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

source:

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)

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”