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)

French league responds after Mario Balotelli racially abused

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's Mario Balotelli controls the ball during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, at the Nice stadium, southeastern France. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura says he will talk to forward Mario Balotelli before the Azzurri's next set of matches in March. Balotelli has revived his career in France, scoring eight goals in as many matches for Nice, but has not played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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PARIS (AP) The French league will open an investigation after Nice striker Mario Balotelli spoke out against Bastia fans he said made monkey noises during a match on Friday night.

[ MORE: City, Spurs draw, Reds fall to Swansea in Saturday’s PL action ]

In a brief statement Saturday afternoon, the French League said it “deplored all of the incidents” that happened on Friday. Before the match, Nice’s team bus had been pelted by stones as it arrived at the stadium.

[ MORE: Saturday’s results from around the Bundesliga ]

The LFP’s disciplinary committee will start looking into the matters when it convenes on Thursday and once it has received further information from officials and both clubs.

Balotelli wrote a message on his Instagram and Twitter pages earlier on Saturday, describing the abuse he heard during the 1-1 draw at the 20,000-capacity Armand Cesari stadium in Corsica and complaining that the French league had not acted swiftly enough.

“Is it normal that Bastia supporters make monkey noise (and) `uh’ `uh’ for the whole game and no one of the `commissions discipline’ say nothing?” Balotelli wrote, referencing the French league’s disciplinary committee. “So is racism legal in France? Or only in Bastia? Football is an amazing sport. Those people like Bastia supporters make it horrible!”

Balotelli, 26, the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Italy, concluded his post by writing in French that what happened was “une vrai honte,” or a total disgrace.

Nice’s official Twitter account shared Balotelli’s message. On its website, the French Riviera club threw its support behind Balotelli.

“Nice, which already had stones thrown at its bus before the game, is outraged by what happened to its players on Friday night, and in particular to Mario Balotelli,” a statement read.

Bastia did not immediately respond to an email from the AP seeking a response to Balotelli’s claim.

Balotelli joined from Liverpool on a free transfer in August and has scored eight league goals in 10 games to help Nice challenge for the title.

He did not say in his message whether or not he had informed referee Clement Turpin, who had the authority to stop the game, of the crowd’s actions. Commentators from broadcaster Canal Plus, which covered the game, made no mention of any racist abuse during the match.

In May 2013, when playing for Italian side AC Milan, Balotelli was subject to racist abuse from visiting Roma fans, causing the Serie A game to be briefly halted by the referee during the second half after warnings to stop the abuse were made throughout the stadium. Massimiliano Allegri, Milan’s coach at the time, made stinging comments against those who had racially abused Balotelli.

Bastia was docked two points by the LFP in the 2007-08 season after its fans racially abused Burkina Faso forward Boubacar Kebe by holding up a banner during a second-division home game against Libourne. The kickoff was delayed by a few minutes until the banner aimed at Kebe was removed.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea looks to extend lead, Gunners host Burnley

HULL, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea (2L) celebrates with Filipe Luis (L) and Cesc Fabregas (2R) as he scores their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea received everything they wished for on Saturday after several of the Premier League’s big boys all dropped points in crushing fashion.

Now, the Blues have the opportunity to extend their gap at the top of England on Sunday while two other matches are slated on the day.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Southampton vs. Leicester City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The Saints will have to make do without one of its most important defensive figures following the sale of Jose Fonte, however, Claude Puel‘s men won’t have to deal with several of Leicester’s attacking threats as the African Cup of Nations rolls on. Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Daniel Amartey will each be absent for the Foxes as they play for their respective sides at the tournament.

Southampton has taken points against Leicester in four straight PL fixtures (1 W, 3 D), however both sides have been vastly inconsistent in form throughout the campaign. Leicester striker Jamie Vardy and his side continue to struggle, with the Englishman having posted just five goals this season after netting 24 in league play a season ago.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man City, Spurs finish level ]


Arsenal vs. Burnley — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The Gunners are unbeaten in five straight matches against Burnley, and Sunday presents the chance for Arsene Wenger‘s side to win its fifth consecutive fixture against the Clarets. Wenger’s men currently sit eight points behind league leaders Chelsea, and after the rest of the the PL’s title contenders slipped up on Saturday the Gunners will be looking to avoid any stumble at the Emirates Stadium.

