Britain Soccer Premier League

Premier League Power Rankings: Liverpool, Manchester City locked at the top – Week 33

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With five weeks to go until it’s all done and dusted, the Power Rankings are still chopping and changing at this pivotal point of the season.

Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City remain at the top, but the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Crystal Palace are surging up our rankings.

At the bottom Fulham and West Brom had big ones, while Cardiff and Sunderland seem doomed.

(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: The Reds gutted out a win against West Ham last weekend, as a stiff test away at Upton Park proved their title credentials are built on solid foundations. This week a title-decided against Man City awaits, as Anfield reflects on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. (23-5-5)
source:  2
Manchester City: Pellegrini’s side go into the title showdown in good form, five wins from their last six and seven unbeaten. The Citizens know if they win at Liverpool, they need six more victories to seal the title. Winning out is easier said than done. (22-4-5)
source:  3
Chelsea: The Blues easily dispatched Stoke last time out, and they completed a stunning turnaround vs. PSG in the Champions League in midweek. That success should spur Mourinho’s men on down the stretch, Swansea away this week. (22-6-5)
source:  4 UP 1
Everton: What a win for the Toffees, as they battered Arsenal 3-0 and look like the favorites to seal a place in the top four. Roberto Martinez’s side have won five on the spin and their front four are causing havoc. Tough trip to Sunderland to negotiate this weekend. (18-9-5)

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5 DOWN 1
Arsenal: Arsene Wenger’s side continue to falter away from home against their rivals, as Everton handed the Gunners a spanking. If the North London side slip up against West Ham in a derby next Tuesday, Everton could replace them in the top four with a game in hand. Season is unraveling at the Emirates, but at least Aaron Ramsey is back, and they have an FA Cup semifinal vs. Wigan. (19-7-7)
source:  6 UP 1
Tottenham: Tim Sherwood’s future still remains uncertain, but I was at White Hart Lane during Spurs’ 5-1 demolition of Sunderland on Monday and was impressed with what I saw. Passion and a leader, Sherwood may well be on the way out this summer but he should find another job easily. Away at West Brom this week, as the top four chase carries on. (18-5-10)
source:  7 DOWN 1 Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino could be heading to Spurs to replace Sherwood, but right now he’s still upset about the offside decision which cost Saints dear at Man City. Relegation favorites Cardiff City head to St. Mary’s this Saturday. (13-11-9)
source:  8 UP 1
Manchester United: The Red Devils are out of Europe after their defeat to Bayern, as David Moyes’ monumental rebuild has begun. What next for United? With UCL soccer off the agenda for next season, United need to freshen things up and finish the season well. No game this weekend. (17-6-10)
source:  9
Stoke City: Mark Hughes’ men lost at Chelsea but were well in the game for the opening 45 minutes. The Potters are surging toward their first-ever top-10 finish in the PL, as Newcastle await at the Brit this weekend. (10-10-13)
source:  10
West Ham: Heartbreak for the Hammers vs. Liverpool, as Sam Allardyce’s men dug in and battle hard against the league leaders. A questionable PK call cost West Ham a point, however they should be safe from relegation. Arsenal away next Tuesday for the East London club. (10-7-16)
source:  11 UP 1 Crystal Palace: The Eagles are soaring toward safety, as Jason Puncheon put on a masterclass to give the Londoners a big win away at Cardiff. Home game against Aston Villa gives Tony Pulis’ side the chance to all but secure their PL status for next season. He’s done a marvelous job. (10-4-18)
source:  12 UP 2
Hull City: This weekend Hull have an FA Cup semifinal on the mind, as they go to Wembley and are overwhelming favorites against Sheffield United. Last weekend they beat Swansea 1-0 in a crucial win, and Steve Bruce’s side are pretty much safe and sound. (10-6-17)

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13 DOWN 2
Newcastle: Magpies are in free-fall, as many are questioning Alan Pardew’s role as manager. Three-straight defeats for Newcastle, and they haven’t even scored a goal after shipping 11. Tough trip to Stoke isn’t what they needed. (14-4-14)
source:  14 DOWN 1
Aston Villa: Just when you think Villa are safe, they go and mess things up again. A damaging home defeat against Fulham sees the Midlands giant still not out of the relegation battle. They need to beat Palace this Saturday. (9-7-16)
source:  15
Swansea City: Speaking of relegation trouble, the Swans still aren’t out of it. They lost at Hull and now host Chelsea, as the Liberty Stadium faithful will be ‘nervous nellies’ heading into the final few weeks of this season. Can they upset Mourinho’s men? (8-9-16)
source:  16 UP 4
Fuham: A big win vs. Villa has re-ignited the Cottagers great escape, as they are now just five points from safety with five games to go. This Saturday’s match against Norwich is simply must win. If Felix Magath can conjure up a second-straight victory, the great escape of ’08 can repeat itself. (8-3-22)
source:  17 UP 2
West Brom: Pepe Mel’s boys delivered, big time, in a relegation six-pointer away at Norwich. They are still not home and dry yet, as Spurs await at the Hawthorns this weekend. Can the Baggies keep their head above water? (6-14-12)
source:  18
Norwich City: The Canaries decided to fire Chris Hughton with five games to go, in a move that smacked of desperation. Norwich are spiraling toward the Championship, and if they don’t beat Fulham they are in real danger of going down. Four tough games await in their final four matches, Neil Adams has a tough, tough job. (8-8-17)
source:  19 DOWN 2
Sunderland: The Black Cats have games in hand at the bottom, but they are seven points adrift with seven games to go. Gus Poyet knows he’s skippering a sinking ship, as he said the Mackems need a ‘miracle’ to stay up. (6-7-18)
source:  20 DOWN 4
Cardiff City: Another manager needing a miracle is Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, as his Bluebirds lost 3-0 to Palace. If they don’t beat Southampton on Saturday and other results go against them, it could be as good as over for the South Wales side. (6-8-19)

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.