Championship writers explain why they chose Leeds United stars in team of the year

THE Yorkshire Evening Post took part as 15 journalists covering sides in the second tier up and down the country combined to pick a Championship team of the year.

Each journalist picked their best 11 with the only rule being that each journalist could pick a maximum of two players from the clubs they cover.

Three Whites players made the XI and here the writers who picked those players explain why.

Graham Smyth. Leeds writer. Yorkshire Evening Post.

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POPULAR PICK: Leeds United's Brighton loanee centre-back Ben White. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.POPULAR PICK: Leeds United's Brighton loanee centre-back Ben White. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
POPULAR PICK: Leeds United's Brighton loanee centre-back Ben White. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe. | jpimedia

Team: Brice Samba, Matty Cash, Harry Toffolo, Semi Ajay, Patrick Bauer, Kalvin Phillips, Eberechi Eze, Saïd Benrahma, Jack Harrison, Matheus Pereira, Aleksandar Mitrovic.

I've gone for players who particularly impressed when they played against Leeds United and Brice Samba is the perfect example. At the City Ground he produced a miraculous save at a pivotal moment. Matty Cash was very good in that game going both ways, while at left-back Harry Toffolo gets in on the basis of how chippy, combative and irritating he was at Elland Road. Semi Ajayi makes it for obvious reasons, he's excellent and Patrick Bauer looked solid against the Whites at Deepdale. I'm yet to see a defensive midfielder come close to Kalvin Phillips in terms of all-round skills this season, Eberechi Eze is a nightmare for opposition teams and Matheus Pereira was as good a player as I've seen all season at Elland Road. Out wide Said Benrahma is selected for his mesmerising dribbling ability and Jack Harrison on the left has been outstanding for Leeds. There could only be one man up top. Aleksandar Mitrovic is a Premier League striker in a Championship team.

Joe Masi. Albion writer. Express & Star.

Team: Brice Samba, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Patrick Bauer, Joe Bryan, Jake Livermore, Eberechi Eze, Tom Cairny, Matheus Pereira, Said Benrahma, Aleksandr Mitrovic.

I think it's been a season where a number of players have really stood out. It's hard to look past Luke Ayling and Joe Bryan at full-back while Ben White has been outstanding for Leeds. I've always liked Patrick Bauer and he again has impressed me this term. Matheus Pereira is of course included but, for me, Jake Livermore has been Albion's best player this term and must be included. Tom Cairney also always looks a cut above whenever I see him. Eberechi Eze, Said Benrahma and Aleksandr Mitrovic are selections I think very few people would argue with.

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David McIntyre. Fulham, Brentford and QRR. West London Sport.

Team: Brice Samba, Luke Ayling, Semi Ajayi, Ben White, Rico Henry, Kalvin Phillips, Romaine Sawyers, Matheus Pereira, Said Benrahma, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ollie Watkins.

First of all, a bit about who’s not in our XI. QPR fans will see Ebere Eze’s absence as a glaring omission and understandably so. Eze has been brilliant, is a joy to watch when in full flight and his contribution in terms of goals and assists speaks for itself. He is destined for the top and is a worthy wearer of the iconic Rangers number 10 shirt previously worn by the likes of Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Roy Wegerle and Adel Taarabt. However, we’ve gone for Brentford’s Said Benrahma - another flair player who has been terrific - and accept that West Brom’s Matheus Pereira really has to be in any Championship XI. And with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Brentford’s Ollie Watkins shoo-ins because of their goals, we’ve reluctantly left out Eze and the excellent Bryan Mbeumo of Brentford. Left-back was a toss-up between two more of our area’s players: Fulham’s Joe Bryan and Brentford’s Rico Henry. We’ve gone for Henry, mainly on the basis of his extra pace and dynamism. In goal, Brentford’s David Raya was great before a dip in form and Fulham’s Marek Rodak has had a good season. But Brice Samba has been exceptional for Nottingham Forest.

Dave Seddon. Preston Writer. Lancashire Evening Post.

Team: Sam Johnstone, Ryan Nyambe, Ben White, Ben Davies, Joe Bryan, Ben Pearson, Said Benrahma, Eberechi Eze, Matheus Pereira, Ollie Watkins, Aleksandar Mitrovic.

