MC Krisp’s Championship post-Christmas round-up

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With the Christmas rush of games now long behind us, Chris Francis takes a look at how the promotion chasers are settling into 2014…

Leicester have built up an enormous lead with many pundits now declaring them as certainties to go up. They are 10 points clear of second and—more importantly—13 clear of third. Their 1-0 win over Bournemouth saw them break three club records: longest number of games won in a row (nine), most away wins achieved in a row (five), and oldest goalscorer (Kevin Phillips). The margin of victory should have perhaps been larger yet despite registering 22 shots (seven of which were on target), the Foxes found themselves denied by an inspired Lee Camp in nets for the Cherries.

Watford are up next for Leicester, a side they have beaten already this year away from home, but who still hold something of a hoodoo over the men in Royal Blue following the end-of-season scenes at Vicarage Road last year. After that they play local rivals, Nottingham Forest.

Can they keep the run going? Continue reading

The Top 50 Football League Players: 10-1

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TFN’s Chris Francis completes his run down of the top 50 players outside the Premier League…

10. Troy Deeney (Watford)

As with many of the Hornets this season, the big centre forward has failed to match last season’s level, but he still remains a remarkably complete package. At his best he can be a snarling, in-your-face threat from inside or outside the box. Needs motivating to keep his workrate honest, but on his day he causes problems.

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9. Sam Byram (Leeds)

Cardiff were reportedly quoted £8m for the Leeds youngster in the summer. Byram is a right back who is seen as much in the final third as the first. He is capable of lung-busting runs for a full game, and is a thoroughly modern, adventurous and physical player. Overlaps well, is strong in the tackle and is capable of playing further forward and more centrally. He took a clean sweep of the individual awards at Leeds’ end of season bash. A serious prospect. Continue reading

The Top 50 Football League Players: 20-11

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TFN’s Chris Francis continues his run down of the top 50 players outside the Premier League…

20. Ikechi Anya (Watford)

Right back is not usually the most exciting position (as Jamie Carragher put it, ‘no one grows up wanting to be Gary Neville’), but Anya is a rampaging, marauding, and high energy wing back with tricks, and would certainly add to the attacking threat of a number of Premier League teams.

19. Kieran Trippier (Burnley)

The best right back in league? Trippier is a defender first and foremost in a role that has become more and more an attacking weapon. He has developed his game this season to be more of a threat in the opposition half. A vital cog in an excellent Burnley side. Continue reading

Where have all the leaders gone at Manchester United?

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Chris Francis pinpoints the real issue behind Manchester United’s failings this season…

Forget the midfield deficiencies. Leave the questions regarding full backs. Ignore the limitations of a strike force shorn of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. The biggest issue United have at present is leadership.

There is a distinct lack of the stuff at Old Trafford.

It sounds ridiculous to hold this up as a problem when you look at the experience of the players available to David Moyes. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Patrice Evra have all got bucket loads of the stuff, and at different points in their careers in Manchester have show outstanding leadership skills. But Vidic looks unhappy and frustrated at the predicament in which his team currently find themselves, Ferdinand is rarely given a game, Giggs is no longer the influential figure he was, and Evra’s performances have been decidedly hit and miss for the first half of this season.

So where are the others? Continue reading

The Top 50 Football League Players: 30-21

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TFN’s Chris Francis continues his run down of the top 50 players outside the Premier League…

30. Niko Kranjcar (QPR – on loan from Dynamo Kiev)
The most accomplished player in the league, Kranjcar is still a high quality attacking midfielder and at just 29 has plenty to offer. He has not benefited hugely this season by being asked to play almost as a second striker, but is capable of dominating games with his passing and quickness of thought. Needs to be more of a goal threat.

29. Lloyd Dyer (Leicester)
Rapid is the wrong word. Dyer, an out and out left-wing, who began his career with West Brom, is incisive, direct and quicker than anyone else in the league. In the past season there has been more end product giving Leicester a genuine threat either from the start or against tiring legs as a late substitute. Continue reading

The Top 50 Football League Players: 40-31

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TFN’s Chris Francis continues his run down of the top 50 players outside the Premier League…

40. Jason Lowe (Blackburn)
A rangy, strong midfielder who has caps for England at U21 level, Lowe has firmly established himself as a Rovers regular having made his way through their youth system. At the age of 22 he is approaching 100 league starts for the club, and already has a full Premier League season under his belt. One of those that Gary Bowyer needs to build his side around to get Blackburn firing properly again.

39. Franck Moussa (Coventry)
Moussa is not a big man at all, but he combines excellent technical ability with high energy. He has been central to a superb season for a homesick Coventry City in League 1, contributing 12 goals from an attacking midfield position already. Continue reading

The Top 50 Football League Players: 50-41

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TFN’s Chris Francis runs down his top 50 players outside the Premier League…

50. David Nugent (Leicester)
You either love this guy, or he’s never played for your club. The Nuge continues to show that is a better player than many give him credit for, as his work-rate, persistence and finishing continue to impress. He is a senior professional now and he is an example to the younger members of Leicester’s title chasing squad. 16 goals so far this season.

49. Gary O’Neill (QPR)
O’Neill is a highly experienced box to box midfielder who has played for most of his career in the Premier League. He is tireless, and has been strong this season as QPR have ground out rather than dazzled. A wise head as we move in to the tough stuff towards the end of the campaign. Continue reading