Aston Villa’s unheralded box-to-box midfielder is in the midst of an incredible campaign.
We have been spoiled as an EFL Championship audience. This season’s collection of central midfield talent is among the deepest and most talented ever assembled in a second division league.
Derby County’s Tom Huddlestone, a Spurs and Premier League veteran, is the anchor that boasts the Rams in second place. Cardiff’s 24-year old metronome Joe Ralls looks far too talented for this level of competition. Likewise, Wolves’ Rúben Neves, a ~£16 million signing, is a near lock to make Portugal’s final 23 for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer. Moreover, WhoScored lauds the season Millwall’s George Saville is having after 2,507 out of a possible 2,520 minutes of league action.
But there’s one midfielder playing at a level even higher than those listed above. Surprise, it’s Conor Hourihane. Through 25 league matches Hourihane is providing incredible two-way value as a conduit ball-carrier from center back to the attacking positions.
He’s doing it all and he’s been the best d**n central midfielder in the EFL Championship this season. I’m going to provide the disclaimer, though, and note, I’m only comparing true box-to-box number eights. Even more defense-minded midfielders like the aforementioned Huddlestone and Neves deserve a break for their lack of offensive contribution.
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So, sorry, James Maddison and Jack Grealish, you have been disqualified, for playing a bit too advanced for the sake of this collation.
Squawka’s player comparison matrix rates Hourihane very highly on per-90 metrics. Not only are the Republic of Ireland’s counting statistics excellent (7 goals, 2 assists), and also outweigh his comparables, but he is doing everything very well on a per-match basis.
Hourihane’s 1.86 chances created, though, yes subjective from site to site, outpace Joe Ralls’ 1.51, who sometimes himself features from a left wing position. His 81% passing accuracy surpasses all, save for Rúben Neves’ 84% mark.
Hourihane breaks up play amongst the best the EFL Championship has to offer. His 1.8 key passes and 2 shots per match have been a huge reason Aston Villa transformed from an average scoring club into joint fourth-highest through match 28. His form this season has kept the likes of another talented central midfielder, Henri Lansbury, largely stuck on the sidelines. Before Birkir Bjarnason’s found niche in front of the defense, he too, was rooted to bench as a CM option for manager Steve Bruce.
There are eighteen league matches remaining in the EFL Championship calendar. But, if it were to end today, it is Conor Hourihane who takes the claim as most impressive central midfielder of the season – a player truly ready for Premier League football and international prominence with Ireland.