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We will all have our own thoughts on a best Championship XI for the season and a beautiful part of football is that we see things slightly differently. Picking a side to sum-up the division is a difficult task and some very talented players don't make it. I've included two players from Preston, the club I cover on a daily basis for a living. It is not bias and I suspect few others would include them as generally North End fly under the radar despite spending all but a couple of weeks of the season in the top six. Ben Davies gets my nod for the left-sided centre-half role, Davies a player who reads the game well and has a fine left-foot to help Preston to play from the back. His team-mate Ben Pearson goes in the holding midfield role. Opposition fans tend not to like him, he does ruffle feathers, but Pearson plays that deeper role to a tee. In the Championship, I don't think there is a keeper who makes the difference between success or otherwise, but West Bromwich's Sam Johnstone is perhaps the closest to that. I don't think he would look out of place in the Premier League if as expected Albion get there. Local differences have been aside to include Ryan Nyambe at right-back, a player who caused PNE so many problems down the right in their meeting at Ewood Park earlier this year. Ben White has been a rock in Leeds' defence, while Joe Bryan at left-back has been a big part of Fulham's push. There are many talented forward players in the Championship and whittling them down was difficult. Brentford pair Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins have stood out - Watkins' 22 league goals superb and another player they have developed so impressively. Ebere Eze scored three goals for QPR as they did the double over Preston and the lad should go far. He's strong and works well in an advanced midfield role. Matheus Pereira led PNE a merry dance in the first half of Albion's win at the Hawthorns in February and looks a real talent. To lead the line, there is no overlooking Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbia international is a Premier League player operating in the Championship, a brute of a striker.

Gregor Macgregor. Bristol City writer. Bristol Live.

Team: Dan Bentley, Joe Bryan, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Shaun Hutchinson, Kalvin Phillips, Eberechi Eze, Matheus Pereira, Niclas Eliasson, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ollie Watkins

I've cheekily gone for a lot of West Country representation in my team of the season so far - but I do think it's also based on merit. Dan Bentley has been superb for Bristol City this campaign and is a contender for the club's player of the season, while no player in the entire league can beat Bristolian Joe Bryan's six assists to one individual player (the Bryan-Mitrovic combination; 6 times combined for a goal). Ben White and Shaun Hutchinson are standouts for me at centre-back - and just edge past Liam Cooper, and just look at former Robin Luke Ayling's goals recently for what he brings to a team (four goals and three assists in the league). Kalvin Phillips is Premier League class, while I couldn't decide between the box-to-box relentlessness of Jake Livermore or the trickery and invention of Eberechi Eze - pick either as per how the team will play: attacking or steadfast. Eze has 20 goal contributions (12 goals, eight assists) and beyond my two out-and-out forwards in this team, only Karlan Grant and Bryan Mbeumo can match that, but Eze's more successful dribbles completed per 90 minutes nicks it for me. Matheus Pereira meanwhile has the most assists in the league along with Niclas Eliasson (who has only started 17 games this season; 12 assists each), so both get the nod. While Aleksandar Mitrovic and former Weston-super-Mare forward Ollie Watkins head up the scoring in the league so provide the sharp end for this crem-de la-crem outfit.

Glen Williams. Cardiff writer. Wales Online.

Team: Marek Rodak, Matty Cash, Luke Ayling, Semi Ajayi, Joe Bryan Kalvin Phillips, Romaine Sawyers, Matheus Pereira, Lee Tomlin, Said Benrahma, Aleksandr Mitrovic

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A few very tricky ones in here, but ultimately came to a decision! For me, the most scintillating forward line Cardiff City have encountered this year is Brentford and would have all of Said Benrahma, Ollie Watkins and Bryan Mbeumo in there if I could. But, having watched Lee Tomlin's re-emergence this season, he is a shoo-in for me. A magical player who has grabbed Cardiff's season by the scruff of the neck and afforded them a chance at the play-offs with so many crucial goals and assists. Matheus Pereira, of course, might have put in the single best individual display of the season when West Brom tore Cardiff to shreds in the 4-2 win for the Baggies at The Hawthorns, so he's in. And Aleksandr Mitrovic is far too good for this league, so he leads the line. I was incredibly impressed with Romaine Sawyers when I saw him in person, too, he brings a lovely tempo to things in midfield. While Kalvin Phillips didn't have his best game against Cardiff, having seen him all season he is certainly worthy of a spot. Finally, the back five pick themselves for me. Former Bluebirds man Ajayi has emerged as a top operator at this level, one Cardiff shouldn't have let go. Joe Bryan and Matty Cash have been consistent all season and while I appreciate I'm shoehorning Luke Ayling in at centre back a little bit, he has been too good to leave out. Marek Rodak has also impressed me a number of times when I've seen him, too, so he takes the gloves.

