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)

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.