In Focus: Five players set to star in the Championship this season
England’s second tier has proved to be fertile hunting ground for Premier League clubs in recent years — and the class of 2021-22 is packed full of stars ready to continue that trend.
From promoted up-and-comers to hot prospects and top-flight dropouts looking to prove the doubters wrong, the Championship is packed full of talent in all quarters.
Ahead of the new season, which kicks off tonight with Bournemouth hosting West Brom, here are five players you should be keep an eye on this term.
With Ivan Toney now out of the way, Blackburn Adam Armstrong theoretically has a clear path to the Golden Boot this season.
Finding the back of the net on 28 occasions in 2020‐21, Armstrong, 24, will be aiming to get close to that figure once again, while also being optimistic that his side can improve on last season's finish of 15th.
Unsurprisingly, the former Newcastle man’s form has piqued the interest of clubs in the top flight as he continues to prove his boyhood team were wrong to let him go back in 2018.
After a sensational debut campaign at the Madejski Stadium, Josh Laurent was named Reading’s Player of the Season.
Now the spotlight will be on Laurent, 26, to take the Royals one step further after they fell just short of the play-offs last term.
He plays a vital role in Veljko Paunovic’s team, dictating play from midfield with his superb passing accuracy and driving through the centre of the park with the ball at his feet.
It is a real redemption story for Laurent, who was released without making a league appearance by both QPR and Brentford in his younger years.
He has now found his feet at Championship level after a lengthy journey back up the pyramid, spending time at Hartlepool, Wigan, Bury and Shrewsbury along the way.
With rumoured interest from Nottingham Forest, the Royals must stand firm and retain their No28 if they want to reach the top six this season.
Quite possibly the brightest spark in QPR’s team, young Moroccan Ilias Chair has more than filled the Eberechi Eze-sized hole in their midfield.
His eight goals and four assists may not be a world-beating return but he plays an integral role as a creative outlet for the R’s.
Manager Mark Warburton realised just how important Chair, 23, will be if QPR want to improve on finishing ninth, offering him a new deal back in January that will keep him at the West London club until at least 2025.
He said: "Ilias was handed the No10 shirt in pre-season and we had some very frank discussions about what that meant and the responsibilities that come with the shirt at QPR.
"However, he has embraced that challenge and done very well — even though there is lots more work to do."
Michal Helik might just have been Barnsley’s most important player in their surprise run to the play-offs last season.
A superb first campaign in English football ironically got off to the worst possible start when the 6ft 3in Polish centre-back was sent off on his league debut.
But the former Cracovia man soon put that behind him and ended the campaign with the second-highest number of clearances (234), as well as ranking third for interceptions (102).
He also contributed at the other end of the pitch, with five goals and a single assist.
His outstanding performances for the Yorkshire club saw him earn a first international call-up as well as being named Barnsley’s Player of the Season.
Tykes supporters will be keen to see if Helik can replicate that form in 2021-22 as they look to shock the division once again.
After being the focal point of the Welsh attack at Euro 2020 this summer, Kieffer Moore returns to domestic action wanting to improve on a goal-filled 2020-21.
The striker was on the scoresheet 20 times last season as Cardiff narrowly missed out of the top six after a resurgence under new boss Mick McCarthy.
Moore,, 28, acts as a targetman for the Bluebirds and he is a dominating force in the air, winning 440 aerial duels in the Championship last season alone.
His story of climbing the league system via the likes of Truro City and Dorchester Town is remarkable — but Moore will want his next chapter to be about firing Cardiff back to the Premier League.