Rich Sharpe. Blackburn writer. Lancashire Telegraph.

Team: Bartosz Bialkowski, Matty Cash, Ben White, Ben Davies, Kristian Pedersen, Lewis Travis, Joe Lolley, Said Benrahma, Matheus Pereira, Jack Harrison, Aleksandr Mitrovic.

The job Gary Rowett has done at Millwall I think has gone under the radar somewhat, and their defensive record has impressed me, hence Bialkowski’s nod in goal. I’ve gone for a Nottingham Forest right-hand side, with Cash at right back and Lolley in front of him, the latter always seems to have an impact against Rovers and has been a consistent performer for some time now. White can make the game look easy at times, and has slotted in seamlessly to an impressive Leeds defensive unit. Preston have two strong centre halves, but everyone I speak to believes Davies is a Premier League defender in waiting. Pedersen, an uncompromising and solid left back, completes the defence. Few players can have had the emergence of Travis, whose all-action style would be needed behind the silky creativity of Pereira and Benrahma, who have looked a cut above in the attacking areas. Harrison on the left looks to have gone up a level from last season, and few players have caused Rovers right back Ryan Nyambe problems this season, but he’s one. I feel Fulham have flattered to deceive at times this season, though with by far and away the best No.9 in the division in Mitrovic, their league position owes a lot to his weight of goals.

Jonathan Low. Reading writer. Berks Live.

Team: Darren Randolph, Luke Ayling, Kyle Bartley, Ashley Williams, Kadeem Harris, Mateus Pereira, John Swift, Tom Cairney, Said Benrahma, Aleksander Mitrovic, Ollie Watkins.

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The 11 I've chosen is based on what I've seen live over the season so some will be more surprising picks than others! Darren Randolph had a superb game against Reading up at the Riverside - it was certainly one of the best goalkeeping performances I've seen this season. For the defence I've gone with Luke Ayling, Kyle Bartley and Ashley Williams. Ayling's energy and skill is an asset to any side while Bartley and Williams are a formidable duo. Williams may be nearing the end of his career but he can still cut it at this level. Kadeem Harris produced a really lively display on the opening day of the season for Sheff Weds back in August while Mateus Pereira is a hugely skilful player who Reading got nowhere near to when they played West Brom. Tom Cairney continues to be a pivotal figure for Fulham while John Swift has arguably had his best season in Reading colours. When he's on form, so is the team and he's been a key part of the club's upturn in fortunes compared with previous seasons. Said Benrahma causes plenty of problems for defences while Aleksander Mitrovic and Ollie Watkins are my preferred strike pairing. Both know where the net is on a regular basis and are a real handful for defenders.

Pete Smith. Stoke writer. The Sentinel.

Team: Marek Rodak, Matty Cash, Kristian Pedersen, Shaun Hutchinson, Liam Cooper, Sam Clucas, Ebere Eze, Pablo Hernandez, Jarrod Bowen, Grady Diangana, Ollie Watkins.

I’m not sure I’ve got the best balance here in something like a 4-3-3 but what the hell. It’s a three-way fight for the best player Stoke have come up against this season in Eze, Hernandez and Diangana so they’ve all got to go in. Each was a class apart and if Eze isn’t playing in the Premier League soon there are top flight scouts that need firing. Rodak, Williamson and Cooper have been so consistent and Cash and Pedersen have been brilliant attacking full-backs. It shouldn’t have taken the sale of Bowen for anyone and everyone to realise just how reliant Hull have been on him and Watkins has scored all kinds of goals. Sam Clucas is the first central midfielder to score 10 goals in a league season for Stoke in 21 years – and to do it amid the struggles this season is no mean feat. He’s got the knack of getting behind a defence at the right time to pounce on loose balls. If the season had started on New Year’s Day then Nick Powell would’ve been one of the first on the teamsheet. Unfortunately for Stoke, it started in August!

Stuart Rayner, chief football writer. Yorkshire Post.

