There aren’t too many top-flight teams willing to take a risk on players from the Championship; the temptation to stretch the scouting net worldwide has seen chances for those impressing beneath England’s top tier increasingly narrowed.
However, this month there has already been plenty of activity between Premier League clubs and those from the second tier, with Demarai Gray the first to make the step up, from Birmingham to Leicester. Meanwhile a return to the top flight for Charlie Austin is hardly surprising given his efforts for QPR last season, although Southampton caught many off guard with his signing, while Sam Byram seems set to swap Leeds for West Ham rather than Everton.
So who are the other Championship players that will have caught the eye of suitors from England’s top tier? WhoScored.com reveal the top five youngsters aged 21 or under that could be on the radar of Premier League bigwigs, excluding those already on loan from sides in the upper reaches of the English game.
5. Dominic Iorfa (Wolves) – 6.80 rating
It’s little wonder that Kenny Jackett was keen to tie young defender Dominic Iorfa down to a new long-term contract at the end of last year, though that won’t have deterred too many clubs from casting an eye over the 20-year old. Wolves have used the athletic Iorfa at right-back but he, like so many young defenders who later make the grade, is tipped to switch back to a central role in the years to come.
His versatility will certainly appeal to Premier League onlookers, with Iorfa’s height and strength not impinging on his impressive pace. Indeed, it’s his ability to burst past opponents that perhaps most catches the eye, averaging an impressive 1.5 dribbles along with 1.8 tackles and 2.6 aerial duels won per game. If there’s an area that needs work it’s perhaps his delivery into the box, with a modest 16.1% cross accuracy, but Iorfa may still be hot property before long.
4. Moussa Dembele (Fulham) – 6.83 rating
It’s hard to remember the last time a Championship player was seemingly so highly sought after across Europe as Moussa Dembele. The 19-year old has become a first-team regular at Craven Cottage this season having been touted for stardom following a fantastic goalscoring record at youth level. The teenager has made the step up to senior football in impressive fashion, scoring nine league goals in 25 appearances so far this season.
The Frenchman is far from the finished article but has that precious knack of being in the right place at the right time. Eight of the youngster’s nine goals have been deemed a ‘big chance’ by Opta – with only the Championship’s top scorer Andre Gray netting more of those opportunities (13) – and he has won an impressive 3.5 aerial duels per game. His first touch is suspect at times, averaging 3.3 unsuccessful touches per game – the most in the league – but there’s little surprise he’s on many a wish list.
3. Ben Osborn (Nottingham Forest) – 6.84 rating
After the start to his season was disrupted by injury and illness, Ben Osborn has become an important part of Dougie Freedman’s Forest side once more. Capable of playing on the left or at the heart of the midfield, the 21-year old ensured his name will not be forgotten quickly by the fans with a memorable last-minute winner against fierce rivals Derby last season, and the academy graduate is understandably a popular figure at the club.
With a goal and an assist in his last three league appearances the youngster is hitting form after a modest start to the campaign and posts respectable all-round figures. The hard-working midfielder averages 2.2 tackles, along with 1.4 shots, 1.2 key passes and 1.1 dribbles per game going forwards, so he too is one to watch.
2. Andrew Robertson (Hull) – 6.97 rating
Having most recently been linked with a £7m move to promotion rivals Derby, Hull boss Steve Bruce was quick to dismiss reports that the young Scotsman may leave the club. While the Tigers are still very much in the hunt to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, Robertson is unlikely to leave the club, but should Hull fail in their attempts at an immediate comeback they can expect to field plenty of calls for the left-back come the summer.
The 21-year old impressed immediately upon his arrival at the KC Stadium last season and his top-flight experience will no doubt be attractive to potential suitors. The Scotland international has one goal and three assists to his name this time around, averaging solid figures for tackles (1.4), interceptions (1.5) and key passes per game (1.1). If there is one weakness to Robertson’s game it is perhaps that his lack of height means he is often beaten in the air, though that is unlikely to deter the growing number of clubs touted with an interest.
1. Solly March (Brighton) – 7.19 rating
His season may have been curtailed by a serious knee injury at the end of last year but that won’t stop a number of Premier League scouts from keeping tabs on Solly March’s recovery. The 21-year old was a star turn for the unlikely league leaders for much of the campaign and it’s little coincidence that Brighton have really struggled going forwards in the youngster’s absence.
When the winger’s campaign was cut short in December, Brighton remained unbeaten, with March notching three goals in 13 league starts. The Seagulls have lost four of seven matches since, picking up just five points in that time without a player who leads the way for the side in dribbles per game (2.1). With averages of 1.9 shots, 1.3 accurate crosses and 1.6 tackles per game to boot, he is the highest-rated Championship player aged 21 or under to make 15 or more appearances this season and will no doubt remain on the radar of Premier League clubs despite a cruel injury blow.