1. Tammy Abraham
Starts: Leicester City (90’, L, 1-2), Arsenal (90’, L, 2-1), Brighton and Hove Albion (90’, L, 0-1), Burnley (90’, L, 2-0)
Bench: Manchester United (18’, L, 0-2), AFC Bournemouth (6’, D, 0-0)
Tammy Abraham hasn’t scored in over a month now, but has remained an integral part of the Swansea City squad. As indicated above, he’s started every one of Swansea’s recent league games except for Saturday’s goalless draw against Bournemouth, for which he was named on the bench due to a back injury sustained last weekend. Paul Clement’s side have been in dire straits, scoring only two goals in their last six games, one of which was assisted by Abraham. Tammy threaded a lovely ball through to Sam Clucas against Arsenal which resulted in a surprise lead for the Swans at the Emirates Stadium.
Despite Swansea City’s predicament, Tammy has consistently given it his all on the pitch, chasing down every last ball and trying to produce a moment of magic but it’s all rather difficult for the youngster to do on his own. Swansea’s under-performing midfield has failed terribly in the creative department so far, leaving their strikers to feed off scraps. Star summer acquisition, Wilfried Bony has struggled for fitness and form as well but marked his return with a start in place of Abraham, versus Bournemouth. Tammy will miss Swansea’s upcoming fixture against Chelsea due to the parent club clause, but a subsequent strike-force of Bony and Abraham working in tandem up front should bode well for the near future.
Upcoming fixtures: Stoke City (A, December 2)
2. Izzy Brown
Bench: West Ham United (14’, W, 0-3), Southampton (6’, D, 1-1), Swansea (5’, W, 0-1), Stoke City (6’, D, 1-1), Manchester United (2’, L, 1-0)
Izzy Brown’s season so far has been defined by a terribly-timed hamstring injury sustained twenty minutes into Brighton’s season opener against Manchester City. Since his return to fitness two months ago, Brown has started only one match — Arsenal away, as a center forward. Although he can play on either wing, Brown’s primary role in the squad looks to be as a central attacking midfielder, much like his spell at Huddersfield Town last season. Unfortunately, he’s unquestionably second-choice to Pascal Gross, who’s been Brighton’s best player this season. Nevertheless, manager Chris Hughton has consistently been bringing Brown off the bench for Gross for the final few minutes of all Brighton’s matches. Optimistically speaking, it might suggest that Brown is on the cusp of the starting XI and that his situation is much better than, say, Patrick Bamford at Crystal Palace (or Norwich, or Burnley..). Hopefully, he’ll have his chance to impress soon.
Upcoming fixtures: Crystal Palace (H, November 28), Liverpool (H, December 2)
3. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Starts: Bristol City (90’, L, 4-1), West Ham United (90’, D, 2-2), Tottenham Hotspur (90’, L, 1-0), Everton (90’, D, 2-2), Stoke City (90, W, 2-1)
Bench: Newcastle United (13’, L, 1-0)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been coming into his own as a Premier League player this season, remaining more or less an undisputed starter for Crystal Palace when fully fit. The one game he didn’t start, against Newcastle, was right after Palace’s miraculous victory over Chelsea with Roy Hodgson understandably opting against making changes to his winning XI. Ruben quickly won back his starting place, but not in his preferred midfield position. In the absence of a fit striker, Roy Hodgson has been playing a 4-4-2 shape with Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend acting as pseudo-forwards, and a midfield consisting of at least three central midfielders; Luka Milivojevic and Yohan Cabaye have been flanked by Loftus-Cheek on the right, and either James McArthur or Jeffrey Schlupp on the left. Ruben has taken a little time adapting to this new role, failing to exert as much consistent influence on the game against the likes of Tottenham and Stoke City but ran Leighton Baines ragged in a man-of-the-match performance against Everton.
He’s also begun directly contributing to Palace’s goals, with an assist against Everton and a goal against Stoke City — his first Premier League goal 602 days — finishing Andros Townsend’s cross at the far post. The sky is the limit for Ruben, provided he manages to keep himself fit.
