Tammy Abraham, Bristol City
Of the 38 players Chelsea have out on loan some have been bought for millions, some have come from countries far and wide, some have lofty reputations. But the best of them all – or at least the one in best form – is a lanky 19-year-old from Camberwell, lent to Bristol City for the year. Tammy Abraham has been a force of nature this season, his goals tally standing at 12 in 20 games, and is the main driving force behind the Robins’ surprisingly excellent start. Abraham briefly appeared for the Chelsea first team last season and, if he carries on like this, he could well be the first academy graduate to cement a place in their side since John Terry.Scott Hogan, Brentford
Scott Hogan is a former team-mate of Jamie Vardy at FC Halifax and he could have been forgiven for giving up the whole football thing as a bad business in April 2015. That was when he suffered his second cruciate ligament injury, in a training-ground drill, nine months after the first, on his league debut for Brentford. But he eventually, slowly, made his way back, scoring seven goals in the final four games of last season, and picked up where he left off this term. He has scored eight times as he spearheads a team who continue to surprise by lurking within striking distance of the play-off spots. Hogan can be one of those players who does not offer a huge amount when he is not scoring goals but in the penalty box he is deadly.
Conor Hourihane, Barnsley
Barnsley’s squad is, frankly, absurdly young. Their oldest player is Adam Hammill, a creaking geezer at 28 and he is one of only two players aged over 26 to have made a first-team appearance for them this season. In the middle of all this youth is Conor Hourihane, the 25-year-old Irish central midfielder with a calm head and the captain’s armband, an elegant playmaker with a fierce shot in his left boot and a youth team contemporary of Jordan Henderson. Appointed captain last season, he was one of the key men in Barnsley’s remarkable turnaround as they went from the bottom of League One in November to promotion via the play-offs in May. His contract is up at the end of the season and, although it would be pleasing to see how far he could take this talented group of youngsters, bigger and more glamorous things might be in store for Hourihane.
Pontus Jansson, Leeds United
Describing a player as a cult hero can often be pejorative, because generally that tends to mean “popular for some reason but not that good”. Pontus Jansson, the Swedish centre-back on loan at Leeds from Torino, has been called exactly that but he is a big reason why Garry Monk is bucking the trend of managers under Massimo Cellino. Not only has Monk managed to keep his job but he has guided Leeds into the play-off places – the first time they have occupied such a lofty spot since December 2013 – and Jansson has played a big role in that. Already hugely popular with the fans (taking a yellow card after jumping into the crowd to celebrate his recent equaliser against Norwich would not have hurt), he will presumably be even more so after declaring he wants to stay at Elland Road. “Seriously, that’s the only thing that I want now,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post after the Norwich game. “I want to be here and to make a permanent deal with Leeds.”
Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield Town
Undoubtedly the surprise success of the Championship season so far has been Huddersfield who, under David Wagner, dropped only two points from their opening six games and remain just outside the top two, despite a drop-off in form. Their finest performer has been Aaron Mooy, the Australian midfielder on loan from Manchester City, who has inspired some rather giddy comparisons: his former manager at St Mirren mentioned him in the same breath as Kenny Dalglish and the Football League Paper recently likened one of his moves to something by Zinedine Zidane. The assessment of Ange Postecoglou, Australia coach, of him as having been “the best and most exciting player in the A-League” might be a touch more realistic but for the moment comparisons are not important to Huddersfield. If Mooy keeps up his early season form, there is a good chance they will as well.
Jacob Murphy, Norwich City
It has been a slightly stuttering start to the season for Norwich and, although they remain very much in the promotion picture, it has become more familiar recently to see Alex Neil’s face after games crumpled with a frown than with a smile. But a bright spark has been Jacob Murphy, who rose through the ranks with his identical twin brother, Josh, (a local paper recently published 10 pictures of the pair to see who could tell the difference and even their mum got only eight right) but he has been the one to establish himself in the first team this season. Aged 21 and still rather rough around the edges, he can be inconsistent but that is to be expected for someone with his relative lack of experience. When he is on form he can be one of the division’s most dangerous wingers.
Hildeberto Pereira, Nottingham Forest
If football is essentially a flashy circus designed to entertain us all, roll up for the ringmaster. Pereira, signed on loan from Benfica in the summer, is a wildly arresting, red-raw Portuguese winger occasionally masquerading as a right-back. The problem for Forest is that, in his past seven games, he has managed to get himself sent off three times. His third red card came in his first game back following suspension for the second; his first was “achieved” against Aston Villa, via two yellow cards in the 25 minutes after he came on as a substitute. But he is also capable of positive game-changing moments: the second booking against Villa was for excessively celebrating a goal he created with an astoundingly visceral and direct run through the defence. In Forest’s recent win over Birmingham Pereira was brought on as part of a five-man defence to help protect a 2-1 lead: five minutes later he ran the length of the pitch, played a rapid one-two and popped up at inside-left to score. He is good value, to say the least.
Jonjo Shelvey, Newcastle United
One could probably pick any of the Newcastle players who have taken Rafa Benítez’s team shimmying to the top of the Championship. They are possibly the best collection ever at this level. Dwight Gayle is the division’s top scorer, Jamaal Lascelles has grown into his role as club captain and Matt Ritchie could probably still be in the Premier League if he wanted to be. But the standout player so far has been Jonjo Shelvey, who was not an automatic selection at the start of the season but has since established himself as the division’s most important playmaker. Shelvey has thrived under Benítez’s coaching, both physically (he has, perhaps alarmingly, lost a stone in weight) and mentally, getting rid of what he described as a “childish mindset” over the summer. “He controls games,” said Benítez recently. All this could be for little if a Football Association charge of directing racially abusive language at Wolves’ Moroccan utility player Romain Saïss is upheld. Privately Shelvey maintains he did not use the words alleged. He faces a lengthy ban if found guilty.
Olamide Shodipo, QPR
One to keep an eye on. While life at Queens Park Rangers is again in flux after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s departure, their fans have at least been treated to the relatively rare sight of a highly promising, homegrown youngster shining in their first team. The Dublin-born winger signed his first professional contract only this year but has established himself in the QPR squad and the Republic of Ireland Under-21 side and, although he is a distance from being a polished player, Hasselbaink chose to keep the 19-year-old at Loftus Road in the summer rather than sending him out on loan. “He’s got that rawness,” said the Dutchman before his sacking. “He’s not afraid, he has that streetness and that fight. It’s getting that discipline in him now and that knowhow and that really needs time.”
Anthony Knockaert, Brighton & Hove Albion
Google Brighton’s magical winger Anthony Knockaert and headlines suggest the French twinkle-toes has compared himself to Neymar. That is not quite the case – he was calling for creative players to be protected more by referees – but, even if there is a reason why one is playing in the Championship and the other with Barcelona, the two certainly perform similar roles for their teams. Knockaert can be frustrating to watch, a man who looks as if he is constantly trying to score the perfect goal from the most preposterous angle, sometimes ignoring pleading colleagues. But every now and then he does score the perfect goal from the most preposterous angle and he is forgiven. He is probably the most naturally gifted player in the Championship.
The Guardian Sport