Premier League Power Rankings: Chelsea impress, Liverpool the real deal – Week 9

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After week 9, there’s been plenty of movement at the bottom of ProSoccerTalk’s rankings, but towards the top most of the heavyweights are looking steady and assured.

Big wins for Arsenal and Chelsea have consolidated their title aspirations, as the latter shrugged off a well-drilled Manchester City outfit to seal a vital three points late on at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United grabbed a comeback win, but put in yet another shaky display and Liverpool’s iimpressive strike  partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge did the business once again.

(MORE: Premier League Power Rankings archive)

By now you should know the drill. Every Wednesday we put our neck on the line to analyze the strength of each Premier League team, forget about the official league standings (here they are in case you actually do want them) 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-D-L 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.

RANKING

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1
Arsenal: Not the most vintage display form the Gunners, but they gutted out a victory against newly promoted Palace thanks to a PK and a late goal from Giroud. They struggled to get their passing game going, but wins like this when you don’t play well are exactly what the doctor ordered. Massive test vs. Liverpool this week. (7-1-1)
source:  2
Chelsea: The Blues went toe-to-toe with Man City on Sunday in a real cracker, as Fernando Torres proved to be the difference maker following Joe Hart’s late mistake. Chelsea dominated early on, but a second half relapse affected them badly. That said, their squad depth is superb and in October it was six wins from six in all comps. for Jose Mourinho’s men. (6-2-1)
source:  3
Manchester City: What looked like being a thoroughly deserved point away at Chelsea turned into a defeat in the blink of an eye. Manuel Pellegrini won’t be happy with that, but his side played well and are still looking like Chelsea’s biggest title rivals at the moment. Aguero is razor sharp and should tear Norwich to pieces this weekend at the Etihad. (5-1-3)
source:  4 UP 2 Liverpool: The Reds looked tremendous going forward and with Suarez and Sturridge on top form in the 4-1 win vs. West Brom, goals are flowing and life is good at Anfield. If they beat Arsenal this Saturday they go top of the PL… the showdown at the Emirates will be a true indicator as to how good Brendan Rodgers’ side are. (6-2-1)

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5 DOWN 1
Tottenham: Another 1-0 win for Spurs, another PK winner for Roberto Soldado and all is well at White Hart Lane… except it’s not. Manager AVB called out Tottenham fans for “negativity” following the victory, and the defensive style is vastly different than previous years. But Spurs keep winning and keeping clean sheets. (6-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 1
Southampton: I was at St. Mary’s to see the Saints completely dismantle Fulham in the first half. They went in 2-0 up but it could have been five or six. An exciting core of young players, a manager who’s style is getting results, how far can they go? Apparently, “the sky is the limit”…  that’s what Argentine boss Mauricio Pochettino told me afterwards. (5-3-1)
source:  7 Manchester United: David Moyes’ men got a win, but only just. They had to rally from 1-0 down, and 2-1 down against Stoke to grab a victory at Old Trafford as their defensive struggles continue and the Red Devils look sluggish and uneasy across the pitch. At least they’re slowly climbing up the table. (4-2-3)
source:  8
Everton: The Toffees are absolutely flying, but had USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard to thank (and his beard) for a massive PK save at the weekend, that set up Lukaku and co. to beat Villa. Suave, solid and pacey, this Everton side will get better and better. (5-3-1)
source:  9
Swansea: A disappointing draw at home vs. West Ham for Swansea came off the back of Europa League action at the Liberty. Michael Laudrup’s men can’t get the balance right between midweek soccer and the rigors of PL, but it’s a good problem to have. Once Michu and Bony get going as a partNErship, everything will be alright. Huge, huge derby game vs. Cardiff on Sunday, anything but a win will be frowned upon. (3-2-4)
source:  10 UP 1
Hull City: Yes they lost at Spurs, but they had four starters missing and still put in a sterling display at White Hart Lane. The Tigers could have easily grabbed a point, and a shocking PK decision against them cost Steve Bruce’s side a point. I’ll say it again, they should be just fine this season. (3-2-4)
source:  11 DOWN 1
Aston Villa: I really can’t work out what Villa are all about this season. One minute they beat Man City, Arsenal and Norwich away… then they get obliterated by Everton. Benteke needed that early goal from the spot, a big miss from him, but the Villans should pull further up the table in due course. Winnable game away at West Ham this weekend. (3-1-5)
source:  12 Norwich City: The Canaries worry me. They outplayed Cardiff and just couldn’t score to save their life in the 0-0 draw. Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel have done the business in European competitions, but they’ve come from weaker leagues in Scotland and Portugal and may find it hard to adjust to the PL. Is a relegation battle on? (2-2-5)

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13 West Brom: The Baggies were unfortunate, because they came up against Suarez and Sturridge in top form. James Morrison’s PK gave them some hope of a comeback, but there was no repeat of their Anfield heroics of the last few years. Will be hoping to beat a beleaguered  Palace side at home this week. (2-4-3)
source:  14 Newcastle: Alan Pardew’s side got off to a slow start, but then got better as their North East derby with Sunderland went on. A late stunner from Fabio Borini won it for the Mackems, but Newcastle with huge defensive worries at least put in a shift and probably should have grabbed a point. Tough match at home to Chelsea this week could pile the pressure on for Pardew. (3-2-4)
source:  15 UP 1
West Ham: The Hammers just can’t score but at least they’re great at the back. Like Norwich their strikers aren’t firing, but Big Sam hasn’t really got any fit. Kevin Nolan needs to be pushed further forward to try and grab a few goals. Home game against Villa on Saturday is massive. (2-3-4)
source:  16 UP 1
Stoke City: A spirited yet unsuccessful display at United perhaps deserved a point. The Potters were surprisingly undone by aerial balls into the box, which is usually their forte. Peter Crouch back amongst the goals will please Mark Hughes, but losing against his old side United won’t. In-form Southampton visit the Britannia Stadium this week, another one of ‘Sparky’s’ old clubs. (2-2-5)
source:  17 DOWN 2
Fulham: One of the worst displays I’ve seen from Fulham in recent history in their loss to Southampton, and Martin Jol admitted afterwards that “we could’ve been hammered today.” You have to applaud the Dutch managers honesty… but when will new owner Shadid Khan start demanding more from a talented bunch of players? At home vs. Manchester United this weekend… (3-1-5)
source:  18 UP 2
Sunderland: Sheer relief for Black Cats fans, as the first win of the season arrived. Sunderland are off the bottom, Gus Poyet’s men won a massive derby game at the death and hope has returned to the Stadium of Light. Can the Uruguayan boss lead his side up the table as they close the gap quickly? A trip down the East coast to Hull could be fruitful this week. (1-1-7)
source:  19 DOWN 1
Cardiff: The Bluebirds have nothing going on up front, and they battled for a point without many style points against Norwich. This Sunday’s South Wales derby against Swansea is huge, a bad loss may see a knee-jerk reaction from controversial owner Vincent Tan. That would be a big mistake. Work to do for Cardiff. (2-3-4)
source:  20 DOWN 1
Crystal Palace: They battled and matched Arsenal for 45 minutes, then a moment of madness from Adlène Guedioura just after the half changed the game. 1-0 down against Arsenal isn’t easy, but Palace rallied before succumbing losing to a late sucker punch. A new manager is desperately needed if they’re going to drag themselves off the bottom. West Brom away this weekend. (1-0-8)

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.