive positioning and raw pace to cover behind the back-line, the 26-year-old is more than capable of being the centerpiece of Appleton’s solid base.
Bristol City – Kane Wilson
Among those who starred in Forest Green Rovers’ League Two winning campaign, Wilson was the one to pick up the most impressive plaudit available to players in the division.
The most essential part of Rob Edwards’ 3-5-2 system, the emphasis was placed largely upon the wing-backs to create and add contributions to his side. The reward for a 13-assist season for Wilson, a move 31 miles south to Bristol City to add to Nigel Pearson’s Robins ranks.
A huge deal of intrigue comes with this move, will Pearson stifle Wilson’s impressive attacking prowess? And can the former West Bromwich Albion academy man make the two-division step-up?
Burnley – Scott Twine
As Burnley make their return to the Championship under the new look façade of Vincent Kompany’s smart recruitment. There could be several of their new signings to watch, Ben McNally, Josh Cullen, CJ Egan-Riley but Scott Twine is the pick of the bunch when it comes to making their forward line tick.
A prolific goal scorer in League One last season, Twine was a huge figure of interest for many second-tier sides as he looked bound for the step-up. Twine is a one to watch more of intrigue as to whether he can keep up his goalscoring prowess after only one real season of non-stop striking.
Likely to start in a front two under Kompany this could help more with knowing his role and duty as he looks to strike a balance between his deep-lying forward role and poaching instinct.
Cardiff City – Romaine Sawyers
Once the vital cog in Slaven Bilic’s promotion-winning West Bromwich Albion side, the midfielder is ready for a new challenge after his release from the Baggies. Joining Cardiff on a two-year deal, Sawyers could provide a completely different angle to Steve Morison’s midfield.
Possibly linking up with another FGR league winner in Ebou Adams, a bulldog-like midfielder who looks to exploit the opposition through pressing, Sawyers could add some real passing quality into the Bluebirds side.
Coventry City – Callum O’Hare
O’Hare has attracted interest from those looking to step up into the Premier League this season, but still finds himself at the heart of the Sky Blues’ creativity.
With five goals and six assists last season, the challenge will be for Mark Robins to increase the quality of the squad to probe the best from the attacking midfielder. His ability to drop between the lines is reminiscent of the Jack Grealish that the Championship saw under Dean Smith.
Huddersfield Town – Jon Russell
A progressive midfielder brought into the Huddersfield first team frame by Carlos Corberan, Russell shone brightly as they pushed into the play-offs and finished just behind Fulham and AFC Bournemouth in the table.
The 21-year-old carries the ball from deep in the way Ruben Loftus-Cheek did to encourage an England call-up during his time at Crystal Palace, but is also capable of arcing across the back-line to recycle possession and release the Terriers’ flying full-backs.
Add all of this to his ability to think outside of the box, with neat finishes such as the one scored against Luton Town, where a lobbed chip nestles in the upper right stanchion of the net.
Hull City – Ozan Tufan
After the departure of Keane Lewis-Potter, Hull are enjoying a fruitful rebuild under Shota Arveladze and have already secured the signing of Jean Michael Seri, a player with top Championship pedigree.
But another signing of intrigue is Tufan, who wasn’t at his best during last season’s loan spell at Watford as he struggled to adapt to the pace of the division. It’ll be interesting to see how he works in the second tier as part of the Tigers’ new look XI.
Luton Town – Luke Freeman
Like Dack, his career has stalled since his season of promise in 2018/19, this time with QPR winning their Player of the Season award for that campaign. Bagging seven goals and six assists during that season, Freeman has now made a move to Luton where he’ll play under Nathan Jones. The boss is notorious for resurrecting previous talent and injecting a hard-working ethos into his side. Will Freeman rediscover his wand of a left foot under Jones?
Middlesbrough – Ryan Giles
A whirlwind of a half-season at Cardiff City saw the Wolverhampton Wanderers man get his chance further up the second tier with Blackburn Rovers in 2021/22. Nine assists at Cardiff earned him that move, but he only managed a further one as he move to Tony Mowbray’s side.
Now ready to try again with Middlesbrough under a proven wing-back specialist in Chris Wilder, this could be the making of Giles as he tries to break into the Wolves side for the next season.
Millwall – Zian Flemming
An Eredivisie starlet, Flemming’s prolific nature has risen to the surface over the past two seasons, bagging 12 goals in consecutive seasons. The top scorer outside of the top half in the top flight, the forward has proved to be a star asset for Fortuna Sittard.
The 23-year-old enjoys arriving late into the area and occupying the half spaces across the 18-yard box. Now tasked with the challenge of trying to negotiate a far more competitive league, Flemming will be the one Gary Rowett looks towards for goals in this Lions side.
By: Louis Bent / @louisbent_
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