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)

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.