Premier League Power Rankings: Teams tumble as relegation battle heats up – Week 25-27

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The top four battle and the scrap to survive in the Premier League has intensified over the last two games, it’s a war zone out there.

With Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool pulling away at the summit, now is the time of the year when things start to slot into place. Especially at the wrong end of the table.

By now we usually have one or two teams cut adrift in the race to avoid relegation, but up to 11 of the PL’s 20 teams could seriously find themselves in the drop zone on the final day of the season. Being in-form at this point of the campaign is crucial as every game counts.

(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
Chelsea: Solid as a rock at the top, Chelsea keep grinding out wins but boy, they’re putting their fans through it. The Blues beat Newcastle 3-0, drew with West Brom 1-1 and then clinched a last gasp win over Everton at home last weekend. Mourinho’s men looked incredible at the back. But everyone, the Special One included, wonders where the goals will come from to win his team the title. (18-6-3)
source:  2 UP 2
Liverpool: The Reds have been on the rampage and now sit just four points off top spot with 11 games to go. A huge 5-1 win over Arsenal has been followed up by two battling victories against Fulham, 3-2, and Swansea, 4-3. They are now the PL’s top scorers and Brendan Rodgers’ side could be the dark horses for this title. Tricky trip away to Saints this weekend, who have been Liverpool’s bogey team in the last few seasons. (17-5-5)
source:  3 DOWN 1
Arsenal: A mixed bag for the Gunners of late, but they are still up there. That demoralizing 5-1 defeat at Liverpool has been forgotten about and they’ve since drawn 0-0 at home with Man United and then smashed Sunderland 4-1. Arsenal are looking a little jaded and after that damaging UCL loss to Bayern, the stuffing may have been knocked out of their title charge. (18-5-4)
source:  4 DOWN 1
Manchester City: A 0-0 draw away at Norwich and an unconvincing 1-0 home win over Stoke won’t move you up in our rankings. Oh no. City are struggling to click offensively, but with Sergio Aguero back this weekend and the League Cup final offering Manuel Pellegrini the chance for his first piece of silverware in England, will City return to PL action revitalized? They will be playing catch up for a while. What do you prefer, points in the bag or games in hand? (18-3-5)

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5 UP 2
Manchester United: Okay, we all know United’s struggles continue. But I feel like last weekends win over Crystal Palace could be a real turning point. Wayne Rooney is staying, RVP, Mata and Januzaj all look in-form and despite Champions League woe, I can see United having a storming finish to the PL season. (13-6-8)
source:  6
Tottenham:A damaging 1-0 loss away at Norwich hurt Spurs’ chances of making the top four. Before that they beat Everton and hammered Newcastle 4-0 away. Tim Sherwood will keep up the battle for the Champions League, but he Spurs are now six points off Liverpool in 4th. (15-5-7)
source:  7 DOWN 2 Everton: So close, but no cigar for the Toffees in their last few games. Roberto Martinez’s men have been solid as ever, but successive 1-0 defeats away to Tottenham and Chelsea show how much they rely on Romelu Lukaku up front. The big Belgian has been out injured, and with a few niggles elsewhere, their squad looks a little thin all of a sudden. (12-9-5)
 source:  8 DOWN 1
Southampton: Saints’ rollercoaster season continues, as Maurcio Pochettino’s men saw their eight-game unbeaten run ended by West Ham in a 3-1 defeat last time out. The Argentine manager has had some abuse flying his way from fans after he fielded a weakened side for the FA Cup last 16 match which Saints lost 1-0. With their PL status secured and no real chance to reach the top six, it seemed a little silly for the South Coast club to throw away a good chance for some silverware. (10-9-8)
source:  9 UP 6
West Ham: The Hammers’ win over Saints was their fourth-straight as Big Sam’s men are now five games unbeaten. It all stems back to that marvelous defensive display at Stamford Bridge which saw them draw 0-0. West Ham are now seven points above the drop zone and will be around for another season. Plus they now have Andy Carroll to come back from suspension. (8-7-12)
source:  10
Newcastle: All has not been well up at St. James’ Park, as Alan Pardew’s side lost three-straight and shipped 10 goals without scoring. But a massive 1-0 win over Villa, courtesy of Loic Remy’s injury-time winner, saw scenes of relief and jubilation around the famous stadium. A top 10 finish will be good progress, but after good financial results fans of the Magpies will want to see that cash reinvested into the playing squad. (12-4-11)
source:  11 UP 3
Norwich City: Like Newcastle, Norwich badly need a win last time out and they duly got it thanks to Robert Snodgrass’ goal against Spurs. You know what you get with the Canaries, solid defense and they run themselves into the ground. Scoring goals is still an issue, as Norwich are just four points off the drop zone with some tough matches coming up. Work to do, but progress at last in Norfolk. (7-7-13)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Sunderland: The Black Cats have been distracted by cup competitions in recent weeks, as they find themselves facing Man City in the League Cup final this Sunday and then have a FA Cup quarterfinal matchup with Hull City. That resulted in a big loss away at Arsenal. Gus Poyet knows his sides priority must be staying in the PL, how many times have we seen teams at the bottom get to a cup final but then be relegated (Wigan et al.) Not in action this weekend, but wins for teams around them could suddenly plunge Sunderland further into the bottom three. (6-6-14)

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13 Stoke City: No win in three for the Potters, as battling draws with Southampton and Swansea were followed up by a 1-0 loss to Man City. Mark Hughes’ men have reverted to a hybrid between their new fluid style and the old kick and rush mentality. They are just three points off the relegation zone and Stoke need to find goals from somewhere. (6-9-12)
 source:  14 UP 2
Hull City: Tigers are flying back up the rankings after flirting perilously close with the drop zone after their good start to the campaign slowly evaporated. Two wins in the last three against teams below them have given Hull some breathing space. January signings Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic have started to smash the goals in and look to be shrewd signing from Steve Bruce. The Tigers will be fine as they’re six points clear from the bottom three and in the FA Cup quarters too. (8-6-13)
source:  15 DOWN 3
Crystal Palace: A vital win against West Brom was sandwiched in-between defeats to Arsenal and Man United. The Eagles are no pushovers and I genuinely think they will stay up, but with a great run of form only putting them two points clear of danger. Surely Tony Pulis’ men will go through a sticky patch soon and that could spell danger. That said, I love their new signings and caught up with Joe Ledley recently who is desperate to avoid the drop. (8-2-16)
source:  16 UP 1
Swansea City: The Swans have looked like an exciting side again under Garry Monk, as the Rookie manager is getting a good response from his former teammates. A huge 3-0 win in the South Wales derby was followed by a spirited 1-1 draw at Stoke and then a good display in that crazy 4-3 defeat at Liverpool last weekend. Swansea are only four points about the bottom three though, so work to do down in South Wales. (7-7-13)
source:  17 DOWN 5
Aston Villa: The Villans continue to stumble through the 2013-14 PL season, as Paul Lambert’s side are one of the most frustrating teams I’ve ever watched. At times it all clicks into place and the young side look like world-beaters… vs. Newcastle  they looked like relegation fodder. Three defeats in their last four has seen Villa slip towards the bottom and confidence looks low. Surely they won’t go down? (7-7-13)
source:  18 UP 1
West Brom: Pepe Mel is still searching for his first win as West Brom boss but he has drawn four of his first six matches in charge, all 1-1. Not beating Fulham at home last Saturday shows the Baggies aren’t at the top of their game and there’s said to be some unrest with the methods of the new Spanish boss. Just one win in their last 10 tells the story, West Brom are in trouble. (4-13-10)
source:  19 UP 1
Fuham: ‘Trouble’ and ‘Fulham’ have been synonymous all season, as the Cottagers are still rooted to the foot of the table. But only a late equalizer from West Brom prevented new boss Felix Magath from picking up three points on his debut. Fulham looked solid and there’s still hope for the West London club in the relegation battle. Can Magath work some magic? (6-3-18)
source:  20 DOWN 2
Cardiff City: Poor old Ole, what is going on at Cardiff? Just one win since the Norwegian boss arrived in South Wales spells bad news for Vincent Tan’s club. A 4-0 hammering at home to Hull last weekend said it all. Huge game away at Spurs this Sunday. (5-7-15)

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.