EFL Team of the Week: Gameweek Two

Goalkeeper - Freddie Woodman

Swansea City’s 0-0 draw at Derby was a game in which both goalkeepers excelled.

Although Steve Cooper wants to continue the possession-based template that Graham Potter implemented last season, he also showed pragmatism in the East Midlands and was happy for his side to play on the counter-attack.

He knew he needed a good performance from Woodman, who joined on loan from Newcastle in the week – and the goalkeeper appears to have somewhat fixed what was, last season, a slightly problematic area.

Woodman saved Martyn Waghorn’s penalty in the first half and made a great double-save after the interval, making the 22-year-old good value for his debut clean sheet.

Right-back - Elliott Hewitt

Luke Hendrie was among Grimsby’s top three performers last season and tended to play at right-back, so it says something about Hewitt that he has taken that position this term.

Of course, the former Notts County man is helped by the injury to left-back Liam Gibson on loan from Newcastle and Sebastien Ring’s imperfect form, which has meant Hendrie has had to deputize on the other side.

Hewitt though has grabbed the opportunity presented to him, building on a very positive showing in that position against Peterborough in the final friendly to start the campaign strongly.

The utility man has delivered several accurate crosses in two solid shifts.

Centre-backs - Yoan Zouma and Marc Roberts

In Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Coventry, Bolton Wanderers named the youngest team in the EFL – an average age of just 19.

Although the Trotters were fortunate to see their visitors have three goals disallowed, they can be immensely proud of such a gallant performance in incredibly challenging circumstances, with players not being paid and all repercussions of the deep-rooted financial problems.

Bolton’s spirited defensive displays – against Coventry this week and the week before at Wycombe, where they held out for an hour – were team efforts.

Yoan Zouma, however, has come in for special praise as the 21-year-old has been strong in the air and made several heroic blocks, incredible considering he did not kick a senior ball last season after joining from Angers II.

2018-19 opportunities were also limited for Birmingham City’s Marc Roberts, who started just three games that year due to a combination of a long-term injury and him falling out of favour with then-manager Garry Monk.

Since mainstay Michael Morrison departed – and Monk was replaced by Pep Clotet – Roberts has had more of a look-in with two starts already and he has certainly taken his opportunity.

The former Barnsley centre-back won his individual battles with Benik Afobe in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Bristol City; he did the basics well, he posed a threat with his long throws and delivered a delightful cross for Lukas Jutkiewicz’s equalizer.

Although Roberts is 29, he spent the first seven years of his senior career in non-league with various clubs including Halifax, which means he has not undergone too intense training early in his career and thus may peak later than most defenders.

Left-back - Rhys Norrington-Davies

Ian Henderson made our Team of the Week last time, so Rochdale are represented in this XI for a second week running.

After Brian Barry-Murphy took over in March, he had to fix the defence to keep Dale safe – which he did due to four tight 1-0 wins in the final six games.

This year, Barry-Murphy is looking to evolve the style of play back towards something more akin to what we saw from Dale in their first three seasons at this level under Keith Hill.

It was perhaps difficult to play that way in 2017-18 and 2018-19 due to issues in the full-back department, with various left-backs deployed with limited success.

This year, Rhys Norrington-Davies appears to have solved that problem.

The Sheffield United loanee has incredible stamina and pace over long distances, so when Rochdale play tidy football centrally or through the right channel, they have an out ball on the left which allows them to stretch opponents.

Norrington-Davies showed his value with a superbly-timed run to add the third goal in last week’s 3-2 victory at Tranmere and was similarly impressive in this week’s 1-1 home draw with Doncaster.

Central midfield - Harry Arter and Ben Close

In Fulham’s 1-0 loss at Barnsley on day one, their midfield looked tame and passive; vulnerable to pressing and transitional attacks.

With Tom Cairney shackled, the Whites looked short of a sharp, dynamic influence who can adapt to a higher tempo.

Step forward Harry Arter, who replaced Kevin McDonald and became the missing piece of Fulham’s jigsaw; it was the Bournemouth loanee who did the spadework to lay-off for Cairney to unleash his delightful opener.

If Fulham are to win promotion this season, it seems likely that Arter will have a huge part to play.

Similar could be said for Portsmouth and Ben Close, who has had an excellent week.

Although Close had a decent 2018-19 campaign, his critics argued that he was perhaps a touch ‘safe’ – did Pompey need somebody either more aggressive or a better passer to partner Tom Naylor if they were to challenge for automatic promotion?

Kenny Jackett may have partially agreed, given that he brought in Ross McCrorie this summer – and started the Rangers loanee on day one.

McCrorie though was sent off in the 1-0 loss at Shrewsbury and, seemingly, his ban has brought renewed determination in Close, who has delivered two strong midfield performances against Birmingham and Tranmere, bagging impressive strikes in both games.

Attacking midfield - Emmanuel Osadebe

Macclesfield Town’s Osadebe capped his home debut with a delightful strike in a 3-0 win over Leyton Orient.

Unusually for such an athletic player, Osadebe has had difficulty sustaining an EFL career – and build on his involvement with Ireland Under-21s - due to question marks over his work ethic at previous clubs such as Cambridge.

