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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)

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has reportedly fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain is set to complete his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Sky Italia says that the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…

Premier League winter break talks ongoing: What are pros, cons?

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What if the Premier League had a winter break?

That is a topic of hot discussion in the UK after new England manager Sam Allardyce called for a midseason break during his opening press conference as the new Three Lions manager on Monday.

[ MORE: PL preseason schedule

With the Premier League confirming that discussions between themselves, the English Football Association and the Football League are ongoing, it is obviously something the governing bodies which run English soccer are seriously considering.

It is believed that if a winter break was given the green light, it wouldn’t take place until the 2019-20 season at the earliest.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game live ] 

On Tuesday the executive chairman of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, discussed the notion of a winter break and was asked by Sky Sports about the feasibility of Allardyce’s proposal.

“He’s been very consistent. He’s been calling for it for a very long time, as has every England manager. We are not against a winter break,” Scudamore said. “We have gone on record saying that we are in discussions with the people we need to be in discussions with which is the Football Association and the Football League. It is an integrated calendar. Those discussions are taking place. I don’t know how close or far we are because I wouldn’t want to compromise those negotiations or those discussions.

“Even if the three of us, the three [governing] bodies come up with that solution, we then of course have to road test that with the clubs that are involved and the fans and everything else. We are in discussions, there is a willingness to make it happen but I can’t put anything like a timescale on that.”

Intriguing comments from Scuadmore as the PL seems to be in favor of at least giving the winter break a try. The English FA have been pushing that agenda for quite some time as they believe that heading into an international tournament the English national team suffer due to the long, hard slog of a season with a packed schedule through the winter months. At least, that’s what they’re going with after so many disappointing tournaments in recent years…

So, it’s worth asking, how much of a difference, if any, would this make? What are the pros and cons of a winter break?

Straight off the bat, it must not eradicate the traditional Boxing Day or Dec. 28 games. Those dates are sacrosanct in the UK sporting calendar. My proposal would be to keep those two matchdays and then have a break from Dec. 28 until Jan. 12, giving the teams over two weeks off.

In the PL there are obviously 20 teams which means that it isn’t quite as easy as the Bundesliga, for example, having a winter break as Germany’s top-flight teams only has 19 teams, meaning teams only have to play 36 games instead of the 38 games each Premier League side has to play. The FA Cup opening rounds would also have to be slotted back to late January but it could be more beneficial for the English national team and PL teams playing in European competitions as they would also have the same amount of rest as teams in Spain, Germany and Italy who all have winter breaks.

Well, regardless of what you think, here’s a quick list below looking at some of the potential positives and negatives of trying out a break.

Pros

  • Players rested, less injuries
  • PL teams could advance further in European competitions
  • English national team may have better chance in major competitions
  • Higher intensity in games throughout the season
  • Less midweek games during the season, more spread out schedule
  • Midseason breaks to warmer climates, small friendly tournaments could take place in USA or Middle East

Cons

  • Possibility of reduced games around the festive period
  • Confusion around when FA Cup third round would begin
  • Season running longer into May, possibly June, meaning less time before international tournaments

Report: Sakho sent home from Liverpool’s US tour by Jurgen Klopp

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Mamadou Sakho‘s days at Liverpool seem numbered.

According to multiple reports the French international defender has been sent home from Liverpool’s tour of the USA by Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Per the reports, Klopp is said to be upset with Sakho’s behavior on the trip to California as he turned up late for the flight to the USA and that was brought up in one of Klopp’s interviews while the team visited Alcatraz.

Sakho’s attitude around team training sessions at Stanford University was also questioned by Klopp but the towering defender isn’t actually training as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury which will see him miss the start of the upcoming Premier League season.

All of this caps off a turbulent few months for 26-year-old Sakho who was only cleared of a doping violation by UEFA earlier this month. European soccer’s governing body accused Sakho of failing a drugs test following a Europa League Round of 16 win over Manchester United in March.

Sakho hasn’t played since April — which forced him to miss the Europa League final and France’s EURO 2016 campaign — and now his future at Anfield must be in serious doubt.

It is believed Sakho will arrive back in the UK on Tuesday and will continue treatment on his injury at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.

Klopp’s side face Chelsea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday in their first International Champions Cup game, before then facing AC Milan on Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif. Their U.S. tour concludes with a friendly against AS Roma in St. Louis, Missouri on Aug. 1.

Report: Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker out five months with serious injury

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates at the end of the UEFA Champions League Qualifier 2nd leg match between Arsenal and Besiktas at the Emirates Stadium on August 27, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Numerous reports are claiming that Arsenal will be without their BFG until 2017.

German central defender Per Mertesacker has not traveled with the Gunners on their tour of the USA with the club confirming their vice captain suffered a knee injury during their friendly win over Lens last Friday.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Sky Sports in the UK claim that Mertesacker, 31, could be out for five months and they believe the club will announce that news in the next 48 hours.

That leaves Arsene Wenger with a real problem at center back.

Gabriel has also not traveled with Arsenal due to tonsillitis and Laurent Koscielny is also missing after being given extra time off following his part in France’s run to the EURO 2016 final.

That means only Calum Chambers and new signing from Bolton Wanderers, 20-year-old Rob Holding, are around as center back options for Wenger. Nacho Monreal could also slot in for the time being but Arsenal may now look to get another center back in before the end of the transfer window this summer.

The Gunners have arrived in the USA and play the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, then Chivas de Guadalajara next Monday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.