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Week 4 – Premier League Power Rankings: Arsenal surging, Man City sinking

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Okay, now we’re getting somewhere with these rankings after a pulsating week of Premier League action.

With Champions League action now in full-flow and the PL’s elite juggling their enormous squads to met the demands of domestic and European success, the strongest teams are coming to the fore.

This past week we saw debutants across the league after making their switch on transfer deadline day before the international break. And plenty of them shone with Marouane Fellaini, Gareth Barry and Mesut Ozil all slotting seamlessly into their new teams.

A few shock results played out as a few of the big boys stumbled in Week 4… find out if it affected their Premier League Power Ranking this week.

By now you should know the drill, but every Wednesday we put our neck on the line to analyze the strength of each Premier League team. Forget about the official league standings, that doesn’t mean squat.

(MORE: Premier League Power Rankings archive)

The Power Rankings take into account the strength of schedule, injuries, suspensions, playing well but still losing and plenty of other variables. The W-L-D bracket shows each PL team’s current record and you can now see how many spots each team has moved, up or down, from week-to-week.

Please feel free to debate the Week 4 Power Rankings… that’s what they’re here for.

RANKING

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1 UP 2 Manchester United: Okay, so it wasn’t vintage stuff from United against Palace, but with Wayne Rooney and RVP building a good understanding and the defense looking solid, David Moyes’ side finally look like scoring goals. Good response from the Liverpool defeat. (2-1-1)
source:  2 UP 3 Arsenal:Many may chuckle at the Gunners being so high but after watching Mesut Ozil live at the weekend, I was blown away. If they can keep all of their key players fit and Giroud stays in top form… who says the Gunners can’t be title contenders this term? (3-1-0)
source:  3  DOWN 2
Chelsea: Mourinho’s ‘young eggs’ are having a little wobble at the moment and Chelsea have a tough game against West London rivals Fulham on Saturday evening. Samuel Eto’o looked rusty in the 1-0 loss to Everton and all eyes will be on the Blues as they take on FC Basel. (2-1-1)
source:  4  – Liverpool: The Reds almost recorded their fourth-straight win to start the season but Swansea equalized late on. The news of Coutinho out injured will hurt Liverpool but they still look likely to score and Brendan Rodgers’ men face Southampton at home on Saturday. Home win. (3-0-1)

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5 DOWN 3 Manchester City: City just aren’t clicking in the Premier League, especially away from home. That being said, a win against rivals Manchester United on Sunday will help their confidence. They look great at the back, but lacked creativity in their 0-0 draw at Stoke. Work in progress. (2-1-1)
source:  6 Tottenham: Spurs completed another shutout win against Norwich, with new signing Christian Eriksen stealing the show to help feed Gylfi Sigurdsson for the goals. AVB has built a strong squad, but Europa League and League Cup games coming up will stretch it to the limit. (3-1-0)
source:  7 Everton: A sensational win against Chelsea on Saturday hammered-home exactly what the Toffees are good at. Forcing the issue and protecting what they have. Gareth Barry looked great in midfield and Roberto Martinez’ side are unbeaten. (1-0-3)
source:  8 Swansea: The Swans may have beaten Liverpool on another night, poor old Jonjo Shelvey… anyway, they looked good against the Reds and ahead of the Europa League trip to Valencia, confidence is building in South Wales. Michu and Wilfried Bony still struggling as a partnership though. (1-2-1)
source:  9 UP 1 Stoke: The Potters probably should have beaten Man City on Saturday, and that’s why they continue their climb up the rankings. Mark Hughes’ side are hard to beat, but they also seem to have extra creativity going forward. However, a tough trip to Arsenal is coming up. (2-1-1)
source:  10  DOWN 1 West Ham: Sam Allardyce’s men looked solid and nothing more against Southampton on Sunday. With Andy Carroll still out and Stewart Downing and Joe Cole missing, the Hammers are missing key attacking pieces but their defense is dragging them through. Steady. (1-1-2)
source:  11  UP 1 Southampton: They shaded West Ham for the majority of the 0-0 draw but the Saints have worryingly only scored four goals in their last nine league games. Going forward they ripped the Hammers apart but found Jussi Jaaskelainen in top form. Frustrating times. (1-1-2)
source:  12 DOWN 1 Norwich: The Canaries were dominated by Tottenham at White Hart Lane and the gulf in class was clear for all to see. Norwich aren’t too bad at the back, but despite all their spending on new strikers this summer, I still find it hard to see where the goals will come from. Home game with Villa up next. (1-2-1)

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13 UP 2 Newcastle: Great few weeks for Newcastle, as they recorded back-to-back wins thanks to a hard-fought win over Aston Villa at Villa Park. Alan Pardew has finally got his entire squad back fit and the Magpies shouldn’t be languishing towards the bottom of the table this season. (2-1-1)
source:  14 Fulham: The Cottagers should heave beaten West Brom at home on Saturday, but a stoppage-time equalizer will frustrate Martin Jol as his new signings are still jelling. Berbatov came close but with Chelsea this weekend, Fulham could be at the wrong end of the table when October rolls around. (1-2-1)
source:  15 DOWN 2
Aston Villa: That opening day win against Arsenal seems an age away, as Villa have now lost three-straight games. Paul Lambert’s men have gone down in tight games but small defensive errors continue to cost them. The trip to Norwich on Saturday is huge. (1-3-0)
source:  16 Cardiff: Not much separating Cardiff from the pack above them in mid-table, perhaps just that cutting-edge up front. The Bluebirds fought back well to grab a point at Hull and could’ve had all three if they had their shooting boots on. Five points from four games is great. (1-1-2)
source:  17 UP 1 Hull: Almost a mirror-image of Cardiff, as both sides looked solid in the 1-1 draw at the KC. Steve Bruce’s men also lack that dynamism up front, but in midfield Huddlestone and Livermore look like two fantastic buys for the Tigers. They face a tricky trip up the East Coast to Newcastle this week. (1-2-1)
source:  18 DOWN 1
West Brom: The Baggies keep battling and finally scored their first goal of the season in the final seconds to snatch a great last-gasp draw at Fulham. Could that be a turning point for the West Midlands side? Steve Clarke and his new signings will certainly hope so. (0-2-2)
source:  19
Crystal Palace: Ian Holloway’s side were hard done by against Man Utd, with a disputed penalty decision on the stroke of half time taking the game away from Palace. They defended well and had a few half chances, that should give them renewed impetus for the game against Swansea at Selhurst Park. (1-3-0)
source:  20 Sunderland: The Black Cats were dominated for the first half but after the break they gave Arsenal a scare. If Jozy Altidore’s strike would’ve stood, Sunderland could have grabbed a morale-boosting point… but they ended up losing 3-1 as Di Canio’s men struggle on. (0-3-1)

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
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This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide

French security chief: Strikes won’t threaten sports events

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28:Tens of thousands of the French workers protest as the Unions in France launch new strikes against the pension reform plan on October 28, 2010 in Marseille, France. This is the seventh day of protest for French workers angry at the Government's proposed pension reforms. Nicolas Sarkozy, however, has not wavered in his plans to increase the state pension age from 60 to 62 and last night the National Assembly passed the bill.  (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) France’s interior minister says violent labor protests and strikes causing gas shortages won’t jeopardize the upcoming European Championship or other sporting events.

[ MORE: 5 things for Mourinho at United ]

About 1,500 people have been detained in recent weeks and hundreds of police officers have been injured in breaking up protests and dislodging protesters from fuel depots.

The tensions have added to concern about security for Euro 2016, already facing what Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the “double threat” of violent Islamic extremism and hooliganism.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

Cazeneuve told reporters Wednesday that the government respects the right to strike and does not see the labor movement as a “threat.”

He said it won’t disrupt protection of the June 10-July 10 championship, involving an unprecedented 90,000 people ensuring security.