The 2020/21 Sky Bet Championship season so far has seen young players shining for teams up and down the division. Some were brought in for substantial fees, while others have risen through the academy ranks and are now starring at first-team level. With Premier League clubs now having to look within its own borders for talent as a result of Brexit regulations, here’s a look at four players in the second tier who have a good chance of playing in the top-flight next season.
Alongside Harvey Elliott and João Pedro, Olise has been a standout attacker this season. After making his Reading debut in 2018/19 and gradually building on his minutes the following season, 2020/21 has been the Frenchman’s breakout term. Olise has featured in 34 matches so far, remaining on the bench for just two and has five goals and nine assists to his name.
Capable of playing on both wings as well as attacking midfield, Olise has a combined xG and xA of 11.34, which is a slight overperformance in both areas. The France U18 international has a superb eye for a pass, possesses great ability when it comes to breaking lines with defence splitting passes and is also a very strong dribbler 1v1. Compared with players 22 y/o and under, Olise has completed the most of these dribbles with 174, which is more than other highly coveted players like Josh Dasilva and Max Aarons.
The 19-year-old has also performed well in passes (1186), key passes (19), through balls (47), smart passes (47), progressive runs (93) and deep completions (39), showing that a key theme of Olise’s skillset lies in his passing and ability to create chances. He would be a great addition for any club struggling to create goalscoring opportunities in England, or abroad.
There has been a lot of excitement around Harvey Elliott ever since he became the Premier League’s youngest ever player when playing for Fulham at the end of 2018/19. This league debut led to a move to Liverpool and a season spent mostly representing the U23’s with a few appearances in cup competitions. More of the same was expected this year, before an unexpected loan to Blackburn Rovers materialised on deadline day. It is unusual for a player to leave on a temporary switch at 17, never mind playing at a level as high as the Championship, but it’s been a move that has served both player and club extremely well.
Elliott has excelled as a regular for Tony Mowbray’s side and, like Olise, has made fourteen goal contributions. The breakdown of these contributions is also the same with five goals and nine assists, but a difference is that Elliott’s xG/xA is much lower than Olise’s (8.59), making his efforts even more impressive. His personal highlight this season came in December in a home game against Norwich where the England U19 international initially collected the ball wide on the right flank. From here, Elliott drove towards goal, before nutmegging Grant Hanley and calmly sliding the ball under an onrushing Tim Krul to score a superb goal.
The Liverpool-loanee’s near identical skillset as Olise sees him rank high for all the same analytics, slightly edging the Reading man in the majority and having done so in three less games. Whether Elliott is a part of the set-up at the Premier League champions next season is unknown, but another loan to a carefully selected club at a higher-level would be another good step in his development.
Jason Knight has been a key player in a poor Derby County side this season. Featuring predominantly as an attacking or central midfielder, although he has also played on both wings as well as defensive midfield, the Ireland international has also captained the club at the age of 20. Knight has shown that he is an all-action midfielder, just as willing to defend as he is to attack.
The former Cabinteely academy player has won a high number of defensive duels (263), just one more than Barnsley’s Callum Styles (who was very close to making this list) and has allowed 233 progressive passes, a number that puts him top of the rankings amongst his peers. Knight’s strengths also lie in winning challenges, sitting just in front of the defence before picking out a teammate to start a possible goalscoring opportunity.
Premier League teams have seemingly taken notice of Knight’s progression this season, with Burnley, Crystal Palace and West Ham United all strongly linked with his signature. A move to either of the first two clubs would make sense, with Derby looking unlikely to be promotion candidates anytime soon, whilst Palace look to reduce an ageing squad and Burnley are on the lookout for young British/Irish talent to strengthen their ranks under new ownership. Wayne Rooney’s team will be under no pressure to sell, as Knight is contracted to 2023 but if a big enough offer comes in, then the Rams may see another young midfielder depart for the bigger stage of the top-flight.
It has been an outstanding season for Oliver Skipp on loan at Norwich City, but it is difficult to not think why didn’t this move come a season sooner? Skipp was to play first-team football at the start of 2019-20, but was initially kept around the squad by then Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, however this came at the cost of minimal game time. No move away materialised in January under José Mourinho and Skipp effectively lost a season, stuck in the grey area between being too good for PL2, but not ready enough to contribute regularly for Spurs.
This season though, has brought a season-long switch to newly relegated Norwich City and an opportunity to star for a team that has dominated the ball and possession in almost every game they’ve played. It is a move that has suited Skipp to a tee as he and his teammates look certain to send the Canaries back to the Premier League at the first attempt. It is the England U21 international’s passing ability that has set him apart from the rest, with a standout statistic being the 1919 passes made so far. 250 of those have been to the final third, considerably more than any other player his age.
It would be ideal next season if Skipp could continue his progress with Norwich, but in the Premier League (presuming that the club is promoted) as opposed to the Championship. Spurs are still well-stacked in midfield and with no clear pathway to becoming a first-team regular, it would be a safe option for the North London club to allow Skipp to return to Carrow Road for a second season, instead of returning to be a fringe player at his parent club. Norwich boss Daniel Farke’s style of football suits Skipp perfectly and at this moment in time, Norwich is a perfect fit for him so it would be great to see the two link-up again in 2021/22.