Team: Brice Samba, Matty Cash, Semi Ajayi, Tim Ream, Kristian Pedersen, Jarrod Bowen, Kalvin Phillips, Matheus Pereira, Jack Harrison, Aleksander Mitrovic, Ollie Watkins.

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Leeds United have not just been Yorkshire's best Championship team, but England's, and if I had the option of selecting more than two players, centre-back Ben White would certainly be pushing for selection. As it is, Jack Harrison's performances on the left wing have been better than his scoring/assisting statistics would suggest, and Kalvin Phillips is a brilliant holding midfielder. If you want a player whose numbers underline his impact, though, look no further than Jarrod Bowen's 16 goals from 29 appearances on Hull City's left wing before moving to West Ham United on deadline day. Centre-forwards Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ollie Watkins have weighed in with some pretty hefty numbers too, while Matheus Pereira's creativity makes him a joy to watch. Matty Cash's runs from right-back make the Nottingham Forest man virtually an extra forward too, while his team-mate Brice Samba has been terrific in goal. West Brom's Semi Ajayi andd Fulham's Tim Ream form a solid central defensive partnership, with Birmingham City's Kristian Pederson at left-back.

Paul Kendrick. Wigan writer. Wigan Observer/Post

Team: Daniel Bentley, Matty Cash, Antonee Robinson, Kalvin Phillips, Ben White, Pontus Jansson, Eberechi Eze, Said Benrahma, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Wayne Rooney, Nick Powell (Stoke)

Such a tough task to try and pick a team consisting of players you hear and read a lot about, but only really see up close over 90 minutes a couple of times in opposition colours. Unsurprisingly, most of the team come from teams near the top end, although there are some exceptions who've stood out this season. Without Eberechi Eze, who knows how far down the table QPR would be, while Wayne Rooney may only have been here for a few months but has definitely lifted Derby up a gear since his arrival in January. I've picked one Wigan player, Antonee Robinson, who could easily be playing for AC Milan now had his dream move not collapsed on deadline day in January. And I also make no apology for selecting former Latic Nick Powell, who remains as good as anything in the Championship on his day, and has underpinned Stoke's resurgence in recent months. Aleksandar Mitrovic shouldn't really be playing in the Championship, while Kalvin Phillips, Ben White and Said Benrahma are sure to be in the top flight next season - whether at their current clubs or elsewhere. Matty Cash always seems to play well against Wigan, Pontus Jansson continues to impress at Brentford, while Dan Bentley sneaked in between the sticks despite some good competition.

Jonty Colman. Hull writer. Yorkshire Live.

Team: Marek Rodak, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Shaun Hutchinson, Joe Bryan, John Swift, Kalvin Phillips, Matheus Pereira, Eberechi Eze, Said Benrahma, Ollie Watkins.

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The Championship has seen a number of superb players grace the division during the 2019-20 campaign, making it very difficult to select a team of the season from the players that I have seen this term. Much of my season has seen me report on Hull City, so I have watched every side in the division play at least once in person this season. Before going into my selections, I must stress that Jarrod Bowen would have gone into this team straight away, had he not joined West Ham United in January. In goal, I have selected Marek Rodak. Whilst he has only played 24 Championship games, he has kept 10 clean sheets, a superb return rate. Luke Ayling features at right-back and for me, he is not only one the Championship’s best defenders, but one of the best players as well. Ben White has been a revelation on loan at Elland Road this season, he makes my centre-back partnership alongside Millwall’s Shaun Hutchinson, a dominating aerial threat who always has an eye for goal. Completing my backline is Fulham’s Joe Bryan, a versatile and creative left-back who epitomises the credentials of a modern day full-back. Kalvin Phillips is a certain pick at central midfield, a real enforcer that has been crucial in the Whites’ promotion push this season; no wonder he has been linked with a Premier League move and an England call-up. Partnering Phillips is Reading midfielder John Swift, who, with five goals and ten assists would add creativity from deep. My front four is one that would frighten a number of top-flight defenders. West Bromwich Albion’s Matheus Pereira has been excellent on loan from Sporting CP, one of the Championship’s most creative players; I am sure that West Brom will want him back next season. Next to him are Queens Park Rangers’ Eberechi Eze and Brentford’s Said Benrahma, who at the KCOM Stadium, produced the two best individual performances I have seen this season. It won’t be long before they are both playing in the Premier League. Leading my attacking line is Ollie Watkins, Brentford’s top scorer. In my opinion, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham’s top scorer, is the best player in the league and has been excellent this season. However, Watkins has looked superb at times this season, and alongside Benrahama and Bryan Mbuemo is the central man in Brentford’s renowned front three, the best in the league. Honourable mentions go to Mitrovic, Kiko Casilla, Niclas Eliasson, Mateusz Klich and Jed Wallace, but unfortunately, I could only name 11.

Lewis Catt. Broadcaster. Charlton Live.

Team: Dillon Phillips, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Patrick Bauer, Joe Bryan, Romaine Sawyers, Kalvin Phillips, Said Benrahma, Matheus Pereira (West Bromwich Albion, Ollie Watkins, Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)

Some real tough choices here but one of the easier choices for me was the goalkeeper. Dillon Phillips has been outstanding for Charlton this season and quite deservedly takes his place as my goalkeeper of the season. In defence Leeds due Luke Ayling and Ben White take their place in the back four alongside the impressive Fulham left back Joe Bryan and former Charlton man Patrick Bauer who has been a rock in a very impressive Preston team this season. An attacking 4-4-2 see a central midfield partnership of Kalvin Phillips who I believe is probably the best CM in the division alongside Romaine Sawyers who has enjoyed a great season back at West Brom and has the best passing success rate in the division. Out on the wings are another West Brom man in Matheus Pereira who in my eyes is in with a shout of overall player of the season, and on the opposite wing is Brentford Said Benrahma who has given defences in the Championship nightmares all season with his incredible skill with some great goals to go with it. Now the front two and I would argue the two first names on the team sheet. Brentford striker Ollie Watkins has been in formidable form this season and is the second of Brentford’s BMW attacking line to make the team of the season in fact only Bryan Mbuemo misses out from that front line. The final place in the team goes to Aleksandar Mitrovic who I think will probably be a permanent fixture in anyone’s Championship team of the season. Notching 23 goals this season Mitrovic joins Watkins as the most prolific strikers outside of the Premier League and has been key for Fulham’s aim of an immediate return to the top flight.

James Cunliffe. Luton writer and broadcaster.

Team: Simon Sluga, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Stuart Dallas, Rico Henry, Izzy Brown, Ebrechi Eze, Said Benrahma, Josh Dasilva, Aleksander Mitrovic, Ollie Watkins.

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I could've just picked their entire Brentford side from November 30, they were that rampant, gubbing Luton 7-0 at Griffin Park. Simon Sluga is a controversial keeper choice because he was Mr Calamity before Christmas, but he’s been vastly improved since and his stunning save at the death, to preserve a point against Wigan, was the best I’ve seen live from any goalie for years. Leeds were the best defensive unit I've witnessed, with attacking qualities too, which is pretty much all Brentford's Rico Henry did in that game, but the Bees had threats everywhere with Said Benrahma and Josh Dasilva the standout stars, both scoring, the latter with a hat-trick. Eberechi Eze ripped the Hatters to shreds in a devastating first 30 minutes at Loftus Road, where QPR scored three but should have had at least double that. Luton's Izzy Brown has led the league for assists, despite injuries and he's simply one of the most exciting players I've ever seen in a Luton shirt. Brentford's Ollie Watkins has been ruthless against Town, with goals home and away, but Fulham's Aleksander Mitrovic was stone cold deadly, to the point he did absolutely nothing at Craven Cottage, except score a hat-trick! Notched at Kenilworth Road too.

Doug Kane. Sports editor. Barnsley Chronicle.

Team: Rafael, Matty Cash, Kyle Bartley, Ben White, Max Lowe, Daniel Johnson, Eberechi Eze, Alex Mowatt, Tom Barkhuizen, Said Benrahma, , Ollie Watkins.

This is based mainly on the players who stood out against Barnsley this season. Max Lowe was outstanding on Wayne Rooney’s debut against the Reds in January, Preston have battered Barnsley twice with Johnson and Barkhuizen causing chaos, as did Benrahma and Watkins at Oakwell in September. Alex Mowatt is very unlikely to make anyone else’s team but he’s been very good for bottom-of-the-league side, scoring some great goals and creating lots of chances. Cash seems to have adapted really well to right-back, Bartley is such a solid and experienced centre-back, Eze is a very eye-catching midfielder and Rafael had an incredible game in Reading against Barnsley last month.

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