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)

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

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Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.