Is Yaya Toure perhaps the best midfielder in the Premier League?

Premier League Power Rankings: Manchester City get a second chance – Week 36

Leave a comment

Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City… who you got?

As we head into the final two weeks of the Premier League season, everything is still to play for at the top and bottom of this remarkable league.

Steve Gerrard’s slip cost Liverpool against Chelsea and now Man City are in the driving seat to win the title, while Sunderland have jumped out of the bottom three and Norwich have slipped into the dreaded drop zone.

Being in form at this point of the season is when it really matters.

(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!



1 UP 1
Manchester City: The Citizens now have their destiny in their own hands as three wins against Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham means they will the title on goal difference if Liverpool win out and fail to overturn a -8 goal differential. A trip away to play Everton is, on paper, their toughest test to come. Can City hold their nerve? (24-5-6)
source:  2 DOWN 1
Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers was outsmarted by Jose Mourinho and Liverpool’s title hopes now rely on Man City slipping up between now and May 11. Steven Gerrard’s slip cost the Reds dear and now they face Crystal Palace away and Newcastle at home knowing they must win both to give themselves a fighting chance of winning the title. (25-5-6)
source:  3
Chelsea: A mixed week for the Blues, as they beat Liverpool away to keep their slender chances of winning the PL title alive but then lost in the second leg of their UCL semifinal to Atletico Madrid. Jose Mourinho has enjoyed a tumultuous season back in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat. Norwich at home should be an easy 3 points for the Blues as they aim to not lose at home for three-straight matches. (24-6-6)
source:  4
Arsenal: A four point lead over Everton with two games to go, the Gunners looked to have sealed a UCL berth for the 18th straight season. Hats off to Mr. Wenger. Now it is about getting the job done as they host West Brom on Sunday. If they get the point they need, the focus will then switch to the FA Cup final. (22-7-7)


5 UP 1
Tottenham: Spurs ground out a win away at Stoke but it was far from easy at the Britannia. Danny Rose headed home but was then taken off as things boiled over. Tim Sherwood’s side can no longer finish in the top four but look to have secured a Europa League spot. (20-6-10)
source:  6 UP 3
Southampton: The Saints secured a morale boosting 2-0 win against Everton as Mauricio Pochettino’s men have eighth placed all sewn up baring a monumental collapse in the goals for and against column. Tremendous season for the South Coast club but can they keep hold of their young stars? Swansea away up next. (14-10-12)
source:  7 DOWN 2
Everton: Robert Martinez’s men simply didn’t show up against Saints and looked a little jaded. They’ve had a wonderful season and know that anything less than a win over Man City will all but hand the fourth and final UCL spot to Arsenal. Can the Toffees do their Merseyside neighbors Liverpool a big favor? (20-9-7)
source:  8 UP 2
Manchester United: Ryan Giggs looked the part as United manager in that smartly pressed suit, didn’t he? Whether or not he gets the job long-term, Giggsy put smiles back on the faces of the Old Trafford faithful as they smashed Norwich 4-0. Now United host Sunderland and if they win their last three matches, they could finish sixth if Spurs slip up. (18-6-11)
source:  9 DOWN 2
Stoke City: The Potters were hard done by against Spurs as Ryan Shwacross was harshly given a second yellow. Mark Hughes’ men battled with 10-men and they are in fine form to finish the season. What can we expect from Stoke next season? This weekend we can expect an almighty scrap against Fulham. (11-11-14)
source:  10 DOWN 2
Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis’ Eagles had their wings clipped by title-chasing Man City on Sunday as their winning spree came to an end. On Monday they host Liverpool as Palace will have a huge say in the PL title race. Can they cause a huge upset? (13-4-19)
source:  11 UP 5 Sunderland: The Black Cats are surging up the rankings as they lifted themselves out of the relegation zone for the first time since February 10 after beating Cardiff on Sunday. Gus Poyet’s men now head to Man United full of confidence and are three games unbeaten. (8-8-19)
source:  12
Hull City: Steve Bruce’s side showed plenty of spirit to drag themselves from 2-0 down and draw away at Fulham but how did they get into the situation? Hull have prided themselves on having a water-tight defense for most of the season but that hasn’t been the case recently. A point away at Aston Villa will secure their PL status. (10-7-18)
source:  13 UP 1
Swansea City: The Swans needed that 4-1 home win against Villa, big time. Jonjo Shelvey scored a wondergoal and Garry Monk has steered their ship back on course after a shaky season. Can they win three on the spin by beating Saints on Saturday? (10-9-17)
source:  14 UP 5
West Brom: Pepe Mel bagged his first win as West Brom boss in their 1-0 win over West Ham and the Baggies are almost clear of the bottom three. They need a big performance against Arsenal on Sunday. (7-15-13)
source:  15 DOWN 2
Fuham: Poor old Felix. Just went you thought the Cottagers were going to climb out of the bottom three, wham. Hull’s two late goals hit Fulham hard and they must now travel to Stoke before they host Palace on the final day of the season. Should they win both, it may still not be enough. (9-4-23)
source:  16 DOWN 5
West Ham: The Hammers are plummeting down the standings and are still not clear of relegation with teams below them having a game in hand. Tottenham at home poses a tough test for the Irons, as their boss Sam Allardyce is coming under increasing pressure from the home fans. (10-7-19)
source:  17 DOWN 2
Newcastle: Speaking of pressure, it is now mounting on Alan Pardew as Newcastle have lost six in a row and are looking shambolic. Magpies fans have finally turned on their boss and they simply must beat Cardiff on Saturday. (14-4-18)
source:  18 DOWN 1

Aston Villa: Another team struggling to get over the finishing line is Villa and they are in now danger of going down. If they don’t beat Hull on on Saturday then Paul Lambert’s men will go into the final day of the season in a seriously sticky situation. No win in six and five defeats in that run. (9-8-18)
source:  19 DOWN 1
Cardiff City: The Bluebirds were battered away at Sunderland last Sunday and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer knows his side must beat Newcastle or they could be relegated. It has been a long, hard season in South Wales as Cardiff could drop out of the top-flight at the first time of asking. (7-9-20)
source:  20

Norwich City: The Canaries are in serious danger of going down to, as they go to Chelsea and must win to give themselves a chance. The problem is, they face Arsenal on the final day of the season. Interim boss Neil Adams has to get at least a point in his last two games to keep Norwich in the PL. (8-8-20)

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

1 Comment

MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
1 Comment

Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
1 Comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).