Premier League Power Rankings: Battle at both ends heats up – Week 31-32

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A monumental shift in the Premier League title race has taken place in the last week, and one team is at the center of it: Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers’ beat Sunderland in midweek and then hammered Tottenham to go two points clear at the top. Hot on their heels are Manchester City, as they smashed Manchester rivals United 3-0 but then ran out of gas against Arsenal to draw 1-1.

Chelsea slipped up, big time, against Crystal Palace, while Arsenal’s title charge is all but over after a disastrous week. At the bottom it’s all change, as Fulham’s brief flirtation with safety seems to be over, while Cardiff, West Brom, Norwich and Sunderland are fighting for their lives.

(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 Liverpool: A nervy 2-1 win over Sunderland was followed up by a 4-0 shellacking of Spurs at Anfield, as the Reds are top of the tree with six games to go. Can Suarez and Sturridge continue to torment West Ham this weekend? Eights wins on the spin… Ominous. (22-5-5)
source:  2
Manchester City: A 5-0 tonking of Fulham was followed by the humbling of Man United at Old Trafford. City then oozed class against Arsenal at the Emirates, but couldn’t hold onto their lead. David Silva has looked sublime down the stretch. Can the Spaniard deliver success against Southampton on Saturday? Live on NBCSN, 7:45 am ET. (21-4-5)
source:  3
Chelsea: The Blues slipped up at Crystal Palace last Saturday, and Jose Mourinho has already ruled his side out of the title race. Chelsea need a miracle now… but it can be done. A midweek defeat to PSG showed confidence is low in the camp, can Stoke capitalize on that for a second time this season? (21-6-5)
source:  4
Arsenal: It is all about the top four for the Gunners, after they were humiliated 6-0 by Chelsea, drew with Swansea but bounced back well to draw with Man City. Massive away trip to fifth placed Everton on Sunday, as the Gunners face a fight for the Champions League. (19-7-6)

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5
Everton: Roberto Martinez’s men are having a splendid end to a sensational season, as the Toffees will push Arsenal all the way on Sunday. Five wins in a row have seen the Goodison side in the top four hunt, with Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku amongst the goals. (17-9-5)
source:  6 UP 2
Southampton: Saints were 2-0 up away at Tottenham and cruising, then the wheels came off. But despite that defeat, they absolutely obliterated Newcastle 4-0 last weekend and their attacking talents (Lallana, Lambert, Rodriguez and others) are a joy to watch. Man City away this weekend is a huge test. (13-10-9)
source:  7 DOWN 1 Tottenham: Spurs are slumping, massively. Tim Sherwood could well be out of the door at White Hart Lane as his side crumbled away at Liverpool. They beat the mediocre teams, but have struggled all year against the best. Can Tottenham beat Sunderland on Monday? (17-5-10)
source:  8 UP 2
Stoke City: The Potters are on a roll, and have won three on the spin and four of their last five going into their trip to Stamford Bridge. Mark Hughes’ men are kicking on after a slow start, and they aren’t afraid to knock the ball around. A new dawn at the Brit? (10-10-12)
 source:  9 DOWN 1
Manchester United: Hammered by your nearest neighbors and then a fly-by organized against your own manager… hasn’t been a great few weeks for United, has it? That said, they smashed Villa 4-1, then put in a tremendous display against Bayern Munich to draw in the Champions League. Moyes’ men are still slacking in the PL though. (16-6-10)
source:  10 UP 2
West Ham: Two wins on the spin has eased the Hammers’ relegation fears, but the natives still aren’t happy. Booed off the pitch by their own fans in the 2-1 victory over Hull, Sam Allardyce was bemused. You know what to expect with his sides, hard to beat but not the most pleasing on the eye. What do their fans expect? (10-7-15)
source:  11 DOWN 2 Newcastle: Two straight defeats. 0 goals scored. 7 goals conceded. Alan Pardew finally returned to the stands against Saints, but his sides’ season is spiraling into obscurity as we speak. A home game against Manchester United this weekend ought to spice things up. (14-4-14)
 source:  12 UP 3
Crystal Palace: The Eagles are soaring towards safety, as Tony Pulis’ side recorded a massive win over Chelsea. A famous 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park sees Palace go five points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand. HUGE game away at Cardiff. (9-4-18)

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13 DOWN 2
Aston Villa: Bad week for the Villans, as Christian Benteke ruptured his Achilles and is out for over six months. Not good. Two straight 4-1 defeats has erased their big win over Chelsea, as Paul Lambert’s side still aren’t clear of the relegation scrap. A win over Fulham on Saturday would almost seal their PL status, though (9-7-15)
source:  14
Hull City: Steady at 14th in our rankings, but the Tigers have had a tumultuous week which saw them lost two times by the odd goal and lost their star goalkeeper Allan McGregor for the rest of the season. Only three teams have lost more games than Hull. Big home game vs. Swansea. (9-6-17)
 source:  15 UP 3
Swansea City: Speaking of the Swans, the picture in South Wales is looking a lot rosier after a 3-0 win over Norwich and a good draw at Arsenal. Their trip to Hull could be pivotal for Garry Monk’s side, win and they will almost be safe, lose… and they could be back in the thick of things again. (8-9-15)
 source:  16 UP 4
Cardiff City: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men just don’t give up, and they pulled out a massive point against West Brom with Daehli’s last-gasp equalizer. Relive the best game in the PL season so far, here. Relegation six-pointer against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Can the Bluebirds get out of the drop zone? With their spirit, why not? (6-8-18)
source:  17 DOWN 4
Sunderland: Gus Poyet’s boys are feeling the heat, with five defeats in their last six games and a trip to Spurs coming up. They work themselves into the ground, but they just don’t seem to have the quality in the final third. Will the Black Cats get out of this? (6-7-17)
source:  18 UP 1
Norwich City: Quite how Norwich have moved up… Anyway, they bagged a win against Sunderland that was crucial but then regressed at Swansea with Chris Hughton’s side still struggling. Can the Canaries beat West Brom at home? Another relegation six-pointer. (8-8-16)
source:  19 DOWN 3
West Brom: So, the Baggies have a massive game away at Carrow Road to worry about. But dressing room unrest and letting a two-goal lead slip at home to Cardiff will not sit well with fans. Pepe Mel’s men look scared of defeat and aren’t forcing the issue. (5-14-12)
source:  20 DOWN 3
Fuham: The Cottagers look destined for the drop, as they were beaten by Everton and Man City last month. Felix Magath said he will stay on, but the West London side have been so poor throughout this season. If they don’t beat Villa away this Saturday, they are down. (7-3-22)

Argentina shocked by abuse of minors at top clubs

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) The young victims are still here: they’re among the kids who like to share stories while they sip on traditional Argentine tea, who check their phones outside changing rooms, and kick a ball around during a break from practice.

The teens live in the boarding house for Independiente’s youth section, where they should have been safe, dreaming of becoming Argentina’s next soccer great.

Instead, investigators say pedophiles turned their lives into a nightmare when they paid many of these children, who come from poor families in remote corners of the country, as little as a bus ride back home or a pair of football boots in exchange for sex.

The prosecutor investigating the case says that at least 10 minors were prostituted and several other more minors are believed to have been potential victims. So far, seven men, including a referee, have been arrested.

The child prostitution ring at Independiente was followed by reports that minors had also been allegedly abused at River Plate’s youth divisions. The growing scandal at two of Argentina’s most popular and successful clubs has shocked many in this soccer-mad nation.

The Argentine Football Federation has ordered monitoring of club boarding houses nationwide. But former players, sports psychologists and parents say that much more needs to be done to protect the children who train in talent factories where Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and other stars polished their skills growing up.

Independiente filed a complaint with prosecutors earlier this year when the allegations first surfaced after one of the players broke down during a session with a club psychologist.

“We had two paths: reporting this or covering it up, and we decided to look the children and the parents in the eyes and file a complaint,” a club official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the case is still being investigated.

“Thanks to this complaint, all the people involved are behind bars,” the source said. “There’s a huge social phenomenon here: There have been other reports since we filed the complaint, and I hope others have the courage to come out as well, because this goes far beyond Independiente.”

Just days after the Independiente case broke out, River Plate said that it would cooperate with authorities after a local group reported minors were allegedly abused in the club’s youth divisions from 2004-11.

“The state should be much more involved so that a child doesn’t have to sleep with a man for some football boots or money to send back to his family,” said Maria Elena Leuzzi, a founder of the AVIVI Association for Victims of Rape that filed the complaint about River Plate.

“A child should always be cared for. We don’t know if we’ll have a future dad, a president, or a soccer player.”

Argentina is home to some of the world’s greatest players, but also fan violence by hooligans and endemic corruption by generations of soccer bosses and scouts who run the lucrative and often unregulated business of finding future stars.

“At the clubs, the bosses need to understand that kids are not numbers,” said Leonel Gancedo, a former player for River Plate and several other clubs who now runs the “Angeles Unidos” club.

“What has happened is shameful,” he said. “It’s a consequence of poor decisions.”

Many children in club boarding houses come from impoverished faraway communities, living far from their parents under the care of clubs, dreaming of a chance to make it big in the ultra-competitive world of professional football.

But for the thousands of talented youngsters who try out in the lower divisions, only a small percentage will become elite players. Some will struggle to overcome injuries. Others will fall to the psychological pressure at home or on the field.

“A kid can’t be pressured to save his family economically. It’s too much,” said Oscar Mangione, a sport psychologist and a former therapist for the Boca Juniors club.

Like elsewhere in the world, Argentina has experienced a string of sex abuse disclosures in the Catholic Church, and more recently, among celebrities and athletes. But the magnitude of the latest abuse scandal in sports is unprecedented in a country that prides itself on its World Cup victories and its Olympic medals in everything from sailing to field hockey.

Argentina’s Olympic Committee recently filed a legal complaint against a gymnastics coach who is accused of abusing a still undetermined number of athletes in the 1990s. As part of the investigation by a local prosecutor, authorities raided the headquarters of the Argentine gymnastics confederation.

“This is being spoken about much more: Newspapers, the radio, they all help to spread the word. We’re helping the victim lose its shame,” Leuzzi said. “The one who has to feel shame is the one who carries out the abuse.”

The kickoff for change should come from a serious effort by the Argentine Football Association to set safety rules among clubs nationwide, said Cesar La Paglia, a former player for Boca Juniors and the manager of Club Social Parque, a youth club.

“There are kids aged 8 or 9 living in these club boarding houses – it’s insane,” he said. “Those kids should be with their parents.”

In all, there are 50 teenagers from across Argentina living at the brick residences painted in the red and white club colors of Independiente. On a recent day, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The sound of a ball being kicked in a field surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees could be heard inside the main hall; Football boots were neatly lined up below the club’s red emblem; and a poster of the stadium with a cheering crowd on a wall, read: “The temple of your dreams.”

The club says that the victims have been reunited with their families in Buenos Aires and continue to receive psychological support while it continues to cooperate with authorities.

Meanwhile, a judge is expected to issue charges this week against the seven people who are being held in the alleged prostitution ring, and the prosecutor investigating the case has requested that they remain in prison.

Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

Christian Pulisic to make USMNT return

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It was announced on Wednesday that Christian Pulisic will return to the U.S. national team and he is heading home.

The Hershey, Pennsylvania native will play for the USMNT on May 28 against Bolivia as the friendly takes place at the Philadelphia Union’s Talen Energy Stadium.

Interim USMNT head coach Dave Sarachan revealed in a press conference that Pulisic will be involved against Bolivia after the youngster was left out of the past few U.S. squads to let him rest up after a busy season in the Bundesliga and Europe with Dortmund.

Pulisic, 19, hasn’t played for the USMNT since their 2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago in October 2017 which sealed their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup this summer.

The teenage sensation (who has nine goals in 20 games for the USMNT) has played 39 times in all competitions for German giants Borussia Dortmund this season, scoring five goals. The game against Bolivia will mark two years to the day that he scored his first USMNT goal, also in a friendly against Bolivia.

Pulisic said the following about heading home.

“I’m really excited to play in Philadelphia,” Pulisic said. “Obviously it’s close to my home and a lot of my family will be there and I’m super excited to put on the U.S. jersey again.”

Speaking about Pulisic’s return, Sarachan was delighted to have him back on board and revealed he hasn’t quite made his mind up about the make-up of his squad for the upcoming friendlies.

“We are excited to have him back with us,” Sarachan said. “We are still forming what make sense in terms of balance between Major League Soccer players and players from elsewhere.”

The USMNT will arrive in Philly on May 20 for a training camp at the University of Pennsylvania before the friendly against Bolivia, while Pulisic is also expected to travel with the team to play in their friendlies at the Republic of Ireland and France in early June.

The kid is back.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and whether or not that was helpful, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands.

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that he didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned as he also confirmed he will have no say on his successor.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still has one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season rather than before a big European semifinal. His comments can be interpreted either way but many journalists in the room are all suggesting Wenger was talking about the overall decision to step down now.

The growing, and widely reported, notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger. Intriguing times ahead.