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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)

West Ham extend Payet’s contract in “enormous show of faith”

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring while soap bubbles are blown during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Newcastle at Boleyn Ground in London, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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West Ham United hope Dimitri Payet is going absolutely nowhere after the club announced on Thursday the 28-year-old Frenchman has signed a contract extension through the summer of 2021.

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Payet’s current contract was scheduled to keep him at the Premier League club through the summer of 2020, but a series of standout performances (6 goals, 4 assists so far this season, mostly during the season’s opening three months) and rumors of interest from “bigger” clubs meant tacking on another year — and plenty more cash — was the best way to keep Payet in east London for the foreseeable future. The club confirmed earlier this week that negotiations over an extension were underway.

“He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years,” said West Ham co-owner David Sullivan. “He’s a [$43 million] player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”

Payet, who’s been at West Ham just eight months after signing last summer, could still depart in the summer should he finish the current season strong and/or show up and show out at the European Championship, which kicks off in June. In that event, West Ham would now bag a much heftier transfer fee than they would have done prior to the extension.

VIDEO: Dele Alli’s magnificent juggling goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon

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Remember that Dele Alli goal? No, not that one… that one. Of course you remember it. How could you not?

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How often does a player receive the ball out of the air, flick it over his head, spin 180 degrees and hit an inch-perfect volley from 20 yards out to secure all three points for his team? The answer is, of course, not very often.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal

Thus, a goal such as Alli’s stunning winner against Crystal Palace last month has been, and will continue to be, immortalized through numerous recreations in this Digital Age. Above is Alli’s goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon.

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

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Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).