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)

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.