With another round of Championship fixtures played at the weekend, our Championship editor returns to pick his top 3 players of the week.
Anthony Knockaert – Brighton & Hove Albion
Making his home debut for Brighton, Knockaert had a game to remember in front of a packed AMEX Stadium as he assisted both goals in a tightly contested 2-1 win. The Frenchman was a handful for Huddersfield throughout the entirety of the 90-minutes, and if it wasn’t for the wood-work he would have had a goal to go with his brace of assists. In general, Knockaert’s chance creation caused the away side the most problems as he completed 21 accurate passes, 4 key passes and attempted 2 shots. In particular, his 1-on-1 battle with Terriers full-back Jason Davidson highlighted Knockaert’s impact on the day. He successfully completed 75% of his dribbles, delivered 8 crosses and won 2 fouls operating on the right flank. His ability to create chances was duly rewarded in the 30th minute when his chipped pass was volleyed home by Zamora, and again in the 66th minute when he crossed to James Wilson who nodded home the winner.
The other aspect of the 24-year-old’s game I have highlighted is his contribution when tracking back to defend. On Saturday, Knockaert impressively completed all 3 of his attempted tackles to give him a 100% tackle success rate which in combination with his 2 interceptions showed he has the discipline to go with his attacking qualities. Due to having only played 3 games for Brighton, Knockaert’s average stats for the season aren’t substantial enough to be drawing any conclusions from. But even over a 3 game span, an average tackle success of 90.9% and 1.7 interceptions per game suggests Brighton have bagged themselves a well-rounded player – one to look out for during the remainder of the season.
Oliver Norwood – Reading
Not for the first time this season, Norwood delivered a passing master class as he assisted Jake Cooper’s 74th minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. Playing in the deep-lying playmaker role, Norwood hardly put a foot wrong throughout the 90 minutes in which he created 6 goal-scoring chances. In terms of passing, Norwood completed 89 accurate passes and 5 key passes at an impressive completion rate of 91%. In this instance, however, I want to highlight the effectiveness of the 24-year-old’s crossing performance. With his 6 attempted crosses – 50% were accurate, 2 were key passes and 1 was the assist for Cooper’s goal. At the other end of the pitch, Norwood was equally efficient; winning 100% of his tackles and aerial duels as well as making 4 interceptions. In combination with breaking down Sheffield Wednesday attacks, Norwood’s passing efficiency ensured Reading enjoyed 64% of possession, giving them a foothold in the match to come from a goal behind.
Comparing Norwood’s stats on Saturday to his average stats for 2015/16, I have selected 2 areas which impressed. Firstly, he performed well above average in terms of passing accuracy, registering just over 38 more accurate passes than his 51.8 per game average. Secondly, the 5 key passes he completed against Sheffield Wednesday totaled just over twice the amount of his average per game in 2015/16. When considering that Norwood also ranks 4th for accurate passes per game and 1st for accurate long balls per game in the Championship this season (amongst outfield players with 15+ apps) it would be fair to suggest that he is statistically one of the best central midfielders in the league.
Jonathan Grounds – Birmingham
The Birmingham full-back put in a solid display on Saturday as he contributed to a clean-sheet against play-off hopefuls Ipswich Town. Grounds’ strongest asset on the day was his ability to read the Ipswich attackers and Freddie Sears in particular. During the 90 minutes, Grounds completed 7 interceptions from the left side of defence as well as racking up 10 clearances and 2 blocked shots. Grounds was not limited to just interceptions, however, as he also finished the game with a respectable 67% aerial success rate. Grounds proved to be a tough defender to beat for the Ipswich forwards which ultimately reduced their avenues for attack. It wasn’t just his off-the-ball performance which is worth mentioning; however, as Grounds completed 100% of his attempted dribbles and created a goalscoring opportunity with 1 key pass. His failure to be dispossessed further highlights how Grounds was comfortable and efficient when in possession of the ball.
When comparing Grounds’ stats against Ipswich to his average 2015/16 stats, it is clear to see why his performance has been rated so highly. In particular, his defensive statistics make impressive reading. Achieving well over 2 times as many interceptions and clearances whilst blocking 4 times as many shots really highlight how effective Grounds’ defensive efforts were. The level of his performance can be put further into context when considering Grounds is the Championship’s 2nd highest performing left-back on average (according to whoscored.com ratings). Overall, Grounds has been a key player week in week out for The Blues, and will play a big role in their push for playoffs.