Upcoming fixtures: Brighton (A, November 28), West Brom (A, December 2)
4. Kurt Zouma
Starts: Bournemouth (90’, L, 1-2), Watford (90’, W, 0-1), Leicester City (90’, D, 2-2), Brighton and Hove Albion (90’, D, 2-2), Crystal palace (90’, L, 2-1)
There’s little debate around calling Kurt Zouma the best defender at Stoke City Football Club. His loan has been going right according to plan, playing as many minutes as possible in the Premier League and surpassing his pre-injury levels. The Potters themselves haven’t been playing very well over the last month, though, and whilst being a decent footballing side, find themselves in 15th place. Zouma, too, has been going through an erratic patch of form. However, he scored his first goal for Stoke City last week, against Brighton.
Upcoming fixtures: Liverpool (H, November 29), Swansea (H, December 2)
5. Kasey Palmer
Kasey has only just returned to full fitness following a hamstring injury sustained while on international duty with the England Under-21 team. He made a couple of appearances for Huddersfield Town’s Under-23 side in a bid to slowly regain match fitness, and should be featuring in the first-team squad in the coming weeks.
DW: “@kaseypalmer45 is a very big talent, I’m very happy he is back with us in full training. The focus is now on him and we may see him in the squad over the next week but it’s all about how he looks in training.” #htafc (AT)— Huddersfield Town (@htafcdotcom) November 24, 2017
Upcoming fixtures: Arsenal (A, November 29), Everton (A, December 2)
6. Ike Ugbo
Starts: Hull City (67’, L, 1-0), Burton (67’, W, 2-4)
Bench: Leeds (44’, L, 0-2)
Ike Ugbo started the season as a regular starter for Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley, but has become more of a rotation option lately and has yet to add to his only goal this season. However, Heckingbottom believes it’s all part of a learning curve for the youngster.
“We’ve seen from Ike he’s got tremendous quality. When we get the ball to him with quality it usually sticks. He’s understanding the harsh realities of first-team football and not only that but Championship football. It’s one of the toughest leagues there is and a huge jump up from under-23s which he’s used to.
“I had the same talks with Tom Bradshaw last season, it’s a tough league and sometimes you need to soften up defenders for others to come on. Our intentions with him, and Chelsea’s which is really pleasing, is getting him to understand and appreciate the things he’s probably never had to face in his time.
“At Chelsea his role was probably getting on the end of chances. I think he isn’t used to battling for bits and pieces and scraps. A lot of times he has to make bad balls into good balls. If we can make him better at the ugly side of the game then the better career he will have.”
- Paul Heckingbottom; source: Daily Star
6. Ola Aina
Starts: Barnsley (90’, W, 0-1), Nottingham Forest (90’, L, 2-3), Sheffield United (90’, L, 4-1), Ipswich Town (90’, D, 2-2), Millwall (90’, D, 0-0), Bristol City (90’, L, 2-3)
It’s been a rough season for Hull City. Having sold all their best players in the summer, Leonid Slutsky’s replacements arrived only towards the end of the transfer window, meaning all work on team cohesion had to commence during the course of the season. They’ve only picked up 18 points from 19 games and sit in 20th place, a mere 4 points above the relegation zone. Aina has started all but one of their games, playing at right-back, right wing-back and more recently, left-back. He’s been ever-present in a defence which has leaked plenty of goals, especially in late stages of games, and has been guilty of a few costly individual errors himself as well. The 21-year-old has been excellent going forward, but poor positioning and tendency to overplay the ball in precarious positions has been a recurring theme. However, his defensive performances have been better since his switch to left-back.
7. Michael Hector
Starts: Barnsley (90’, W, 0-1), Nottingham Forest (90’, L, 2-3), Middlesbrough (90’, L, 1-3), Ipswich Town (90’, D, 2-2), Millwall (90’, D, 0-0), Bristol City (90’, L, 2-3)
Hector, too, has started in all but one of Hull City’s matches alongside their captain, Michael Dawson. He’s had some impressive outings but some shockers as well, including the loss against Boro where he gave away a penalty and got sent off. Again, the fact that he’s been part of such a leaky defence doesn’t speak well.
Hector scored his side’s second goal in a 3-2 loss to Nottingham Forest last month.
8. Fikayo Tomori
Starts: Middlesbrough (90’, L, 1-3), Sheffield United (90’, L, 4-1), Ipswich Town (90’, D, 2-2), Millwall (90’, D, 0-0), Bristol City (90’, L, 2-3)
Bench: Norwich (5’, D, 1-1)
Tomori, having arrived on transfer deadline day as opposed to pre-season like Aina and Hector, has found it tougher to break into the Hull City back four. He had a run of four starts in September when Slutsky opted to play three at the back, but dropped to the bench as soon as the tactic was binned. He then started against Middlesbrough at right-back for the rested Ola Aina, and subsequently continued there while Aina replaced academy graduate Max Clark at left-back. Like Aina and Hector, the Under-20 World Cup winner has had his fair share of shaky moments and errors.
8. Jamal Blackman
Starts: Reading (90’, W, 2-1), Leeds United (90’, W, 1-2), QPR (10’, W, 1-0), Burton Albion (90’, W, 1-3), Fulham (90’, L, 4-5), Birmingham City (90’, D, 1-1)
Jamal Blackman has been a regular fixture between the posts for high-flying Sheffield United, who have surprised many by heading into December sitting third in the Championship table. Blackman has kept Simon Moore, who was excellent for the Blades last season, out of the starting XI all season and kept five clean sheets so far. He was involved in a terrible mix-up with Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers against QPR that saw him fall flat on his back after attempting to reach for the ball and tumbling right over the statuesque Carter-Vickers. This resulted in an easy goal for QPR and an injury to Jamal, but the Chelsea loanee returned to the starting lineup after one game, as soon as he regained fitness.
9. Jeremie Boga
Starts: Sheffield United (87’, D, 1-1)
Bench: Millwall (13’, L, 2-0), Aston Villa (8’, D, 0-0), Barnsley (15’, L, 2-0)
Since the appointment of Steve Cotterill at Birmingham City, Boga has started only one game, after more than a month of sporadic substitute appearances. That start came this weekend, and saw him score City’s only goal of the game with an absolute peach from outside the box past fellow Chelsea loanee, Jamal Blackman.
Boga’s electric display reminded the Birmingham fans what they’ve been missing out on for the last month, but manager Cotterill claimed that Boga’s fitness and performance levels were previously simply not up to the mark.
“Where we played him today is where we might get the best out of him - that means then he is not too close to our goal - but he likes to be near their goal.
“It was a fantastic goal and it’s really pleasing for Jeremie because when I first came in here, before I actually started I watched him against Hull and I wasn’t too enamoured that day. I didn’t see too much to encourage me. There would have been no way we would have been able to keep Jeremie on the pitch that long.
“From the Hull game to today was chalk and cheese for me, for his fitness. He has got that in his locker. It was a wonder goal, an absolute screamer.
“Does he do that in training? Not enough which is why he hasn’t been picked. It’s pleasing for Jeremie, he’s a really nice lad.”
- Steve Cotterill; source: Birmingham Mail
10. Lewis Baker
Baker hasn’t been named in Middlesbrough’s match-day 18 since October 14. He seems to have fallen terribly out of favour with Garry Monk, which is hugely disappointing. There’s been no indication yet, as to whether Chelsea will opt to recall him in January.
11. Tomas Kalas
Starts: Aston Villa (90’, L, 2-1), Bolton Wanderers (89’, D, 1-1), Bristol City (46’, L, 0-2), Derby County (90’, D, 1-1), Sheffield United (90’, W, 4-5), Millwall (90’, W, 1-0)
Kalas is now quite comfortable at the Championship level, although getting promoted with Fulham this season isn’t looking as easy as it might have seemed when they reached the play-offs in May, playing some of the best football the Championship had to offer. Their form has been erratic so far, to say the least, and thoroughly mid-table. Nevertheless, their squad, with Kalas a mainstay in defence, remains capable enough to mount a promotion challenge
12. Jay Dasilva
Starts: Oxford United (90’, D, 1-1), Wimbledon (90’, W, 1-0), MK Dons (90’, D, 2-2), Truro City (90’, W, 3-1), Rochdale (83’, W, 2-1), Scunthorpe (90’, L, 2-0)
Bench: Bradford City (4’, W, 0-1)
The England Under-20 captain has been a mainstay at left-back for sixth-placed Charlton Athletic in League One, starting every game he’s been fit for except just one, for which he was rested. A consistently good performer, he’ll soon be playing Championship football, whether that’s in January or next season.
13. Jordan Houghton
Starts: Portsmouth (90’, W, 2-1), Walsall (90’, L, 0-3), Bury (90’, W, 0-1), Rotherham (90’, D, 1-1), Fleetwood Town (90’, D, 1-1), Wigan Athletic (90’, L, 3-0), MK Dons (90’, L, 2-1), Ebbsfleet Town (90’, W, 2-6)
Jordan Houghton has picked up right where he left off at Doncaster after returning to full fitness, regularly occupying the base of their midfield. Rovers sit in 16th place, however that’s only three points above the relegation. Having just been promoted from League Two, Houghton will be instrumental in their efforts to at least remain in the league this season.
He scored his first goal of the season in an FA Cup fixture against non-league side Ebbsfleet Town.
14. Bradley Collins
Starts: Coventry City (90’, W, 0-1), Stevenage (90’, W, 1-2), Morecambe (90, W, 2-0), Crawley Town (90’, D, 1-1), Crewe Alexandra (90’, W, 3-2), Chesterfield (90’, L, 3-2), Cheltenham Town (90’, D, 1-1), Swansea City Development Squad (90’, L, 0-2), Macclesfield Town (90’, W, 1-0)
The 20-year-old Collins had a shaky start to life as a senior professional at newly-promoted League Two side Forest Green Rovers, with many fans calling for non-league veteran Sam Russell to start instead. Russell did, in fact, win the starting place and keep it for four games between September and October but with Rovers on a damning run of losses, Collins was called back into the XI after which they went unbeaten for five games! He’s looked a much-improved keeper than at the beginning of the season, just as the rest of his team. Rovers have managed to lift themselves up to 20th place, three points above the relegation places.
Collins was named in the Team of the Day over the weekend, in the 1-1 draw against Cheltenham, in which he provided an assist (!) and made a spectacular save in the second half (4:40 mark of the video below) to keep his team in it.
15. Nathan Baxter
Starts: Bromley (90’, W, 2-0), Dover Athletic (90’, L, 3-1), Guiseley (90’, L, 2-3), Halifax Town (90’, D, 0-0), Concord Rangers (120’, W, 1-2), Bury (90’, D, 1-1), Bury (90’, W, 0-3)
Baxter has starred regularly for 9th-placed Vanarama National League side Woking, and was also guarding the posts as they made it to the second round of the FA Cup after upsetting League One side Bury over two fixtures. He’s missed the last three games due to injury, but should slot back in next weekend. He was also named their Player of the Month for October.
16. Jared Thompson
Starts: Bognor Regis Town (90’, W, 1-3), Chelmsford City (90’, W, 3-2), Hampton and Richmond (90’, L, 1-0), St Albans City (90’, D, 3-3), Concord Rangers (90’, L, 4-2)
Thompson has continued to start in goal week-in, week-out for Chippenham Town, who sit 14th in the Vanarama National League South. He also signed a new deal at Chelsea that will see him through until the summer of 2019.