This Championship campaign will be obviously a grueling challenge with 46 matches set over 10 months. This means that squad depth is absolutely crucial, thankfully the team is well equipped to deal with injuries. This is massive upgrade over last year as one injury could throw the upcoming results into turmoil. Over the 14 league matches played this year the squad has been tweaked and altered every match. So what is the best starting eleven (assuming a typical 4-4-2 formation is played).
The two main men fighting for the number 1 spot are Karl Darlow and Matz Sels. The Englishman played 9 matches,due to Tim Krul and Rob Elliot unavailable with injuries, and kept 3 clean sheets,stats from Squawka. Whereas his counterpart made 48 appearances and kept 13 clean sheets, stats from Soccer base. Rob Elliot is obviously Rob Elliot has missed all of this season due to injury and the Dutchman Tim Krul is currently on loan at Ajax. Currently Darlow looks more comfortable in the role as Sels adapts to English football. So for this position I would go for Karl Darlow as he is more experienced in English football but Sels will definitely be fighting for a first team place come the end of the season.
Verdict: Karl Darlow
The players in this role are Jesus Gamez and DeAndre Yedlin. So far Gamez has only played one league match due to unfitness and injury according to The Chronicle. On the other hand the American from Tottenham Hotspur has played 7 league matches and scored 1 goal. Personally this is a very easy choice as Gamez has not featured much lately. So I’d pick Yedlin for this role.
Verdict: DeAndre Yedlin
For this position Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, Grant Hanley and Chancel Mbemba. Lascelles was one of the surprise stars towards the back of last years dire season, emerging due to injuries and major problems with Steven Taylor and Fabrico Coloccini. Chancel Mbemba the young Congolese defender featured in 33 matches last year and was a very solid addition for the club. Ciaran Clark was bought in from Aston Villa this season and has been a pleasant surprise. I for one had quite low expectations of the Irish defender but has made a case for a spot in the starting eleven. Lastly we have the Scottish defender Grant Hanley who has featured the least amount of times with only 4 appearances. I personally believe he is at the bottom of the pecking order, he’s been decent but nothing particularly to write home about. For me I have to go with the faithful combination from last year, Lascelles and Mbemba.
Verdict: Lascelles and Mbemba
The two competing for this role are Paul Dummet and Achraf Lazaar. The Moroccan international has only featured once and played less than 15 minutes. His Welsh counterpart has played 13 times but he isn’t exactly the fan’s favorite with many lackluster performances. However Dummet has been kept around the club as he is a local lad, he worked his way up from the under 9’s and who doesn’t love a story like that? With Massaido Haidara nowhere to be found I would go for Lazaar as Paul Dummet isn’t up to scratch.
Verdict: Achraf Lazaar
In the middle of the park we have Jack Colback, Vurnon Anita,Isaac Hayden, Jonjo Shelvey, Mo Diame and Cheick Tiote. So far the best partnership has Hayden and Shelvey. The Dutch Vurnon Anita has featured 11 times this season but this is mainly on the wing or in defence, personally I prefer him in a defending role. Jack Colback has played 7 times this season but his lack of discipline is a concern, picking up 3 yellow cards so far. Yes he is another local lad but that doesn’t mean anything if you can’t perform well consistently. The unsung history of this season has been Isaac Hayden. This young man has put in many solid performances in midfield and deserves his spot on the starting eleven, Jonjo Shelvey also seems to be playing very, very well, he seems to have found his level. He’s played like the English Xavi. I’m not saying they’re as good as each other but Xavi, he’s no Jonjo Shelvey I’ll tell you that. Mo Diame snubbed newly promoted Hull in the summer to join Newcastle and has featured 9 times so far. He has mainly played in a more attacking role but there has been calls to drop him for Serbian Mitrovic. I think this would work well as Diame isn’t a striker let’s face it. With Ivorian Tiote there isn’t much to say really. Only one substitute appearance and hasn’t done anything to shout about since his goal in the 4-4 draw with Arsenal in 2011. I can’t look past Hayden and Shelvey for the midfield.
Verdict: Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey
Out wide we have Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu, Rolando Aarons and Yoan Gouffran. Matt Ritchie has been a star performer so far bagging 3 goals in all competitions and 5 assists so he definitely deserves a start week in week out. Young English winger Rolando Aarons can’t catch a break with another injury to him so he can’t be in competition for this role so far. Yoan Gouffran has been a shock star so far getting 2 assists and 2 goals in the league. Nobody expected this breakthrough and has shocked everybody. Christian Atsu, on loan from Chelsea, was the Toon’s last signing this summer and has grabbed himself one goal this campaign. I never thought I’d say this but I’d start Gouffran and Ritchie.
Verdict: Yoan Gouffran and Matt Ritchie
Finally we have to two strikers. Here we have Ayoze Perez, Aleksander Mitrovic, Daryl Murphy and Dwight Gayle. Gayle is currently the Championship’s top scorer with 11 goals in 13 appearances. Ayoze Perez is now sitting on 5 goals in 12 matches but it’s apparent the Championship isn’t right for him. Once he gets his strength up he’ll be scoring left, right and centre. The tenacious young Serbian Mitrovic has 1 goal so far but only 1 start. His attitude is certainly worrying Rafa which is why he isn’t starting. Once that’s sorted he’ll be getting his place in the starting XI. Finally we have Daryl Murphy another player with not that much to say about. 6 appearances for the club and no goals, what can you say really?
Verdict: Dwight Gayle and Aleksander Mitrovic.