Premier League Power Rankings: Who are the early pacesetters?

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The Premier League season is three weeks old. It’s time to see which squads have come flying out of the traps.

Already there have been plenty of shocks and surprises, as the young season promises to be yet another PL campaign chock full of excitement. That being said, we’ve missed our old pal the PL during the international week and at PST we are delighted the action will come back thick and fast this weekend. Hurrah! Some teams have punched well above their weight early on. Can they carry that on after the international break?

[Archive: Premier League Power Rankings]

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 1 Chelsea: The Blues demolished Everton 6-3 last time out and look sooo good going forward. Diego Costa is lethal with four goals in three, plus Cesc Fabregas is a man on a mission. Mourinho’s boys face in-form Swansea this weekend at Stamford Bridge. (3-0-0)
source:  2 UP 2  Swansea City: Swan. Swan. Swan. Sorry, got carried away there. But Swansea are up to second in our rankings and aside from Chelsea, they are they only side with a 100% record. They battered WBA 3-0 last time out. Can they stun Chelsea? (3-0-0)
source:  3  UP 3  Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers’ boys are back, with a bang. Mario Balotelli looked solid on his debut, Sterling and Sturridge are ripping teams apart, plus they smashed Spurs 3-0. Liverpool host high-flying Villa at Anfield on Saturday. (2-0-1)
source:  4 UP 5 Aston Villa: Talk of the devil… Villa fans, you’re getting a nose bleed. This is their highest ever position in our rankings and well deserved after going three games unbeaten. Enjoy it while it lasts though. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal coming up in the next three. Ouch. (2-1-0)

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5 Arsenal: The Gunners have had a slightly disjointed start to the season due to injuries and the UCL playoff. They are still unbeaten and with Welbeck on board, they will fancy their chances vs. Man City in the game of the weekend at the Emirates. (1-2-0)
source:  6 UP 4 Stoke City: Go on the Potters! Stoke recorded their first-ever win away in Manchester in the PL as they shocked City 1-0. Mama Diouf looks like a good buy up top and Mark Hughes’ men look solid as a rock. Leicester at home this week. Three more points? (1-1-1)
source:  7  DOWN 7 Manchester City: The Citizens suffered a shock defeat to Stoke City at home and looked a little sluggish going forward. Pellegrini’s men had some growing pains early on last season but they must shrug that off on Saturday away at Arsenal. Give David Silva the rock and let him roll. (2-0-1)
source:  8 UP 5 Southampton: Saints recorded their first win of the season in impressive fashion away at West Ham. Ronald Koeman’s men are looking stronger at the end of the window than they did at the start. Great wheeling and dealing. Next up: Newcastle at home. (1-1-1)
source:  9  DOWN 6 Tottenham: Pochettino’s revolution came shuddering to a halt last time out as they were outclassed by Liverpool at WHL. Sunderland away is a tricky place to go and will be a good test for this talented group of players. (2-0-1)
source:  10  DOWN 2 Sunderland: The Black Cats were pretty poor against QPR at Loftus Road. They lost 1-0 and Gus Poyet will look for a reaction at home vs. Spurs. He brought in some great buys on Deadline Day, Coates and Alvarez, so let’s see how they fit in. (0-2-1)
source:  11 Newcastle: Still without a win this season, but at least Alan Pardew’s men scored a few goals. A thrilling 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace saw them clawed back late on and Pardew’s new boys are starting too find their feet. They never seem to do well away at Southampton. (0-2-1)
source:  12 UP 2 Leicester CityThe Foxes are looking every bit a PL team after holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw. Couple that with a bright display at Chelsea and a home draw to Everton, not bad at all. Away at Stoke provides them with a chance to nab all three points. (0-2-1)
source:  13 DOWN 6 Everton: Roberto Martinez’s men played their part in a truly stunning game vs. Chelsea. However, still no wins for the Toffees. Let’s not press the panic button just yet though, it’s early days. Some of the defending though… oof! West Brom away this weekend. (0-2-1)
source:  14  DOWN 2 Hull City: A real mixed bag so far for the Tigers who lost to Villa last time out. A strong Deadline Day means they got Gaston Ramirez, Abel Hernandez and Hatem Ben Arfa on board, but will that be enough? The clubs Egyptian owner could be selling up, too. (1-1-1)
source:  15  UP 2 Crystal Palace: The Eagles have had their wings clipped but showed plenty of spirit against Newcastle. Neil Warnock’s appointment is seen as the safe option, but does he have the pedigree to keep Palace up? A home game vs. Burnley simply has to be a win. (0-1-2)
source:  16 UP 4 QPR: Harry’s boys came up trumps as Charlie Austin bagged his first goal in the PL to beat Sunderland 1-0. QPR won’t be the prettiest team to watch but they will grind out results. They head to Old Trafford this Sunday… (1-0-2)
source:  17  DOWN 2 Manchester United: … Where United will be hoping to record their first win of Louis van Gaal’s reign. Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Radamel Falcao could all make their Red Devils debuts as the new-look team starts to take shape. Only a win will do. (0-2-1)
source:  18 Burnley: The Clarets picked up their first point by drawing 0-0 vs. Man United last time out. A tough trip down to Palace awaits for Sean Dyche’s men but they will fancy their chances to pick up a W. (0-1-2)
 source:  19 DOWN 3 West Ham: The Hammers were, well, hammered by Saints before the break and even the acquisition of Alex Song may not improve their fortunes. Sam Allardyce’s side have a lot of issues and lack creativity. Massively. If they lose away at Hull on Monday… (1-0-2)
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20 DOWN 1
West Brom: Much of the same could be said for the Baggies, who were embarrassed by Swansea last time out. Alan Irvine’s new signings are taking a while to gel. Can they figure it out and get firing at home to Everton? (0-2-1)

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.