The financial restraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit’s influence on the transfer market have increased the likelihood of Premier League clubs shopping locally.
Here, theScore selects the Championship players who should be suiting up in the top flight next season – be it with their current club or a new employer.
Eze took a job at a Tesco supermarket when he was released by Millwall in 2016, but he was promptly handed a lifeline in professional football by Queens Park Rangers technical director Chris Ramsey. It was a masterstroke by the club’s former manager.
Eze’s development was accelerated by a brief spell with Wycombe Wanderers before he was recalled early from that loan stint in January 2018. He’s been a regular in QPR’s starting lineup since.
QPR have a tradition of pushing maverick playmakers under the spotlight, and Eze displays the hallmarks of Stan Bowles and Adel Taarabt with his repertoire of tricks and tendency to attempt extraordinary things. Players of that ilk often suffer from inconsistency, but Eze has separated himself from that reputation over the 2019-20 term. He’s been spectacular most weeks.
The 21-year-old’s slippery movement and love of running at opponents helped him fashion 12 goals and eight assists before the Championship campaign pushed pause. Eze can be worth the price of admission on his own.
Ferguson almost moved to the Premier League in January, but a knee issue was flagged in his Crystal Palace medical that put the switch on hold. The Eagles are expected to revisit the transfer when the summer window opens.
The 19-year-old owes his rapid rise to West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic, who turned Ferguson from an underwhelming center-back to a full-back capable of wreaking havoc on either side of the park.
While his attacking attributes are highly regarded – Ferguson completes more take-ons per 90 minutes than Nottingham Forest’s Matty Cash, who was recently linked to AC Milan – he’s also comfortable defending in one-on-one situations.
The relationship between Ferguson’s representatives and the Baggies seems irreparable after January’s collapsed transfer, so the player should be available if any other club wants to compete with Palace for his signature.
The most famous name in this sextet is Mitrovic, who’s bagged a league-high 23 goals in 34 appearances for Fulham this season. The 25-year-old arrived in England in 2015 with a bad-boy reputation, which detracted from the tough, unconventional route Mitrovic took to become a Premier League-grade hitman.
When Nikola Antic roomed with the striker during Serbia’s victorious European Under-19 Championship campaign in 2013, he was surprised by how little sleep Mitrovic needed. Antic remembered him staying up all night watching videos of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli, and then starting his day with press-ups and other workouts before training even began.
However, if it wasn’t for a positional change when Antic and Mitrovic played together in Partizan Belgrade’s youth ranks, the Fulham striker may still be chugging along in Eastern Europe today.
“When we were young, I play No. 10 and he play No. 8 in the middle, and he was like a tractor,” Antic, who now plays for Shakhtyor Soligorsk in Belarus, told theScore. “Too slow. But after 19 years, they put him in forward and when he was in forward, my friend, he is top.”
Leeds United’s Phillips has been the Championship’s best player over the 2019-20 campaign, and he was understood to be part of England manager Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 plans before the coronavirus stopped the country’s game in its tracks.
The 24-year-old was hit and miss as a buccaneering box-to-box midfielder when he first reached the senior setup; he was entertaining and physically intimidating yet often betrayed by his final ball. But since Argentine handler Marcelo Bielsa tasked Phillips with a holding role, he’s been excellent. He’s now good enough for the starting lineups of at least 75% of the Premier League’s clubs.
Phillips’ acceleration and strength create a near-impenetrable wall in front of Leeds’ backline, and his distribution is expansive, quick, and invariably accurate. He’s easily Bielsa’s most important player, neatly blending tactical know-how with an all-action style.
Brentford might be blessed with the league’s most entertaining frontline with free-scoring 20-year-old winger Bryan Mbeumo, technically gifted Said Benrahma, and accomplished finisher Ollie Watkins. It’s the latter member of that trio whose route to the Premier League seems inevitable.
Watkins was already one of the Championship’s standout players as a wideman, but he’s flourished in a No. 9 role since Neal Maupay left for Brighton & Hove Albion last summer. He’s scored eight times with his head – he had only seven headed goals in his career before this season – and has notched a further five goals with his weaker left foot.
Overall, Watkins has scored just one fewer goal than Mitrovic while taking 34 fewer shots. The 24-year-old’s professionalism, versatility, and willingness to work off the ball make him an obvious target for Premier League clubs to sign before the next campaign.
The Championship has a legion of top-quality defenders. Brentford’s center-back pairing of Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson is immaculate in the second tier, while Michael Hector has been superb for Fulham since his transfer from Chelsea finally cleared in January.
But the most impressive defender in the 2019-20 Championship campaign already belongs to a Premier League outfit.
White, 22, is a classy performer who only appeared in two League Cup matches for Brighton before being entrusted with a starting berth at Bielsa’s Leeds. The loanee’s composure and ease in possession have drawn comparisons to ex-Leeds man Rio Ferdinand, and he’s completed more take-ons than any other Championship center-back. White is often an instigator of Leeds attacks.
That’s not to dismiss his defensive graft. His understanding with captain Liam Cooper in the heart of Leeds’ backline is the main reason why the club has conceded the fewest goals (30) in the league. White will smash the ball from danger when required – he’s not a slave to the ball-playing tag.