Premier League Power Rankings – We have a new team at the top… Round 23-24

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After two matchdays in quick succession across the Premier League, it’s been a hectic last week in England’s top-flight, as top teams have tumbled, managers have been sacked and the relegation battled has got even tighter.

That can only mean one thing: it is time for your new PL Power Rankings.

We have a new leader at the top of the standings, as Chelsea go out on their own after becoming the first team to beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. While last weeks joint-leader Arsenal and Man City fall down to second and third respectively.

There’s plenty of fluctuation in our rankings this week, as the games come thick and fast in the PL.

(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 UP 2
Chelsea: We have a new leader! As Jose Mourinho’s tactical masterclass saw Chelsea become the first team to win at Man City this season. Okay, a disappointing home draw to West Ham happened before that, but when teams park the bus, that will happen. City were torn apart by Chelsea, who looked solid as a rock. Ominous form from the Blues, up next: Newcastle. (16-5-3)
source:  2 DOWN 1
Arsenal: The Gunners keep on rolling, after a 2-2 draw away at Southampton, then they beat Palace 2-0. Top by two points ahead of Chelsea and Man City, Arsene Wenger’s side won’t give up top spot without a fight. However the lack of a top striker arriving in January may seem them relinquish their spot at the summit. Tough trip to Liverpool this week. (17-4-3)
source:  3 DOWN 2
Manchester City: City didn’t turn up against Chelsea in their 1-0 home defeat, with Fernandinho a big loss. No need to panic for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, but they do need to kick on now and prove that was a blip. Norwich away should yield three points this weekend. (17-2-5)
source:  4 UP 2
Liverpool: It was almost a perfect week for the Reds, but then Kolo Toure played a silly pass across the box to drop two points vs. West Brom. Following their emphatic 4-0 derby win over Everton last Tuesday, Brendan Rodgers’ side looked jaded against WBA. Can’t afford that this weekend, as Arsenal head to Anfield. (14-5-5)

source:

5
Everton: We spoke about their drubbing at Anfield, but Robert Martinez’ team responded by beating Aston Villa 2-1 at Goodison Park. Look, the Toffees should be in a rebuilding year but are still challenging for a Champions League spot. Magnificent effort. Huge game at Spurs this Sunday. (12-9-3)
source:  6 DOWN 2
Tottenham: And Spurs are up next, as they fall in our rankings after a 5-1 loss to Man City when their defense capitulated and they then battled to a 1-1 draw away at Hull. Sherwood’s side will be okay and should finish in the top six, but is that top 4 dream fading away? (13-5-6)
source:  7 UP 2 Southampton: A very decent run of results from the Saints has seen their bright start revitalized. Four games unbeaten now, with a 2-2 draw with Arsenal followed up by a smashing 3-0 win away at Fulham. Saints should have beaten the Gunners and the likes of Lallana and Rodriguez are flying. Stoke at home next. (9-8-7)
source:  8
Manchester United: Just when things look to be going right for United, they falter. On Saturday the lost away to Stoke City 2-1 in their eighth loss of the PL season. Manager David Moyes tried to put a positive spin on things, as even the returning RVP and Rooney, plus Mata’s arrival has failed to wake United up from their nightmare. Fulham at home next, must be a big win. (12-4-8)
source:  9 UP 1
Sunderland: Ha’way the lads! I was at St. James’ Park on Saturday as the Mackems destroyed North East rivals Newcastle 3-0. That followed their dogged 1-0 midweek win over Stoke and now Gus Poyet’s men are rolling away from the relegation zone. Massive home game vs. Hull City this weekend. (6-6-12)
source:  10 DOWN 3
Newcastle: The Magpies lost Yohan Cabaye on deadline day which was a massive blow. Newcastle have failed to score in their last two games, losing 3-0 at home to bitter rivals Sunderland and drawing with Norwich. On top of that Joe Kinnear has resigned as director of football, as the Magpies season threatens to unravel. A trip to Chelsea is not what they needed. (11-4-9)
source:  11
Aston Villa: The PL’s resident Jekyll and Hyde side have been steady in the past few weeks, with a thrilling 4-3 win over West Brom and then a narrow 2-1 loss at Everton in their past two games. Benteke is looking back in form, which is good news for the Villans. A home game vs. West Ham this Saturday is hugely winnable. (7-6-11)
source:  12 UP 4 Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis has totally transformed the Eagles. They are tough to beat, especially at home, and have players like Puncheon, Jerome and Chamakh who can make a difference. A big win at home vs. Hull was followed by a spirited 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. HUGE home game vs. WBA on Saturday. (7-2-15)

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13 UP 2 Stoke City: The Potters beat Man United last Saturday, their first ever PL win over the Red Devils. It was a determined display as Adam smashed in two and Stoke outlasted United in the swirling wind. However Mark Hughes’ side did lose to Sunderland before that, and are still in a relegation battle. Away game at Saints this weekend.  (6-7-11)
source:  14 DOWN 2
Norwich City: Bad week for the Canaries who drew at home to Newcastle then lost away to Cardiff. They failed to grab a new striker in the January transfer window, something they badly needed as Hughton’s side are still struggling for goals. Norwich could well be in the bottom three after this weekend, as a trip to Man City looms large. They did win at the Etihad last season… (6-6-12)
source:  15 UP 2
West Ham: There are plenty of Happy Hammers around this week, as four points from an away trip to Chelsea and home game vs. Swansea is a tremendous return. Two clean sheets will please Big Sam, plus Andy Carroll is back in form. Although his red card has upset the apple cart a little. A win away at Villa could drag them out of the drop zone. (5-7-12)
source:  16 DOWN 3
Hull City: The Tigers continue to slide, despite a promising home draw with Tottenham on Saturday. Before that they lost away at Palace in a game where Steve Bruce’s men were out battled. But with Shane Long bagging his first goal and Jelavic looking sharp next to him, Hull will be fine. Sunderland away is a monster clash this Saturday. (6-6-12)
source:  17 DOWN 3
Swansea City: Turmoil at the Liberty Stadium, as manager Michael Laudrup was sacked after a poor run of form sees the Swans just two points above the drop zone. Current player Garry Monk has been put in charge, and they now have the huge South Wales derby vs. Cardiff at home to deal with. Sink or swim time. (6-6-12)
source:  18
Cardiff City: Following a massive comeback win over Norwich last weekend, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is seeing his side take shape after some big signings in January. Kenwyne Jones could be their talisman. A chance to do the double over South Wales rivals Swansea and jump level with them in the standings this Saturday. Can the Bluebirds pounce (5-6-13)
source:  19
West Brom: Probably quite harsh that the Baggies are still this low, but they have only won once in their last 10 games and don’t look like they will score at all. Pepe Mel has got one heck of a job on his hands, but the 1-1 draw vs. Liverpool should give them plenty of belief. The Baggies face Palace this weekend. (4-11-9)
source:  20
Fuham: The Cottagers looked to have done the best business in the window, as Kostas Mitroglou, Johnny Heitinga and Lewis Holtby arrived. But a 3-0 hammering by Saints and an FA Cup exit to League One Sheffield United tells the story. Tough times ahead by the Thames. Trip to Man United this Saturday. (6-1-17)

VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Southampton

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  • Foxes won 4-1 on Dec. 13 at St. Mary’s
  • Southampton five points back of 17th
  • Saints lead all-time 32W-27D-26L

Southampton is running out of time to save its Premier League status, and makes up its match-in-hand on several clubs with a visit to Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET, online via NBC Sports Gold).

Saints are five points back of 17th place Swansea City, though the Welsh side has also played 33 matches. They are six points behind Crystal Palace and seven back of Huddersfield Town and West Ham United.

Leicester is eighth after losing to Burnley, its Europa League hopes dashed with Everton and Newcastle nipping at their heels.

What they’re saying

Leicester City’s Claude Puel on finishing strong: “The right way, it is important to keep this momentum until the end and we will see when the players start in the game. [They must] give their best and maintain a good level in the team. We keep a serious ambition and we need to secure our place in the top half of the table. A lot of teams are close behind us so we need to continue.”

Saints’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on life in the relegation fight“The next few weeks is life-changing. Wherever our paths go, and wherever all our ways go, whether it’s short-term or long-term, this will all change our lives, this will all change our way of looking on football. I promise you, I promise to the fans, and I promise to the people standing outside, there is not one single person inside here who wants to be in this situation. There is not one person who actually thinks ‘Oh, this may be good for me in a way.’ Everyone is suffering.

Prediction

Claude Puel will be further motivated to get over on his old side, but Saints have a lot of firepower for what should be a wide-open game against sometimes-dicey back lines (often dicey in the case of Southampton). 2-2.