Getty Images

Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VII: Watch out for Watford

4 Comments

Week 17 of the Premier League season is upon us, as teams get ready for the final match before Christmas.

In what has been a wildly unpredictable season, just six points separate fifth place (Tottenham) and thirteenth place (West Brom).

[ MORE: Mourinho’s final interview ]

After this weekend, every team will be in action on Boxing Day before finishing up 2015 with one final match before the New Year, which officially marks the halfway point of the season.

TEAM RANKING Up/Down
source: 1

 

Leicester City: The Foxes stay top after a 2-1 win over Chelsea. While Jamie Vardy‘s record scoring streak may have ended, Riyad Mahrez continues to impress as one of the best players in the league. A tough trip to Everton awaits on Saturday.
source: 2 Arsenal: A win is a win, even if it was over lowly Aston Villa. Olivier Giroud continues to score, with six goals in his last six matches for the Gunners. HUGE match against Manchester City on Monday.
source: 3 UP 1 Manchester City: It took 90+ minutes, but City took all three points against struggling Swansea. A win at Arsenal on Monday could be the match you look back at if City wins a trophy in the spring.
source: 4 UP 4 Crystal Palace: The Eagles got their first-ever PL win over Southampton last weekend as Pardew’s men sit in position for a place in Europe. A very exciting team to watch, Palace may just challenge for a top-four spot.
source: 5 UP 2 Watford: Three wins on the spin have the Hornets all the way up to seventh on the table. Odion Ighalo has scored in three straight matches and has 10 goals on the season as Watford has flown under the radar.
source: 6 Stoke City: Despite being branded as the new, sexy Stoke, the Potters are still grinding out hard-nosed results, conceding just 2 goals in their last 7 matches in all comps. They’ll have to stay strong with a visit from Palace this weekend.
source: 7 DOWN 2 Tottenham: Spurs’ unbeaten streak in the PL was snapped at 14 matches after falling to Newcastle at White Hart Lane. A trip to struggling Southampton could get them back on track.
 

source:

8 DOWN 5 Liverpool: After losing to Newcastle, Liverpool was nearly beaten at home by West Brom if not for Divock Origi‘s 96th minute equalizer. Klopp’s men need a result against a red-hot Watford side if they want to stay in the top half of the table.
source: 9 UP 3 Bournemouth: Up the Cherries! Consecutive wins over Chelsea and Man United have Eddie Howe‘s men riding the highest of highs. If they can make it three in a row against West Brom on Saturday, the South Coast will explode.
source: 10 UP 5 West Brom: A good draw at Liverpool, but Tony Pulis will be upset his side didn’t take all three points. The Baggies are unbeaten in four and are an extremely frustrating side to play against.
source: 11 DOWN 2 Everton: A disappointing draw against Norwich in which the Toffees really should have put the match away early. A clash against leaders Leicester won’t do them any favors, although Romelu Lukaku has scored in seven straight.
source: 12 DOWN 2 Manchester United: After losing to Bournemouth, United are winless in their last five in all comps. The criticism on Louis Van Gaal is at an all-time high, and anything but a win at home over Norwich this weekend will be unacceptable.
source: 13 UP 3 Newcastle: Would you look at that, consecutive wins over Liverpool and Spurs have the Magpies out of the relegation zone. Steve McClaren‘s side has some newfound life, and will fancy their chances to continue trending upwards with a match at home against Villa on Saturday.
source: 14 DOWN 3 Southampton: Losers of three of their last four in the league, Saints have hit a rough patch. Koeman’s men sit 12th on the table, and could continue to slide with matches against Tottenham and Arsenal on the horizon.
source: 15 DOWN 1 West Ham: The Hammers haven’t won in the league since October, but have managed to get points with four draws from their last five matches. Upcoming tilts against Swansea and Villa could be a good time to get back to winning ways.


source:
16 UP 2 Norwich City: The Canaries battled back to earn a draw at Everton, and even threatened to take all three points. The performances have been solid, but Norwich needs to find some wins to climb above the relegation zone.
source: 17 DOWN 4 Chelsea: What can you say about Chelsea? Losses to Bournemouth and Leicester have the Blues just one point above the drop, and cost Jose Mourinho his job. You would think the champions should beat Sunderland at home this weekend, but honestly, who knows with this team.

source:
18 UP 1 Swansea City: In their first match without Garry Monk, Swans were robbed of a point after a late stoppage-time winner for Man City. However, they showed signs of life, and will have to truck on against West Ham this weekend as the club has yet to name a new manager.
source: 19 DOWN 2 Sunderland: After a brief stay in safety, the Black Cats are back in the relegation zone. Big Sam needs his boys to dig deep, with matches against Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool all before the New Year.
source: 20 Aston Villa: Still six points behind 19th place Sunderland, Villa remains glued to the bottom of the table. The upcoming schedule isn’t the toughest, so Remi Garde will be hoping to somehow find a few results.

Serie A roundup: Lazio hand 10-man Juventus first loss (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lazio’s triumphant victory over league favorites Juventus highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 3-1 Juventus

Juventus are no longer unbeaten in Serie A play under Maurizio Sarri, losing 3-1 to Simone Inzaghi’s inspired Lazio.

Luiz Felipe, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Felipe Caicedo scored for the home side, who are now three points behind second-place Juventus and five behind top-of-the-table Inter Milan.

Scoreless from open play since October, Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net in the 25th minute to put the Old Lady in front after tapping in Federico Bernardeschi’s well-placed pass inside the box.

It was Juventus’ game to lose, which they went on to do after a series of defensive and cognitive mishaps.

Tied after Felipe’s goal right before the break, Milinkovic-Savic scored in the 74th minute. The Serbian’s goal came after Juan Cuadrado was sent off for his reckless tackle on last-man Manuel Lazzari in the 69th. Milinkovic-Savic was set up by Luis Alberto‘s assist over the Juventus defense and scored with a low shot past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Ciro Immobile had a clear-cut chance to widen his red-hot goalscoring form, but the striker was denied by Szczesny from the spot. Juventus’ goalkeeper saved Immobile’s initial blistering strike, and his following second chance.

In stoppage time, however, Felipe Caicedo’s second-chance strike was too much for the Polish ‘keeper.

Juventus will have to quickly turn the page as they face Bayer Leverkusen midweek in their final match of the Champions League group stage, while Lazio travel to France to take on Rennes in their Europa League group stage finale.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Atalanta 3-2 Hellas Verona

Udinese 1-1 Napoli

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”