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)

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone