Premier League: Is it easier to step up from Championship this season?


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David Nugent, Ross McCormack, Jordan Rhodes and Billy Sharp
The top four goalscorers in Championship history have 464 second-tier goals between them but only 18 in the Premier League

David Nugent. Ross McCormack. Billy Sharp. Jordan Rhodes.

All four have scored goals in the Championship but have either not been able (Nugent, Sharp, Rhodes) or not been trusted (McCormack) to translate that form to the Premier League.

This season, though, Patrick Bamford and Ollie Watkins – with 14 goals between them – have been standard-bearers for those making the step up.

So is the gap narrowing? Or is something else behind it?

Pressure is off

Michael Chopra never quite broke through at Newcastle United. However, he was prolific in the Championship for Cardiff City before joining Premier League Sunderland in 2007 for £5m.

The pressure comes as soon as you step up, he says.

Michael Chopra
Michael Chopra scored 74 goals in the Championship but only nine in the Premier League

“I knew if I didn’t score in my first game, people would doubt me,” he says. “I’d have been written off as a Premier League player.”

Chopra scored in his first two games, but after four more goals in 33 appearances that season he went back to Cardiff on loan. He never returned to the Premier League.

“You have to be mentally ready for extra scrutiny,” he said. “And you know if you don’t do your job properly, the club will get someone else.”

This season – played almost entirely without fans present so far – is different, though, as Cameron Jerome explains.

“Players have more freedom to try things knowing that if they don’t come off there aren’t 30,000 people shouting at them,” says the 34-year-old, who scored 32 Premier League goals during spells at Birmingham, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Norwich.

“They know their manager trusts them so can feel more relaxed and not play too safe.”

That may have helped Watkins, a striker who proved himself at lower levels before Aston Villa – managed by Dean Smith, his former boss at Brentford – paid £30m for him.

The move has paid off so far as Watkins, despite a penalty miss in Villa’s last game, has scored six goals, including a stunning hat-trick against champions Liverpool.

“Ollie’s hit the ground running at a team that’s had a great start,” said Jerome, who now plays for MK Dons. “There’s nobody questioning the price tag.”

Aleksandar Mitrovic 26 (Fulham) 2 (Fulham)
Ollie Watkins 26 (Brentford) 6 (Aston Villa)
Karlan Grant 19 (Huddersfield) 1 (West Brom)
Said Benrahma 17 (Brentford) 0 (West Ham)
Jarrod Bowen 16 (Hull) 4 (West Ham)
Patrick Bamford 16 (Leeds) 8 (Leeds)

Fixture congestion

Another change Jerome thinks has helped forwards is the hectic schedule.

“Players are tired, and for defenders that means not concentrating at 100% and making mistakes,” he says.

Cameron Jerome
Cameron Jerome has 90 Championship goals in 269 games (0.33 goals per game), double his record of 0.15 goals per game in the Premier League

Jerome also says it is not right to compare the game now to how it was when he and Chopra played at the top level.

“Football has changed a lot,” he says.

“When I was playing, promoted or struggling teams banked up to survive, with five men in midfield and one up top. He did his job for the team and if he got a chance to score it was a bonus.

“Now it’s so fast and teams play on the front foot. It’s good to watch and means more goals.”

The previous popularity of 4-5-1 may explain why the likes of Rhodes and Nugent never transitioned to the Premier League; it’s not their game to be the lone frontman trying to ease the pressure.

But the slick interplay of teams like Leeds United and Aston Villa this season is ideal for Bamford and Watkins to get more opportunities.

‘May not last forever’

For all the positivity around Bamford and Watkins, Chopra presents Aleksandar Mitrovic as a cautionary tale.

Mitrovic scored 11 Premier League goals in 2018-19, then fired Fulham to promotion as the Championship’s leading scorer last season.

This term, though, he has only scored in one game – hitting a double against Leeds.

“Players can get worked out and they have to find an answer,” says Chopra. “Defenders may be taken by surprise first time round, but that won’t last forever.

“And if the striker’s playing for a team struggling in confidence at the bottom, it’s hard to recover.”

Even so, for every player who starts brightly and fades, there are many success stories from the lower divisions.

“Look at the likes of Troy Deeney and Callum Wilson – they were excellent outside the Premier League and then proved they could step up,” says Jerome.

“You want teams to be brave with recruitment because there are some really bright prospects coming through.

“The quality is definitely there in the lower leagues.”

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