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7 Championship stars with serious potential to shine in the Premier League

Tom Cairney

Tom Cairney (Fulham)

Attacking midfielder, 26

Rafa Benitez has long been keen on the idea of taking this cultured playmaker to St James’ Park. Newcastle tabled a £20m bid last summer, less than 12 months after they’d been scared off by a £10m price tag following relegation. So it would be foolish to think that Cairney wouldn’t be on the Geordie radar should the Magpies' sale be completed before the end of this window.

Outside of the Wolves squad, Cairney remains arguably the most influential player in the division and it’s no coincidence that Fulham have edged their way back into top-six contention now that the Scotland international is back to full fitness.

Ollie Watkins (Brentford)

Attacking midfielder, 22

Former winners of the EFL Young Player of the Year award include Gareth Bale, Fabian Delph, Nathaniel Clyne, Wilfried Zaha and Dele Alli. Therefore it’s hardly a stretch to believe the current holder is ultimately destined for the top flight.

Former Exeter man Watkins shone consistently for 18 months at League Two level, eventually tempting Brentford and their analytical models to part with the princely sum of £1.8m. His impact in the Championship has been immediate.

The Bees have repeatedly demonstrated that every player has a price at which they would sell for at the drop of a hat, so their value on Watkins right now must be a source of widespread curiosity.

Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United)

Centre-back/left-back, 23

This rise of this marauding 23-year-old defender over the past 18 months implies that Brentford don’t always get their transfer business right, though. The west Londoners picked up O’Connell as a youngster from Blackburn but he was unable to establish himself at Griffin Park and let go following the arrival of John Egan.

Now he’s one of the best centre-backs in the Championship, bringing a vast array of qualities to the table on the left side of a back three. His sound positional play is exemplified by achieving the most interceptions in the division, and his willingness to charge up the pitch whenever he picks up possession wreaks havoc.

Joe Bryan (Bristol City)

Left wing-back, 24 

Bryan shot to prominence with his rasping drive that broke the deadlock against Manchester United in the League Cup. His manager Lee Johnson reckons he is a Champions League player "without question", mainly due to his dedication on the training ground and the level of technique he has already mastered.

Lightning fast over 20 yards, he can operate anywhere down the left flank to more or less the same effect, making him an enticing proposition for any manager who likes to deploy a variety of systems. He’s only 24 but with an intelligence and maturity that makes him seem much older.

George Saville (Millwall)

Central midfielder, 24

Michael O’Neill wasted no time adding Saville to his Northern Ireland squad last September, as soon as he discovered that the tenacious Surrey-born midfielder was eligible through a late grandmother.

A highly instinctive player who is capable of making quick decisions and executing quality distribution when under pressure, he’s more box-to-box than holding but gets through enough of the dirty work to allow his engine room partner the licence to venture forward.

In short, we could be looking at another Tim Cahill, which is precisely who Saville set out to emulate last summer when he joined permanently from Wolves.

Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich)

Goalkeeper, 30

Twice winner of the player of the year award at Portman Road, the Polish stopper is now having arguably his most accomplished season to date. Mick McCarthy won’t want to lose him, but with the Tractor Boys’ promotion hopes looking increasingly forlorn and Dean Gerken regarded as an able deputy, owner Marcus Evans might be inclined to take the money while he can.

With Crystal Palace reported to be interested, Bialkowski could yet establish himself as reliable custodian at the top level for the entirety of one lengthy contract – even if his capture at this stage of his career promises little resale value.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Cardiff)

Winger, 25

If Wilfried Zaha's return for Crystal Palace has provided struggling teams with a survival template to emulate, Mendez-Laing might just be the wildcard alternative they want to take a chance on.

The former Peterborough man has often flattered to deceive, but matured enormously under Keith Hill at Rochdale and set the Championship alight upon his arrival at Cardiff with five goals in his first five matches.

Those standards have slipped of late, which might tempt Neil Warnock and his short-term orientation into a spot of wheeling and dealing to revive a stuttering campaign.

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