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Premier League Power Rankings: Top four shuffle, as pivotal stretch arrives – Week 28

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In this week’s PL Power Rankings, we have some real movers and shakers as the final 10 games of the season is upon us.

With only five Premier League games this weekend, this latest batch of rankings will likely stay the same for quite some time. With Liverpool’s title charge gathering steam and top teams likes Arsenal slipping up, it’s a case of “all change” throughout the league as the race for silverware and survival is heating up.

Have you got any finger nails left yet? It’s only March…

(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: The Blues are four points clear at the top, something Jose Mourinho calls a “fake advantage” with Man City having games in hand. Regardless, a splendid second half display saw Chelsea tear apart Fulham with Andre Schurrle the hat trick hero. Tottenham at home this weekend is an absolute cracker. (19-6-3)
source:  2
Liverpool: They are really in this title race, aren’t they? Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez tore Southampton apart last Saturday and the Reds are four points off top spot. With a weekend off to recharge the batteries, Liverpool are perfectly poised to rally in the final few months. They couldn’t… could they? (18-5-5)
source:  3 UP 1
Manchester City: Congratulations to the Citizens as Manuel Pellegrini won his first piece of silverware at Wembley last Sunday. A 3-1 win over Sunderland won City the League Cup, and hopefully that will help kick start their league campaign. And FA Cup quarterfinal vs. Wigan awaits this Sunday, with a chance to avenge last year’s final defeat to the Latics. (18-3-5)
source:  4 DOWN 1
Arsenal: The Gunners are reeling from a 1-0 defeat away at Stoke, as ‘feeble February’ has carried into March. An FA Cup quarter against Everton is huge this Saturday. If you’d said to Wenger at the start of this season that his side would win the FA Cup and finish in the top four, he would’ve snapped your hand off. Yes, it’s disappointing they’ve tailed off but Arsenal have 5 easy games to finish with. (18-5-5)

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5
Manchester United: The Red Devils weren’t in action last weekend, which was probably for the best. A 2-0 away defeat to Olympiakos was a new low-point for David Moyes’ side but they have a great chance to bounce back from that away at West Brom on Saturday. They are eight points off Spurs in fifth and have a game in hand. Top five would not be embarrassing this season. (13-6-8)
source:  6
Tottenham: Tim Sherwood’s boys are putting up a valiant effort to try and sneak into the top four, but with some tricky matches against Chelsea and Arsenal coming up it could be a long shot. Good news for Spurs is that Roberto Soldado finally scored from open play in the 1-0 win over Cardiff last weekend, will he go on a hot-streak? (16-5-7)
source:  7 Everton: Romelu Lukaku returned and duly scored the game-winner vs. West Ham like he’d never been away. Everton have missed his goals and he will be crucial in their quest to sneak into the top four. Even if they don’t, it has been a great season and a cup quarterfinal win vs. Arsenal on Saturday would give the Toffees a real chance of lifting the famous trophy. (13-9-5)
source:  8
Southampton:Yes, Southampton lost 3-0 to Liverpool. It sounds crazy, but Saints didn’t play that badly. Adam Lallana hit the post and others came close but the only difference was clinical finishing. A game away at Crystal Palace provides Pochettino’s men with the perfect chance to keep in the hunt for a top six spot. (10-9-9)
source:  9 UP 1
Newcastle: Wow, what was Alan Pardew thinking? Newcastle’s manager was sent off for a headbutt on Hull City player David Meyler last weekend, which took the gloss off a fine 4-1 away win from the Magpies. His ban should be harsh and swift, but Newcastle look to have bounced back from a wobble with two-straight wins. (13-4-11)
source:  10 DOWN 1
West Ham: The Hammers didn’t look like scoring away at Everton, but they almost bagged another shutout too. Sam Allardyce’s team are going to be fine in the fight against relegation, and are pleased to have Andy Carroll back. No game for the East London club this weekend, Stoke are up next week. (8-7-13)
source:  11 UP 2
Stoke City: The Potters are ticking along nicely, as they added Arsenal to their long list of impressive scalps at the Britannia Stadium. Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal have been beaten there, while Man City drew. A massive away trip to Norwich awaits this weekend. (7-9-12)
source:  12 Sunderland: Leading 1-0 at half time in the League Cup final, it seemed as thought Sunderland were on their way to a historic piece of silverware last Sunday… then they imploded. Will that have a negative impact on their race against relegation? Who knows. Next up, a FA Cup quarterfinal vs. Hull City on Sunday. They will play another PL game, one of these days. (6-6-14)

