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

2 Comments

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

source:

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)

source:

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)

source:

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)

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

Getty Images
3 Comments

Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”