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

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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
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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.
 

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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.


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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.

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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.

Predicting the 2020-21 Premier League standings

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The 20 teams for the 2020-21 Premier League season are now set and we are releasing a prediction for the standings.

That’s right.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With Fulham only sealing their spot in the Premier League on Tuesday via the playoffs, usually we would say this is very early to be releasing this standings prediction. But with the 2020-21 season kicking off in 40 days from now due to all of the schedule changes, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to have a crack at this.

Of course, transfers in and out will heat up between now and Sept. 12 when the new season kicks off and the transfer window open until Oct. 5, a lot can change with all 20 teams.

That said, Leeds United, West Brom and Fulham will all add something slightly different to the Premier League as the newly-promoted teams and it will be intriguing to see if teams who finished the 2019-20 season in red-hot form can carry that into the start of next season given the short break over the summer.

Champions Liverpool and Manchester City will be the favorites to win the Premier League title, while Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham will battle it out for the remaining two Champions League spots as they are rebuilding and nowhere near being title contenders, although Man United are closer than the other three.

[ PHOTOS: Ranking the Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

At the bottom, it’s tough to see how the three newly-promoted teams can prosper given the short turnaround between the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 campaign but Leeds seem the most prepared to solidify their spot in the Premier League.

In the fight for Europe, Wolves, Leicester and Everton look like the best bets of challenging the established top six but watch out for Southampton. Other surprise packages could be Brighton and West Ham, while you worry for Burnley and Crystal Palace given a lack of squad depth, plus Sheffield United and Newcastle United limped to the finishing line in 2019-20.

All in all, a lot will change in the coming weeks before the 2020-21 season kicks off, so we will do another one of these predictions post before the season starts.

For now, here’s my 2020-21 Premier League standings prediction and how I think the table will look when the final whistle blows on May 16, 2021.

Prediction for the 2020-21 Premier League standings

1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Manchester United
4. Chelsea
5. Arsenal
6. Tottenham
7. Leicester City
8. Wolves
9. Everton
10. Southampton
11. West Ham
12. Brighton
13. Burnley
14. Sheffield United
15. Leeds United
16. Aston Villa
17. Newcastle United
18. Crystal Palace
19. Fulham
20. West Brom

Do Man United need to sign Jadon Sancho?

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Jadon Sancho to Manchester United is set to be the transfer saga of the summer/fall and the big question is this: do Man United really need Sancho?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sancho, 20, is no doubt one of the top young players on the planet. So, in theory, every club needs Sancho.

Dortmund want $140 million for him and want a deal soon, while Man United are playing it cool despite talks of them already agreeing personal terms with Sancho and a breakthrough in negotiations being made with Dortmund.

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have the latest update, as they say Man United are determined not to be bullied over a deal for Sancho and will not agree to a Aug. 10 deadline.

It is believed United want to spend a lot less than $140 million for Sancho, especially given the current financial situation. I keep thinking ‘is their money better spent elsewhere on their squad?’ Perhaps on a center half or a holding midfielder?

The answer is somewhere between yes and no.

In their current front four they have a wonderful mixture of pace, trickery and creativity. Marcus Rashford flying off the left. Anthony Martial holding the ball up and running in-behind up top. Bruno Fernandes pulling all the strings just behind. Then there’s Mason Greenwood on the right, the prodigious talent who has burst onto the scene at the age of 18.

Greenwood’s emergence is the main reason we can question this deal for Sancho.

There’s no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to sign the former Man City academy star but Sancho is more of a luxury signing for Man United at this point. Nobody expected Greenwood to burst onto the scene the way he has this season and not allowing him to be a regular starter next season and beyond would be a harsh, and damaging move for Solskjaer.

Rashford and Martial are guaranteed starters at this point and the only other way Sancho would fit into this team is if Martial dropped to the bench and Rashford played centrally with Greenwood and Sancho on the wings.

Rashford, Martial and Greenwood are similar players and combine well but we saw how United’s attack stuttered a little against teams who defended deep and Sancho’s trickery would give them something slightly different.

Aside from United’s current front four they have Odion Ighalo (on loan until January 2021), Jesse Lingard, Daniel James and Juan Mata. That’s quite a drop off in terms of quality but those are also players who are happy enough to play 15-20 games a season and play supporting roles. Sancho is not and if he arrives he will obviously start most games.

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United will rumble on but he’s a luxury signing. Man United will be fine without him but better with him, even though it could cause a few headaches for Solskjaer.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.