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)

MLS Snapshot: Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

MLSsoccer.com

When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

MLSsoccer.com

Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

MLSsoccer.com

Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.