Olivier Giroud is expected to be back for Arsenal, while Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Francis Coquelin are also healthy once more. Meanwhile, the Clarets are said to be expecting Dean Marney, Ashley Barnes and Johann Berg Gudmundsson back in the squad after missing the team’s FA Cup victory during the midweek.

[ MORE: WATCH — Wayne Rooney’s top Man United goals ]


Chelsea vs. Hull City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The Blues will be expected to take advantage of this match but all eyes will be on Antonio Conte’s team sheet, particularly with close attention on Diego Costa. The Spaniard was said to have missed the team’s last PL match due to a back injury, although reports have also suggested interest from China. Chelsea has yet to lose to Hull in nine PL fixtures, having won seven encounters and drawn the other two matches.

Meanwhile, Hull could have some of its reinforcements available on Sunday, including Olympiakos defender Omar Elabdellaoui. The Tigers will have a massive task at hand against the Blues, who have won 14 of their last 15 league matches. Marco Silva’s side currently sits in the relegation zone, however, a victory could propel the team above both Crystal Palace and Swansea City.

Watch: USMNT midfielder Hyndman provides assist in Rangers debut win

United States midfielder Emerson Hyndman (8) gets past Cuba defender Adrian Arturo Diz Pe during the first half of a CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying soccer match Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Well, it didn’t take long for Emerson Hyndman to make an impression at his new club.

[ MORE: Man City, Spurs finish level in Saturday’s PL action ]

The U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder provided the game-winning assist for Scottish side Rangers in Saturday’s 2-1 Scottish Cup win over Motherwell after picking out Kenny Miller for his second goal of the match.

[ MORE: Ghana books place in AFCON quarterfinals, Egypt edges Uganda ]

Hyndman, 20, joined the Scottish giants in January after coming over on loan from Premier League side Bournemouth. The rising USMNT attacker only made three appearances for the Cherries prior to completing the loan move to Rangers.

The former FC Dallas academy product has risen through the USMNT set up over recent years, appearing for the Under-17, U-20 and U-23 sides before Hyndman earning his first cap with the senior team in 2014.

Check out Hyndman’s game-winning assist below.

La Liga & Serie A: Valencia stuns Villareal, Napoli defeats AC Milan

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 10: Santi Mina of Valencia runs with the ball during the Copa del Rey Semi Final, second leg match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on February 10, 2016 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 0-2 Valencia

In a dramatic and purely unexpected result, Salvador González Marco’s side picked up a massive win over the sixth place Villareal in order to give Valencia some space above the bottom three. Valencia has now won two straight matches in league play, after goals from Carlos Soler and Santi Mina lifted the bottom half side.

Real Madrid 2-1 Malaga

Sergio Ramos scored twice in the first half for the hosts, and it turned out to be enough for Real to end its recent losing streak. The Madridistas got back on track Saturday with its victory over Malaga, opening up a four-point lead in La Liga over second place Sevilla. Malaga made the match interesting just beyond the hour mark when Juanpi pulled a goal back for the visitors, however, the 13th place side couldn’t muster up a second tally.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-1 Granada
Alaves 2-2 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Sevilla (6 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Atletico Madrid (10 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Sporting Gijon (12:30 a.m. ET)
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo (12:30 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Barcelona (2:45 p.m. ET)


 

AC Milan 1-2 Napoli

A lousy start from the hosts couldn’t be overcome on Saturday. Early goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon inside of the opening 10 minutes helped give Napoli the lead, while Juraj Kucka scored the lone goal for AC Milan. The Rossoneri have fallen to fifth place in Serie A following Saturday’s defeat, leaving Milan eight points behind Juventus. Meanwhile, Napoli has ascended to within a single point of the league leaders.

Chievo 0-3 Fiorentina

The Viola were in firm control against their bottom half opposition, and Chievo simply couldn’t come up with an answer at the Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi. Cristian Tello gave the visitors a 1-0 lead heading into the half before Khouma Babacar and Federico Chiesa tacked on two more finishes in the second stanza. Fiorentina currently sits eighth in Italy’s top flight while Chievo trails the Viola by eight points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna vs. Cagliari (6:30 a.m. ET)
Chievo vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Fiorentina (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Torino (9 a.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (9 a.m. ET)
Pescara vs. Inter Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)