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13 UP 4 Aston Villa: Huge three points for Paul Lambert’s side, as they hammered Norwich 4-1 after going 1-0 behind. Villa are a funny team but they are certainly a better team when Christian Benteke is on form and his two goals last weekend will do him and Villa the world of good. No game for Villa this weekend. (8-7-13)
source:  14
Hull City: The Tigers were outplayed by Newcastle at home and Steve Bruce’s side are still not out of danger. Sitting six points from the relegation zone and with tough fixtures ahead, it will be squeaky bum time at the KC for a while. FA Cup quarter vs. Sunderland this weekend is a great opportunity for them to get to Wembley for the semi and potential final. (8-6-14)
source:  15
Crystal Palace: A battling 1-1 draw away at fellow strugglers Swansea was well-earned, but the Eagles must beat Southampton at home this Saturday. Tony Pulis’ side have been sensational at Selhurst Park, and if they want to drag themselves clear of the relegation picture they have to win at home. Simple. (8-3-16)
source:  16
Swansea City: Garry Monk’s side suffered the agony of going out to Napoli in the Europa League late on, and they looked a little jaded in the home draw to Palace. That was an opportunity missed to get three points. No game this weekend, which could see them get sucked deeper into a scrap for survival. (7-8-13)
source:  17 DOWN 6
Norwich City: Oh dear, the Canaries were battered at Villa and I worry for them. The relief of beating Spurs the weekend before has been wiped away and now Saturday’s home game vs. Stoke is absolutely massive. Carrow Road will be a nervous place on Saturday. (7-7-14)
source:  18
West Brom: Pepe Mel’s job is safe, for now, which seems crazy to say but after no wins in his first six games in charge many believed he could be heading out of the door. Man United at home this Saturday provides a rare opportunity to do the double over the Red Devils, and WBA need a win badly after just one in their last 18 games in all competitions. (4-13-10)
source:  19
Fuham: Felix Magath’s men battled hard against Chelsea last Saturday and looked extremely good in the first half, but Chelsea ran riot after the break and the Cottagers still remain bottom of the standings. You just can’t emphasis how huge this match vs. Cardiff is on Saturday, as a relegation six-pointer plays out in the Welsh capital. (6-3-19)
source:  20
Cardiff City: As we mentioned, Saturday’s game vs. Fulham is a must-win for both sides… but especially Cardiff. Whoever prevails will give themselves a great chance of jumping out of the drop zone, the loser is likely to be playing in the Championship next season. High stakes, huh? (5-7-16)

Why are Leicester struggling so much? Where can Man City improve?

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Last season Leicester City vs. Manchester City was a clash between two rivals fighting for the Premier League title.

This season? Not so much.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Leicester host Man City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), with the reigning champs embroiled in a relegation battle with just three wins from their 14 PL games this season.

As for City, Pep Guardiola is finding the Premier League a little tougher to handle than Spain and Germany early on with City winning just three of their last eight games in the Premier League but they’re still sitting just four points off top spot. That said, City has lost to both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea already and their status as preseason title favorites is already being severely questioned.

For Leicester, their problems are worse than those at Man City.

There are multiple issues at play which could explain their stunning drop-off compared to last season. After 14 games this season the Foxes have 13 points. At the same point of their incredible title-winning campaign in 2015-16 they had 29 points and were joint-top of the table with Manchester City who actually have one more point this season than they had at this stage last season.

Back to Leicester and right now they are just two points off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last four games. Ranieri is very worried about relegation, as his recent comments in press conferences show.

“This moment is not the right moment for us. We wanted to get points here but of course it was a relegation battle, they won, well done to them,” Ranieri said after the defeat at Sunderland. “I said two, three weeks ago, always I look behind me. We are in the battle of relegation. For this reason we must stay calm, together and continue to work hard.”

At least Ranieri knows it, but how has it got to this point with Leicester breezing through their UCL group and into the knockout stages?

The loss of N'Golo Kante in midfield has been huge for Leicester with the French international midfielder already proving indispensable for Chelsea this season as he breaks play up, shields the back four and sets the tempo of the game for his team. Kante’s departure has left a huge hole in Leicester’s midfield but they’ve been equally hit just as hard with a lack of goals from Jamie Vardy who has scored just twice in the PL and Riyad Mahrez has suffered from a lack of creativity.

Mahrez set up 22 goalscoring chances for Vardy last season. This season the duo have combined just once. Maybe that is because Ranieri has been chopping and changing his team so much to cope with the demands of the UCL and PL, with Mahrez and Vardy often preferred for European action, but there’s no doubting that their level has dropped off and that’s happened across Leicester’s entire squad.

