By now you should know the drill, as 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.
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.
Arsenal: The Gunners just keep getting better, and Mesut Ozil looks like more of a bargain each and every week. A spirited 2-1 win at Swansea sees them top of the table at top of our standings. When will they lose? (4-1-1)
Chelsea: I saw the Blues live on Saturday, they weren’t at the races in the first half vs. Spurs, but should’ve been out of sight in the second. Fernando Torres’ red card swung the game away from them, but he was superb, so was Mata. Mourinho’s men starting to click… (3-1-2)
Tottenham:Have to say, I wasn’t sure if Spurs were going to be able to hang with the big boys this season. I think they will prove me wrong. Against Chelsea they were unlucky to not be winning 2-0 or 3-0 at HT, they’re just missing a clinical goalscorer to round things off. (4-1-1)
Manchester City:What is going on away from home? Pellegrini’s side have yet to taste victory away from the Etihad, with two defeats and a draw after their second half collapse vs. Villa. Tough game at home to Everton this week. Defensive solidity needed. (3-2-1)
Liverpool: Another great win for the Reds and Luis Suarez is back, scoring twice on his PL return. If they can keep him and Sturridge fit, they could be the best partnership in the PL. They should beat Palace at home, right? (4-1-1)
Everton:The Toffees are the only unbeaten team in the Premier League, and they hammered Newcastle in the first half on Monday, 3-0 up at HT. They hung on to win, just, but that’s what you get with Roberto Martinez in charge. Lukaku is a beast. (3-0-3)
Manchester United: The Red Devils are sliding, fast. An embarrassing home defeat to West Brom shows just how frail David Moyes’ team are, and things may get worse. Moyes needs to buy big in January as his side sit 12th and face Sunderland away on Saturday. (2-3-1)
Southampton: The Saints go marching up the rankings, as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to make it two wins in a row, three unbeaten, and have four clean sheets from six games so far. Swansea at home on Sunday will be a big test. (3-1-2)
Swansea: They battled hard against Arsenal, but were just too sloppy at the back and let the Gunners score to easily. The rigors of Europa League action are starting to show in their squad. Can Laudrup hold things together? (2-3-1)
Aston Villa: The Villans are gradually finding their feet again, with two wins in two catapulting them up the table and that massive comeback win over Man City will give them plenty of confidence. Can they beat Hull and make it three from three? (3-3-0)
Hull City:Like Villa, many people weren’t expecting Hull to be on a potential three-game winning spree. But they are. A solid win at home to West Ham last week sees the Tigers comfortably in the top half of the table. By far the best of the promoted teams. (3-2-1)
Norwich City:The Canaries went to Stoke City and won… not many teams do that. And all credit to Chris Hughton’s men for bouncing back after their home defeat to Villa. They have Chelsea on Sunday so will have to crank it up a few notches. (2-3-0)
West Brom: The Baggies pulled off the shock of the weekend as they beat United at Old Trafford, two wins in two have brought a sigh of relief around the Hawthorns. Young Englishman Berainho looks a real player. Arsenal at home on Sunday. (2-2-2)
Stoke City:The Potters are crumbling after their good early start, with Mark Hughes’ men struggling to create anything against Norwich. A trip to play struggling Fulham is going to be a massive encounter. Can they bag an away win? (2-3-1)
West Ham:Down the Hammers go, after yet another scoreless display away at Hull. In fairness, they probably should have nicked a point at the KC Stadium but they’re missing Andy Carroll massively. No plan B for Sam Allardyce spells trouble. A London Derby at Spurs will yield 0 points. (1-3-2)
Cardiff:A great win away at Fulham for the Bluebirds, but boy, they left it late. Craig Mutch’s wondergoal gave them a great three points and they host Newcastle on Saturday in a very winnable game. Malkay Mackay’s boys looking good. (2-2-2)
Newcastle:The Magpies defense really let them down on Monday against Everton, but their potent offense nearly grabbed them a point. You have to love Newcastle’s spirit late in games, but they are digging holes for themselves in nearly every game. (2-3-1)
Fulham:How much more can Cottagers fans take? Bad, bad loss to Cardiff. Many believe if they don’t beat Stoke this weekend then Martin Jol will be fired. Too early? Not really. They labored through the second half of last season and haven’t gelled this year. Tough times ahead. (1-3-1)
Crystal Palace: The effort is always there from Palace… but they lack real quality up front. Southampton easily beat them on Saturday, and now the Eagles face a daunting trip to Anfield to face Liverpool. What can Ian Holloway do? (1-5-0)
Sunderland: Another week, another defeat for Sunderland. The Black Cats are still in search of a new manager, and it’s hard to see who would want this job. They worked hard against Liverpool, but that’s not goo enough. Next up… Manchester United. (0-5-1)
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The case stems from a complaint by Brazilian investment group DIS, which owned part of Neymar’s transfer rights and alleges that it received less money than it was entitled to when Neymar made the switch.
“Last Thursday in practice, I was welling up to see the guys in Atlanta training tops with Tata coaching them,” Eales told PST earlier this month. “I’ve had over two years without any games. I hadn’t experienced the highs and lows of why we’re all in this game. Come the fifth of March, it’s going to be a quite an emotional time.”
Not just for Eales, but for an Atlanta market which has proven quite rabid for the sport. United has sold almost 30,000 season tickets, a record for an expansion team.
The excitement isn’t simply a matter of a shiny new toy for sports fans in Georgia. Eales, along with technical director Carlos Bocanegra and manager Tata Martino, have constructed what, at least on paper, could be a monster.
There’s the Designated Player trio of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba, young guys Miles Robinson and Andrew Carleton, MLS mainstays Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears, and Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona.
None of those assets were there when Eales, 44, bought into owner Arthur Blank’s vision in September 2014. And that’s what gave the gig its allure.
“You talk about soccer being a global game, and it’s very rare you get a chance to start a whole new club from scratch,” Eales said. “To do it with an owner like Arthur Blank who is committed to the City of Atlanta, committed to the community, and committed to a winning team just made it an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Eales wasn’t a stranger to America, a former Ivy League Player of the Year from his playing days at Brown University. He later went home to England where he became a director at West Bromwich Albion en route to his executive job at White Hart Lane.
So, yes, the acumen is there. And Eales’ admiration for MLS is a lot higher than many American critics suspect.
“I dealt with MLS from the other side of the fence with Robbie Keane to LA, Jermain Defoe to Toronto, and Clint Dempsey to Seattle,” Eales said. “Fresh perspective when you come from the outside, you look at how teams have built their teams and you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
“The one thing I was clear on from the start, was I felt MLS, globally outside of America, it almost gets more respect from other countries than it does in America. I’ve seen that with players like Simon Dawkins. When I was at Tottenham, we loaned him to San Jose, he developed as a player and we were able to sell him off to Derby. It’s a global league, the standard of football is getting better all the time. I really felt the time was right where you could try to get players in their prime and sell it to them as career development, not a dead end.”
Blank contacted Eales, and convinced him that Atlanta United wasn’t a vanity play. The soccer team wasn’t going to be the Atlanta Falcons’ “little brother”, but a major part of the community.
“Building a roster, putting in the academy, building a training ground, an affiliation with the Charleston Battery, all of these things can’t happen overnight,” Eales said. “There’s been a lot of thoughts and strategy that’s gone into building the roster.”
Not to mention time zones, travel, surfaces, calendar, salary cap, the popularity of other leagues… Eales wanted to find a technical director with both positive vision and MLS wisdom. Enter Carlos Bocanegra, the USMNT captain who had started and finished his playing career in MLS before performing well overseas with Fulham, Rangers, and Rennes.
“What I didn’t want to do was come in from the Premier League and say, ‘Everything European is the way we should do it and Americans don’t know anything about soccer.’ Clearly that’s not the case and I knew that.”
Eales said Bocanegra is a good friend in addition to the perfect man for the job. He added that both men didn’t take long to embrace the city, and that the Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl didn’t hurt sports fever in the Peach State.
Now Georgia will turn its attention to the red and black of Atlanta United, a team brimming with talent and experience. One of the early bets for Eales and Bocanegra was that it wouldn’t be about older big names. When asked about the successes of Sebastian Giovinco at Toronto and Nicolas Lodeiro in Seattle, Eales almost bristles at the thought that the moves inspired him. Young and fast was already entrenched in his model.
“It’s been a long time planning,” Eales said. “We were already going down this model. Lodeiro has been fantastic in Seattle and Giovinco is by far and away the best player in the league. He was that first one where someone was taken not over 30 and it showed, despite what the Italian national team manager said at the time, you could come here, play your game and get your career back on track.
“We felt we could go even further was to get those younger players. We’ve got Miguel at 22, Hector at 22, and Josef at 23. You’ll see increasingly now it will be a chance for us as a whole league to bring in top players and get bigger and better, year on year.”
While Eales has not had the fun of match day and won’t really have that experience until March 5’s visit from the Red Bulls, he’s had fun keeping an eye on his last two Premier League clubs and their top half success.
“I have to laugh because I still talk to a lot of my colleagues back at Tottenham and when they say ‘We’re doing well since you left’ I tell them it’s all about building the foundation,” Eales said.
“Chelsea have had a great season but Tottenham with the young squad they’ve got and the manager they’ve got in Mauricio Pochettino, they are going to be titlists in the near future. And West Brom, I love West Brom. It’s a great family club and it’s really exciting to see them solid in the top half of the table. It’s a testament to the guys, Tony Pulis and the team, how they built with a plan year on year to become a solid Premier League club. They have a strategy and they stuck to it.”
So, too, does Eales and United. The roster he’s assembled and his legendary manager combine to give the look of an instant playoff contender.
Yet Eales, like MLS, is going to have to see it. The difference is that United’s president already believes it. Bring on the chills.
“As a spectator it’s so nice to see them. I’m really impressed how good they are.
“Their fullbacks play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders. Their strikers are fighters, Falcao, Germain, they are killers in the box. Both holding midfielders are intelligent, physical, strong. They arrive to the box.
“A complete team. The most successful team in Europe in terms of scoring goals. It’s a tough draw.”
Center back Vincent Kompany is out for the home tie vs. Monaco, and Guardiola has not decided who will start between the sticks.