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)

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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