Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard

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

source:

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)

source:

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)

Klinsmann wants top-four finish at Copa America, but can the USMNT do it?

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: The USA soccer team poses for a group photo before taking on Bolivia in the international friendly match between Bolivia and United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
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With the United States kicking off the Copa America this Friday, Jurgen Klinsmann has made his goal clear:

Reach the final four.

After a disappointing showing last summer in the Gold Cup and a poor finish to 2015, the USMNT heads into the Copa winners of six of their last seven matches and ready to make a run. But can they really reach the semifinal?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The U.S. faces their toughest test in the opening match against Colombia. One of the most dangerous teams in the tournament, few are expecting the U.S. to get a result against Los Cafeteros. Just a draw would be a great result for Klinsmann’s men, but it will be a big ask against the fourth-ranked team in the world.

The second match against Costa Rica is key. The two CONCACAF foes have plenty of experience playing against each other, and it is a relatively even matchup. The last time these sides met in October, the U.S. put in one of their worst performances ever under Klinsmann, and he must avoid a similar result at the Copa. If the United States wants to secure their position as one of CONCACAF’s top two sides along with Mexico, they cannot afford to drop points against Costa Rica.

Paraguay will be the USMNT’s final opponent, a very intriguing matchup for Klinsmann. Paraguay’s recent form doesn’t look threatening on paper, as Ramon Diaz’s side has not won since November, taking just two wins from their last 12 matches overall. However, they reached the quarterfinals in last summer’s Copa, earning a draw against Argentina and knocking out Brazil in penalty kicks.

[ MORE: Klinsmann excited about USMNT’s promising youngsters ]

The two sides that advance from Group A will face off against Group B in the quarters. Brazil are the heavy favorites in that group, paired with Ecuador, Peru, and Haiti. The U.S. beat Ecuador last week, defeated Peru in a September friendly, and are strides above Haiti, arguably the weakest team in the field. With Brazil likely to win Group B, a second-place finish in Group A would give the U.S. a brutal matchup in the quarters. Brazil embarrassed Klinsmann’s side in Massachusetts last fall, walking over the U.S. en route to an easy 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Mexico’s Pulido fought off kidnappers to call police for help ]

With the prospect of potentially facing Brazil in the quarters, the U.S. needs to put all their focus on winning Group A if Klinsmann really wants to reach the semifinals. The only match that the U.S. is not expected to take points from is the opener against Colombia, meaning a surprise result, however unlikely it may be, could kickstart a nice little run for the Stars and Stripes.

Firm issues plan urging companies to let employees watch EURO 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  Wayne Rooney of England celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Worried about trying to balance work with EURO 2016 this summer? Acas is here to help.

Acas, a British conciliation firm that helps companies maintain good working relationships with their employees, has called for bosses to allow their staff to watch EURO matches.

[ MORE: Bellerin to make Spain squad ]

Some matches, including England’s Group B showdown with Wales, kick off during the workday at 3 p.m. London time.

Sir Brendan Barber, who is the chairman of Acas, believes workers should be given some time off during games, or work later hours on other days to allow time to watch the EURO.

The EURO 2016 tournament is an exciting event for football fans but staff should avoid getting a red card for unreasonable demands or behaviour in the workplace during this period.

Employers should have a set of agreements before kick-off to help ensure their businesses remain productive while keeping staff happy too.

Our guidance can help managers get the best from their teams, arrange substitutions if necessary and avoid unnecessary penalties or unplanned sendings off.

With the tournament getting underway on June 10, I suggest printing out Acas’ statement and seeing if your boss will follow the sage advice of Sir Brendan Barber.

VIDEO: Payet scores sensational free kick winner for France

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 25:  Dimitri Payet of France in action during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and France at Amsterdam Arena on March 25, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Don’t let Dimitri Payet get a free kick, because he’s probably going to score.

After scoring four of his 12 goals for West Ham from dead-ball situations this season, his touch has carried over to the French national team.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

With France playing Cameroon and the match tied 2-2 in the 90th minute, Payet stepped up from about 30 yards out and did this:

While there may be some suspect goalkeeping on this one, it’s a stellar strike that found the top corner perfectly from a tough angle for a right-footed shot.

[ MORE: Saints set to give Long new contract as Liverpool, Spurs show interest ]

Payet has three goals for the French national team, with two of them coming from free kicks. After being named to the PFA Team of the Year this season, Payet will be a key member of the France squad that has high hopes as the host nation for the upcoming EURO.

El Tri striker Pulido fought kidnappers, used cell phone to call police

HYERES, FRANCE - JUNE 01:  Alan Pulido (no.19) of Mexico celebrates his goal during the Toulon Tournament Final between  Mexico and Turkey at Stade Perruc on June 1, 2012 in Hyeres, France.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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More details have been released regarding Alan Pulido’s kidnapping in Mexico.

The Mexican international and Olympiakos striker was taken at gunpoint early Sunday morning in Tamaulipas. He was then freed on Monday after a police “rescue operation.”

Seen leaving the police station with a bandaged hand, officials have now given information on how Pulido was injured.

[ MORE: PSG defender Aurier arrested ]

The 25-year-old striker cut his hand while punching through a glass pane in an attempt to escape. Officials also said Pulido fought his kidnapper, doing enough to grab a cell phone and notify police of his whereabouts.

From BBC News:

State prosecutor Ismael Quintanilla said the masked gang had taken Pulido to a house in Ciudad Victoria where he eventually found himself alone with one of his abductors.

“They traded blows. He takes it [the phone] and calls [emergency number] 066. It all happened very quickly,” Mr Quintanilla told Imagen radio.

An official report of the calls Pulido made to the emergency operator, obtained by the Associated Press, revealed that he threatened and beat the kidnapper while on the phone, demanding to be told where they were.

In one of the calls, Pulido said police were outside and starting to shoot so he described what he was wearing to avoid being mistaken for a kidnapper.

A wild situation, but the most important thing is that Pulido is safe while one arrest has been made.