Premier League Power Rankings: Arsenal make title claim, Manchester clubs hit back – Week 10

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It was another weekend full of drama and passion across the PL, as the Gunners finally silenced plenty of doubters with their resounding win over Liverpool.

We have big wins for Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle, and the South Wales derby delivered a massive rivalry to the PL for the very first time.

The teams at the bottom are struggling, as Norwich City and West Ham join Fulham in getting dragged into the relegation battle. Can those sides climb back up the rankings this week? Who knows… that’s the beauty of it.

(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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Arsenal: A resounding win against Liverpool sees the Gunners good run continue. They were majestic at times at the Emirates as they proved to everyone they could turn it on when it matters. A massive trip to Manchester United awaits this weekend. The Gunners haven’t won at Old Trafford in PL since 2006… with Flamini and Wilshere doubtful I think that run will continue. (8-1-1)
source:  2 UP  1
Manchester City:The Citizens have had a great week as they pummeled Norwich 7-0 for their biggest ever PL win and then smashed five past CSKA Moscow to seal their first-ever trip to the Champions League knockout stages. Manuel Pellegrini’s men look fired up going forward, still a little suspect at the back. (6-1-3)
source:  3 DOWN 1
Chelsea:What is going on away from home? Jose Mourinho keeps shuffling his starting XI and against Newcastle they were bullied and out-worked by the home team. Juan Mata, David Luiz and Fernando Torres were woeful… is January the right time for a clean sweep of Chelsea’s squad? (6-2-2)
source:  4  UP 1 Tottenham: The whole head injury incident with Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris put a dampener on a well-earned point at Everton. But the lack of goals from AVB’s men really does concern me. When will we see the real Roberto Soldado? And can one of Tottenham’s midfielder stand up and make a play? (6-2-2)

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5 DOWN 1
Liverpool: The Reds came up short against Arsenal, massively so, and with Glen Johnson and others missing in defense they look weak at the back. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will only get you so far, they needed supply from midfield and that didn’t happen. Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva were over run in the middle. Not all doom and gloom, but a reality check. Very winnable game at home to Fulham this Saturday. (6-2-2)
source:  6 UP 2
Manchester United: Well, well, look who’s making a charge. A comfortable 3-1 win over Fulham thanks to a first half obliteration was enough to send United four games unbeaten in the league. A massive test of how far they’ve come under David Moyes awaits as Arsenal head to the Theater of Dreams. Can Rooney and RVP rip the Gunners apart? Expect plenty fireworks on Sunday. (5-2-3)
source:  7 UP 1 Everton: The Toffees ground out a good point at home to high-flying Spurs and could’ve grabbed all three points if their finishing would’ve been a little better. All round, a solid display that shows they can mix it with anyone on their day. Crystal Palace away this weekend… easy three points for Martinez’ men? (5-4-1)
source:  8 DOWN 2
Southampton: The Saints probably should have beaten Stoke on Saturday, but that bizarre goal from Asmir Begovic after 12 seconds definitely set them back. Their inability to finish off the teams around them is worrying me, but their unbeaten streak continues as Pochettino’s men have staying power. Another win could be on the cards as Hull City head to St. Mary’s. (5-4-1)
source:  9 UP 1
Hull City: Another week, another 1-0 win at home for the Tigers. They certainly aren’t pretty, but boy they get the job done. Steve Bruce’s side made Sunderland look better with 9-men than they were with 11 at times, but a scrappy own goal and another resolute defensive display sees Hull keep picking up points. (4-2-4)
source:  10 DOWN 1
Swansea City: Yeah, the Swans didn’t really turn up for the big South Wales derby against Cardiff did they? (Read my account of the day the derby arrived in the PL) That said, they looked dangerous in the first half and Michu spurned two great chances to put the visitors ahead. Cardiff wanted it more, and Michael Laudrup was upset after. A game at home to Stoke this weekend could see them out battled again. All is not well for the Swansea faithful right now. But things will work themselves out… right? (3-2-5)
source:  11 UP 3
Newcastle United: The Magpies pulled off a memorable win against Chelsea at a soaking St. James’ Park, it was a display full of guts, endeavor and clinical finishing. Loic Remy looks the real deal up front, and with players coming back from injury, Pardew’s men can be comfortable in mid-table this season. Spurs away on Sunday, see this as an upset? (4-2-4)
source:  12 UP 1 West Brom: The Baggies continue their climb up the table as they dispatched of Crystal Palace with relative ease despite a second half wobble. In windy conditions at the Hawthorns, both sides struggled to get the ball down but Saido Berahino scored a great goal off the bench as WBA had that extra cutting-edge. Chelsea away is tough this weekend. (3-4-3)

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13 DOWN 2 Aston Villa: A dour draw at Upton Park wasn’t pretty, but Villa will take it after another inspired display from Brad Guzan in goal. This young side is looking pretty resilient this season and the only worry is where the goals will come from. Cardiff at home will be a battling affair between two physical sides. (3-2-5)
source:  14 UP 2 Stoke City: Getting a freak goal go your way in the first minute of a game should see you build on it and grab a vital three points. Stoke failed to do that against Saints. The Potters don’t look dangerous going forward, maybe Juan Agudelo’s pace will liven things up when he arrives in January? They need it. Solid enough at the back, just goals an issue once again. (2-3-5)
source:  15 UP 4
Cardiff City: The Bluebirds deserved their win on Sunday in the South Wales derby, as the players really put in a display for Malky Mackay. With Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie they have real pace and can hurt teams on the break. Gary Medel is the man who holds it all together. The Wales side will fancy getting a win on the road at Villa. (3-3-4)
source:  16 DOWN 4
Norwich City:  Another week, another goalless game for the Canaries. They got absolutely battered by Man City right from the start, it could have been more than 7-0. Chris Hughton may start fearing for his job very soon if this trend continues. Can they stop the rot against West Ham in front of the NBC cameras this weekend? (2-2-6)
source:  17 DOWN 2
West Ham: Same story for West Ham as they can’t score for love nor money. Kevin Nolan and Matt Jarvis aren’t strikers and this system just isn’t working for Big Sam. They load the midfield and are hard to break down, but nobody is making runs forward. They need a win away at struggling Norwich. Big time. (2-4-4)
source:  18
Sunderland: You have to admire their bravery for fighting back with just 9-men against Hull for over 45 mins. But the Black Cats just keep shooting themselves in the foot and Gus Poyet must stop the indiscipline quickly. Man City at home doesn’t look promising on Sunday. (1-1-8)
source:  19 DOWN 2
Fulham: They were just awful against Manchester United in the first half, as the Cottagers terrible display from the game against Southampton carried over. What is wrong with Martin Jol’s men? Just when you think they’ve turned the corner, this happens. Dimitar Berbatov needs to lead this side, otherwise they’ll be in a relegation battle. Liverpool away this week… (3-1-6)
source:  20
Crystal Palace: The Eagles are hurting, the sooner they get a manager, the better. They are a working their backsides off for no reward. At least they’re at home this weekend against Everton, if they play like they did against Arsenal, then they could nick a point, maybe all three. (1-0-9)

How will Man United, Chelsea lineup?

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Manchester United and Chelsea square off at Old Trafford this Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both teams coming off tough tests against La Liga opponents in the UEFA Champions League last 16.

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass

Chelsea held Barcelona to a draw at home, while United went to Sevilla and shut up shop to grab a 0-0 draw. Both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte are masters of setting their teams up to defend resolutely, but we will see something a little different this weekend with just three points separating these teams in the Premier League table?

The onus will be on United to attack and put some more space between themselves in second place and Chelsea in fourth, while also seeing Mourinho’s side cement their spot in the top four as in-form Liverpool and Tottenham continue to rack up wins.

Make no mistake about it, Sunday’s game is a huge encounter and could well set the tone for how the final months of the season go for both United and Chelsea.

Below is a look at the projected lineups for both teams, with an explanation for the starting XIs.


Manchester United (4-3-3)

—– De Gea —-

— Valencia — Lindelof — Smalling — Young —

—– Matic —- McTominay —- Pogba —-

—– Sanchez —– Lukaku —- Martial —-

Explanation: With Ander Herrera limping off injured, it appears Mourinho’s stance over Paul Pogba is over and the Frenchman will come into a three-man midfield alongside Nemanja Matic and McTominay. The other option is to drop McTominay and play Pogba in a more advanced role in a 4-1-4-1 formation, but given Mourinho’s pragmatic approach and previous penchant for man-marking Eden Hazard, it feels like he may well stick with a 4-3-3. In defense, it will be intriguing to see if Luke Shaw comes back into the team after not traveling to Sevilla in midweek, while Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones being out limits Mourinho’s central defensive options. In attack Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku are automatic starters, while the third attacking slot is a straight fight between Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The latter has come up big for United in terms of goals scored this season, so I’d expect him to get the nod.


Chelsea

—– Courtois —–

—- Azpilicueta —- Christensen —- Rudiger —-

— Moses — Kante — Fabregas — Alonso —

—- Pedro —- Hazard —- Willian —-

Explanation: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That will be Conte’s motto (I’m sure it sounds much cooler in Italian) for this game after he praised Chelsea’s attacking unit and their overall display against Barcelona in midweek. They should have won by at least two goals as Willian was on fire and hit the post twice, while Eden Hazard and Pedro also caused havoc. You’d think Conte would like to have the goal-shy Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud (who is still returning to full fitness) available off the bench for Plan B, but the rest of this Chelsea team really picks itself. Gary Cahill may come in for Andreas Christensen in central defense after his costly error against Barcelona, but Conte was delighted with how the Danish center back despite his loose pace which led to Lionel Messi’s equalizer in midweek. The big question is around Hazard playing once again in the false nine and if Morata will start up top in place of Pedro to give Chelsea’s attack a more targetman to build from. Hazard in a false nine did not work well for Conte away at Arsenal in the League Cup semifinal second leg, but he appears to favor this formation right now with neither Morata or Giroud in the starting lineup.

Torres could be on his way out at Atletico Madrid

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MADRID (AP) It seems Fernando Torres‘ time as an Atletico Madrid player is coming to an end.

One of the club’s most beloved players, Torres has lost favor with one of his biggest allies at the club.

Coach Diego Simeone, a longtime supporter of the former Spain striker, says he will not go out of his way to try to keep Torres.

The surprise revelation left fans wondering about the future of Torres when his contract ends at the end of the season.

Torres hasn’t had a major role in his latest stint with the club but remains cherished by fans. He repeatedly declares his affection for the team he grew up cheering for and joined at 11, and publicly says he hopes to end his career with Atletico.

But Simeone on Wednesday gave a blunt “No” when asked if he would try to keep Torres as hard as he was trying to keep Antoine Griezmann.

“Being fair to myself, I obviously said `No,”‘ Simeone said. “I say ‘obviously’ because I think about the team. The question made to me clearly wasn’t about the team, and the difference is that I think about the team and about the club.”

Simeone’s reasoning is understandable. The 33-year-old Torres is noticeably past his prime. The 26-year-old Griezmann was named the third-best player in the world behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo only two years ago.

But Simeone’s response about Torres was still unexpected, and one he likely could have avoided if he wanted to. Simeone recently said if he was an Atletico fan he would do everything possible to support Griezmann and try to keep him at the club for as long as possible.

The France forward, who reportedly received offers from many other top European clubs, was jeered by Atletico fans after a slump earlier this season, and didn’t hide his dissatisfaction with the criticism.

Torres, meanwhile, has been on good terms with the fans despite not having helped much on the field in recent years.

He has five goals in 27 appearances this season. A year ago, he scored 10 from 45 appearances, and the season before he had 12 from 44 matches with Atletico.

Simeone boosted the team’s attack this season by adding Diego Costa and Vitolo, further reducing Torres’ role. Other forwards fighting for a start include Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa.

Torres thrived with Atletico from 2001-07, was prolific for Liverpool, and at Chelsea he won a Champions League and Europa League. After a brief stint with AC Milan, he returned to Atletico in 2015.

Capped 110 times for Spain, he’s won one World Cup and two European Championships, enough to leave his mark in history.

His past with Atletico also won’t be forgotten no matter what, but his future with the beloved Madrid club remains highly unclear.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.