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)

James stars for Bayern Munich in Bundesliga win at Schalke (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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BERLIN (AP) James Rodriguez starred on his first Bundesliga start for Bayern Munich, scoring one goal and playing a role in the others for a 3-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday.’

James, who switched from Real Madrid in the offseason, earned a penalty and then scored in the first half, before brilliantly setting up Arturo Vidal to wrap up the win in the second.

[ WATCH: Alex Morgan smashes USWNT goal ]

While the Colombian midfielder made his first league start for Bayern, American teenager Weston McKennie did likewise for the home team. Despite the efforts of the 19-year-old Texan midfielder – who covered more ground than any other player in the first half – Schalke had no answer to James’ individual brilliance.

“We created the goals very well, so we deserved to win,” said Bayern’s reserve goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing in place of Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been ruled out until January with another hairline fracture of the metatarsal in his left foot.

The home side was first to have the ball in the net, but Amine Harit’s goal was ruled out as Bastian Oczipka was offside. Ulreich had done well with two saves beforehand.

Bayern got the penalty after referee Marco Fritz consulted his video assistant to see if Naldo had handled the ball when James cut it back. The Brazilian defender was going to ground but had his arms raised when the ball struck.

Protests by Schalke players had no effect and Robert Lewandowski duly converted from the spot.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

It got worse for the home side four minutes later, when Bayern scored after a Schalke throw-in. Thomas Mueller, Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso worked the ball to the unmarked James, who wrong-footed Ralf Faehrmann to score his first Bundesliga goal.

Mueller hit the post with a header from a cross by James after the break, before substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka went close at the other end.

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco brought on Swiss forward Breel Embolo for McKennie with just over half an hour remaining.

Any hopes of an equalizer ended when James eluded two defenders and delivered a perfect ball for Vidal to strike with a volley to the top corner.

“Altogether there’s no denying that Bayern had a very good day. Then it’s hard for any team,” Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said.

WOLFSBURG FRUSTRATION, AUGSBURG ELATION

Fin Bartels’ second-half header earned Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg and denied Martin Schmidt a winning start as coach. Schmidt was appointed Monday when Wolfsburg fired Andries Jonker after the team had claimed just four points in its opening four games.

Michael Gregoritsch’s fourth-minute strike was enough for Augsburg to beat visiting Leipzig 1-0 for its third win from five games.

Two goals from Brazilian midfielder Raffael gave Borussia Moenchengladbach a 2-0 win at home over promoted Stuttgart.

USWNT rides brace from super sub Morgan to big win (video)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
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Alex Morgan scored two goals, the second with gusto, as the United States women’s national team hammered New Zealand 5-0 at Nippert Stadium in a Tuesday night friendly.

After Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle made a 30-minute cameo in her return from injury, the USWNT poured forth with goals.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

Coming off the bench, Morgan scored within a minute of her second half introduction.

And then, after an electric dribble from Mallory Pugh, Morgan rang an aesthetically-pleasing rocket off the proverbial woodwork to make it 5-0.

Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

Mike Egerton/PA via AP
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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

[ MORE: Klopp left fuming at defending ]

Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

League Cup Weds. preview: Top teams mind the underdogs

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The giant killers aim their arrows at Premier League foes on Wednesday in the final five matches of the League Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: League Cup Tues. wrap ]


Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

March 29, 1902 — Doncaster beat Arsenal 1-0. In the century-plus since, Arsenal has won five and drawn once with Doncaster.

Pretty safe to say the in-form Gunners’ and their back-ups will run through the Rovers, though as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest

For a long time, this was a Premier League fixture each season. Now Chelsea welcomes the Championship’s Forest for the third time since 1999.

Everton vs. Sunderland

The Toffees could badly use a nice win after its Europa League beatdown in Italy and a series of tough results against Premier League giants.

Enter Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Jack Rodwell, and James Vaughn in a Sunderland squad with plenty of experience playing at Goodison Park (The Black Cats have two further players, Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, on loan from Everton). USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch could get a starting run versus PL opposition.

Manchester United vs. Burton Albion

The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City

Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?