With most teams having just eight games to play and the voting season well underway for the Player of the Year awards across the EFL, now is an ideal time to assess some candidates for the award. Here, we pick out some players that have impressed us across the Championship in 2022-23.
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Viktor Gyökeres has continued to cement his reputation as one of the best all-round strikers currently plying their trade in England outside of the Premier League. The Swedish frontman has carried his fine form from 2021-22 into this current campaign and what a year it has been for the Coventry City star.
A player with boundless energy, intelligent off-the-ball movement, and sharp link-up play, Gyökeres has developed into a fine all-round forward. No player has been directly involved in more Championship goals this season than Gyökeres (26: 18 goals, eight assists), while 2022-23 has been his best scoring season in the Championship.
It’s no surprise to see that Coventry manager Mark Robins, a former striker with 124 goals in English football, appreciates a forward like Gyökeres and clearly knows how to service him in his team.
Gyökeres has had 275 touches in the opposition box this season, 89 more than any other player in the Championship. A clear focus of getting the ball into Gyökeres in the box with regularity is paying dividends and good things keep on happening for the Sky Blues, including the Swede winning the most penalties this term (three).
Gyökeres needs two more goals this campaign to become the first Coventry player to score 20+ league goals in a second tier season since Bobby Gould in 1966-67, who led the league with 24 goals as Coventry won the division.
There’s plenty to note about Coventry’s leading man outside of his goalscoring exploits. Gyökeres has attempted the most dribbles in the Championship this season (231), while he’s created more goalscoring chances from open play this season than any other player (60). He has also been directly involved in the most shots in the Championship this season (178), attempting 117 himself, while creating 61 chances for his team-mates.
To lead the line with plenty of goals and chances created for his team is a phenomenal effort and it’s been a headache for opposition managers to find an effective way to stop him. Gyökeres uses his physical strength expertly (with or without the ball) and is very cute with how he protects the ball in the final third. He knows when to lay it off and when to draw a foul – he has won the most fouls in the final third in the Championship this season (33).
Judging by his performances and the numbers he has turned in, it would be astonishing if he didn’t find himself in the top-flight next term.
It’s been quite a season for Nathan Tella. The 23-year-old loanee from Southampton has been one of the Championship signings of the season and his goals have helped propel Burnley to what is extremely likely to be their fourth second-tier title after 2015-16, 1972-73 and 1897-98.
Tella has scored 19 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions for Burnley this season, having scored just two goals in his first 41 senior appearances before this term. Deployed mostly as a winger in his fleeting appearances for Southampton, it’s worth noting that he’s also put in a series of excellent performances for Burnley playing centrally behind the main striker. His versatility has been a weapon that Vincent Kompany has not been afraid to use.
Tella’s goalscoring exploits have enthralled Burnley fans this season and against Hull City earlier this month he became the first Burnley player to score an away hat-trick in the Championship since Charlie Austin versus Portsmouth in March 2012. In fact, Tella is the first Burnley player to score a hat-trick both at Turf Moor and also away from home in a single season since Paul Barnes in 1996-97.
If he continues to find the net in the remaining matches, Tella (17) could become the first Burnley player to hit 20+ goals in a league campaign since Andre Gray netted 23 in the Championship in 2015-16 en route to promotion to the Premier League. Tella has been ruthless in front of goal for the most part this term, scoring 17 goals from an expected goals total of 10.1, with this the highest positive differential in the Championship this season (+6.9).
Tella’s pace and directness with the ball has caused Championship defences issues all season long. No Championship player has had more carries ending in a goal than Tella (six), while he has been directly involved in more carries that ended with a shot than any other Burnley player (38). It’s no surprise to see that he has drawn 21 opposition cards this season, the most by a player in the Championship this season. Even fouling him hasn’t stopped the attacker wreaking havoc.
A season honing his craft in the Championship will serve him well going forward, with Burnley no doubt keen to make his move permanent should they complete the inevitable and land a spot in the Premier League.
Since the arrival of Michael Carrick, Middlesbrough have become a force to be reckoned with in the Championship, picking up 50 points in 22 games – second only to Burnley in this period (51). Boro’ have scored more goals than any other Championship side since Carrick’s first game on 29 October (50), with 20 of these goals netted by the re-energised Chuba Akpom.
Quite simply, Akpom is having the season of his career.
Indeed, Akpom has scored 20 goals in 22 league games under Carrick, which is more than any other player in English league football has netted in this period. Curiously, prior to playing under the former Manchester United and England midfielder, Akpom had scored just 12 goals in 115 games in English league football and under nine different managers who all struggled to get much of a tune out of the former Arsenal academy graduate.
Akpom has been ice-cold in front of goal this season and has posted the best shot conversion rate of any Championship player with more than six goals this season (29.3%). Akpom has the highest expected goals total in the Championship this campaign (18.3), and with the striker netting 24 goals, he’s scored over five more than what the xG data suggests the average player may have scored from these chances.
His continued excellence in the finishing department saw him become the first Middlesbrough player to score 20+ goals in a league campaign since Bernie Slaven in 1989-90 (21). In fact, the last Middlesbrough player to score more than Akpom’s current tally (24) in a league campaign was John Hickton in 1970-71 (25), also in the second tier.
Positionally, Akpom has found a nice niche under Carrick, playing as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system but with a focus on getting on the end of crosses and cutbacks rather than being a creative focal point as per a traditional number 10. He has a real presence in this team with an air of confidence demonstrated in his finishing.
All 24 of Akpom’s league goals this season have come from inside the box, while he’s scored more headers than any other Championship player (six). In England’s top four tiers, only Erling Haaland (27) has scored more league goals from inside the box than he has (24).
With eight games to go, Carrick will be hoping Akpom can help lead his side to automatic promotion as they continue to try and close the gap on Sheffield United.
Luton Town’s record signing Carlton Morris is enjoying the best season of his career, scoring 16 goals and providing five assists in 37 league appearances in 2022-23. Morris had never previously surpassed 10 league goals in a season, while his tally of five assists is also a career-high.
Morris has formed a productive and bulldozing partnership with striker Elijah Adebayo. In possession, Luton are very direct with the ball and have recorded the fewest sequences of 10+ passes in open play this season (71), which shows their main aim is to move the ball upfield quickly into their strikers rather than build up patiently. When you have excellent physical presence up top in the shape of Morris and Adebayo, it makes a lot of sense to utilise that as often as possible.
With the ball, Luton’s attacks in open play funnel through Morris, and he has been directly involved in more open-play sequences ending in a shot (130) and more open-play sequences ending in a goal (19) than any other Luton player this season.
Their aggressive style with and without the ball has made the Hatters a match-up nightmare for teams. As a defensive unit, they look to press the opposition in their own third with intensity (led from the front with Morris and Adebayo). Indeed, Luton have registered more high turnovers than any other Championship team this season (326) and allow the fourth fewest passes-per-defensive-action (11).
Morris has been a key component in implementing this tactical instruction and has won possession in the final third more often than any other Luton player (28) – a role he was familiar with under Valérien Ismaël at Barnsley. Morris enjoys the battle with defenders and is not afraid to mix it – he’s committed the most fouls of any Luton player this season (56) and picked up 10 yellow cards in the process (only three Championship payers have been shown more).
However, it’s Morris’ goalscoring exploits that have really caught the eye this season. Only Viktor Gyökeres (19) has won more points with his goals in the Championship this season than Morris (14).
Interestingly, Morris has scored nine league goals in the first half of matches this season, only Chuba Akpom (11) has bagged more in the opening 45 minutes. Impressively, five of Morris’ nine first-half strikes have come inside the opening 10 minutes of matches, which is the most of any player this term. Clearly, both Morris and manager Rob Edwards are preparing right for games, and it displays excellent application to catch teams out as often as they do in the early moments of games.
Morris has evolved his decision making in front of goal this season and has demonstrated an array of tidy finishes that have shown a development in his touch and awareness around the box. When presented with a designated ‘big chance’, Morris is the Championship’s most effective finisher scoring nine of his 14 such efforts, with a league-high conversion rate of 64%.
With 16 goals to his name and eight games left to play, Morris will be aiming to become the first Luton Town player to reach 20 league goals in a second tier season since Brian Stein in 1981-82 (21), a year in which the Hatters won the title and secured a spot in the top-flight.
Iliman Ndiaye has magic in his boots. The 23-year-old Senegalese international is enjoying a tremendous season for Sheffield United and has been a joy to watch, getting Blades fans out of their seats throughout the campaign. Ndiaye has been directly involved in 18 goals in the Championship this season (11 goals, seven assists), twice as many as he’d registered in the 2021-22 Championship campaign (seven goals, two assists).
Manager Paul Heckingbottom must take a lot of credit for nurturing the maverick talents of Ndiaye, giving the tricky attacker plenty of minutes to develop. This season, Heckingbottom has entrusted the young forward to be his creative spark up front but also lead from the front when out of possession.
Ndiaye has more league goal involvements than any other Sheffield United player this season (18), but what will also please his manager is that only one player has won possession back in the final third more often in the Championship this season than Ndiaye (38) – a feat that allows the Blades to mount attacks in very promising positions. In fact, the forward has won back possession from opponents and started an open-play sequence leading to 12 shots and three goals this season – only Coventry’s Gustavo Hamer (15 shots, three goals) leads him in this metric across the Championship.
On the ball, Ndiaye can be mesmeric and glide past players with ease. He has attempted (136) and completed (76) more dribbles than any other Sheffield United player this season, while only three players have completed more dribbles in the division than he has. He’s unpredictable and can take a defender in any direction he wants, while looking very comfortable in tight spaces, showing great poise and balance to break loose with the ball. He’s a bit of a showman and is revelling at Bramall Lane this season.
Clearly Heckingbottom is happy for Ndiaye to take hold of a match and be direct with the ball in the right areas – he has had more carries (379) than any other Sheffield United player this season. In fact, no Blades player has had more goals (three), shots (18) or chances created (17) via carries this season than Ndiaye.
Since the turn of the year, Ndiaye has only scored two goals in 12 league games without a single assist, so there’s room for improvement during the vital run-in to the 2022-23 campaign. However, if he can become more consistent in his form, then his level as a footballer will rise exponentially, as his talent is unquestionable.
The perennial-loanee Ryan Giles has been a revelation at Middlesbrough this season, becoming a consistent and dependable pillar of the side. 2022-23 saw Middlesbrough become the sixth different EFL club that Giles has joined on loan since 2019.
Has the left-back finally found a footballing home in Teesside? At 23 years of age, Giles will be wondering where his long-term future will be and like Chuba Akpom, he has flourished under the stewardship of Michael Carrick.
He had a more than an impressive showing in the Championship last season, notching up 10 assists and forged a reputation as a player with excellent end product and natural athletic ability to get up and down the pitch from full-back or wing-back.
This season Giles has provided 11 assists, which is the most in the division and his best return in a league campaign. Indeed, 10 of his 11 assists this season have been in open play, with only Kevin De Bruyne (11) setting up more goals in open play in England’s top four tiers this season.
Only four players have created more goalscoring chances in the Championship this season than Giles (74), while his tally is 33 more than any other Middlesbrough player, further highlighting his importance as an outlet on the left side and demonstrating that he’s a consistent threat for the team (2.1 chances created/90).
Giles has put in 255 open-play crosses this term, 30 more than any other Championship player. Defensively, he’s more than sound and is adept at stopping the cross too – only three players have blocked more crosses in the Championship this season than he has (17).
The quality of the goalscoring chances that Giles has provided this season have been exceptional. Giles has supplied more ‘big chances’ than any other player in the Championship (21) and has been a huge support for Middlesbrough’s strikers, especially leading goalscorer Akpom. Giles has assisted his free-scoring team-mate five times this season, which is the most a player has assisted another in the Championship.
Carrick has made no secret of his admiration for Giles and would love to keep him long term but with Giles’ value increasing with every passing week, Middlesbrough could well face an uphill task in landing him permanently if they remain a Championship club next term.