The 22-year-old though seems to be relishing working under an esteemed footballing figure in Sol Campbell and, after hitting the post in last week’s unlucky 1-0 loss at Exeter, he saw the fruits of his labour this week.

Osadebe and Ben Stephens appear to be operating as almost two false 10s in Campbell’s 3-4-2-1 setup; Stephens tends to make the initial runs for early balls in behind, but then he will check back and give Osadebe time to make powerful forward surges.

Osadebe and Stephens seem to dovetail well in a steady start for the Silkmen.

Right wing - Nathan Broadhead

After Burton Albion lost Marcus Harness late in the summer transfer window, they needed somebody to provide a sprinkling of magic.

The Brewers possess a selfless grafter up top in Liam Boyce, who appears to like making runs away from goal to create space for the wide forwards in Nigel Clough’s 4-3-3 setup.

The powerful Lucas Akins certainly does that and the long-serving forward’s versatility makes him a key option in transition, but the star in Burton’s 2-1 win at Gillingham was Nathan Broadhead.

The Everton loanee’s flexibility was highlighted by the fact he scored his opener, a curler inside the bottom far-hand corner, from the left-channel, then got his second two minutes later off the back of a dart from the right.

Speak to Everton youth enthusiasts about Broadhead and there is recognition for the 21-year-old’s ability, given that he featured prominently under Marco Silva in pre-season.

Equally, they have expressed ambiguity as to his position – is he a wide forward, a number 10 or a number nine?

In some ways, that ambiguity is ideal because, if Broadhead’s own team do not know where he will pop up after they turn the ball over, how can their opponents know?

Left wing - Bez Lubala

The fact Lubala could not agree a contract with Birmingham City this summer is more reflective of the club’s evolution than the player himself.

Blues are looking to become more technically accomplished under Pep Clotet this season, with dainty creators Fran Villalba and Dan Crowley joining in the summer.

Lubala, a raw runner who will give everything but is not as at quite as advanced a stage of his technical development, did not quite fit into these new plans.

It could though, be that dropping down to League Two is the best decision the 21-year-old makes – it has given him an opportunity to build his technical ability and develop confidence through regular games.

Lubala has started well, too.

He was among Crawley’s best individual performers in the opening day 2-1 loss at Carlisle, where he scored in a positive team display.

Lubala starred even more emphatically in this week’s 2-0 triumph over Salford, as Gabriele Cioffi’s side pressed with ferocity and showed attacking intent throughout, evidenced by the fact they had 30 shots despite being ahead for nearly two-thirds of the contest.

Starting as a left-sided forward in a 4-2-3-1, Lubala bagged from the spot and epitomized the hunger, dynamism and talent Cioffi wants from his new-look side.

Striker - Steven Fletcher

New wide men Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy have grabbed the early headlines for Sheffield Wednesday, with the duo each scoring on their debuts – the opening day 3-1 win at Reading and Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Barnsley respectively.

We though are giving the honour of Wednesday representation in our EFL Team of the Week to Steven Fletcher, who is the glue that brings the individual talent together as one coherent unit.

As we saw when the Scot went up against Barnsley’s Bambo Diaby, he can almost smell a centre-back’s anxiety when playing out from the back.

He needs no second invitation to close down ferociously and encourage his teammates to join the press.

When crosses came in, he threw his whole body weight at them in a way that occupied centre-backs – not unlike Owls target men of yesteryear - creating space for other players to potentially get shots away.

On the deck, meanwhile he showed the intelligence and vision to lay it off for Kieran Lee or play through Adam Reach to enhance the fluidity of the build-up play.

The man the Owls have just allowed to leave for Reading, Lucas Joao, has perhaps a touch more individual ability than Fletcher but not the same heart – there is little chance the Portuguese front-man would lead the line with the same intensity.

Fletcher was therefore more than deserving of his second half goal against the Tykes, showing the awareness to dummy a lay-off then strike it with his left-foot into the far corner, capping one of the most complete centre-forward performances of the Championship season to date.

Manager – Lee Bowyer

It seems unbelievable – yet somehow believable in equal measure – that Charlton Athletic owner Roland Duchatelet nearly let Lee Bowyer’s contract expire this summer.

It was only when the news was greeted with a severe backlash that Duchatelet did a U-Turn and handed Bowyer a new contract, after leading the Addicks to promotion via the Play-Offs in 2018-19.

Duchatelet should think himself very fortunate that, while fans continue to oppose his ownership regime, Bowyer has created a sense of unity that has partially quelled the protestation.

Still, Charlton entered this season with on paper, the worst squad in the Championship with a severe lack of experience.

The main positive additions – Josh Cullen’s return combined with the arrival of Sam Field, Jonathan Leko and Beram Kayal – were all on loan, very late in the transfer window.

Still, Conor Gallagher has shown his creative talents since joining – also on loan – from Chelsea, while Lyle Taylor, who remains at the Valley, has stepped up to Championship level instantly with two goals in as many games.

Bowyer has led his side to a return of six points from a possible six, giving their quest to reach the 50 point mark an early boost.

After the opening day of the 2019-20 EFL season, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) provides his Team Of The Week.

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