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)

Arsene Wenger “99.9 percent confident” new players will arrive at Arsenal

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 12:  Shkodran Mustafi of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Germany and Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 12, 2016 in Lille, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger is just teasing Arsenal’s fans now.

[ MORE: UCL changes announced ]

With the Gunners reportedly closing in on a double swoop for Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez which will cost them almost $70 million, Wenger seems very confident that the deals will get done very shortly.

Speaking to the media on Friday ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Watford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Wenger confirmed they are closing in on new signings ahead of the summer transfer window shutting on Aug. 31.

“We are working on the deals. We are not close enough to announce today that they will sign for us, and will we sign anybody before the end of the transfer window? I am 99 per cent confident.”

The deal for 24-year-old Mustafi has been rumbling on for some time now with Valencia driving a hard bargain for the German international defender. However, it is believed a fee of $46.2 million has been agreed for the center back and he is now on his way to London to complete a medical.

[ MORE: Europa League draw tough for United, Saints ]

As for Perez, the 27-year-old striker from Deportivo La Coruna has emerged as a late target for Arsenal after Everton had tracked him for most of the summer. It is believed Arsenal has met the $22.5 million release clause in his contract after Lucas scored 17 goals in La Liga for Deportivo last season. He will challenge Olivier Giroud for the central striking position at the Emirates Stadium but can also play in a variety of positions in the attacking unit.

If both of these deals go through as expected then Arsenal will have actually spent the third-most of any PL club this summer on new players, trailing only Manchester City and Manchester United in spending. They also signed Swiss international midfielder Granit Xhaka for $40 million earlier this summer.

Wenger joked about now being branded a big spending this summer and told one journalist “it is a shame you are not my friend. You will see I spend a lot of money,” when asked about the perception that Wenger doesn’t like to spend much in the transfer market.

Arsenal’s manager also revealed that Calum Chambers is likely to leave on loan before the window shuts with Mustafi taking his place, while the Gunners will have Gabriel back soon to join youngster Rob Holding, Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny as center back options. There is also club captain Per Mertesacker but he center back is out with a long-term knee injury and won’t be back until January.

UEFA Europa League group stage: Man United, Saints handed tough draws

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Premier League clubs Manchester United and Southampton were both handed tough, but exciting, draws in the 2016-17 group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The draw, which took place in Monaco on Friday, saw Jose Mourinho’s United placed in Group A as they face Turkish giants Fenerbache, Dutch powerhouse Feyenoord and Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk with some big games coming up at Old Trafford.

United’s manager was happy with the tough tests for his squad: “It’s a big match to play in Istanbul as it is in Rotterdam – it’s good for us,” Mourinho said.

Saints, who have reached the group stage of the Europa League for the first-time in club history, face mouth-watering clashes against Inter Milan, while they also have tough games against Czech giants Sparta Prague and the champions of Israel Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

48 teams who had qualified for the Europa League group stage were split up into 12 groups of four teams with some other big ties cropping up as Group G looks particularly strong as it contains Ajax, Standard Liege, Celta Vigo and Panathinaikos.

The Europa League final will take place in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena on May 24, 2017.

Below is the draw in full, with the opening group games taking place on Thursday Sept. 15. There are six group games in total for each team and you can see the full schedule by clicking on the link above.


GROUP A
Manchester United
Fenerbache
Feyenoord
Zorya Luhansk

GROUP B
Olympiakos
APOEL FC
Young Boys
FC Astana

GROUP C
Anderlecht
St Etienne
FSV Mainz 05
Gabala

GROUP D
Zenit St Petersburg
AZ Alkmaar
Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dundalk

GROUP E
Viktoria Plzen
AS Roma
Austria Wien
Astra Giurgiu

GROUP F
Athletic Bilbao
Genk
Rapid Wien
Sassuolo

GROUP G
Ajax
Standard Liege
Celta Vigo
Panathinaikos

GROUP H
Shakhtar Donetsk
SC Braga
Gent
Konyaspor

GROUP I
FC Schalke 04
FC Salzburg
Krasnodar
Nice

GROUP J
Fiorentina
PAOK FC
Slovan Liberec
Qarabag

GROUP K
Inter Milan
Sparta Prague
Southampton
Hapoel Beer-Sheva

GROUP L
Villarreal
Steaua Bucharest
FC Zurich
Osmanlispor

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.