Viktor Johansson might not be a household name in English football yet, but he is fast becoming one of the most effective shot stoppers in the Championship. Johansson has made 140 saves in the Championship this season, 28 more than any other goalkeeper.
It’s worth noting that making a high number of saves might not necessarily equate to being the best goalkeeper in the division – more a busy one – which is why it’s interesting to assess the underlying numbers using Opta’s xGOT model.
According to this metric, Johansson has prevented 5.5 goals in the Championship this season, which is the highest such figure amongst goalkeepers in the division. So not only is Johansson the busiest goalkeeper in the division, he’s also the most effective at preventing goals according to the expected goals numbers.
Of course, facing more shots on target can lead to a goalkeeper accumulating a higher goals prevented tally, so normalising for the volume of shots will allow more context. Goals prevented rate is the number of goals that a goalkeeper is expected to concede as a proportion of the number of goals they actually concede. Of all goalkeepers to have played at least two-thirds of their team’s minutes in 2022-23, only Coventry City goalkeeper Ben Wilson (1.17) has a better rate than Johansson (1.12).
Other metrics back up this assertion that Johansson is a shot-stopping force of nature. Despite having to make a league-high 140 saves this season, Johansson still has a save percentage of 73.2%, the highest on record by a Rotherham goalkeeper in a Championship campaign (since 2013-14). A goalkeeper with excellent natural reflexes, Johansson has made the most saves from inside the box in the Championship this season too (90) and has demonstrated lightning-quick reactions from close range throughout this campaign.
Since the competition re-brand in 2005-06, no goalkeeper has ever won the EFL Championship Player of the Year award which suggests it’s unlikely a goalkeeper from a side entrenched in a relegation battle will win the award, but Johansson has had a notably fine season and the numbers back that up.
Johansson was called up to the Sweden squad for the upcoming internationals this March – one of three Championship players to make the Sweden national squad alongside Burnley’s Hjalmar Ekdal and Coventry forward Viktor Gyökeres. Should Johansson make his international debut this month, it’ll only further enhance his growing reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the EFL.
A slightly more curveball contender, but one that deserves some attention having had a great season so far. At 30 years of age, Tom Bradshaw is having his best campaign in the Championship, scoring 14 goals and assisting three more in 33 appearances. He had never previously reached 10 goals in a Championship campaign before.
With 222 appearances and 52 goals in the Championship, Bradshaw is a seasoned pro at this level but has always been a player that tends to show flashes of brilliance rather than do it on a consistent basis. However, Gary Rowett has forged an exciting Millwall side in 2022-23, and the additions of Zian Flemming and Andreas Voglsammer are certainly helping Bradshaw in attack, who spearheads the side with great endeavour and energy.
In fact, Bradshaw (17) has had a hand in more league goals this season than any other Millwall player and has been a talisman in attack for the Lions. Millwall’s home form has been the bedrock of their play-off charge so far and only four sides have collected more points at home than the Lions (35).
Bradshaw has really enjoyed his football at the Den, scoring 11 goals, which is as many home league goals as he’d netted in his first four seasons with the club (10). Indeed, with 11 of his 14 goals this season coming at the Den (79%), he’s scored the highest share at home amongst players with 10 or more Championship goals this season. In fact, Bradshaw’s tally of 11 home league goals is the most by a Millwall player at The Den at this level since 2010-11 (Steve Morison: 12).
Bradshaw does his goalscoring work inside the box and all 14 of his goals have come from inside the penalty area and none have been penalties. Six of his 14 goals have come from set-piece situations (43%), showing his tendency to take advantage of Millwall’s infamous set-piece threat.
Bradshaw has scored two hat-tricks this season, having never previously scored a treble in the EFL before the 2022-23 campaign. He’s also the first Millwall player to score two or more hat-tricks in a league campaign since Darius Henderson in 2011-12 in the Championship.
Bradshaw was recalled to the Wales squad for the March internationals, and it was the first time in five years that he received the call up. Having also won the Championship player of the month in February, it’s been a fine couple of months of recognition for the striker and he’ll hope he can cap off a fine individual campaign by firing Millwall into the play-offs and potentially into the Premier League.