Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 22

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The individual spots on the PL club power rankings feel like they are teetering, prepared for some big moves.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

The table says that Arsenal and Spurs are comfortable in their top spots, but the power rankings see a loss to West Ham and injury to Harry Kane as reason for concern.

We are just a result or two from some serious tumult, but here’s where we sit today.


20. Huddersfield Town — Putting aside the idea of a new manager bounce against Manchester City or some other surprising results, the Terriers would need an unbelievable finish to the season to survive the drop; Huddersfield only faces three relegation candidates in the final 16 match days. Climbing out of the Bottom Three would be one of the greatest escapes of all-time.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Losing to Burnley was a killer. But, hey, at least your strikers aren’t fighting during a yoga class. Wait, what’s that? They are?!? Oh.
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Newcastle United — Owner Mike Ashley doesn’t look prepared to invest anything ever in January, and Rafa Benitez is heading into a crucial home game against Cardiff City down a number of starters. So this is going well, especially considering Newcastle is hardly even being linked with transfer targets. Even the rumor mongers know better than to expect people to latch onto clickbait when it says Newcastle might buy big. And FWIW: We had Newcastle in our Bottom Three before last week’s results dropped them there on the table.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

17. Cardiff City — The good news for Neil Warnock‘s Bluebirds is the three teams below them look quite poor. A win at Newcastle on Saturday would be a huge step to safety.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Crystal Palace — Not quite as maddening as Wolves and Watford, but the team that beat Man City has now drawn Cardiff City 0-0 and lost at home to the Hornets.
Last week: 13
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

16. Southampton — The Leicester City win is another fine moment for Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s men, who have been aided just as much by the Bottom Three as their own results.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

14. Burnley — A third-straight league win has Sean Dyche‘s unit on the rise. The fixture list has helped, but the hardened English boss has done a fine job focusing his men on the task at hand.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

13. Bournemouth — Only being stopped by a new season low by the clubs underneath it. Next up for the Cherries: West Ham and Chelsea at the Vitality Stadium.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

12. Everton — Will be relieved to have handled Bournemouth, and will be eyeing a table run with fixtures ahead with Southampton, Huddersfield Town, Wolves, and Watford.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

11. Leicester City — Here’s what I wrote last week, before the Foxes went and lost to Southampton, They’re doing it again, luring me into the belief that the Foxes are the clear favorite to finish seventh. This all but guarantees a weekend loss to Southampton at the King Power Stadium.”
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

10. Brighton and Hove Albion — Flustered Liverpool, and it wouldn’t have been a crime had the Seagulls lifted a point from the leaders.
Last week: 13
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

9. Wolves — Losing to Man City is all but certain when you go down a man at the Etihad Stadium.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

8. Watford — How many years do you think have been taken off Javi Gracia‘s life by this team’s unpredictable form? Do you think he’s going to have a presidential downtown in looks by the time this is through? After dramatically drawing Newcastle and Bournemouth, the Hornets are back into seventh via a win at Palace.
Last week: 11
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

7. West Ham United — We cannot overlook recent form and 10 points on the table, but the Irons are looking decent money against any club that dares to overlook them. Just ask Arsenal.
Last week: 10
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

6. Arsenal — It’s not wild to call Saturday’s match against Chelsea a season-defining one, especially with the Top Four door opened by an injury to Harry Kane at Spurs.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

5. Chelsea — Ten points from 12 has rarely looked so meh.
Last week: 4
Season high: 1
Season low: 5

4. Manchester United — Took three points off Spurs as a team, then perhaps even more thanks to Phil Jones‘ tackle on Harry Kane.
Last week: 5
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

3. Spurs — Seven is the number. That’s Spurs’ advantage on Chelsea and Arsenal heading into this prolonged Harry Kane absence.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

2. Man City — Could sleepwalk through next four fixtures to get to Chelsea and Arsenal on consecutive match days. And both of those are at the Etihad Stadium.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3

1. Liverpool — Sadio Mane has joined Dejan Lovren in publicly claiming they’ll win their first top flight title of the Premier League era.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

Young Liverpool exits FA Cup, Klopp says ‘situation is not too cool’

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp found it difficult to be angry with his young, changed side following a 2-1 exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Wolves at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Recap | 4th round draw ]

Eighteen-year-old Rafael Camacho and 17-year-old Curtis Jones started for the Reds, and 16-year-old center back Ki-Jana Hoever was called into the fray after just six minutes thanks to an injury to Dejan Lovren.

