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Burnley v Leicester: Expect fight to finish as Championship top two square off

Opinion - Peter Beagrie Posted 27th March 2014 view comments

In the footballing equivalent of High Noon, Saturday's shootout between the Championship's top two will be all guns blazing.

Both Leicester and Burnley have been the model of consistency this season, with minor adjustments as opposed to major surgery seeing camaraderie, spirit and belief grow - and 13 and 10-point advantages respectively develop over third-placed QPR.

Vokes: the Burnley hotshot has grown under Dyche, says Beags

Vokes: the Burnley hotshot has grown under Dyche, says Beags

Burnley can knock Leicester off top spot with a win by three goals or more, which is incredible considering the Foxes have gone 18 games unbeaten, winning 13 of those, albeit neither of the last two against Blackburn and Yeovil.

Four of the leaders' five defeats have come away from home, with this stellar run coming off the back of successive losses on the road to Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton in early December.

Burnley were Leicester's next opponents - they got a hard-fought 1-1- draw - and that led to them winning nine on the spin, including victories over top-six rivals QPR, Reading and Derby before Watford got a point at the King Power.

Sean Dyche, meanwhile, has done a remarkable job at Burnley.

Harshly treated at Watford, he is not bitter and has strengthened his resolve, with the Clarets benefitting from his pragmatic, organised and philosophical approach.

Sean trusts his players and his players trust him, with Burnley a team in every sense of the word, and, much like Leicester, having important partnerships all over the pitch.

Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, like David Nugent and Jamie Vardy, grab the goals and headlines but David Jones and Dean Marney (midfield) and Michael Duff and Jason Shackell (defence) have been vital.

Burnley's squad, unlike Leicester's, looked wafer-thin at times so the January arrival of Ashley Barnes was paramount and has helped them cope with temporary loss of Ings, as the last couple of games can testify.

Chris Baird has been an able deputy for Mr Assist Kieran Trippier - who along with Leicester's Ritchie De Laet is one of the best attacking full-backs in the Championship - while Junior Stanislas and Keith Treacy offer creativity and width in the final third, from the start or off the bench.

Leicester's three-point advantage, game in hand and superior goal difference makes them favourites to win the title, but Burnley, still unbeaten at home this term, can be proud of their achievements so far.

Dyche will make sure they do no rest on their laurels and with four of the top eight to play in the final seven games, the season will not get any easier.Here are some of the players I expect to play starring roles on Saturday, regardless of the outcome...

BURNLEY

Sam Vokes

An equal not a sidekick on the deadly 46-goal partnership with Ings, Vokes has fulfilled the potential and promise of his youth under Dyche's tutelage. He is fitter and more mobile than previous years and benefitted from playing week in, week out, becoming a focal point and target man and scoring all kinds of goals, as well as being a tower of strength defensively.

Scott Arfield

Arfield has occupied a wide berth for most of the season and not his preferred central position, but he has got his name on the scoresheet seven times. He has made big contributions in big games and Burnley are still unbeaten in matches in which he has netted. Arfield has forged a brilliant understanding with Trippier, drifting in off the line and then supplying the overlapping full-back. A virtual ever-present, Scott is a vital cog in this well-oiled machine.

Jason Shackell

The big man alongside Duff has been in imperious form this season. A natural leader and communicator, his size means he is rarely anything other than dominant in the air and he has helped ensure the Clarets, alongside Brighton, have the meanest defence in the division.

LEICESTER

Kasper Schmeichel

The Great Dane has produced some great saves, specialising, like his father, in one-on-one situations. Unbelievably confident and assured, he has almost certainly had more assists than any other 'keeper due to his vision and accurate distribution, with Nugent and Vardy immediately on the move once the ball is in his possession.

Riyad Mahrez

The 22-year-old French-Algerian is an exciting new addition and definitely Premier League material. Quick and mobile with great quality, he is enjoying an extended run in the side and Burnley will do well to close him down early so he doesn't get a sight of goal. Mahrez possesses a wonderful left foot and is every bit as skilful as Anthony Knockaert but with Lloyd Dyer's pace. It's a deadly mix.

Jamie Vardy

The £1million signing from Fleetwood has outscored his brilliant partner Nugent in recent matches and his tally of 16 goals includes nine in his last 13 matches. Vardy's thirst for work and elusive movement matches that of the more experienced Nugent and after taking a season to settle and believe he belongs at this level, he will test Burnley's centre-backs to the limit and exploit any space given to him. With bundles of energy, a Non-League mentality and added polish, he is a potential match-winner.

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