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)

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.