Premier League Power Rankings: Liverpool or Chelsea for the title? – Week 34

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The business end of the Premier League season is upon us, and we’re still waiting for any of the positive or negative transactions to be confirmed.

At both ends of the standings question marks still remain, as the title chase and relegation battle are reaching their climax.

Liverpool and Chelsea are holding their nerve but Manchester City are struggling to stay in the race for the crown after two games without a win. At the bottom Fulham and Cardiff have given themselves a fighting chance with vital wins, as they’ve dragged plenty of other teams back into the scrap against the drop.

(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: That can’t do it, can they? Every week Liverpool are expected to slip up, and yet they keep on trucking. Their huge 3-2 win vs. Man City has put them in the driving seat with four games to go. Plus the hugely emotional 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster is spurring them on to glory. Norwich away this weekend for Brendan Rodgers’ men. (24-5-5)
source:  2 UP 1
Chelsea: The Blues are getting it done under Mourinho, as the ground out a crucial 1-0 win on the road against Swansea. You don’t win prizes for beautiful performances at the stage of the season… Chelsea wouldn’t win any. Sunderland at home should be a routine win, then it’s the Champions League semis for Jose Mourinho’s boys. (23-6-5)
source:  3 DOWN 1
Manchester City: A bad, bad week for the Citizens, as first they lost away at title rivals Liverpool and then they chucked away two points at home to bottom club Sunderland. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are unraveling before our eyes. West Brom at home this week must yield a win, otherwise it is curtains for City. (22-5-6)
source:  4 UP 1
Arsenal: The Gunners ground out a 3-1 win over West Ham on Tuesday and are buoyant after reaching the FA Cup final last week. After Everton’s slip up against Palace, Arsene Wenger’s side now know if they win their last 4 games, they’re in the UCL next season. (20-7-7)

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5 DOWN 1  Everton: Roberto Martinez felt his side were “fearful” vs.  Palace, as the Toffees came unstuck in a shock home defeat. Now their UCL destiny lies out of their hands and with both Manchester clubs still to come, their season could fizzle out. Regardless, it has been a great season but that ‘what if’ feeling could be hanging around. David Moyes is heading back to his old club this Sunday. (19-9-6)
source:  6
Tottenham: Spurs are battling away but draws against the likes of West Brom won’t get you in the top four. The North London club did come from 3-0 down to draw 3-3, but still, you shouldn’t be 3-0 down to the Baggies. London derby against Fulham this weekend. Tim Sherwood’s side HAVE to win to keep their top four hopes alive. (18-6-10)
source:  7 UP 2 Stoke City: Mark Hughes has worked wonders at the Britannia, as the Potters have won five of their last seven. Solid at the back but playing some nice stuff going forward, Stoke have finished the season superbly. Tricky trip to Cardiff this weekend. (11-10-13)
source:  8 DOWN 1
Southampton: Saints’ season is in danger of petering out, as the South Coast club seem to have already put their flip flops on and dusted off their bucket and spade. A shock home defeat to Cardiff means they will finish anywhere from eighth to tenth. That’s guaranteed. Aston Villa away for Mauricio Pochettino’s boys. (13-9-12)
source:  9 UP 2
Crystal Palace: The Eagles are safe! Tony Pulis has worked wonders at Selhurst Park, as many are calling for him to be manager of the season. Four wins on the spin, with Jason Puncehon scoring 4 goals in 3 games, has seen the Eagles soar to midtable. West Ham away this week. (12-4-18)
source:  10 DOWN 2
Manchester United: Okay, so United didn’t play last week, but they are struggling their way into the final few weeks of the season. After losing to Bayern Munich there’s been a somber mood about the place. Can Moyes’ men grab him a win on his return to Everton this weekend? (17-6-10)
source:  11 DOWN 1 West Ham: The Hammers put on a brave fight against Arsenal in midweek but after Matt Jarvis’ opener, who later should have won a controversial PK, the Irons were beaten. London derby vs. Palace should be lively at Upton Park. (10-7-17)
source:  12
Hull City: The Tigers are going to Wembley! Congrats to Steve Bruce and his side as they will play in the club’s first-ever FA Cup final. They face Arsenal this weekend at the KC Stadium in a dress-rehearsal of the final in what will be an intriguing encounter. (10-6-17)
source:  13 UP 3
Fuham: Felix Magath is working his magic at Fulham with the Cottagers sensing the great escape is on. A narrow win over Norwich was their second-straight PL victory, as they’ve hit a good run of form at the perfect time. Tough trip to Spurs next up, yet Fulham are just two points from safety. (9-3-22)
source:  14
Aston Villa: Paul Lambert has had to sack his two assistants this week and turmoil is in the air at Villa Park. Four straight defeats for the Villans and they face Saints at home this weekend. Must win. (9-7-16)
source:  15 DOWN 2
Newcastle: The Toon continue to drop as Pardew’s men have lost four games in a row. Swansea at home this weekend for the Geordies but they are in free fall at the moment. (14-4-16)
source:  16 DOWN 1
Swansea City: Swansea head to St. James’ Park after a narrow home defeat to Chelsea. Garry Monk’s side have been dragged back into the relegation battle and are now just three points above the drop zone. (8-9-17)
source:  17
West Brom: Pepe Mel’s side threw away another nailed-on win, as they blew it at home against Tottenham. Will letting a 3-0 lead slip come back to haunt the Baggies at the end of this season? The draw specialists won’t get much from Man City this weekend. (6-15-12)
source:  18 UP 2
Cardiff City: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer can see a glimmer of hope after the Bluebirds beat Saints 1-0 away from home. Now can they follow that up by beating Stoke in the Welsh capital? If they do, they have a great chance of staying up. (7-8-19)
source:  19
Sunderland: Gus Poyet’s side battled to a brave 2-2 draw with Man City away in midweek and should’ve probably won had Vito Mannone not made a late error. Can they recreate their heroics away at Chelsea? (6-8-19)
source:  20 DOWN 2
Norwich City: The Canaries were the better team against Fulham, but lost. New manager Neil Adams needs three points, fast, if he’s going to keep this sinking ship from going under. Facing the league leaders Liverpool at home isn’t ideal. (8-8-18)

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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This season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

(more…)

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

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  • Shkodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker all in line for season debuts.
  • The game will likely come too soon for Alexis Sanchez, who is still working to get to match fitness.
  • Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W3 D3 L1).
  • Stoke City forward Jese Rodriguez could make his debut following his season-long loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.
  • Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in both of his opening two PL appearances for the club.

Coming off an exciting 4-3 comeback victory at home against Leicester City, Arsenal travel to what’s been in the past a house of horrors, visiting the bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Three months ago, Arsenal ended some of the bad voodoo on them in Stoke with a 4-1 win on the road. This time around, the Gunners have even more firepower, with Alexandre Lacazette off to a strong start in the Premier League.

Stoke City, like Arsenal, are still getting comfortable in the in-vogue 3-4-3 formation, as well as getting used to life without Marko Arnautovic. Spanish forward Jese, a Real Madrid academy graduate, could make his season debut for Stoke on Saturday and summer signings Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will push American Geoff Cameron for a place in the team each week.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on last year’s win at Stoke: “We were well-organized, efficient and under pressure to win the game. We were on a strong run as well. We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.

“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance. Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes on this season’s new signings: “We are hoping to involve all the guys we have signed this summer, some will be on the bench, others won’t. We are very excited by the group that we are assembling to be honest.”

“We always aim to be stronger at the end of the window than we were at the beginning, and I would argue that of all the players that have left only one would have been considered as a regular starter. We have replaced those guys with players who I see as potential regular starters.”

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Prediction

Arsenal are clearly still a work in progress, but offensively they’re improved from a year ago. Stoke City on the other hand fell by a slim margin to Everton last week but have greatly improved defensively. We think it will be another defensive struggle, ending in a draw. Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal