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Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 7

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Two telling results at the top of the Eastern Conference shook up our Power Rankings, providing new context for early season results that, until this week, held huge sway in our evaluations. Yet after Toronto’s performance in Dallas and Columbus’s draw against D.C. United, it was easy to move beyond those teams’ early, impressive performances. Particularly with Seattle, a team both TFC and the Crew have beaten, having improved so much since those early trips to CenturyLink Field, the east’s two contenders took a fall, with a trio of Western Conference contenders sliding up the charts.

It’s a natural correction, one that illustrates the connections between all the results that go into this type of countdown. Toronto looks bad on the road at Dallas? That not only tells us something about Seattle, who beat Dallas the week before, but it also tells us Toronto’s win six weeks ago at Seattle may now be outdated. D.C. United almost gets a result out of Columbus? That tells us something about the Crew and also TFC’s win in Columbus. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great weekend rankings-wise for Toronto or the Crew.

Those connections also hint at a problem Power Rankings have brought upon themselves. The process, already a curious one, is typically defined as moving teams up or down from the previous ranking (or, just the standings). Team wins? Move it up a little. Win big? Move it up a lot. These Power Rankings really aren’t that hard, ya’ know.

But a team’s spot in the league’s pecking order is about more than how it performed last weekend; more than whatever biases the author carried into the previous ranking. It’s about what the latest results tell us about our previous assumptions. It’s about context. It’s about continuously learning and letting that education come across in the order.

Power Rankings don’t need to be about anything, but if you’re going to do them, let them be about all the data points that inform a team’s current quality. They should be about what this week’s games tell the author about the whole picture, if they can be about anything at all.

But this isn’t another Power Rankings manifesto, though it does seem to devolving into that every week. This is about our thoughts on the league after seven weeks. Here’s who we see as Major League Soccer’s strongest , right now:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 6 Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Sporting Kansas City: Montréal is bad, but when you remember how the Impact performed in places like Dallas and Philadelphia, you get a greater appreciation for Sporting’s 4-0 win. Yes, you expect the league’s best team to clean against on the league’s worst. That Sporting did only confirms the fact that they deserve this list’s top spot. (3-1-2)

2
Real Salt Lake: RSL was the target of a frustrated, focused Portland team, yet they still managed to get full points. Thanks to Ned Grabavoy’s late winner, Real Salt Lake got back into the in column, maintaining the league’s only unbeaten record in the process.  (3-0-4)
source:  3 UP 2 Seattle Sounders: Seattle’s three-game road swing ends with seven points and the Clint Dempsey-Obafemi Martins partnership looking unstoppable. This clearly isn’t the same team that lost last month to Toronto and Columbus. The Sounders have “gelled.” They’ve improved. They’ve passed the teams that handed them their early losses. (4-2-1)

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4 UP 2 LA Galaxy: A come-from-ahead draw on the road isn’t something that usually results in a two-spot climb (especially at this place on the chart), but the Galaxy were the better team on Saturday. In light of the Eastern Conference correction and what we know from LA’s two meetings with RSL, this seems right. Though they’ll need Landon Donovan to get going to be firing on all cylinders, the Galaxy are getting close.  (2-1-2)
source:  5 UP 2 FC Dallas: Coming off their loss to Seattle, Saturday’s was a welcome rebound, particularly considering the quality of their opposition. Though Toronto’s conservative approach played into the result, it’s not difficult to imagine other teams being forced to settle for a draw. Thanks to Dallas’s continued set piece mastery, Óscar Pareja’s team stayed at the top of the Western Conference. (5-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 3 Toronto FC: A one-goal loss at Dallas would normally be forgiven, but it’s become pretty obvious Toronto has a serious flaw – one that severely hurts the team by our ‘one game, neutral site’ standard. Ryan Nelsen is far too conservative, an approach that too often leaves his team within one goal of dropping points. Toronto has to at least try to win these games. Come the last 20 minutes, they’re just holding out, something that’s produced a the team’s first losing streak of the season. (3-3-0)
source:  7 DOWN 3 Columbus Crew: In weeks’ past, we’ve talked about apportioning blame and credit: decide what led to the result; hand out blame proportionately; don’t just blindly hurt one side and promote another. In Saturday’s 1-1 in Columbus, D.C. offered the same, limited, opportunistic approach we saw against New England and New York. The surprise was Columbus’s inability to overcome it.  (3-1-2)

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8 Colorado Rapids: The game was boring, Colorado should have expected more, but there also wasn’t any reason to think our impression of the Rapids needs to chance. San Jose is a better team than people are giving them credit for, and while Pablo Mastroeni should have still found a way to get full points at home, the inability to do so is less reason for concern than a slight down day.(3-1-2)
source:  9 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps weren’t great on Saturday, arguably performing worse than they did in their previous week’s trip to Carson, Calif., yet Carl Robinson’s team still found a way to take a point. That, however, isn’t the reason why they’ve climbed this week. This ranking is more a result of Philadelphia’s fall than Vancouver improving.  (2-2-3)
source:  10 UP 1 New England Revolution: The Revolution failed to inspire at Chicago and shouldn’t have had their chance to steal it late. But that’s the current state of the Fire, and with Chris Tierney’s late chance from close range, the Revolution nearly got three points in Bridgeview. That they didn’t means Saturday’s game felt like a bad performance, but compared to the résumés of the teams below them, the Revolution deserve this spot.  (2-3-2)
source:  11 UP 1 Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo had a strong first half on Saturday, one that lends credence to the idea their New England performance was a fluke. In the second half, however, Houston gave up two good chances that should have cost them the game. They move up, but only because the Union fall. (2-3-1)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Philadelphia Union: The Union have the pieces to reclaim a  higher spot on this list, but until those pieces start performing like they did in the season’s first few weeks, Philly’s place is in the bottom half of this list. John Hackworth’s team was completely outplayed last Wednesday by New York – one of the league’s worst teams over the first month-and-a-half. (1-1-5)
source:  13 San Jose Earthquakes: People are starting to take shots at San Jose, but those shots ignore a difficult opening schedule. This team is hard to watch and seems to have inspired some resentment from the rest of the league’s fans, but they’re not that bad, in a competitive sense. They’ve drawn three teams above them on this list. (0-2-3)
source:  14 Chicago Fire: Same as last week: played better than their opponents; found a way to draw; just need to stop making defensive mistakes. This week, it was Patrick Nyarko taking down Kevin Alston in the box. Converting late penalties would help, too, but until Chicago actually starts playing bad (which, it’s not dong now), there’s no reason for alarm. (0-1-6)
source:  15 UP 1 Portland Timbers: Remember the standard here: Who wins a neutral site game tomorrow. After watching the Timbers at Rio Tinto on Saturday, can you honestly say they wouldn’t beat the teams below them on this list? They’d probably beat some of the teams above them, too, but given their inability to break into the win column, we’ll stay conservative. Portland is improving, though. (0-3-4)
source:  16 UP 1 D.C. United: Unbeaten in four, D.C. United have proven more dangerous (or, less self-destructive) than last year. Still, the team’s progress has been as much about opponents’ struggles as their own successes. The actual games show a team that’s still very limited and likely enjoying an uncharacteristic string of results. Now it’s up to Ben Olsen to turn this run into something sustainable. (2-2-2)
source:  17 UP 2 New York Red Bulls: It would have been nice for Philadelphia to come back strong on Saturday and show New York’s first win of the season wasn’t just them taking advantage of struggling team traveling (albeit at a short distance) on a quick turnaround. Regardless, the Red Bulls are still in the win column, quickly rebuking the notion they are “the worst team in Major League Soccer” (as we called them last week). (1-2-4)
source:  18 DOWN 3 Chivas USA: Chivas doesn’t seem this bad, but as teams like New York and D.C. make progress, the Goats are finding ways to lose at home. There’s a pretty big gap between them and 19th place Montréal, but Wilmer Cabrera’s team needs to recapture some of its early-season confidence if it’s to climb back up this chart. (1-3-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: Not only is this team really bad, but they have no fight. The expressions, body language, results during that last 20 minutes in Kansas City gave the impression this is more than a slow start. The Impact have no identity, no direction, and seem without potential solutions. Maybe, having hit rock bottom, there’ll be an awakening in the squad, but if the teamy can’t show more this week against visiting Philadelphia, it’ll be time to consider a major shakeup. (0-4-3)

Real Madrid loses Modric and Marcelo to injuries in Malaga win

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 21:  Marcelo of Real Madrid CF comes off substituted during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at the Bernabeu on January 21, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The 40-game unbeaten run seems like a distant memory.

Real Madrid had lost two straight matches before a 2-1 La Liga win over Malaga on Saturday, but despite the three points, they still did lose in a way.

Los Blancos lost both Marcelo and Luka Modric to injury in the match, and both could potentially miss up to a month of time.

Modric has been in and out of the squad this season due to injuries, and during his other lengthy spell on the sidelines, he was replaced adequately by 22-year-old Mateo Kovacic, and he was the man to replace Modric against Malaga with 12 minutes remaining. Reports say the Croatian suffered an adductor injury which can be quite painful and could keep him off the field for a number of weeks.

Marcelo, meanwhile, has been a staple in the Madrid lineup, appearing in the last 11 league matches and starting all but two of those. Marcelo was brought off just 25 minutes into the Malaga win reportedly with a hamstring problem, replaced by Isco. The likely long-term replacement for the 28-year-old Brazilian would be Nacho Fernandez, who has seen time this season on both defensive flanks.

The injuries puts not just the immediate La Liga and Copa del Rey futures of the two in jeopardy, but also could affect their availability for the start of the Champions League knockout stage which begins on February 15th against Napoli.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Hull City (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea warms up prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Diego Costa has returned from his short absence as the Brazilian starts in front of the home fans at Stamford Bridge live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Costa had missed the 3-0 win over Leicester City with what was officially tabbed as a back injury, but with reports swirling that the striker had been unsettled by a big offer from China and a bust-up with management. Now, he’s back after missing just a single match.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Hull City live online at NBCSports.com ]

John Terry does not make the Chelsea squad despite returning from suspension, with Kurt Zouma on the bench in relief Antonio Conte‘s preferred back three.

Hull City is without leading scorer Robert Snodgrass, a big loss for a player who has struggled with injury problems the last two years. David Meyler returned to training this week and is on the bench.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs: 
Begovic, Ake, Zouma, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

Hull City: Jakupovic; Maguire, Dawson, Davies, Elabdellaoui; Mason, Huddlestone, Clucas, Robertson; Evandro, Hernández.
Subs: Marshall, Meyler, Maloney, Diomande, Niasse, Tymon, Bowen.

Arsenal 2-1 Burnley: Arsenal into second in stunning fashion

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What appeared a straightforward result for Arsenal ended in stunning fashion as a pair of penalties in stoppage time saw Arsenal through to second in the Premier League table.

A 59th minute header by Shkodran Mustafi had Arsenal 1-0 in front, and it remained that way for much of the game. Granit Xhaka was sent off again in the 65th minute, but it didn’t appear to make much of a difference to the Gunners.

Then, things exploded in stoppage time with seven added minutes due to earlier injuries. Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot two minutes into stoppage time for a kick from Francis Coquelin, and Andre Gray buried the chance to level things up, appearing to have wrapped up a point. But in the final tick of seven added minutes, Arsenal themselves earned a penalty when Ben Mee produced a high boot to the face of Laurent Koscielny, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Alexis Sanchez cooly went down the middle, and Arsenal came out on top.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley started brightly, but it was Arsenal that had the best early chance. With six minutes gone by, Alexis Sanchez broke down the left and delivered a good ball in, but Olivier Giroud‘s flick header was from too far out, and the Frenchman probably should have let it go with the ball set to arrive at the feet of Aaron Ramsey.

That chance sparked Arsenal to begin pummeling the Burnley box, mostly up the left edge with Sanchez. The visitors packed in the box, forcing the Gunners to get creative, and Mesut Ozil fired wide on the half-volley past 20 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny was needed at the back after a mistake in possession by his defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi, but the Frenchman was calm, cool, and collected to dispossess Andre Gray on the break. Koscielny had a chance on the other end as well, past the half-hour mark as he headed a free-kick on net but it looped agonizingly over the bar, settling on the top netting.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Arsenal continued to attack the packed-in Burnley box, and Sanchez whipped a shot in three minutes before halftime that swerved just wide of the post. The Gunners kept at it right out of the break, as Grioud fed Ramsey with a header, but the Welsh international tried a scorpion kick, and it went over. Sanchez fired a fizzing shot on net on 50 minutes, but it curled just beyond the top right corner. Arsenal should have had a penalty, with Mustafi going down under a silly challenge from Gray, but no call was awarded.

The hosts finally and deservedly broke through in the 59th minute as Mustafi expertly headed in off a corner. The header was from a very tight angle, as Mustafi met the ball ahead of the near post, angling it all the way across the face of goal and tucked inside the far corner past a diving Tom Heaton.

Arsenal was pegged back when Granit Xhaka earned his second red card of the Premier League season for a two-footed lunge on Steven Defour. Xhaka had passed the ball straight to Defour and as the Burnley midfielder distributed it to a teammate, the Swiss international went in studs showing, and after a conference with the assistant referee, head official Jon Moss sent Xhaka off.

With 15 minutes remaining, Burnley lost a steady man as Dean Marney was forced off after a heavy challenge with Mesut Ozil that earned him a yellow card. The stretcher was required after what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee which took the full brunt of Ozil’s weight in an awkward position.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

As the game wound to a close, there were seven added minutes due to the Marney injury. Early in stoppage time, Burnley won a penalty and appeared to have earned themselves a point. Substitute Francis Coquelin kicked Ashley Barnes in the lower leg, and the penalty was awarded. Gray buried the penalty down the middle, and things were level with just minutes remaining.

Arsenal poured forward, and with an angry Arsene Wenger sent to the tunnel, the Gunners produced a winning moment. A free-kick looped in to the far post, and Mee’s boot contacted Koscielny in the side of the head, again forcing the referee to award the penalty. Sanchez broke out the panenka finish, dinking the ball down the middle and in for a last-gasp 2-1 lead. Replays show the penalty was the correct decision, but Koscielny was in an offside position when the delivery came in, the flag failing to punish the Gunners.

The win moves Arsenal past Liverpool and Tottenham, into second place with 47 points, five behind leaders Chelsea who are yet to play this weekend. Burnley, meanwhile, remain with just a single point all season away from home, sitting in 13th place with 26 points, having been passed by Southampton who won in the early Sunday match.

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri admits tactical mistakes after another road defeat

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Ever-gracious Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has taken full responsibility for the Foxes’ recent struggles, claiming his lineup tinkering has fallen flat.

The Italian said following the 3-0 defeat to Southampton that he has tried a few different formations to maximize his players’ abilities, but that it hasn’t worked out.

[ RECAP: Leicester falls on the road again at Southampton ]

“I think the last two matches I changed the shape to try and help my players to play better and find the right solution, but maybe I make mistakes. I am wrong against Chelsea when I play with three at the back, and also today when I wanted to play with a diamond. My players are used to playing with a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 and they recognize the position, the game, everything, the movement. I wanted to give something more, but I make a mistake, I was wrong.”

Honesty sure is Ranieri’s best policy, and deflecting criticism from his players is clearly the tactic here. Managers often like to play down the importance of tactical formations at times, but here it clearly has weighed on Ranieri’s mind, who may revert back to his tested formations.

[ MORE: Is Pep Guardiola unhappy in the Premier League? ]

“I think it’s much better to give to them what they know very well. I look and they had to push a lot with this system and this mentality, and keep going and improve of course.”

Whatever the case, something will have to change with Leicester City this season if they wish to continue in the English top-flight. The Foxes have gone all season without a single away win, and they’re 15th in the table with just 21 points, five above the relegation zone.