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Premier League Power Rankings: It’s all happening below Chelsea

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With Chelsea running away at the top of the table, attention begins to shift toward the race for the top-four.

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A little further down the table, just eight points separate nine sides from 17th to ninth, where the form of said sides varies wildly.

[ MORE: PST’s PL Players Power Rankings for Week 23 ]

Here is the latest batch of Premier League power rankings…


TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (20) Sunderland: Going six league games without a win — four of which were losses — during the second half of the season, as the 20th-place team in the league already: a solid plan for getting relegated.
Hull City logo 19 (18) Hull City: Also a great plan for getting relegated: one win in 12, including seven losses, since the start of November. Miraculously, the Tigers are only four points from safety.
source: 18 (19) Crystal Palace: Stop me if you’re beginning to notice a theme here: two wins in 17, including 12 losses, 10 of which came during six- and four-game losing streaks, respectively. Again, somehow just two points from safety.
source: 17 (14) Leicester City: 430 — the number of minutes played since Leicester last scored a goal in the PL, a run which includes three straight losses (combined score of 7-0) and a 0-0 draw. The defending champions are one of the sides being chased by Hull and Palace.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 16 (15) Middlesbrough: The last time Boro won a PL game, there were still eight more days to go before Christmas. That’s six league games without a win, and they suddenly join Leicester and Swansea on 21 points, as the first sides outside the relegation zone.
source: 15 (13) Bournemouth: With a seven-point gap separating the Cherries from 18th place, only a catastrophic collapse could undo a strong start to the season. Now, though, Callum Wilson (knee) is out for the rest of the season (again).
source: 14 (17) Swansea City: Back-to-back wins, and victories in three of their last four league games. Paul Clement might just be the hero Swansea needed.
source: 13 (12) Southampton: LLLLWL — a ghastly run of form for a side that so nearly finished fourth last season, and now finds itself 12th, 16 points back of sixth place, which is where they finished last season. Europa League and EFL Cup runs taking their toll.
source: 12 (16) Watford: The Hornets’ shocking upset of Arsenal on Tuesday snapped a seven-game winless skid in the PL, and was just enough to Walter Mazzarri‘s side right in the race for places 9-14 (currently 13th, but just three points back of ninth-place Stoke).
source: 11 (10) West Ham: The roller-coaster season continues: WWWLLWWL. Now, with Dimitri Payet gone, it could be a rough ride down the stretch. Taking a 4-0 courtesy of Man City isn’t the end of the world, but the way they simply rolled was quite concerning.
burnley fc crest 10 (9) Burnley: Last six PL games; wins over Boro, Sunderland, Southampton and Leicester; losses to Man City and Arsenal — that’s exactly how you avoid relegation, and find yourself in the top half of the league with 15 games to go.
source: 9 (11) Stoke City: Perennially a mid-table side under Mark Hughes, the Potters are still a heck of a lot closer to 17th (eight points) than they are to sixth (13 points).
source: 8 (8)
West Brom: The last of eight sides with a positive goal differential (+2) this late in the season; 14 points clear of the relegation zone. The run-in is going to be a lot less exciting (and stressful) this time around.
source: 7 (4) Manchester United: 14 games unbeaten in PL action, but have just three points to show for their last three games, a period in which the Red Devils have scored all of two goals. The results are mostly there, but the aesthetics are still missing.
source: 6 (5) Liverpool: Whether the physical demands of Jurgen Klopp‘s style of play are already breaking them down, or they simply missed Sadio Mane for a few weeks, the Reds are without a win in four PL games, out of the EFL Cup, and now 10 points back in the title race.
Source: Everton FC 5 (6) Everton: Six games without a loss in PL play, including four wins, and Ronald Koeman‘s side is back on track. No other top-six challenger should emerge from the trailing pack, and a favorable upcoming schedule should see the Toffees continue to climb.
source: 4 (3) Arsenal: On Tuesday, the same day Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool all dropped points, opening the door for Arsenal to go second and shrink the Blues’ lead to six points, Watford went 2-0 up, at the Emirates Stadium, after 13 minutes.
source: 3 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: Back-to-back draws, against Man City and Sunderland, were disappointing enough. Then, you take into account the fact that Chelsea dropped their first four points since October, and you realize the magnitude of the opportunity missed.
Logo_Manchester_City 2 (7) Manchester City: In truth, Arsenal, Spurs and Man City could have been rearranged in just about any order. Today, City grab the second spot based on the strength of that win over West Ham, and the impact Gabriel Jesus has already made.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Simply, the leaders, the champions-elect.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.

PL Preview: Three Tuesday fixtures including Chelsea visit to Huddersfield

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As the holiday season nears, the Premier League begins to ramp up. While that can be hard on Premier League managers, it’s great for you, the fan, who now has plenty of options to choose from as you make your way through the work week.

[ PL SCHEDULE: Where to watch all midweek Premier League games ]


Burnley vs. Stoke City – 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

If Burnley defeats Stoke City on Tuesday, the Clarets would jump Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool en route to a place in the Premier League table’s Top 4. Just pause for a moment and soak that in.

Better?

That’s right, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side on a roll, having won five of its last seven matches. In games where they were earning draws last year, they’re picking up all three points this year. Meanwhile, they face a Potters group that sits just three points above the relegation zone, meaning the heat has turned up on Mark Hughes. What is in store for us at Turf Moor?

INJURIES: Burnley – Tom Heaton (shoulder), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee) | Stoke City – Jese (personal leave), Glen Johnson (knee), Bruno Martins Indi (shoulder), Stephen Ireland (leg).


Huddersfield vs. Chelsea – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Antonio Conte, in charge of the defending champions, is suddenly on the hot seat. Already 14 points back of leaders and expected winners Manchester City, the Blues are sitting a distant third in the table.

A trip to Huddersfield could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The Terriers started the season well, but had lost four Premier League matches in a row before a 2-0 victory over Brighton turned things around.

Conte has already ruled Chelsea out of the title, with the Blues now fighting for a Champions League place. Can the boss take advantage of the poor opposition form? He will be without star striker Alvaro Morata who is dealing with both back problems and general fatigue, with Conte calling his schedule “impossible.”

INJURIES: HuddersfieldMichael Hefele (Achillies), Philip Billing (ankle), Jon Stankovic (knee), Kasey Palmer (ineligible – parent club) | Chelsea – Alvaro Morata (back), David Luiz (knee).


Crystal Palace vs. Watford – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

The Eagles hav a chance to pull themselves not only off the bottom of the Premier League table, but out of the relegation zone completely when they host Watford at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace sits a point back of Swansea City on the bottom, but with somewhat improved performances under Roy Hodgson, three points would climb them completely out of the drop.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how Hodgson balances a desperate need to collect points with discipline of his struggling striker Christian Benteke, who remains goalless on the year after missing a critical penalty he wasn’t supposed to take in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth over the weekend.

Watford, meanwhile, is without a win in its last three and desperately needs a result. The Hornets sit ninth in the Premier League table but could see their advantage over the bottom half evaporate with another loss.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace – Mamadou Sakho (calf), Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Connor Wickham (knee) | Watford – Will Hughes (hamstring), Isaac Success (knee), Nathan Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee)