Premier League Power Rankings – We have a new team at the top… Round 23-24

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After two matchdays in quick succession across the Premier League, it’s been a hectic last week in England’s top-flight, as top teams have tumbled, managers have been sacked and the relegation battled has got even tighter.

That can only mean one thing: it is time for your new PL Power Rankings.

We have a new leader at the top of the standings, as Chelsea go out on their own after becoming the first team to beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. While last weeks joint-leader Arsenal and Man City fall down to second and third respectively.

There’s plenty of fluctuation in our rankings this week, as the games come thick and fast in the PL.

(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

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1 UP 2
Chelsea: We have a new leader! As Jose Mourinho’s tactical masterclass saw Chelsea become the first team to win at Man City this season. Okay, a disappointing home draw to West Ham happened before that, but when teams park the bus, that will happen. City were torn apart by Chelsea, who looked solid as a rock. Ominous form from the Blues, up next: Newcastle. (16-5-3)
source:  2 DOWN 1
Arsenal: The Gunners keep on rolling, after a 2-2 draw away at Southampton, then they beat Palace 2-0. Top by two points ahead of Chelsea and Man City, Arsene Wenger’s side won’t give up top spot without a fight. However the lack of a top striker arriving in January may seem them relinquish their spot at the summit. Tough trip to Liverpool this week. (17-4-3)
source:  3 DOWN 2
Manchester City: City didn’t turn up against Chelsea in their 1-0 home defeat, with Fernandinho a big loss. No need to panic for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, but they do need to kick on now and prove that was a blip. Norwich away should yield three points this weekend. (17-2-5)
source:  4 UP 2
Liverpool: It was almost a perfect week for the Reds, but then Kolo Toure played a silly pass across the box to drop two points vs. West Brom. Following their emphatic 4-0 derby win over Everton last Tuesday, Brendan Rodgers’ side looked jaded against WBA. Can’t afford that this weekend, as Arsenal head to Anfield. (14-5-5)

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5
Everton: We spoke about their drubbing at Anfield, but Robert Martinez’ team responded by beating Aston Villa 2-1 at Goodison Park. Look, the Toffees should be in a rebuilding year but are still challenging for a Champions League spot. Magnificent effort. Huge game at Spurs this Sunday. (12-9-3)
source:  6 DOWN 2
Tottenham: And Spurs are up next, as they fall in our rankings after a 5-1 loss to Man City when their defense capitulated and they then battled to a 1-1 draw away at Hull. Sherwood’s side will be okay and should finish in the top six, but is that top 4 dream fading away? (13-5-6)
source:  7 UP 2 Southampton: A very decent run of results from the Saints has seen their bright start revitalized. Four games unbeaten now, with a 2-2 draw with Arsenal followed up by a smashing 3-0 win away at Fulham. Saints should have beaten the Gunners and the likes of Lallana and Rodriguez are flying. Stoke at home next. (9-8-7)
source:  8
Manchester United: Just when things look to be going right for United, they falter. On Saturday the lost away to Stoke City 2-1 in their eighth loss of the PL season. Manager David Moyes tried to put a positive spin on things, as even the returning RVP and Rooney, plus Mata’s arrival has failed to wake United up from their nightmare. Fulham at home next, must be a big win. (12-4-8)
source:  9 UP 1
Sunderland: Ha’way the lads! I was at St. James’ Park on Saturday as the Mackems destroyed North East rivals Newcastle 3-0. That followed their dogged 1-0 midweek win over Stoke and now Gus Poyet’s men are rolling away from the relegation zone. Massive home game vs. Hull City this weekend. (6-6-12)
source:  10 DOWN 3
Newcastle: The Magpies lost Yohan Cabaye on deadline day which was a massive blow. Newcastle have failed to score in their last two games, losing 3-0 at home to bitter rivals Sunderland and drawing with Norwich. On top of that Joe Kinnear has resigned as director of football, as the Magpies season threatens to unravel. A trip to Chelsea is not what they needed. (11-4-9)
source:  11
Aston Villa: The PL’s resident Jekyll and Hyde side have been steady in the past few weeks, with a thrilling 4-3 win over West Brom and then a narrow 2-1 loss at Everton in their past two games. Benteke is looking back in form, which is good news for the Villans. A home game vs. West Ham this Saturday is hugely winnable. (7-6-11)
source:  12 UP 4 Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis has totally transformed the Eagles. They are tough to beat, especially at home, and have players like Puncheon, Jerome and Chamakh who can make a difference. A big win at home vs. Hull was followed by a spirited 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. HUGE home game vs. WBA on Saturday. (7-2-15)

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13 UP 2 Stoke City: The Potters beat Man United last Saturday, their first ever PL win over the Red Devils. It was a determined display as Adam smashed in two and Stoke outlasted United in the swirling wind. However Mark Hughes’ side did lose to Sunderland before that, and are still in a relegation battle. Away game at Saints this weekend.  (6-7-11)
source:  14 DOWN 2
Norwich City: Bad week for the Canaries who drew at home to Newcastle then lost away to Cardiff. They failed to grab a new striker in the January transfer window, something they badly needed as Hughton’s side are still struggling for goals. Norwich could well be in the bottom three after this weekend, as a trip to Man City looms large. They did win at the Etihad last season… (6-6-12)
source:  15 UP 2
West Ham: There are plenty of Happy Hammers around this week, as four points from an away trip to Chelsea and home game vs. Swansea is a tremendous return. Two clean sheets will please Big Sam, plus Andy Carroll is back in form. Although his red card has upset the apple cart a little. A win away at Villa could drag them out of the drop zone. (5-7-12)
source:  16 DOWN 3
Hull City: The Tigers continue to slide, despite a promising home draw with Tottenham on Saturday. Before that they lost away at Palace in a game where Steve Bruce’s men were out battled. But with Shane Long bagging his first goal and Jelavic looking sharp next to him, Hull will be fine. Sunderland away is a monster clash this Saturday. (6-6-12)
source:  17 DOWN 3
Swansea City: Turmoil at the Liberty Stadium, as manager Michael Laudrup was sacked after a poor run of form sees the Swans just two points above the drop zone. Current player Garry Monk has been put in charge, and they now have the huge South Wales derby vs. Cardiff at home to deal with. Sink or swim time. (6-6-12)
source:  18
Cardiff City: Following a massive comeback win over Norwich last weekend, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is seeing his side take shape after some big signings in January. Kenwyne Jones could be their talisman. A chance to do the double over South Wales rivals Swansea and jump level with them in the standings this Saturday. Can the Bluebirds pounce (5-6-13)
source:  19
West Brom: Probably quite harsh that the Baggies are still this low, but they have only won once in their last 10 games and don’t look like they will score at all. Pepe Mel has got one heck of a job on his hands, but the 1-1 draw vs. Liverpool should give them plenty of belief. The Baggies face Palace this weekend. (4-11-9)
source:  20
Fuham: The Cottagers looked to have done the best business in the window, as Kostas Mitroglou, Johnny Heitinga and Lewis Holtby arrived. But a 3-0 hammering by Saints and an FA Cup exit to League One Sheffield United tells the story. Tough times ahead by the Thames. Trip to Man United this Saturday. (6-1-17)

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE