Premier League Power Rankings: Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea battle it out – Round 20-21

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Two match days into 2014, the Premier League is heating up at both ends of the table.

With just two points separating the top three, and the same margin separating the bottom five, there’s is everything to play for as we head into the business end of the season.

Manchester United’s woes continues, but Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea all keep slugging it out at the top. Down the bottom West ham and Sunderland are surging, as West brom, Cardiff and Crystal Palace slide towards the bottom. Let’s see how all the shakes out PST’s latest Power Rankings.

(MORE: Premier League Power Rankings archive)

By now you should know the drill. 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.

Let’s get to it!

RANKING
Up/Down

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1
Arsenal: The Gunners keep rolling, after two straight wins to ring in the New Year. Beating a stubborn Cardiff side at home then grinding out a win at Villa shows Wenger’s men are made of stern stuff. Theo Walcott’s injury is a big blow though. They should roll Fulham over this weekend but Man City is lurking. (15-3-3)
source:  2
Manchester City:  What a terrific spell it has been for the Citizens, as they’ve won 9 of their last 10. Dzeko and Negredo have been banging in the goals, plus Aguero is now back. Right now, nobody can stop City. Should be another big win vs. Cardiff in Round 22. (15-2-4)
source:  3
Chelsea: Jose Mourinho’s machine is ominously clicking into place at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea have yet to concede in 2014 and have won four of their last five. They’ve added Nemanja Matic from Benfica and have a MASSIVE game at home to Man United coming up. Will Mourinho pile more misery on Moyes? (14-4-3)
source:  4 UP 1
Liverpool:  The Reds have regained their best form, and now S.A.S. has been reunited with Suarez and Sturridge tearing Stoke apart last time out. Can Rodgers’ men kick on and chase down the leading pack? They’re only 6 points off top spot and face Villa at home this weekend. (13-3-5)

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5 DOWN 1
Everton: A last-gasp draw at Stoke and a win over Norwich saw the Toffees good form continue. Roberto Martinez’ side have added Aiden McGeady in the window, and a few more additions would be key if they’re going to make the top four. Tricky trip away to WBA this week. (11-8-2)
source:  6
Tottenham: Tim Sherwood’s reign at Tottenham has began superbly in the league as Spurs are unbeaten and four wins from their last five sees them two points off the top four. Losing Defoe to Toronto is a blow, and perhaps Sherwood will bring in a replacement? (12-4-5)
source:  7 Manchester United: A 2-0 win against Swansea last-time out put paper over the cracks. All is not well at United. Moyes’ men have a huge task ahead of them if they’re going to get into the top four, having Rooney and RVP back fit will help them out massively. They play Chelsea away next, which is hardly what they needed (11-4-6)
source:  8 UP 1
Southampton: Saints have recovered from their wobble nicely and sit on 30 points and in ninth place after beating West Brom. But off the pitch all hell has broken loose at St. Mary’s as Chairman Nicola Cortese has resigned and Mauricio Pochettino’s future is in doubt. Suddenly, the Saints may not be marching up the table. (8-6-7)
source:  9 DOWN 1
Newcastle: A tough little spell for the Magpies, as defeats to Arsenal, Man City and West Brom has sent Alan Pardew’s side back down to earth with a bang. They’ve been unlucky though, with bad decisions going against them against City. Will they bounce back vs. West Ham? (10-3-8)
source:  10 Swansea City: The Swans aren’t performing anywhere near the level they can, and Michael Laudrup has to be worried. Narrow defeats to both Manchester clubs shows they aren’t a million miles away, but they keep faltering when you expect them to kick on. (5-6-10)
source:  11
Hull City: An up and down start to 2014 for the Tigers, as they were dispatched 2-0 by Liverpool and Chelsea but put up a tremendous fight in both games. Solid yet unspectacular… you know what you get with Hull. Adding Nikica Jelavic and possibly Shane Long shows their intent. (6-5-10)
source:  12 Norwich City: The Canaries are struggling to score goals and losing to Everton and drawing away at Palace isn’t exactly a stellar start to the New Year. Chris Hughton’s under pressure at Carrow Road, a huge home game vs. Hull is coming up. (6-5-10)

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13 Aston Villa: Villa ground out a big win away at Sunderland on New Year’s Day but were second best against Arsenal at home, despite a spirited second half comeback. Paul Lambert has steadied the ship, and the Villans should be okay this year. (6-5-10)
source:  14 UP 3
Sunderland: What a few weeks it’s been for the Black Cats who went down narrowly to Villa but beat Man United in the League Cup semifinal and then hammered Fulham 4-1. Can Poyet’s men continue to drag themselves up the table when they face Southampton at the Stadium of Light? (4-5-12)
source:  15
Stoke City: The Potters were outclassed by Liverpool in an entertaining 5-3 defeat, but they should have beaten Everton after giving up a late goal. Mark Hughes has added some key players in January, and I expect Stoke to be just fine despite only being four points above the drop. (5-7-9)
source:  16 UP 3
West Ham: Those ‘Happy Hammers’ finally had something to smile about last weekend, as they won for the first time in 9 in a crucial six-pointer away at Cardiff. Andy Carroll is back fit and some more reinforcements are on the way. Huge home game vs. Newcastle this weekend. (4-6-11)
source:  17 DOWN 3
Crystal Palace: The Eagles’ have had their wings clipped a bit, as they lost to Spurs and drew with Norwich. Arguably they could’ve won both games but big mistakes cost them dear. Can Tony Pulis wheel and deal in the transfer market to boost Palace’s survival hopes? (5-2-14)
source:  18
Cardiff City: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer didn’t enjoy the best of Premier League debuts for Cardiff, as a defeat to West Ham leaves the Bluebirds in the relegation zone. But the new Norwegian boss won’t be panicking as there’s still a long way to go. Man City away next for the Manchester United legend… (4-6-11)
source:  19 DOWN 3
West Brom: Pepe Mel has taken over at the Hawthorns, as the former Real Betis boss has a big job on his hands to steer the Baggies to safety. West Brom were woeful against Southampton, and with Shane Long heading to Hull who will get their goals? A big window and few weeks ahead, Everton up next at home. (4-9-8)
source:  20
Fuham: The Cottagers were pummeled 4-1 by Sunderland, and there’s a massive job to do at Craven Cottage for Rene Muelensteen. Arsenal away will probably not yield any points, and Fulham are trying to bring in plenty of fresh faces alongside Clint Dempsey in the transfer window. If they’re going to survive, they’ll need to spend some cash. (6-1-14)

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.