As the first month of the EFL season comes closer to it’s conclusion, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his Team of the Week.
EFL Team of the Week: Maguire Magic
EFL Team of the Week - Gameweek 5
Goalkeeper: Brice Samba, Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest faced a below-par Fulham side in last week’s 2-1 win at Craven Cottage – but even a below-par Fulham side can pose a threat.
They needed centre-backs Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall to defend their penalty area as stoutly as they did; they also needed a fine performance from Brice Samba.
The goalkeeper did well to deny Steven Sessegnon and others, solving what had been a problematic position earlier in the season due to one or two errors from Arijanet Muric.
Right-back: Josh Hare, Bristol Rovers
Manager Graham Coughlan had favoured a 4-4-2 early in Bristol Rovers’ season, but that did not work for two reasons; firstly, he did not have the wingers to execute that system effectively and secondly, it restricted the full-backs.
Since switching to 3-5-2 however, Rovers have looked much improved and one beneficiary has been Josh Hare.
Unlike the other right-back the Gas signed from Eastleigh this decade, Hare is attack-minded, so he relished the freedom provided by the presence of a third centre-back.
He produced numerous pin-point crosses in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Oxford, including one for Jonson Clarke-Harris, who nodded home what turned out to be the winner in the first half.
Centre-backs: Tom Lockyer, Charlton and Dominic Hyam, Coventry
From a current Gashead, to previous one.
Tom Lockyer was a first-team regular at Bristol Rovers by 19, which enabled him to develop at a very early stage his defensive awareness and leadership qualities.
Those attributes as well as his innate bravery were on show when his current club, Charlton Athletic, beat Brentford 1-0 last time out in a smash-and-grab victory.
Also 1-0 victors were Coventry City.
Manager Mark Robins was expecting to partner Michael Rose at centre-back with Kyle McFadzean, but the latter missed out with a late knock.
Hyam took his opportunity with aplomb; he defended his penalty area well and produced some fine, cross-field passes in an assured display, giving Robins a selection headache for the next league game Oxford.
Left-back: Joseph Mills, Forest Green
Mills has been the key attacking threat for Forest Green this season, even when the team collectively has not been at their best.
He was involved in their first goal of the season against Oldham, he netted the penalty at Walsall and was the Greens’ most influential figure in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Bradford.
The left wing-back saw a first half free-kick well saved in West Yorkshire, then nodded home a right-wing cross from close-range in stoppage time – the 29-year-old is an intelligent operator.
Central midfield: Matt Grimes, Swansea and Jacob Butterfield, Luton
Lots of players in this Swansea team are given freedom to push into the final third at certain points, albeit in accordance with the movement of their teammates.
Grimes, though, is the one player who holds his position; he is Swansea’s beating heart, their conductor, the one who makes everything tick with his long-range passing, which was exceptional in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Birmingham.
Butterfield, meanwhile, has perhaps struggled to find form in the Championship over the last few years for various reasons, but his natural ability is indisputable.
The former Barnsley midfielder reclaimed his reputation as a long-range specialist at his old stomping ground, bagging a belter for Luton, who raced to a three-goal lead in a comfortable 3-1 victory at Oakwell.
Butterfield put in several strong tackles and interceptions, he was direct in his forward passing and was an integral part of a sensational first half display.
Attacking midfield: Chris Maguire, Sunderland
Chris Maguire enjoyed a wonderful 2016-17 campaign at Oxford United, where he was loved for his technical prowess and set piece specialism.
It was a different story the following season at bottom placed Bury, where Maguire’s work ethic was questioned, but that did not put Sunderland off a move in 2018.
So far, Maguire when fit has been able to recapture form more akin to his Oxford days – and he has started the current campaign very well.
The 29-year-old has a great first touch, neat feet in tight areas, the ability to combine well with Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch as well as an eye for goal.
Maguire bagged a treble in Saturday’s 3-1 win over AFC Wimbledon, as Sunderland make it four straight wins on the bounce in all competitions.
Right-wing: Marcus Maddison, Peterborough
Maddison has been arguably the most naturally talented player in League One over the last five years yet has never been part of a truly successful Posh side.
The wide forward hopes to change that in 2019-20 and, after a slow start, back-to-back away wins have elevated Peterborough to 10th in the table.
Darren Ferguson’s charges thrashed MK Dons 4-0 last time out, with Maddison opening the scoring with a sublime left-footed strike, then assisting Ivan Toney from a deep free-kick – could this be his and Posh’s year?
Left-wing: Nick Freeman, Wycombe
It might seem surprising that we have picked, in our Team of the Week, a player that was on the field for just 12 minutes on Saturday – but this is not the first time Freeman has swung a game in Wycombe’s favour.
In fact, if only minutes in which Freeman was on the field counted, the Chairboys would be top of the league with 13 points from five games.
If only the reverse counted, they would be 14th with six points from five games (and 16th on a PPG basis due to Rotherham and MK Dons having games in hand).
Freeman’s clever runs from wide positions into pockets between the lines seems to bring a fresh dimension to Wycombe’s play – and his through ball for Scott Kashket’s winner in Saturday’s 4-3 triumph over Southend was inch-perfect.
Striker: Benik Afobe, Bristol City
Bristol City entered this season with question marks over their options up top.
Famara Diedhiou is a very likeable striker in lots of ways: he’ll run for the team, he gives them the option to play through the press by going direct, he is selfless and will hold the ball up for others.
And yet, there was a feeling that City needed a predatory finisher to move up to that next level and achieve a top six finish.
In Benik Afobe, they might just have the man they need.
When Afobe does not score, he can be somewhat frustrating because, lacking perhaps the mobility he had five years ago, he does not offer much in general play – although Andreas Weimann’s willingness to run in behind helps on that score.
The Stoke loanee though is a deadly poacher and is proving such here, with already three goals – and three ruthless close-range finishes – already for the Robins.
Manager: Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe
Of all the teams who have started well this season, it is perhaps Wycombe Wanderers who have surprised most.
The absence of external investment at the start of the summer meant, as a predominantly fan-run club, they were unable to do transfer business early.
American investor Rob Couhig has since been able to loan the club some money prior to officially getting on board later this year, so of their 10 summer additions via loan and permanent deals combined, as few as one were made before 19th July – the Friday two weeks before the EFL season officially commenced.
That one player is Alex Pattison, who is also the only recruit to start all five league games to date – which shows that a lot of Wycombe’s signings are potentially still working on fitness and settling into the group generally, due to having had negligible pre-season time with the club.
It is therefore remarkable that Ainsworth has got such a strong start out of his players – and the return of 11 points from their first five represent a strong early step towards the 50 mark.