Chelsea

Premier League Power Rankings: Chelsea the new favorites? – Round 22

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It’s tight at the top, very tight.

For the first-time in ProSoccerTalk’s PL Power Rankings, we have a three-way tie for top spot as Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea cannot be separated.

Some massive clashes are coming up between those three down the stretch, as they all have vastly different strengths that can see them lift the crown.

While at the bottom an almighty battle is playing out, as the strugglers scrap it out to stay above the bottom three.

(MORE: Premier League Power Rankings archive)

Each week 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: A solid yet unspectacular 2-0 home win over Fulham proved Wenger’s men have got exactly what it takes to grind out wins. Cazorla is back on form, which is great news. Some tough fixtures coming up in February could knock the Gunners off top spot. Southampton away up next. (16-3-3)
source:  UP 1
Manchester City: Nothing to choose between City and Arsenal. The Citizens kept up their average of scoring four goals at home with a 4-2 win over Cardiff, and with Aguero back fully-fit we may see even more goals from Pellegrini’s men. Spurs away next will be a great test of their title credentials. (16-2-4)
source:  UP 2
Chelsea: The Blues’ 3-1 win over Man United was all about Eto’o’s opportunism and solid defending. You get the feeling Mourinho’s side are nowhere near the finished product, but they are still picking up huge wins. Along with Arsenal and City, one of these three will win the PL. Home game vs. West Ham next. (15-4-3)
source:  4 UP 2
Tottenham: Just like that, Spurs are back in the Champions League race. Tim Sherwood has kept it simple since stepping in and goals have come back to White Hart Lane. Adebayor has been in inspired form, and if that continues Tottenham will make the top 4. (12-4-5)

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5
Everton: The Toffees slipped up away at West Brom and looked a little out of sorts. A few injuries has seen Everton’s squad look a little thin, some business needs to be done in January if their top 4 hopes are to stay alive. Big Merseyside derby coming up. (11-9-2)
source:  6 DOWN 2
Liverpool: Speaking of the derby, Liverpool host Everton with a massive three points on the line. The Reds looked very frail at the back against Aston Villa last time out, and Brendan Rodgers needs to get his back 4 and GK settled for the run-in. Juicy tie at Anfield next Tuesday. (13-4-5)
source:  7 UP 2 Newcastle: The Magpies are looking extremely strong as injuries have been kind to Alan Pardew’s men this season. Yohan Cabaye has added goals to his game and bagged 2 in a great away win at West Ham. Can the Geordies really break into the top four? Trip to Norwich next. (11-3-8)
source:  8 DOWN 1
Manchester United: When it rains, it pours for United right now. Against Chelsea they played well in the first half… but were 2-0 down at the break. Moyes looked to have sealed a deal for Juan Mata and that will bring some respite as the Red Devils try to make the top four. Cardiff at home this week, will their old boy Ole come back to haunt them? (11-4-7)
source:  9 DOWN 1
Southampton: All the turmoil at Saints seems to have calmed down, for now. Pochettino’s side put in a tremendous 1st half display at Sunderland but somehow blew a 2-0 lead. No players being sold bodes well but Osvaldo’s training ground bust-up could see his days in England over. Saints host Arsenal next. (8-7-7)
source:  10 UP 4 Sunderland: Get a tissue, Sunderland are about to get a nosebleed. The Mackems have not been this high up the rankings, but with a resurgence in both the PL and the League Cup, the Black Cats are good value for this massive jump. Poyet’s men have added fighting spirit and their attacking talents are doing the business. HUGE home game vs. Stoke coming up. (4-6-12)
source:  11
Aston Villa: Paul Lambert’s side blew a 2-0 lead at Anfield last time out, and despite that the Villans are looking pretty good. Benteke looks back in-form up front and they could cause plenty of upsets. Midlands derby against West Brom at Villa Park should get the home crowd roaring. (6-6-10)
source:  12 Norwich City: The Canaries are getting back to their best, grinding out 1-0 wins. It was a massive win for them against Hull last weekend and Chris Hughton’s side have given themselves some breathing space from the relegation zone. Newcastle at home next. (7-5-10)

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13
Hull City: Fans of Hull are starting to get a little worried, as their sides slide towards the drop zone continues. Signing Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic in the window gives them extra firepower but Steve Bruce’s men need to use it. And quick. The Tigers should be okay, but every year one teams gets in trouble after a promising start. Could that be Hull? Big trip to Palace on Tuesday. (6-5-11)
 source:  14 DOWN 4 Swansea City: What’s going on with the Swans? Their winless streak continues after Spurs hammered them at the Liberty and a training ground bust-up proves tension is high in South Wales. Laudrup’s men host Fulham in a game that simply must win. (5-6-11)
source:  15
Stoke City: Like Hull and Swansea, Stoke possess some top players. But they aren’t quite performing with four defeats in their last five. That’s dangerous as the Potters can’t afford to not be firing on all cylinders. Mark Hughes’ men have a tough trip to Sunderland coming up. (5-7-10)
source:  16 UP 1
Crystal Palace: The Eagles are soaring at home and sealed yet another shutout win at Selhurst in true Tony Pulis fashion. Jason Puncheon sealed a 1-0 win over Stoke, as his side have a real chance of survival. Palace are a tough team to play and they will make life incredibly difficult for Hull at home next week. (6-2-14)
source:  17 DOWN 1
West Ham: The Hammers continue to struggle and were outclassed by Newcastle at home last weekend. Sam Allardyce is desperate for reinforcements and needs more firepower. The final week of the window will make or break West Ham’s survival hopes. Chelsea away on Wednesday will probably yield 0 points. (4-6-12)
source:  18
Cardiff City: The Bluebirds continue to bring in young Scandinavians to the club but Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is taking a massive gamble as the Bluebirds are entrenched in a relegation battle. A brave defeat away at City last week showed they are a good outfit. Can they beat Man United on Tuesday? (4-6-12)
source:  19
West Brom: Still just the one win in 10 games for the Baggies, as new manager Pepe Mel tries to stop this ship from sinking. He got a great point in his first game vs. Everton but Anelka’s possible suspension could hit WBA hard. Huge Midlands derby against Villa this week. (4-10-8)
source:  20
Fuham: The Cottagers are often their own worst enemies but against Arsenal last time they were resolute and could’ve nicked a point. But a lack of offensive output was their downfall in an all to familiar story. Can they beat Swansea away from home and move clear of the relegation zone? (6-1-15)

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

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

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

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

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

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

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

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

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET