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)

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —