F365 Top Ten Important Players In The Run-In

With just three months to go, the title race, top four and relegation is still as open as ever. Daniel Storey picks ten players who will be crucial in the final reckoning...

Last Updated: 04/02/14 at 09:27 Post Comment

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10) Wilfried Zaha (Cardiff City)
Whilst the presence of Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young in United's first team may be of more immediate concern for David Moyes' critics, the performances of Wilfried Zaha in the latter part of this season may be the nail in the coffin hammered in with most enthusiasm. After a lack of faith placed in Ross Barkley last season, Moyes ignored the evident potential of Zaha in favour of the safer option. Of course he has picked Adnan Januzaj, but his is a talent more rounded than almost any other at a similar age.

It is not that Zaha would have certainly been the season and reputation-saving answer, but to have not even been provided with the opportunity to make an impact - 28 minutes of Premier League action all season - appears a misguided decision.

United's possible loss is to Cardiff's definite (and significant) gain. Against Norwich on Saturday, the winger took just 12 minutes to make an impact, threading a ball through for Craig Bellamy to equalise.

Zaha potentially holds the pace, skill and desire to impress that could make a real difference for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That might be the difference between survival and instant relegation.

9) Jason Puncheon
Pretty easy this one, as Crystal Palace have not scored a non-Puncheon goal since Boxing Day, and since the turn of the year his goals (and his goals alone) have been worth five points to Tony Pulis' side - they would be bottom without him.

Palace may have recruited four new players to Selhurst Park on the final day of the transfer window, including the exciting purchase of Tom Ince, but it was the conversion of Puncheon's loan deal from Southampton to a permanent transfer that will surely prove to be the savviest piece of business.

8) Curtis Davies
There were snorts of derision when Curtis Davies was purchased from the Championship this summer, but that was largely due to the ill-fated £8.5million move to Aston Villa in 2008. This time he was at least Birmingham City's Player of the Year, and Davies has taken his Premier League second chance with gusto.

Davies' significance to Hull is threefold:
1) Hull have scored less than a goal a game and yet are 13th thanks to the best defence in the bottom half.
2) Davies has been comfortably the best performer in that defence.
3) If he got injured they might have to play Paul McShane.

Selection vindicated.

7) Andy Carroll
You don't have to like a striker that looks like a clumsy, left-wing Jesus but it is hugely difficult to deny his influence on West Ham's fortunes. Carroll's injury has coincided with the Hammers' malaise, and his two headed assists against Swansea are the sort of contributions that will surely ensure safety.

His style grates slightly against Sam Allardyce's measured catenaccio approach, but the link-up between Carroll and Kevin Nolan is the finest example of football by numbers in the Premier League - even a tactical oaf could work out the logic of such a strategy.

The more Carroll plays, the more successful West Ham will be. That's the sort of conclusion that justifies a club-record fee.

6) Kostas Mitroglou
Paying a club record £12.4million fee when you sit second bottom of the league focuses the attention on that signing somewhat, and after allowing Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz to leave in January, all of Fulham's eggs are in a Kostas Mitroglou-shaped basket (football merchandising has gone too far).

The Greek striker has been hugely impressive at club level for Olympiakos this season (19 goals in 17 games), but this is a club that has won 60 of its last 69 domestic matches, and last lost consecutive league games in August 2010 - his new club have lost 13 of their last 16 in the Premier League.

A different team in a different country with a different style and vastly different recent fortunes. No pressure Kostas, old chap.

5) Robin van Persie
It should be Juan Mata, it really should. But whilst the doubts remain about David Moyes' ability to be trusted with nice pretty things, United's principal goal threat will remain of crucial importance, particularly given the club's evident defensive shortcomings.

Moyes' side have won just five of the 12 league matches that Van Persie has missed, and lost three of the 12 matches he has started. This isn't a one-man team, because the club's problems run far deeper than that, but the late-season form of the Dutchman could be United's only chance to avoid a lack of Champions League football at Old Trafford for the first time since 1995/6.

4) Eden Hazard
It initially seemed difficult to pick out one Chelsea player in particular that could sway their title bid. John Terry's form has been excellent, a striker coming back to form would be more than useful and Nemanja Matic's arrival could signal an increase in midfield solidity and robustness (with fewer Brazilian backheels). But then you look at the statistics.

Not only has Eden Hazard scored more PL goals than any other Chelsea player, he's also assisted more too, and whilst Oscar has created 29 chances this season, Willian 35 and Frank Lampard 25, Hazard's total is 62.

This is not just a player in form, but also the heartbeat of Chelsea's attacking impetus.

3) Olivier Giroud
"I would rather not see a new striker come in," was the rather forthright view of Olivier Giroud on the eve of the transfer window. Well my dear, you got your wish.

Quite whether Arsenal supporters agree with their smouldering Frenchman largely depends on his form and fitness. His ten goals have been worth nine points to the Gunners, but doubts still remain about his consistency - only once since August has Giroud scored in consecutive league games and he's now netted just five goals in 13.

However, when Giroud scores Arsenal usually win. The Gunners have lost only once (to Aston Villa on the opening day) in the 18 domestic games in which the striker has registered since his move from Montpellier. It's a record that may have to continue if Arsenal are to maintain their unexpected title challenge.

2) Vincent Kompany
He wasn't at his best on Monday, but Kompany is still the rock on which all of City's success leans. Various ailments have restricted the Belgian to just 15 Premier League starts this season, and City have taken 37 points from a possible 45 in these fixtures. This is far more than simply the loss of a captain, but also the most vital piece of Pellegrini's jigsaw.

Part of the Belgian's importance evidently stems from the paucity of other options. Matija Nastasic's meteoric rise appears to have stuttered slightly, whilst Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis are used more through necessity than desire.

"Kompany is really important for City because when he plays they win and when he doesn't play they often lose," was the view of Chelsea's Eden Hazard before their fixture in October. He wasn't wrong.

1) Luis Suarez
Forget the statistics regarding Suarez as a flat-track bully (although they contain an element of truth), when you are challenging for a top-four place and possess arguably (and we're not having that argument now) the Premier League's finest player, his effect will be pretty crucial. And it shows.

The headline statistics are these:
- Suarez has failed to score in ten games for Liverpool this season. They have won just two of those, against Bournemouth and Oldham. That's a 20% win record and 0% in the Premier League.

- Suarez has scored in 12 games for Liverpool this season. They have won 11 and drawn the other. A 92% win record.

Quite simply, no other player comes close to having that drastic an effect on his side's fortunes.

Daniel Storey. Follow him on the Twitter

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heyremind me of Utd's treble winning side. Swashbuckling and risk prone. We ha Jaap Stam to paper over the cracks at the back though. Not sure they have their Jaap yet.

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lexis Sanchez; too good for Liverpool, Stevie. :)

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he solution is to not feel sorry for any of Jabba, Gold or Sullivan. They're all deeply unpleasant and all deserve each other. If only West Ham would sign Barton and Suarez then no one would ever need to despise any other club.

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