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)

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.