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

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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)

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.