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Premier League Power Rankings: A favorite emerges; Foxes, Hammers plummet

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A clear-cut favorite to win the Premier League title has emerged — you can probably guess who it is — while places 2-6 remain as murky and muddled as ever.

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This early in the season, many sides still get the benefit of the doubt that brighter days ahead, but you can’t like what you’ve seen thus far from Leicester City and West Ham United.

Volume II of PST’s 2016-17 Premier League Power Rankings…


Group I — Still in the starting blocks

20. Stoke City — Three straight defeats, by a combined score of 9-1, after an opening day draw earned the Potters their only point of the season so far.

19. Sunderland — Only ahead of Stoke on account of having picked up their one point more recently. Black Cats, say hello to another relegation dogfight.

18. Southampton — If you’re one of just three winless sides, I’m sorry, but you’ve got to be in the bottom three. Dropping points to Sunderland, at home, looks worse this week than it did two weeks ago.

17. West Bromwich Albion — Taking just one point off of presumed fellow relegation fighters — Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, in back-to-back games — hints at another long season.

16. West Ham — Report coming out of the Olympic stadium: Watford just scored again. Can anyone confirm?

15. Burnley — Worrying defensive record for a side that will struggle to score goals all season.

14. Swansea City — Diego Costa should have been sent off (again) before he scored the equalizer (again). What a massive three points those would have been.

13. Leicester — As it turns out, N'Golo Kante was really important to last year’s title-winning side.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Arthur Masuaku of West Ham United reacts during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

[ MORE: Tuesday’s CL roundup | Wednesday ]


Group II: In the middle of the ride

12. Middlesbrough — Done well with a cushy opening schedule — five points from four games — but will it be enough, considering what lies ahead?

11. Bournemouth — Lost two games to the “big boys,” drew and won one apiece against opposition “their size.” Right where they should be.

10. Hull City — Still just a stoppage-time winner by Marcus Rashford away from taking something from all four games.

9. Watford — After an unbelievably (and unsustainably) strong start to 2015-16, 2016-17 began with Southampton, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham. What did the Hornets do to deserve that? All things considered, four points is a great start.

8. Crystal Palace — Just as predicted, Christian Benteke has breathed new life into the Eagles. Tussles with Stoke (no. 20, at home) and Sunderland (no. 19, away) are up next.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace at Riverside Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

[ MORE: PL roundup — Derby delight for Man City; Spurs, Liverpool win ]


Group III: Chasing challengers

7. Liverpool — Still no clean sheets on the season, but we’ll take a systematic dismantling of the defending champions as a sign of real intent any day of the week.

6. Arsenal — Back-to-back wins after taking one point from their first two games. Setting themselves up perfectly to get hot during the festive period onward, and finish fourth.

5. Tottenham Hotspur — Only edging out the above two on account of an unbeaten start (two wins, two draws) to the season. Hardly out of first gear yet, and already right there for the top four.

4. Everton — If you keep on winning (and do so in blowout fashion), you’re going to fall in the power rankings (or the real-life table). Ronald Koeman is off to a(nother) strong start.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12:  Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates as he scores their third goal and completes his hat trick during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at Stadium of Light on September 12, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

[ MORE: Pochettino slams players’ “lack of passion” in CL defeat ]


Group IV: No longer perfect

3. Manchester United — Simply overrun and outclassed in the opening half-hour of the Manchester derby, but could have easily snatched a point in the second half. That defense is extremely worrying, however.

2. Chelsea — A head of Man United on account of: 1) still unbeaten; 2) a belief that Antonio Conte has the necessary pieces to build a title-contending defense.

[ MORE: FIFA rankings — Brazil, England, USA on the rise ]


Group V: A class of their own

1. Manchester City — Still perfect, 4-for-4, at the expense of their biggest rivals. The Pep Guardiola revolution is well ahead schedule at this point, though the first bump in the road is always just around the corner.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Kelechi Iheanacho (R) of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal while team mate Nolito (C) of Manchester City jumps on his back during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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