2019-20 EFL Championship: 5 Talking Points from Round 5
The 2019-20 season of the EFL Championship is underway in full swing and Round 5 had plenty in store for all sets of fans, with the weekend ending in ecstasy for some sections and in agony for others.
There was hardly any shortage of thrills and spills, as yet another enthralling week of Championship football provided plenty of stellar individual performances, end-to-end encounters, upsets, heartbreaks and, of course, a whole lot of talking points for the media to dissect.
With that in mind, here are some key talking points from Round 5 of the EFL Championship.
1. Stoke City 0-3 Leeds United: Bamford continues to find the net as veteran Hernandez turns back the clock
Leeds United continued their merry way in the Championship, as Marcelo Bielsa’s side preserved their fairytale start to the campaign with another thumping 3-0 victory over Stoke City away from home.
The Yorkshire giants came into the game on the back of victories over Wigan Athletic and Brentford and the Whites stretched their winning run to three in a row, thus finishing Round 5 on top the Championship standings.
Goals from Stuart Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski and Patrick Bamford helped Leeds put a listless Stoke City unit to the sword but the real architect of the win, Pablo Hernandez, was unlucky not to have gotten his name on the scoresheet.
Hernandez’s incredible through ball found the run of Dallas, who made it 1-0 at the stroke of half-time before the Spaniard was once again involved in a slick exchange of passes with Bamford and Mateusz Klich for Alioski’s goal in the 50th minute.
The veteran was also the architect of Bamford’s goal and whilst the fans should be happy with the striker’s early-season blitz, Hernandez remains the club’s indispensable creative weapon in the attacking third.
2. Swansea City 3-0 Birmingham City: Borja Baston stars as Swans continue wonderful start to the campaign
Swansea City lost two of their most influential attackers from the previous campaign – Daniel James and Oliver Mcburnie, prior to the start of the season but that hasn’t stopped the Swans from grabbing the headlines with a stellar start to the Championship.
And Steve Cooper’s side registered their fourth victory of the season, driving 3-0 past a lacklustre Birmingham City at the Liberty Stadium, thanks to goals from Kyle Naughton, Bersant Celina and Borja Baston.
Baston’s second-half goal from the penalty spot took his tally for the season up to 5 goals, thus making him the outright top-scorer in the Championship thus far.
Cooper is also likely to be happy with the displays of Andre Ayew on the flanks, Mike van der Hoorn at the heart of the backline, as well as Matt Grimes, who was the key anchor and the heartbeat of the Swans’ midfield in that impressive win.
3. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Brentford: Gallagher grabs the headlines to preserve the Addicks’ unbeaten run
Charlton Athletic were under the cosh for long periods at home against a wasteful Brentford unit but Lee Bowyer’s side ultimately managed to come away with all three points, thus maintaining their fairytale start to the campaign.
The Addicks continued to fly the flag high for the newly-promoted outfits in the Championship, as Conor Gallagher’s 41st-minute strike propelled Charlton to their third victory of the season.
Despite lagging behind both in terms of possession, as well as the number of chances created, Charlton’s resilient and determined team performance helped them edge past the Bees by the thinnest of margins.
Gallagher, who is on loan from Chelsea, registered his third goal of the campaign, having already scored in the 3-1 victory over Stoke and the 2-2 draw against Barnsley, although he wasn’t the only impressive performer on the pitch for the Addicks on Saturday.
4. Fulham 1-2 Nottingham Forest: Grabban’s brace ends Cottagers’ three-game winning streak
Fulham were flying high after three consecutive victories over Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Millwall but a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest at home brought the Cottagers crashing down to earth.
Scott Parker’s men came into the game as the outright favourites following a 4-0 rout of Millwall in the mid-week fixture but Lewis Grabban’s opener four minutes into the game pushed them back.
Anthony Knockaert had a couple of attempts saved and Mitrovic fired his header over the bar from close range before Sammy Ameobi set up Grabban for his second of the game midway through the second half, with Mitrovic’s strike seven minutes from time proving to be just a consolation for the Cottagers.
5. Hull City 1-3 Bristol City: Afobe bags a brace as Robins make it three in a row
Bristol City raced to their third consecutive victory in the Championship by outclassing Hull City 3-1 away from home on Saturday to finish Round 5 placed 4th in the standings.
The Robins lost 3-1 to Leeds in their opening fixture but Lee Johnson’s side have made a strong statement with consecutive victories against QPR, Derby County and Hull City.
Jarrod Bowen’s solitary strike wasn’t enough for the Tigers as Benik Afobe’s brace and an own goal from Reece Burke fired Bristol City to yet another impressive triumph.
Johnson’s men fell agonisingly short of a playoff spot last term but given their impressive run of form early in the ongoing campaign, the fans at Ashton Gate have every reason to hope that their club can, indeed, go one step better this time and finally finish in the top-six.
A look back at the top 5 goal contributors in the Championship last season
A look back at the top 5 goal contributors in the Championship last season
It is very common to see the top-scorers in the top-five leagues of Europe, namely the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Eredivisie making most of the headlines in the post-mortem analysis at the end of each campaign.
The scintillating performances of some underrated stars in the lower divisions do not usually enter the post-season talks and rarely gain enough recognition.
There is a reason why the EFL Championship, despite being the second-tier of English football, is considered as one of the toughest, and probably one of the most exciting leagues outside the top-five leagues of Europe.
Taking into consideration the number of games each team has to play over the course of the season, it is a long and hard slog for everybody involved and the fans would know how difficult it is to survive or secure promotion to the top-flight.
And it was no different last season, as the 2018-19 campaign produced some edge-of-the-seat thrillers, intriguing see-saw promotion battles and of course, some incredible individual performances.
While the campaign ended in promotion ecstasy for the likes of Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, it was absolute heartbreak for teams like West Brom, Leeds United and Derby County, who came tantalisingly close to securing a return to the top-flight but failed to get over the line in the final stages.
Let us take a look at some of the top goal contributors in the 2018-19 season of the EFL Championship. Teemu Pukki, obviously, tops the charts but it is surprising to see that Dwight Gayle, who netted 24 goals, misses out on a place in the top-five in terms of overall contributions, although he boasts of a better goal-minute ratio when compared to all the players mentioned below.
1. Teemu Pukki – 38 (29 goals, 9 assists)
Norwich City secured promotion to the Premier League as the outright winners of the second division for the first time since 2003-04, and Temmu Pukki was the name on the fans’ lips at Carrow Road, week in week out.
The Finnish international was the go-to man for the Canaries in front of goal and arguably the most influential striker in the entire division last season as Daniel Farke inspired his team to an awe-inspiring campaign.
The 29-year-old, who made his move to Carrow Road on a free transfer from Danish side Brondby last summer, took the Championship by storm and racked up a career-best tally of 29 goals, virtually propelling Norwich to the Premier League single-handedly.
The former Celtic and Schalke man netted braces against the likes of Millwall, Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers, although his most productive outing came in the 4-0 demolition of Bolton Wanderers away from home back in February where he bagged two goals and an assist.
Pukki bagged six man-of-the-match awards in the Championship last season and one does get the feeling that he will once again be Norwich’s best bet ensure survival in the Premier Leauge.
2. Neal Maupay – 33 (25 goals, 8 assists)
The former Saint-Etienne man enjoyed a remarkable campaign at Griffin Park in the Championship last season and proved himself to be a class above most of his counterparts in the division.
Brentford finished 11th in the table and missed out on a place in the promotion playoffs but the 22-year-old Frenchman strengthened his claims of earning a move to the Premier League this summer.
Brentford were regarded as one of the dark horses to make to it to the playoffs at the start of the season and while the Bees never really looked likely to make it to the top-six, it was Maupay who kept the fans believing for large quarters of the campaign.
The diminutive and versatile striker enhanced his reputation of being one of the most lethal in his position in the second-tier and it won’t be a surprise to see him get an opportunity to ply his trade in the Premier League in the days to come.
Maupay started the season off with a bang, bagging 2 goals and an assist in the 5-1 humiliation of Rotherham United on the opening day, which ultimately proved to be his most productive outing of the campaign.
Other highlights of his campaign include braces against Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic, while the fans at Griffin Park are also likely to remember his incredible display in the 2-0 upset of Leeds United in the penultimate game of the season, where he scored and assisted one apiece.
3. Tammy Abraham – 29 (26 goals, 3 assists)
The Chelsea loanee was Aston Villa’s undisputed promotion hero, as the 21-year-old netted a staggering 26 goals, including an all-important one from the penalty spot in the 2-1 victory over West Brom in the first leg of the playoff semi-finals to propel the Lions back to the Premier League following a three-year exile from the top-flight.
Abraham caught the eye with his poaching instincts, supreme aerial ability and natural finishing. However, the England U-21 star remained in the second-tier for the entire campaign and was one of the key driving forces behind Villa’s much-awaited return to the Premier League.
The 21-year-old’s exemplary feat of netting four goals in the eventful 5-5 draw at home against Nottingham Forest is bound to go into the history books at Villa Park, while the other highlights of his season included braces against the likes of QPR and Ipswich Town.
4. Jay Rodriguez – 28 (22 goals, 6 assists)
The 29-year-old England international might have been outscored by his teammate Dwight Gayle but he edges ahead of the Newcastle United loanee in terms of overall goal contributions, largely due to his tally of 6 assists.
Rodriguez could have chosen to depart West Brom following the club’s relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2017-18 season but he opted to stay at the Hawthorns and once again proved his worth as a bona-fide goalscorer in English football.
However, his exploits weren’t enough for the club to earn promotion back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.
Rodriguez played a key role and scored a double in the 4-3 victory over Norwich City back in August and also took centre stage in the 7-1 demolition of QPR in the following game, with the 29-year-old registering braces in back-to-back games for the Baggies.
He repeated that feat in the 4-2 victory over Bristol City in September and in the 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic at home on Boxing Day. West Brom will be hoping that he stays put to help them reignite their surge for promotion under Slaven Bilic next term.
5. Billy Sharp – 27 (23 goals, 4 assists)
Sheffield United secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 2006-07 and Billy Sharp was very much in the thick of things at Bramall Lane, as manager Chris Wilder managed to extract the best out of an ageing forward line to ensure that the Blades completed a much-awaited return to the top-flight.
Sharp might not be a familiar name in the top-flight but he has always been a prolific goalscorer in the lower echelons of English football. The 33-year-old took his career goal tally up to 238 at the end of this past season.
The fans at Bramall Lane are likely to be ever-grateful to him for his massive contribution in both of Sheffield United’s promotion-winning campaigns in recent times, firstly from League One to the Championship in 2016-17 and then from the Championship to the Premier League now.
The 33-year-old didn’t quite equal his third-tier tally of 30 goals and 8 assists in the 2016-17 campaign but he played a key role, nevertheless.
Sharp bagged a couple of hat-tricks in the 4-2 victory over Wigan and the 3-3 draw against Aston Villa, with braces against Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers (home and away) being some of the other highlights of his truly incredible goalscoring run.
A closer look at Brentford’s new signing Christian Norgaard and what he could bring to the Bees’ ranks
A closer look at Brentford’s new signing Christian Norgaard and what he could bring to the Bees’ ranks
Norgaard, who arrives at Griffin Park as Brentford’s first major signing of the summer, has put pen to paper on a four-year deal with the Bees, with reports claiming that manager Thomas Frank has showered praises on his former Brondby player. (h/t Evening Standard)
Frank is well aware of Norgaard’s abilities, having worked with him at Brondby earlier in his managerial career.
The former Danish U-21 international made only 6 appearances for Fiorentina in all competitions this past season, as the Italian club barely managed to beat the drop in the Serie A but the 25-year-old out-of-favour star has been offered an escape route by his former manager.
The majority of the fans at Griffin Park are unlikely to have much of an idea about the Dane’s exploits, although they should probably keep faith in their manager’s recruitment policy.
It is true that bringing in someone like Norgaard, who hasn’t had too much of top-level exposure outside his native Denmark, looks like a bit of a risky move on paper for the Bees.
However, looking back at the last few seasons, Brentford have carved out a reputation for making good signings and there is every possibility that the 25-year-old could prove to be a bargain for the Bees.
They haven’t been hesitant to bring in players from foreign leagues either, with the likes of Neal Maupay, Yoann Barbet, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Said Benrahma and Henrik Dalsgaard being amongst those to have arrived at Griffin Park in recent times.
All the aforementioned players have gone on to have a successful time in the Championship and while the fans have every reason to be sceptical about Norgaard’s arrival, the Dane might as well prove to be another shrewd piece of business by the Bees, and an absolute masterstroke of a signing from Thomas Frank.
Apart from the high-profile Henrik Dalsgaard, Brentford have some promising young Danish starlets like Luka Racic, Mads Bech Sorensen and Emiliano Marcondes in their ranks, meaning that Norgaard might find the process of acclimatisation at Griffin Park a lot easier.
Given that the Bees have already completed the signing of the 25-year-old, the midfielder is likely to be available for a full pre-season and that should help him settle down in his new surroundings.
Having secured an 11th place finish in the Championship last term, Brentford will be looking to go one step further next season and challenge for a promotion playoff spot.
While retaining the services of Maupay, Ollie Watkins and Benrahma up front should hold the key to their success, Norgaard might go on to establish himself as a familiar face in Frank’s first-team and play a key role in the club’s push for promotion.
Let us take a closer look at Brentford’s new signing- Christian Norgaard.
Norgaard started playing for the likes of BK Heimdal and Espergaerde IF before entering the youth setup of Lyngby in 2008. He made rapid progress through the ranks and broke into the first-team picture in the 2011-12 season, making his only senior appearance for the club as a substitute in a 2–2 Superliga draw with HB Køge in 2011
The midfielder earned a move to Bundesliga club Hamburger SV back in 2012 but he wasn’t able to make much of an impact at his new club, featuring largely for the reserve side in the process. Norgaard failed to make a single first-team appearance for Hamburger and left the club in 2013, having featured on 22 occasions for the reserve team.
Norgaard returned to his homeland with heavyweights Brondby back in the summer of 2013 and gradually established himself as one of the best in his position in the Danish top-flight.
The 25-year-old reached great heights at Brondby and earned the status of a cult hero at the club, helping his team to victory in the 2017-18 Danish Cup, which was his first taste of silverware as a professional footballer.
The Dane made a total of 147 appearances for the Danish outfit in all competitions, accumulating 12 goals and 8 assists in the process. He also featured prominently in the club’s unsuccessful 2014-15 and 2015-16 Europa League qualifying campaigns under Thomas Frank.
Norgaard’s brilliance in his homeland caught the eye of Serie A giants Fiorentina, who swooped for him last summer. However, he found regular minutes difficult to come by in the Italian top-flight and spent a lot of time on the bench, making only 6 appearances over the course of the previous campaign.
Once regarded as amongst the brightest emerging prospects in Denmark, Norgaard earned a total of 73 caps for his nation from U-16 to U-21 levels and was called up to the senior international squad for the UEFA Nations League games last year, although he is yet to earn his senior debut.
A part of the Danish squad at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the midfielder also represented his nation at 2015 and 2017 U-21 European Championships.
Style of Play
Standing at 6ft.2 inches with a towering and well-built frame, Norgaard is essentially a central defensive midfielder by trade, although he is capable of playing in a more advanced box-to-box role in the middle of the park.
A strong and tenacious midfielder noted for his technical abilities on the ball and a good range of passing, Norgaard not only excels with his ability to dictate the tempo of the game and put his team on the front foot with clever switches of play but he is also very much capable of winning possession back with crucial tackles and interceptions.
A solid and well-organised deep midfielder renowned for his sound reading of the game, calmness, composure and positioning, the 25-year-old could add a lot of depth and stability to Brentford’s midfield in the Championship next season.
Although primarily a defensive midfielder, Norgaard likes to play the ball forward.
That coupled with his presence of mind to get involved in the build-up play and propensity for making late attacking runs into the box, make him a potent goal threat as well.
The Dane is not afraid to pull the strings with either foot and often calls the goalkeeper into action with powerful driving efforts from outside the box.
What would he add to Brentford’s ranks?
Despite lacking any prior experience of playing in England, Norgaard would be expected to make a big impression at Griffin Park next term, given the finances involved in the deal and the player’s familiarity with Thomas Frank.
Considering that the Championship can sometimes be unforgiving to players arriving from other leagues in Europe, it is a bit of a gamble for the Bees, but Frank seemingly knows how to extract the best out of him.
Brentford lost the services of the versatile Nico Yennaris back in January, while former Chelsea academy product Josh McEachran has also left the club upon the expiry of his contract this summer.
The likes of Romaine Sawyers, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Lewis MacLeod played a key role in the central midfield under Frank last season, with the manager preferring a 3-4-3 system with two wing-backs and two pivots in the middle.
Youngster Josh DaSilva was used largely as an impact player off the bench but he is still very much in the developmental phase of his career and one cannot help but feel that someone like Christian Norgaard, with his physicality and calmness, could be a more reliable option for the Bees.
Brentford can also afford to look at the Dane as a like-for-like replacement for McEachran, and while it is still unclear whether he would be an upgrade on their existing options, it would be fair to say that Norgaard could add a lot of depth and quality in a key area of the pitch for Brentford.
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All in all, Norgaard has the attributes to fit seamlessly into Frank’s system at Griffin Park but only time will tell how he manages to respond to the challenge of playing in a highly competitive and physical league, such as the Championship.
Aston Villa’s £8.9m pursuit of this powerful international winger would add a new dimension to their attack
Aston Villa Opinion: Said Benrahma could be a massive coup for the Lions this summer
According to The Sun, Aston Villa have been credited with an interest in Brentford winger Said Benrahma, with reports claiming that the Lions have triggered a bidding spree for the Algerian international with an £8.9 million offer on the table.
The Sun understands that manager Dean Smith is keen to add more depth and quality to his squad this summer, as Villa set sights on preserving their Premier League status in their first season back to the top-flight.
Aston Villa have already set the ball rolling in the summer window with the
£4 million signing of Jota from Birmingham City and they have now set their sights on Benrahma, who was one of the most productive wide players in the Championship this past season.
Benrahma, who made his move to Brentford from French Ligue 1 side Nice last summer for a fee of around £2.5 million, enjoyed a stellar first season in English football and earned rave reviews for his impressive performances.
The 23-year-old Algerian accumulated a staggering 11 goals and 17 assists in 45 appearances for the Bees across all competitions this past season, with his red-hot form attracting interest from Premier League giants Arsenal and Chelsea a few months back (h/t Sun).
Benrahma has previously expressed his desire of playing in the Premier League and a move to the top-flight looks likely to materialize for the left-winger this summer, with newly-promoted outfit Aston Villa ready to swoop for him.
The 2-cap Algerian proved that he is head and shoulders above the Championship level in his very first season in England and few would argue against him making the step up to the Premier League next season.
A compatriot of Riyad Mahrez, Benrahma shares a lot of similarities with the current Man City star, both in their style of play and how they rose from strugglers in France to prominent figures in England.
Benrahma found life difficult at his boyhood club Nice and spent time on loan at Ajaccio and Chateauroux in Ligue 2 before moving across the continent to join Championship outfit Brentford.
Predominantly a right-footed attacker, Benrahma is a versatile modern-day attacking midfielder who can play in multiple positions across the midfield and the forward line, although he is at his best when deployed in an inverted role down the left.
A sharp, agile, fleet-footed and technically-gifted winger, the 23-year-old is noted for his good turn of pace, exceptional close control, flair and trickery on the ball, whilst also possessing an incredible eye for a final pass in the attacking third.
Benrahma not only excels with his ability to cut inside from the flanks but he is also adept at creating chances with his clever link-up play, accurate crossing and vision.
As evident from his numbers this past season, the Algerian is capable of contributing with both goals and assists, meaning that his presence in the final third could help Villa improve massively.
The tricky jet-heeled winger bagged as many as nine man-of-the-match distinctions in the Championship for Brentford the last term, carving out a reputation for himself as a versatile and dynamic wide playmaker.
Benrahma also proved his worth from direct set-pieces on numerous occasions and his repertoire of skills could add that X-factor and unpredictability to Villa’s attack.
Villa confirmed the release of veteran winger Albert Adomah upon their promotion to the Premier League and, as things stand, the Lions are currently short of options in the wide areas, with loanee Anwar El Ghazi’s future yet to be decided.
Youngster Andre Green showed glimpses of promise in the second-tier but he is still very much in the early days of his career and Villa certainly cannot rely on him to deliver the goods in the Premier League.
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Villa have already made a strong statement with the acquisition of Jota but one can get the feeling that someone like Benrahma would be a better player in the Premier League.
Having said that, the paymasters at Villa Park should not hesitate to splash the cash on the talented and versatile Algerian this summer in a bid to build a potent and formidable unit.
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