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…
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.
The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.
A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.
An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.
The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.
The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.
France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.
EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance
Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.
A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.
You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.
It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).
Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.
“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.
“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”
Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.
Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.
The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.
It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.
“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.
“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”
Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.
Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.
Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.
The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.
“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”
The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.
The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.
The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.
Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.
“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.
“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”
You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.
The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.
And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.
But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.
“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.
“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”
Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.
And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).
“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.
“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”
To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.
Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.
Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.
Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.
But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.
“The newspaper that made the revelations are releasing the full transcripts to the police, which is what has to happen,” said Glenn. “Once we get full access to them, we’ll pass them to our Integrity Unit. We’ve dealt with Sam as an employee. Sam’s role as a participant in the game will be part of this next process, if there is one.
“The decision will be based on the merits of the evidence. Bringing the game into disrepute might be a possible charge.
“A potential sanction could range from a fine to a ban. That’s what history shows. But that is for a tribunal to decide.”
Additionally, Glenn stated that interim England manager Gareth Southgate could be in consideration for the permanent job pending how he and the national team fare with its upcoming fixtures.
“I think Gareth is a genuine contender, but this isn’t an audition,” Glenn stated.