Leicester might have the best squad in Championship history, while Rotherham are up against it… with a full raft of games on Friday WONDERS OF THE PYRAMID tests the waters in the second-tier

29 December 2023 0 By Total Football News
  • Leicester and Ipswich are storming ahead at the top of the Championship table
  • Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday are nine points away from safety still
  • Did defeat by Man United expose a chink Aston Villa’s armour? It's All Kicking Off 

Just like that, we’re into the second half of the Championship season, with tables starting to take shape but a lot left to play for. 

At the top the battle for supremacy is heating up with Leicester leading Ipswich Town by six points after the two shared a point each in their Boxing Day blockbuster clash at Portman Road.

However they will need to be looking in their rear-view mirrors with Southampton chasing down the front-runners just five points behind the Tractor Boys, with fellow recently-relegated side Leeds not far off either.

But at the bottom end of the table, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham run the risk of being cut further adrift of safety with both tied on 16 points and 21st-placed Huddersfield nine points ahead on 25, and seemingly increasing the gap. 

So, ahead of a full fixture list on Friday night, Wonders of the Pyramid tests the temperature in the second tier…

Enzo Maresca's Leicester are six points clear at the top of the Championship at the halfway point

Enzo Maresca's Leicester are six points clear at the top of the Championship at the halfway point

Rotherham sit bottom of the table with just 16 points and will be hard-pressed to save their Championship status

Rotherham sit bottom of the table with just 16 points and will be hard-pressed to save their Championship status

Newly-relegated Southampton are currently best-placed to reel in the leaders Leicester and Ipswich

Newly-relegated Southampton are currently best-placed to reel in the leaders Leicester and Ipswich

Are Leicester and Ipswich bound for the big time?

Leicester have the best squad and one of the biggest budgets in Championship history by some stretch, with many of their stars boasting international caps and top-flight experience. But don’t let that detract from the fine work being done by Italian boss Enzo Maresca.

Pep Guardiola’s former assistant claims he wants to be known as his own man but it is hard to ignore the Catalan’s influence in the Foxes’ slick style of play. One goal against Rotherham just before Christmas came after a 54-pass move as Millers players chased shadows.

Players such as Wout Faes, Wilfred Ndidi and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall have excelled in the second tier, while summer signing Stephy Mavididi, the former Arsenal academy star signed from Montpellier, has dazzled with eight goals and four assists.

The Foxes have strength in depth, with recent injuries to Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho being remedied by £23million Zambia international Patson Daka able to deputise. But the club have done a stellar rebuild after James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans exited.

Maresca has mainly been sleeping at Leicester’s Seagrave training complex honing his domineering style and the Italian has overseen a fine run of five wins and a draw - a frustrating one at second-placed Ipswich, who equalised in stoppage time - in the six games of December.

The Foxes are six points clear of Ipswich, though, heading into Friday night’s fixtures. The Tractor Boys have gone winless in three - draws against Leicester and rivals Norwich and a 4-0 thrashing at Leeds - but it is credit to Kieran McKenna that they are up there.

This column predicted McKenna’s men to make a push for automatic promotion in a pre-season preview but no one forecast just how the newly-promoted side have taken the Championship by storm, with them five points clear of the play-off spots going into the New Year.

Former Leicester star Youri Tielemans left for Aston Villa over the summer on a free transfer

Former Leicester star Youri Tielemans left for Aston Villa over the summer on a free transfer

Patson Daka has been able to deputise in the absence of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho

Patson Daka has been able to deputise in the absence of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho

This column predicted Kieran McKenna's side would be in the fight for automatic promotion

This column predicted Kieran McKenna's side would be in the fight for automatic promotion

With 33 goals against, only two sides in the top half have conceded more, which further illustrates their mantra of ‘you can score, but we will score more’. Summer signings Harry Clarke and Leif Davis, the flying full-back duo, have made McKenna’s side thrilling to watch.

But most of the XI is the same as the one that scored 101 goals and won 98 points in League One last season. Former Manchester United coach McKenna, from Northern Ireland, is a shoo-in for manager of the campaign at the halfway stage.

Those three games without a win have left Ipswich looking over their shoulders, though, with big-spending Southampton and Leeds banging on the door of the automatic promotion places, with Saints especially the big winners of the festive period.

Russell Martin has made the St Mary’s club the pass-masters of the Championship with an average possession of 64.6 per cent, and the former Swansea boss has overseen a run of 16 games unbeaten, including a 5-0 win over his previous employers on Boxing Day.

Like Leicester, Saints lost the core of their team - James Ward-Prowse, Tino Livramento and Romeo Lavia were the headline departures - but others have stepped up such as 12-goal Adam Armstrong, midfielder Will Smallbone and England Under 21 captain Taylor Harwood-Bellis.

Serial promotion winner Daniel Farke is doing an admirable job at Leeds after a tricky start. A 4-0 thrashing of Ipswich was overshadowed by a Boxing Day defeat to Preston but the former Norwich man is getting the best from a squad that underachieved last season.

Weirdly, it feels like the recruitment policy that was probably the reason for their relegation - signing highly-rated youngsters - is now the reason for their success in the second tier, with many of those stars flourishing, with Georginio Rutter the pick of the bunch.

Also keep an eye out for ever-improving youngsters Crysencio Summerville and midfielder-cum-full-back Archie Gray. ‘No Piroe no party’ was the motto at Swansea about Dutch striker Joel, who has brought the good times to Leeds after his move, with nine goals.

Russell Martin has made Southampton the pass masters in the Championship this season

Russell Martin has made Southampton the pass masters in the Championship this season

Georginio Rutter has been the pick of the bunch in an exciting young attacking Leeds unit

Georginio Rutter has been the pick of the bunch in an exciting young attacking Leeds unit

Who else is in the play-off race?

It will be a surprise if Carlos Corberan is not managing in the Premier League within the next 18 months. The Spaniard is doing a super job at West Brom amid a carousel of chaos at boardroom level caused by Guochuan Lai’s turbulent ownership and admirable fan protests.

The jury is still out on Mick Beale at Sunderland after he disgraced himself by going back on a promise to stay at QPR and joined Rangers last year, where he failed. But their young squad, with an average age often around 22 in the XI, can definitely make a play-off push.

Liam Manning, who had Oxford flying in League One before joining Bristol City, has overseen three wins in a row and has the Robins just behind impressive Hull, who are flourishing under Liam Rosenior with a young and exciting squad.

Take your pick for other top six candidates, though, with five points separating Sunderland in fifth and Blackburn in 15th. Last season’s play-off runners-up Coventry had a torrid start but have just one loss in their last eight, while Erol Bulut’s Cardiff are overachieving.

Watford have broken from tradition and got to Christmas without sacking a manager, which highlights the skills of Val Ismael, the former Barnsley and West Brom boss with his uber-direct style. Middlesbrough and Norwich have shown glimpses but need to find consistency.

It will be a surprise if Carlos Corberan is not managing in the Premier League in the next 18 months

It will be a surprise if Carlos Corberan is not managing in the Premier League in the next 18 months

The jury is still out on Michael Beale at Sunderland after his return to English football from Rangers

The jury is still out on Michael Beale at Sunderland after his return to English football from Rangers

How many teams are in the relegation battle?

Rotherham had one shot, 29 per cent possession and an expected goals (xG) tally of 0.09 in their 1-0 win over Middlesbrough on Boxing Day but sometimes, you need a bit of luck in a relegation battle, with that the first win in charge for former Wigan manager Leam Richardson.

Leam Richardson's Rotherham side had an xG of just 0.09 when they beat Middlesbrough 1-0

Leam Richardson's Rotherham side had an xG of just 0.09 when they beat Middlesbrough 1-0

Marti Cifuentes seems the best placed to keep his third-bottom QPR side up this season

Marti Cifuentes seems the best placed to keep his third-bottom QPR side up this season

The Millers were perhaps harsh to sack Matt Taylor, now at Bristol Rovers, but whoever occupies the hot seat at the New York Stadium knows they are up against it. Rotherham are nine points adrift of safety going into Friday’s clash with Sunderland.

Sheffield Wednesday are above their South Yorkshire rivals on goal difference and have shown signs of revival under German boss Danny Rohl, while QPR look best placed of the three in the relegation battle to stay up after some fine work from Marti Cifuentes.

Huddersfield and Millwall have a little bit of daylight between them and the bottom three but need to be careful, while Birmingham have dropped from sixth to 19th after switching well-liked John Eustace for the big name but unproven manager in Wayne Rooney.

Stoke are also in the relegation battle but have recently appointed Steven Schumacher and it won’t be long before he steers them clear of danger. SWANSEA are still managerless after sacking Michael Duff and reeling from a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of former boss Martin.


This news item was provided by the EFL Championship News, Fixtures and Results | Mail Online website - the original link is: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-12907337/Leicester-Championship-Rotherham-Southampton-Leeds-Ipswich-Town.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490