So with Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah on the bench, Klopp could only call upon two when the Reds found themselves behind Wolves.

Klopp said he would’ve been vilified had he started Hoever in addition to Jones and Camacho, accused of “not respecting the competition.”

And he’s had injuries small and big to center backs Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez.

“After the City game we had players who weren’t fit. Pretty much all the players here today had a few problems. We had to make late changes. Lallana and Henderson were in our plans. Dejan Lovren was not. We had to change it. Second half we wanted to start a new with a positive approach.

“We brought on Mo and Bobby and looked a bit different. The intensity of the last few games, it’s not possible to start with these up front. Only Lovren has played all the games the last few weeks. The situation is not too cool.”

Not cool at all. Klopp led Liverpool to a pair of deep League Cup runs in his first two seasons but is one-and-done the last two, and has not advanced past the fourth round in any of four FA Cup tournaments.

Jimenez, Neves lead Wolves past Liverpool in FA Cup

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It’s one-and-done for Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Wolves beat a weakened Liverpool 2-1 at the Molineux Stadium on Monday to cap off the third round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Celtic takes Weah on loan ]

Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves scored for the hosts, with Divock Origi scoring for Liverpool.

It was an even-enough match in terms of chances. Liverpool started the match with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino on the bench, the latter two emerging as subs with Liverpool trailing in the second half.

Virgil Van Dijk did not make the trip to the Molineux, and a sixth-minute injury to Dejan Lovren meant 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever paired with Fabinho at center back.

A James Milner mistakes helped cue Jimenez up for the opener, but Origi responded with a pretty goal through traffic to make it 1-1.

But Neves, who’s proven capable of stunners, added another goal from distance to restore Wolves’ lead.

And Xherdan Shaqiri‘s late free kick was just altered by a flying John Ruddy and hit the post and bounded away from goal.

The Reds also bowed out of the League Cup in the first match, falling at home to Chelsea.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wolves v. Liverpool in third round finale

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An all-Premier League FA Cup tie takes place Monday at Molinuex, as Wolverhampton Wanderers host Liverpool (kick off, 2:45 p.m. ET) in the final third round clash.

[ LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool, FA Cup ] 

In team news Wolves make five changes with John Ruddy, Leander Dendoncker, Ruben Vinagre, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota all coming into the team.

Liverpool make nine changes and hand full debuts to Rafael Camacho and Curtis Jones, with Simon Mignolet starting in goal and Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all on the bench.

Click on the link above to follow the action, while below are the lineups for both teams.


LINEUPS

Wolves: Ruddy; Bennett, Coady, Bolly; Otto, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Vinagre; Jota, Jimenez. Subs: Norris, Doherty, Cavaleiro, Costa, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Adama

Liverpool: Mignolet; Camacho, Fabinho, Lovren, Moreno; Milner, Keita, Jones; Shaqiri, Sturridge, Origi. Subs: Kelleher, Firmino, Mane, Salah, Hoever, Christie-Davies, Alexander-Arnold

Pep Guardiola’s latest success story: John Stones

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Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of this story features a bumbling fool of a defender, and an expensive one at that. The beginning of this story also features a bumbling fool of a soccer writer. That would be me.

*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me explain.

The first tweet above refers to a goal Jermaine Defoe scores for Sunderland (remember them?) on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Manchester City won the game 2-1, but it wasn’t Stones’ best moment since arriving at Manchester City just four days prior. Jack Rodwell receives the ball about 23 yards from goal, and Stones steps to close him down, leaving acres of space behind him. Bacary Sagna (remember him?) does poorly to stay with his man Defoe, but the Sunderland poacher immediately occupies the space vacated by Stones and scores on the through-ball which the England defender fails to prevent.

Mistakes like this were all too common for Stones, who cost a heaping $64 million from Everton. He was still just 21 years old at the time, and looked completely lost. He was billed as a defender who could play with the ball at his feet and thus would fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola‘s system. Man City’s own club release announcing the signing referred to him as “one of the world’s most promising centre backs” and specifically mentioned “Stones has built a reputation as a ball-playing, 21st century defender, equally adept at neutralizing opposition attacks as launching the first key pass out of the defensive third.”

None of that was evident at the start. I jumped to conclusions.


Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle features just two words: Pep Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola has morphed John Stones into one of the world’s best central defenders at just 24 years old. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of this story is not yet written, but there is an outline for sure. John Stones, the bumbling 21-year-old who made countless positional mistakes and looked hopelessly lost in Pep Guardiola’s system, is now one of the world’s best central defenders. No, that’s not a hyperbole. He’s a strong Team of the Season candidate and one of the first names on the teamsheet of one of the Premier League’s best-ever constructed squads. Adding to the resume, he was a critical member of England’s World Cup squad that made the semifinals.

Case in point, his performance against Liverpool, which was fabulous. First, the obvious: Stones completed 94/99 passes, was a perfect 9-of-9 clearing the ball, won both his aerial duels, was not dispossessed once, and helped keep Roberto Firmino to a generally minimal threat, with the Brazilian’s goal only coming while he was marked by Vincent Kompany.

To dig a little deeper, here’s just one more fine-tuned reason why Pep loves Stones. This astute find from Statsbomb writer Nico Morales shows how his vision has not just improved, but taken a leap of faith.

Nico is exactly right. Stones connected with left-back Aymeric Laporte seven times in the game, all switches of play from Stones at RCB to Laporte on the left flank. That pass is vital to Manchester City as they look to break Liverpool’s press. That pass is meant to be taken away by the high positioning of the striker (in this case, as Morales points out, Salah), but Stones managed to find it anyways. In addition, Stones found Leroy Sane on the left flank three times, an even more difficult alleyway to navigate.

In addition, Stones no longer makes the positional mistakes we became so numb to his freshman year at the Etihad. Last year during their dominant title run, Manchester City conceded a league-low 27 goals through the 38 matches, and while Stones struggled that campaign with injuries, he put in nine full-90 minute performances in Premier League play, six of which finished in clean sheets.

Stones’ most notable play of the Liverpool match was a perfect encapsulation of his career path at Manchester City. After being admittedly beaten by Sadio Mane, he put enough pressure on the Liverpool winger to (together with a charging Ederson) force him into hitting the post. Stones then attempted to clear the ball by clattering it straight into Ederson’s body, looping the ball towards his own net. He then rushed back to clear the ball off the line, literally millimeters (11 of them, to be exact) from the game’s first goal.

He’s not the sexiest player on the field. In the win over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva got plenty of (deserved) plaudits for running his absolute socks off (he ran the furthest distance of any player in any Premier League match this season). Sergio Aguero scored a ridiculous(ly important) goal. Leroy Sane’s winner came from a moment of far-post ingenuity. Even Vincent Kompany was lauded for his hard work, his clearing ability, and his physical tenacity that nearly netted him a sending off. Stones, on the other hand, plods along doing the little things that help the Man City Machine continue to churn. It’s not even dirty work – which often earns recognition in its own right (see: Silva, Bernardo) – it’s just plain old work.

While many consider Raheem Sterling‘s development as Pep Guardiola’s most impressive individual coaching job at Manchester City – and there’s a good argument to be made there – it is of this writer’s belief that Guardiola’s crowning achievement thus far at City is the building of The Stones Wall. From 21-year-old project (a “poor buy” as one nameless dope put it) to 24-year-old superstar, John Stones has truly developed into one of the world’s best central defenders, and there’s still room to grow.

And for that, I owe him an apology.