One of the most fascinating aspects of any Championship campaign is the surprise packages of young talent emerging from each and every side.
Whether it’s a future England international receiving some senior experience, or the Cinderella stories of a prospect rising through the leagues, there’s nothing better than seeing the next generation succeed. The confidence and unpredictability they provide is simply unmatched.
With that in mind, it’s only right I pay homage to the youngsters starring in the second tier with an XI dedicated to them. Therefore, here is my ‘Best Young Championship XI’, featuring the league’s finest under 23s.
GK: Viktor Johahsson (Rotherham United)
Before joining Rotherham, Johansson’s only senior experience was with non-league Alfreton, and you could’ve been easily mistaken for thinking he couldn’t adjust to Championship life.
While Bursik has bossed the clean sheet race for young keepers, Johansson makes nearly double the saves per game! In Under 23 goalkeepers, he’s 2nd for saves per game, and 1st for penalty area saves.
Predictably busy for a keeper in a struggling side, Johansson may find himself in the Championship again next reason regardless of Rotherham’s survival.
RB: Max Aarons (Norwich City)
Aarons made my ‘Best Championship XI’, making him a shoe in for this squad.
A modern full back that excels both in attacking sense and a defensive one. He leads young full backs in key passes per game this season, as he’s established himself as a level above the second tier. After holding his own last season in the Premier League, this’ll certainly be his final year at this level.
Bayern and Barca have been linked with Aarons, so don’t be surprised when you see him gracing Europe’s biggest stage in the not-so-distant future.
CB: Mads Andersen (Barnsley)
Another inclusion in the senior XI, Barnsley have one of the most underrated centre back partnerships in the league, with Mads being integral to their recent form.
Ismael’s side thrives off defensively solid, route one football with a modern twist, suiting Andersen to a tee. He leads under 23 centre backs in tackles and interceptions per game, showing a maturity and intelligence in reading the game way beyond his years.
As the Tykes continue to sneakily establish themselves as a leading promotion contender, Andersen’s superb defensive acumen will be pivotal to this.
CB: Harry Souttar (Stoke City)
After impressing at Fleetwood last season, a spell which included an EFL Young Player of the Month award, he was given a chance to star at Stoke.
Souttar has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, being a stalwart at that back and helping the Potters transition to a more possession-based style. While his lanky build may connote towards a more old-fashioned style of play, Souttar is deceptively talented on the ball, leading the young centre backs in key passes and passes per game.
Recently rewarded with a new, long term contract at Stoke, Souttar clearly features in the Coates family’s ambitious plans for the club and it’s easy to see why.
LB: Omar Richards (Reading)
It’s been a whirlwind month for Richards, signing for Bayern, compared to Ashley Cole, oh and also being included in both the senior and young best Championship XI’s for the FanHub blog.
Arguably the league’s finest full back, he leads young left backs in tackles, interceptions & passes per game. Stats indicative of a key player both with and without the ball, Richards is the epitome of a modern full back.
Just one of three Royals taking to the thrones of their positions, Reading are showing that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
RM: Michael Olise (Reading)
It’s always tough to involve a versatile attacking midfielder into these sorts of list, but it was impossible to leave Olise out.
With five goals and ten assists this season, Olise has shown the Chelsea academy that released him as a schoolboy the error of their ways. He’s unpredictable with a risk-taking style justified by his impeccable set piece delivery. Add to this his pace and agility, and you have a real handful for any Championship defence.
Chelsea royally messed up releasing Olise, and I can imagine they’ll be heading up the long list of suitors he’ll have this summer.
CM: Oliver Skipp (Norwich City)
With an academy set up that has produced the likes of Sol Campbell and Harry Kane, Oliver should Skipp into the Spurs first team fold upon his return this summer.
A classy, deep-lying playmaker who is above and beyond his other young midfielders in passes per game, Skipp shows a maturity despite his young age. In a Premier League quality Norwich squad, Skipp has become a fixture in the starting eleven, testament to his ability and importance to his squad.
This’ll be my final opportunity to include Skipp in this list, as his future lies way beyond the second tier.
CM: Gustavo Hamer (Coventry City)
Moving from a side desperate to escape the division to one just hoping to remain, Hamer has been and will be integral to Coventry’s survival hopes.
His seamless transition to English football is impressive given his young age, taking to the league like a duck to water. Hamer is atop the list of young central midfielders in key passes per game, and second in interceptions per game, a reflection of his polished, well rounded game. When the Sky Blues return to their home this summer, he’ll certainly have the Ricoh roaring.
As one of the best signings in the league this season, he could soon be featuring on Premier League signing lists.
LM: Ovie Ejaria (Reading)
Reading have been one of the league’s surprise packages this season, and the dynamic wing play of Olise and Ejaria has been integral to this.
At six foot, Ejaria has an unconventionally physical dominant build for a winger, but don’t let this distract you from his technical excellence. Ejaria leads left wingers (not just young ones) in successful dribbles, key passes and assists per game, an incredible dominance of the stat lines for a young player. To take on such offensive responsibility at a young age bodes well for Ejaria’s future in the game.
A product of Liverpool’s famed academy, he definitely has the pedigree for a swift return to a Premier League side.
ST: Tyrese Campbell (Stoke City)
Prior to a season ending injury, Campbell was making a case for being the best player in the football league.
Pre-injury, Campbell led the league in goals & assists per game (0.91), ahead of the historic Ivan Toney. It’s no coincidence that Stoke’s slump began immediately after his absence, O’Neill even admitting that his injury forced a tactical rethink.
While he’s been used as a right winger this season, he’s a striker at heart and with his long-term future leading the line, it felt right to put him up top.
ST: Daryl Dike (Barnsley)
Last but certainly not least is Dike, selected 5th in the MLS Superdraft but swiftly poached by Barnsley across the pond.
A physically dominant build has eased his transition to the second tier, but his strengths go way beyond his physicals. One of the most clinical strikers in the division, he converts a staggering 31% of his shots into goals. Add to this a goal every 143 minutes, and the Tykes would be stupid to not exercise their option to buy.
Part of an exciting crop of USA youngsters, Dike and the Tykes are clearly the perfect match.
There you have it, my best young Championship XI. Do you agree? I’m sure cutting Cabango from the squad will infuriate the Swans and I’ll sting the Hornets by omitting Pedro. I think it just goes to show the plethora of incredible, young talent we witness on a weekly basis.
Let me know what you think in the comments below or tweet us @FanHub_Football .