When you look at Leicester’s defensive displays, not much has changed but perhaps the rub of the green is going against them and they are falling behind to opponents extremely often which is making them chase the game and they’re getting out of their comfort zone. Simply put: Leicester isn’t doing what it is best at.

Ranieri knows it and said as much after their latest defeat at Sunderland which has put them further in trouble with plenty of tough games on the horizon.

“It is difficult to say what we miss. We miss everything,” Ranieri said.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss the recent poor form of both Leicester and Man City and if fans of both teams should be worried heading into this big match on Saturday.

Click play on the video above to see us break it down.

Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

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After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.

“Ronaldo, Messi too old to play for us” say Bundesliga club

Barcelona's Lionel Messi,foreground, escapes Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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RB Leipzig currently sits top of the Bundesliga and they’ve taken the German soccer scene by storm.

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They’ve also upset plenty of traditionalists in Germany with the Red Bull energy drink company bankrolling their rise through the German leagues and after being founded in 2009, just seven years later they are top of the Bundesliga, three points clear of Bayern Munich after 13 games of the season.

Now, Leipzig may have upset Cristiano Ronald and Lionel Messi.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the man who has been plotting Leipzig’s success since 2012, sporting director Ralf Rangnick, had the following to say about Messi and Ronaldo hypothetically signing for Leipzig.

“It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here,” Rangnick said. “They are both too old and too expensive.”

Wow.

Ronaldo is 32 and Messi is 29 and both seem to have at least five or more years left in the tank for Real and Barca respectively.

However, Rangnick’s comments are perhaps more about the make up of Leipzig’s team which is the youngest in the Bundesliga and as the architect of this squad he has purposefully constructed a strong youth element which has helped his side rise from the fourth division and up into the German top-flight.

RB Leipzig is widely disliked in Germany for being owned by Red Bull who have spent huge sums of money, and now they’ve just blown their chance of ever signing Ronaldo or Messi.

Oh wait, they didn’t want them anyway…

One man takes blame for Swansea’s poor season

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 20:  Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins (C) attends the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Huw Jenkins has been with Swansea City through the good times and the bad.

He is blaming himself for the recent bad spell.

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The long-time chairman of the Swans — Jenkins was part of a consortium which saved the south Wales club back in 2002 when it was teetering on the brink of extinction — has been at the forefront of their incredible rise from the fourth-tier to the Premier League plus becoming League Cup winners and also competing in the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.

Yet, this season Swansea’s progress has stalled as they currently sit two points adrift at the foot of the Premier League table and three points from safety with a massive relegation six-points against Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium coming up this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Speaking about their struggles, Jenkins put the blame squarely on his shoulders.

“I fully understand their feelings, being a supporter myself,” Jenkins said. “When things don’t go well somebody has to take the blame and I fully accept the responsibility. But let’s not forget there’s a long way to go this season, and we’ve got a lot of choices to make between now and then to make sure we survive in this league.”

The local businessman has told it like it is, as well as admiting some errors with player recruitment over the summer as both Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams were allowed to leave and you easily argue they weren’t sufficiently replaced at the Liberty Stadium.

All of this has led to current manager Bob Bradley (he replaced Italian coach Francesco Guidolin after the Swans picks up just four points from their opening seven games of the season) reportedly already being under pressure, as a report in the Daily Telegraph suggested that a huge review is currently taking place at the request of American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levein who took sole control of the club in July.

Jenkins, who has been left in control of day-to-day matters by Kaplan and Levein, has also been taking plenty of stick from the fans for selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club which allowed the Americans to take their holdings up to 68 percent and take full ownership of the club. The local businessman made himself just over $10 million in the process which angered many. All is not well on and off the pitch in south Wales right now.

With Bradley’s team conceding 19 goals in his seven PL games in charge so far, the obvious area where they have to improve is in central defense. If given time, there’s no doubt Bradley can improve that but the most concerning thing for the Swans is the quality of players, especially defenders, they currently possess.

Until that changes (i.e. acquistions in the January transfer window) then Bradley’s hands are tied.

Jenkins believes the club will be able to spend big in the upcoming transfer window and boy will Swansea need to do some shrewd, and extensive, business if they’re going to drag themselves out of trouble and up the Premier League table.

The good news out of all of this is the next six games are pivotal in their season. Between now and Jan. 2 Bradley’s side face Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth at home, plus have trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. All of those games are against direct relegation rivals and quite simply the Swans must win at least three or four to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.