Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Premier League Power Rankings: Settling into a groove

Leave a comment

At this point in the season, power rankings begin to feel a lot closer to the actual table than an experiment in form.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After all, teams in bad position are playing with mounds of pressure on their shoulders and not always picking up big results. And solid teams might have a poor result here or there, but usually nothing shocking.

Well, besides Swansea City and Liverpool.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

Here are this week’s rankings.

TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (20) Sunderland: The loss at West Brom just further proof of a lack of inspiration in the squad.
source: 19 (19) Crystal Palace: Now in the drop zone, Big Sam needs Wilfried Zaha back from AFCON in a big way.
Hull City logo 18 (17) Hull City: Zero shame in losing at Chelsea, but it doesn’t get easier as Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal are next.
source: 17 (18) Swansea City: The win at Liverpool is the type that can change a season.
source: 16 (16) Watford: The Hornets have not won a league game since Dec. 10, its only PL win since mid-November.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 15 (15) Middlesbrough: Jese would be nice.
Leicester City logo 14 (13) Leicester City: AFCON was always going to be a problem with Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the books.
source: 13 (12) Bournemouth: The Watford draw somehow feels like a loss for Eddie Howe‘s bunch.
source: 12 (14) Southampton: Usually we don’t account for Cup momentum in the PRs, but with Wembley on the minds and a big win over Leicester City, Saints feel a lot better this week.
source: 11 (10) Stoke City: No shame in drawing Manchester United.
source: 10 (11) West Ham United: We are almost convinced that the Irons have turned the corner. Healthy Andy Carroll is almost unstoppable.
burnley fc crest 9 (8) Burnley: Forget the controversial ending, the Clarets showed us a bit about their mettle in the 2-1 loss to Arsenal.
source: 8 (9) West Bromwich Albion: Easy win over Sunderland.
Logo_Manchester_City 7 (7) Manchester City: Same place, and were tempted to move them up considering referee and not player error may’ve cost them a win versus Tottenham.
Source: Everton FC 6 (6) Everton: Was a lot of work beating Palace.
source: 5 (4) Liverpool: We can talk AFCON absences, but the Reds didn’t lose to Swansea for lack of attack.
source: 4 (3) Manchester United: Stoke draw really needed to be a win, not that the Red Devils didn’t deserve all three points.
source: 3 (4) Arsenal: Good mettle to hold off Burnley. All wins are wins (it’s science).
source: 2 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: Fortunate not to lose versus Man City, but fortune is needed in a title push. Ask Leicester.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Really good team. Really. Let’s hope to see Nathan Ake get his chance to shine.

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

Twitter/@AllMySportsNow
Leave a comment

It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Leave a comment

The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”