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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

source:

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)

source:

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)

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports