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.
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Atlanta United: From scratch to the pitch
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta
“Last Thursday in practice, I was welling up to see the guys in Atlanta training tops with Tata coaching them,” Eales told PST earlier this month. “I’ve had over two years without any games. I hadn’t experienced the highs and lows of why we’re all in this game. Come the fifth of March, it’s going to be a quite an emotional time.”
Not just for Eales, but for an Atlanta market which has proven quite rabid for the sport. United has sold almost 30,000 season tickets, a record for an expansion team.
The excitement isn’t simply a matter of a shiny new toy for sports fans in Georgia. Eales, along with technical director Carlos Bocanegra and manager Tata Martino, have constructed what, at least on paper, could be a monster.
There’s the Designated Player trio of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba, young guys Miles Robinson and Andrew Carleton, MLS mainstays Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears, and Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona.
None of those assets were there when Eales, 44, bought into owner Arthur Blank’s vision in September 2014. And that’s what gave the gig its allure.
“You talk about soccer being a global game, and it’s very rare you get a chance to start a whole new club from scratch,” Eales said. “To do it with an owner like Arthur Blank who is committed to the City of Atlanta, committed to the community, and committed to a winning team just made it an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Eales wasn’t a stranger to America, a former Ivy League Player of the Year from his playing days at Brown University. He later went home to England where he became a director at West Bromwich Albion en route to his executive job at White Hart Lane.
So, yes, the acumen is there. And Eales’ admiration for MLS is a lot higher than many American critics suspect.
“I dealt with MLS from the other side of the fence with Robbie Keane to LA, Jermain Defoe to Toronto, and Clint Dempsey to Seattle,” Eales said. “Fresh perspective when you come from the outside, you look at how teams have built their teams and you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
“The one thing I was clear on from the start, was I felt MLS, globally outside of America, it almost gets more respect from other countries than it does in America. I’ve seen that with players like Simon Dawkins. When I was at Tottenham, we loaned him to San Jose, he developed as a player and we were able to sell him off to Derby. It’s a global league, the standard of football is getting better all the time. I really felt the time was right where you could try to get players in their prime and sell it to them as career development, not a dead end.”
Blank contacted Eales, and convinced him that Atlanta United wasn’t a vanity play. The soccer team wasn’t going to be the Atlanta Falcons’ “little brother”, but a major part of the community.
“Building a roster, putting in the academy, building a training ground, an affiliation with the Charleston Battery, all of these things can’t happen overnight,” Eales said. “There’s been a lot of thoughts and strategy that’s gone into building the roster.”
Not to mention time zones, travel, surfaces, calendar, salary cap, the popularity of other leagues… Eales wanted to find a technical director with both positive vision and MLS wisdom. Enter Carlos Bocanegra, the USMNT captain who had started and finished his playing career in MLS before performing well overseas with Fulham, Rangers, and Rennes.
“What I didn’t want to do was come in from the Premier League and say, ‘Everything European is the way we should do it and Americans don’t know anything about soccer.’ Clearly that’s not the case and I knew that.”
Eales said Bocanegra is a good friend in addition to the perfect man for the job. He added that both men didn’t take long to embrace the city, and that the Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl didn’t hurt sports fever in the Peach State.
Now Georgia will turn its attention to the red and black of Atlanta United, a team brimming with talent and experience. One of the early bets for Eales and Bocanegra was that it wouldn’t be about older big names. When asked about the successes of Sebastian Giovinco at Toronto and Nicolas Lodeiro in Seattle, Eales almost bristles at the thought that the moves inspired him. Young and fast was already entrenched in his model.
“It’s been a long time planning,” Eales said. “We were already going down this model. Lodeiro has been fantastic in Seattle and Giovinco is by far and away the best player in the league. He was that first one where someone was taken not over 30 and it showed, despite what the Italian national team manager said at the time, you could come here, play your game and get your career back on track.
“We felt we could go even further was to get those younger players. We’ve got Miguel at 22, Hector at 22, and Josef at 23. You’ll see increasingly now it will be a chance for us as a whole league to bring in top players and get bigger and better, year on year.”
While Eales has not had the fun of match day and won’t really have that experience until March 5’s visit from the Red Bulls, he’s had fun keeping an eye on his last two Premier League clubs and their top half success.
“I have to laugh because I still talk to a lot of my colleagues back at Tottenham and when they say ‘We’re doing well since you left’ I tell them it’s all about building the foundation,” Eales said.
“Chelsea have had a great season but Tottenham with the young squad they’ve got and the manager they’ve got in Mauricio Pochettino, they are going to be titlists in the near future. And West Brom, I love West Brom. It’s a great family club and it’s really exciting to see them solid in the top half of the table. It’s a testament to the guys, Tony Pulis and the team, how they built with a plan year on year to become a solid Premier League club. They have a strategy and they stuck to it.”
So, too, does Eales and United. The roster he’s assembled and his legendary manager combine to give the look of an instant playoff contender.
Yet Eales, like MLS, is going to have to see it. The difference is that United’s president already believes it. Bring on the chills.
“As a spectator it’s so nice to see them. I’m really impressed how good they are.
“Their fullbacks play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders. Their strikers are fighters, Falcao, Germain, they are killers in the box. Both holding midfielders are intelligent, physical, strong. They arrive to the box.
“A complete team. The most successful team in Europe in terms of scoring goals. It’s a tough draw.”
Center back Vincent Kompany is out for the home tie vs. Monaco, and Guardiola has not decided who will start between the sticks.
You may remember Danny Higginbotham from his time as a defender at Sunderland, Stoke City, Derby County, and Southampton, but these days he makes his dough as an analyst.
You almost certainly remember USMNT right back and speed merchant DeAndre Yedlin, though perhaps not seeing him on your television has limited your intake on his progress since leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Newcastle United.
Yedlin’s been very decent for the Magpies, making 23 appearances while providing a goal and five assists. Higginbotham has been impressed, and devoted a good portion of his prematch notes on Newcastle-Aston Villa to the American.
Yedlin plays almost as a right winger at times. He’s the one that gives the width on that side, and he has been a standout player in recent games.
He is so quick, so he can get back with his recovery runs, but it’s what he does with the ball as well. We see him controlling the whole of the right-hand side. He has been so key for Newcastle and he gives them such an attacking threat.
Newcastle will move back atop the Championship with a win over Aston Villa on Monday, and have a five-point lead on third-place Huddersfield Town in the race for an automatic promotion place. Brighton and Hove Albion is first, two points clear of the Magpies.