If the Premier League decided to shop in the Championship in January, there’s more than Ben Brereton Diaz.
Ben Brereton Diaz (Blackburn Rovers)
First up is the most obvious of the bloody lot. Ever since embracing his Chilean roots and becoming an international superstar, the boy from Stoke has done more than good. He is the pinnacle, the crux and the talisman behind the dark horses that have been Blackburn this season.
In the summer, we wrote of how the only optimism Rovers supporters had to their credit were Brereton Diaz’s Chile exploits. How wrong we were. Or were we?
It would be unfair to suggest that the former Nottingham Forest forward has made Blackburn a one-man team, but his influence on Tony Mowbray’s side is unparalleled by any other player in the division. His 17 strikes this season account for almost half Blackburn’s output as a team this season.
There are a plethora of Premier League clubs out there who would benefit from the red-hot form and confidence Brereton Diaz currently enjoys, while it is easy to forget he is only 22 given how long he has been on the Championship scene, albeit not at this level. Former strike partner Adam Armstrong is proof that the jump from Blackburn to the top flight is not easy, but this is a man on top of a world he could only have dreamed about 12 months ago.
Norwich need a regular source of goals, but don’t have the spending power nor assurance of being in a better position than Blackburn come May, but Newcastle could easily afford the fee needed while gladly taking the marketing credits as a welcome bonus. And the prospect of Brereton Diaz and Marcelo Bielsa working together at Leeds is is enough to make you drool.
Chris Willock (QPR)
While older brother Matty has become something of an EFL journeyman and younger sibling Joe has made the permanent move to Newcastle with disappointing results so far, middle child Chris is making a name for himself as one of the Championship’s hottest playmakers.
Having failed to make the grade at Arsenal, a brave move to Benfica B followed and brought with it rewards which Willock is now reaping as his all-action style of play is being complemented with goals and assists. Capable of playing in a variety of attacking positions, either out wide or behind the focal points of the team, Willock is one very important part of a QPR attack which ticks far more often than it fails to deliver.
Nine goal involvements in 2021/22 means he has already bettered his tally for the entirety of last season and like his club, he only appears to be going in one direction. Something of a lucky charm, the five games in which he has scored this season have seen QPR win four and draw the remaining one. Local rivals Brentford could do worse than shopping locally, while Southampton’s options in the areas Willock covers are largely a mixture of crocked, aged, or just not good enough.
Phil Billing (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth may appear near-certainties to return to the Premier League after a two-year absence – Danish midfielder Billing is a big reason why – but there should still be top-flight clubs circling the midfielder in the winter window.
The perfect late Christmas present for a gaggle of Premier League sides, Billing ticks a variety of boxes. At 25 and 6ft 4in tall, Billing is a true athlete about to enter his prime years. That he could get better is a scary thought for his future opposition, and for Bournemouth knowing his ceiling is literally and figuratively higher than their own.
Having operated all across central midfield for the Cherries this season, it would be easy to describe the once-capped Dane as a defensive screen, but it is going forward where Billing excels. Seven goals and four assists this season for an impressive Bournemouth outfit will have had the big boys take note.
Southampton showed genuine interest in Billing during his Huddersfield Town days, but if Everton could conspire to spend more than a couple of million again on a single player, Billing would solve their quite sizable midfield problems with consummate ease, and allow Andros Townsend back into his natural position. It’s a win-win all round.
Paddy McNair (Middlesbrough)
McNair has for too long unfairly suffered from the accusation of not being good enough for Manchester United. The Scott McTominay of the Louis van Gaal years, Northern Ireland international McNair has proven himself superior to mid-table Championship level for a number of years now. Under both the struggles of Neil Warnock and early signs of success under Chris Wilder, McNair has proven a rock at both the back (and just in front of it) in his time at the Riverside Stadium.
Under Wilder, McNair has been installed as a centre-back, and a good one at that too. Now 26, McNair is beginning to run out of time to find a way back to the top flight outside of winning promotion to it himself. His conversion to an overlapping centre back in Wilder’s set-up has added another arrow to his quite excellent bow.
One of the most reliable players at this level for some time, Watford are in desperate need of reinforcements at the back, while Norwich could do worse than to have another experienced head in their defensive roster. Burnley seems like a natural fit too for obvious reasons.
Tosin Adarabioyo (Fulham)
Fulham have conceded more than one goal in a Championship game on just one occasion this season, when they shipped four goals to Coventry City. That was the only time former Manchester City centre-back Adarabioyo was left out of a starting line-up by manager Marco Silva. Suffice to say, he made an instant return to the team with the Cottagers shipping just once in the next four outings.
Perhaps the Championship defender who most suits the tag of a Rolls Royce, Tosin is destined for a return to the top flight by next summer at the latest. A key part of one of the best defences in the Championship and with excellent modern-day centre-back attributes, there are a raft of Premier League clubs who would benefit from having the 24-year-old in their squads for the second half of this season and beyond. He would almost certainly be an improvement on current centre-back options at Norwich, Watford, Leicester and even Wolves.