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

Tom Cairney

From the new Tim Cahill to a Champions League-calibre defender, Mike Holden profiles the best January transfer window targets in the Championship

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Tom Cairney (Fulham)

Attacking midfielder, 26

Tom Cairney

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

Ollie Watkins

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

Jack O’Connell

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 

Joe Bryan

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.