Premier League Power Rankings: Top three twist, as title race heats up – Week 29-30

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All change at the top!

Last Saturday truly was ‘moving day’ in the Premier League, as Manchester City flashed their title credentials with a gutsy win on the road, then Chelsea imploded at Aston Villa. Throw in massive derby wins for Liverpool and Arsenal, and the top of the rankings are all shook up.

Chuck in wins for relegation fodder West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, and you have a recipe for extreme excitement between now and the rest of the season.

(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 UP 1 Liverpool: 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford? Doesn’t get much better than that for Liverpool fans. Four points behind Chelsea in top spot with a game in hand, all of a sudden the Reds are one of the favorites for the title. If Suarez and Sturridge catch fire in the final few weeks, the crown could be heading to Anfield. (19-5-5)
source:  2 UP 1
Manchester City: The Citizens ground out a hugely impressive win at the KC Stadium against Hull. David Silva inspired City with a stunning solo display, as they bounced back after being knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League last week. All eyes on the Premier League title now, who will go top if they win games in their hand. (19-3-5)
source:  3 DOWN 2
Chelsea: A bad day at the office for Chelsea against Villa, as two red-cards and a late goal in a 1-0 defeat compounded Jose Mourinho’s misery. And oh yeah, the Special One got sent to the stands too. Can the rebound and beat Arsenal this Saturday? Which shall see. All of a sudden the pressure is getting to the Blues. (20-6-4)
source:  4
Arsenal: Big win for Arsenal away at North London rivals Spurs. A return to solid defending and relying on the quality they have will see the Gunners easily finish in the top four. Their title charge isn’t over yet either. Tough trips to Chelsea, on NBCSN this Saturday, and Man City coming up though. (19-5-5)

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5 UP 2
Everton: The Toffees have come unstuck in recent weeks, but a late, late win over Cardiff sees Robert Martinez’s men back in the swing of things. Ready to push all the way for a place in the top four, they may come up short but still a great season for Evertonians across the world to enjoy. (14-9-5)
source:  6
Tottenham: Spurs didn’t play that badly against Arsenal, but they still lost and Tim Sherwood’s time at White Hart Lane could be over before it even really gets going. Big home game vs. Southampton this weekend as Spurs can’t afford to lose three in a row. (16-5-9)
source:  7 UP 1 Southampton: Saints made it two wins from two, as they beat Norwich in a crazy game. For 85 minutes it was a comfortable win, with Pochettino’s men leading 3-0. Then Norwich scored twice in a minute, but a late clincher gave Saints a 4-2 win. Can they surge into the top six and cap off a memorable season? (12-9-9)
source:  8 DOWN 3
Manchester United: Oh dear, humbled at home by their massive rivals Liverpool undid all the good work from an impressive 3-0 demolition of West Brom the weekend before. Rumors of Moyes leaving Old Trafford continue to roll around, as any faint hopes of finishing in the top four are now over. (14-6-9)
source:  9
Newcastle: The Magpies were beaten away at Fulham and they could’ve snatched a point, but didn’t really deserve one in Alan Pardew’s first of three games banned from the stadium. Next up: Crystal Palace at home, which is a must win if the St. James’ Park side harbor any ambitions of finishing in the top six. (13-4-12)
source:  10 UP 1
Stoke City: Potters are pushing up the rankings, as they seek a top 10 finish under Mark Hughes. It has been a struggle at times this season, but a comprehensive 3-1 win over West Ham saw them creep up to 11th and they have a massive Midlands derby vs. Aston Villa on Sunday. (8-10-12)
source:  11 UP 2 Aston Villa: Another big win for Villa, as Paul Lambert’s men beat Chelsea 1-0 and have all but secured their top-flight status for another season. Solid as a rock in recent weeks, and they finally look like scoring. What a talent Fabian Delph has become. (9-7-13)
source:  12 DOWN 2
West Ham: The Hammers were outplayed by Stoke, and the result leaves them not entirely out of danger with the bottom teams winning this weekend. On the plus side Andy Carroll scored. Can they rub salt into the wounds of Man United at Upton Park this weekend? (8-7-14)

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13 DOWN 1
Sunderland: Bore draw at the Stadium of Light vs. Palace on Saturday, as Sunderland’s struggles in front of goal continue. One of these days they should play Fletcher and Altidore up top together. The USMNT striker came on as a half time sub and did well, but Sunderland are still entrenched in the relegation zone. Norwich away this weekend, my word that’s a big game. (6-7-14)
source:  14
Hull City: They failed to break down 10-man Man City at the weekend, but that wasn’t for a lack of effort. Just that final pass or finish is missing from the Tigers, as they continue to plummet down the standings. They can’t go down, can they? George Boyd is banned after spitting and the problems for Hull are mounting. (8-6-15)
source:  15
Crystal Palace: The Eagles drew away at Sunderland, not a bad result. But they really need wins at this time of the season. Tricky trip to Newcastle this weekend, but with a three-point lead over the relegation zone they have some breathing space. Just. Squeaky bum time at Selhurst Park. (8-4-17)
source:  16 UP 2
West Brom: Boing, boing! The Baggies finally got their first win under new boss Pepe Mel, and what a comeback it was. Suddenly the Hawthorns doesn’t seem to be that nervy, but there will be plenty of nerves around this weekend when WBA travel to Hull. A win would take them above the Tigers. Oh my. (5-13-11)
source:  17 UP 2
Fuham: A first win for Felix Magath in charge of the Cottagers too. Resilient 1-0 wins for the West Londoners will be the theme of the final few weeks, if they get it right. Still bottom of the standings, but just four points from safety now. (7-3-20)
source:  18 DOWN 2
Swansea City: The Swans look tired and mentally beat up after their Europa League exit, plus rookie manager Garry Monk has inherited a difficult situation. Can he steer the ship out of danger? Rocky waters ahead after that shock home loss to West Brom. (7-8-14)
source:  19 DOWN 2
Norwich City: Norwich’s leaky defense once again burst a pipe against Saints, and they’ve now let in 48 goals. That is worrying as they don’t score many. Huge home game vs. Sunderland this weekend, expect a real battle at Carrow Road as Chris Hughton is under serious pressure. (7-8-15)
source:  20
Cardiff City: Poor old Cardiff. Just when you thought things were turning round, they get hit with a cruel blow late on vs. Everton. A shank from Seamous Coleman flew into the top corner, and the Bluebirds suffered another defeat. Just three points from safety though, they have hope… but now much else. (6-7-17)

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA