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)

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.