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.
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Nicolas Loderio is getting set to play in the MLS Cup finals, something that only came to pass with a team visit to the United States, and the assistance of Luis Suarez.
According to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, he spoke with Lodeiro often in his attempts to bring the 27-year-old from Boca Juniors to Major League Soccer. The moment that swayed him was a trip to the US. A business trip.
With Uruguay competing in the Copa America Centenario, it allowed the two to speak more frequently, but when the Uruguayan became frustrated with his own handle of the native language, a friend stepped in to help. He asked national teammate Suarez to help translate, and thus the transfer came to pass.
“You don’t have body language, it’s harder than it is straight to the face and so he just got frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything that I’m saying,” Lagerwey told MLSSoccer.com’s radio show. “And so he says, ‘Hold on, speak to my friend,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I have no idea what’s happening. And Luis Suarez gets on and says, ‘Hi, this is Luis Suarez, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Morning, Mr. Suarez, how are you?’ And he was our translator.”
Lodiero has been a revelation for the Sounders since joining in the summer. A creative force all season, the Uruguayan has scored four goals in five playoff matches, bursting onto the national scene on the biggest stage.
“It was just funny. Nico and I, we talked fairly regularly during the process, in part because it took four months for the thing to play out,” “And he was in the US for the Copa America with Uruguay, obviously, and in hindsight that ended up being a big deciding factor for him, because he brought his wife and his little son and they got to see America and I think liked it and developed a comfort level with it. And I think that’s what ultimately pushed them to make the leap, but I was talking and Nico’s English is actually pretty, pretty good, but he isn’t always so comfortable on the phone.”
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.
When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.
Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.
On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”
Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.
A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.
Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.
Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.
At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.
But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.
Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.
“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.
Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.
“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”
Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.
After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.
If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.
Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested
This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?
Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.
The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.
1. Moving day for Chelsea
Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com
Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.
2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?
Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com
The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.
Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.
For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.
However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.
4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity
Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com
Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.
Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.
5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch
Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com
The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?
Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.
Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.
During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.
This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.
Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.