Liverpool launched themselves ahead, as their midfielders flew out of the traps.

Premier League Power Rankings: Two way tussle for top spot – Week 35

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With just three matchdays to go, the Premier League title race and relegation battle is still wide open.

Although Liverpool can take a huge step towards winning their first-ever PL crown by beating Chelsea this weekend. Following the Blues’ shock defeat to Sunderland last time out, it now looks like a two-horse race for the title between Liverpool and Man City.

At the bottom wins for Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham this weekend would mean they could finally climb out of the bottom three with just two games to go. Sunderland play Cardiff, in what could be a relegation decider.

Could this season get any more exciting?

(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: Another week, another entertaining win for Liverpool. A nail-biting win away at Norwich last Sunday means that seven points from their last 3 games guarantees the title. The small matter of Chelsea at home beckons this Sunday. Can the Reds hold their nerve? (25-5-5)
source:  2 UP 1
Manchester City: The Citizens slipped up at home to Sunderland last week, yet recovered to grab a late point and then beat West Brom. If they win out and Liverpool lose to Chelsea this Sunday, City could win the PL title on goal difference. Palace away this weekend. (23-5-6)
source:  3 DOWN 1
Chelsea: Chelsea have lost at home in the PL under Jose Mourinho. I repeat, Chelsea have lost at home under Mourinho. The Blues suffered a shock late defeat to Sunderland, as the 77-game unbeaten streak is finally over. Injuries are mounting up, as Mourinho plans to play his “B” squad at Anfield this Sunday with a UCL semi vs. Atletico looming. (23-6-6)
source:  4
Arsenal: Last week was a good one for the Gunners, as two blowout wins saw them take fourth place by the scruff of the neck. Podolski scored four times (doubling his season’s tally) and Ramsey is back to his best after injury. Beating Hull handsomely in the FA Cup final dress rehearsal is a boost, as Newcastle await at the Emirates on Monday. (21-7-7)

source:

5 Everton: The Toffees put in a masterful display against Man United to end Moyes’ reign at Old Trafford, as Robert Martinez’s men were electrifying. The only stumbling block was the defeat to Palace at home a few days earlier. Can the Toffees beat Southampton on Saturday? (20-9-6)
source:  6
Tottenham: Spurs are keeping pace with the top four, but only just. A hard-fought 3-1 win over Fulham saw Tim Sherwood’s side get back to winning ways, now they face Stoke City away. Lose and their UCL dreams are all but over. (19-6-10)
source:  7 Stoke City: The Potters will aim to keep their top 10 push going by beating Spurs at the Britannia this weekend. Mark Hughes’ men were unlucky not to beat Cardiff away last time out. Just one defeat in eight for Stoke. (11-11-13)
source:  8 UP 1
Crystal Palace: Five wins on the spin, as the Selhurst Park faithful are in dreamland. Tony Pulis’ men are officially safe with three games to go, who would’ve predicted that? Surely the Eagles can’t make it six in a row by beating Man City this weekend… (13-4-18)
source:  9 DOWN 1
Southampton: Saints drew 0-0 with Aston Villa last time out as they keep missing glorious chances. They are superb in and around the box, but finishing has been their Achilles heel of late. Silky soccer will be on display against Everton at St. Mary’s this Saturday. (13-10-12)
source:  10
Manchester United: The Red Devils have had a tumultuous week. First they lost to Everton, then they fired David Moyes and put Ryan Giggs in charge on an interim basis. What now for United? Giggsy’s first game in charge is at home to Norwich. Can he get off to a winning start? (17-6-11)
source:  11 West Ham: The Irons’ season is in danger of petering out, as they lost at home to Palace last weekend. Sam Allardyce’s men are creating chances but Andy Carroll isn’t putting them away. West Brom away provides a good chance for three points. (10-7-18)
source:  12
Hull City:  The Tigers still aren’t out trouble, yet something pretty spectacular must happen for them to go down. A heavy defeat to FA Cup final opponents Arsenal wasn’t ideal last weekend, can they beat Fulham away to all but seal their safety? (10-6-17)
source:  13
Fuham: Speaking of Fulham, the Cottagers now face a must-win match at home to Hull in their desperate battle against the drop. Against Spurs last weekend they were unlucky not to get something from the game, but that extra bit of quality has alluded them. Can Magath’s men do the business? (9-3-23)
source:  14 UP 2
Swansea City: Garry Monk is a relieved man as the Swans left it late to clinch a valuable three points away at Newcastle. Wilfried Bony, so often Swansea’s savior, scored a late PK as the South Wales side have almost clinched they ticket to the PL next season. Home game vs. Villa this weekend. (9-9-17)
source:  15

Newcastle: The Magpies lost for the fifth-straight time and Alan Pardew’s time on Tyneside looks to be coming to an end. Still in the top 10, Newcastle are finishing the season with a whimper and could slip further down the standings. Arsenal away this weekend. (14-4-17)
 source:  16 UP 3
Sunderland: Huge week for the Black Cats as they drew away at City (where they led until the final moments) and then shocked everyone by beating Chelsea. Those results have breathed new life into their relegation battle. Three points from safety, the game against Cardiff is absolutely massive this weekend. (7-8-19)
 source:  17 DOWN 3
Aston Villa: Unrest, poor results and a worrying slide continues at Villa Park. Paul Lambert got rid of his two assistants after issues off the field, then they somehow mustered a 0-0 draw with Saints at home to stop the rot following four-straight defeats. Trip to Swansea this week. (9-8-17)
source:  18

Cardiff City: The Bluebirds missed a great opportunity to climb out of the drop zone last weekend as they failed to break down Stoke City. Cardiff now travel to Sunderland knowing their season is on the line. (7-9-19)
source:  19 DOWN 2
West Brom: Pepe Mel’s men are struggling, big time. A defeat at Man City leaves them just three points above the drop zone with plenty of teams closing in behind them. Will the Baggies go down? West Ham at home is a must-win this weekend. (6-15-13)
source:  20

Norwich City:  A brave effort to only lose 3-2 to Liverpool last Sunday but that’s four-straight defeats for the Canaries who sit just two points above the drop zone. They are everyone’s favorites to go down. Can they beat Man United to give their survival hopes a boost? (8-8-19)

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.