Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Premier League Power Rankings November 26th (Week 12)

20 - Crystal Palace

Looks like the best week Palace have had in a while. They finally have a new manager after over a month, and they picked up their first win since the end of August, an away win with 10 men no less as they beat Hull at the KC Stadium and they are no longer bottom of the Premier League table. Well done Palace.

 Taking a realistic look however, it's still a pretty bleak situation. The new manager is Tony Pulis so not only do they have the weakest team in the league, they will soon have the most boring to watch too. Pulis has never been relegated as a manager. If he can steady this ship and ensure survival for Palace over the next 26 games it will surely rank as a far greater achievement than establishing Stoke in the division. It's the manner in which he goes about this that will likely cause ire amongst fans who crave good football. But if the ends justify the means then so be it. A lot less hopeless than it was a few weeks ago. But still hopeless.

19 - Fulham

Rene Meulensteen has come in to work under Martin Jol for the time being and his changes were obvious if not effective against Swansea on Saturday. The formation they used was bizarre. A lopsided 4-3-3 with Berbatov and Ruiz seemingly playing behind the main striker Darren Bent. This didn't work. Berbatov playing anywhere other than a striker is generally a bad idea due to his detesting of defensive work. Ruiz is not much different. It seemed a strange tactic. Good to see Derek Boateng back in midfield though. Three man central midfield is definitely the way forward for them. When Meulensteen is inevitably in sole control in a few weeks it will be interesting to see how he fares. He was very well though of at United. Martin Jol's days are most certainly numbered.

18 - Sunderland

Still waiting for their luck to turn. They can't seem to get a break right now. The Wes Brown red card was among the harshest I've ever seen. Gus Poyet's livid reaction was 100% justified. The two red cards against Hull were fair, this one was an awful decision and seriously impacted Sunderland's chances of getting back into the game.

Harsh decision or not, it doesn't change the fact that Sunderland can't defend very well. The attack of Johnson, Fletcher and Giachherini will produce goals if all can stay fit but the real problems lie further back. Without Lee Cattermole there to snap at people's heels and break up play the defence looked very vulnerable. And Stoke are hardly the most menacing attack in the league.

17 - West Ham

This summer Sam Allardyce spent £15m on Andy Carroll and nothing on any other strikers. Carroll can't play till the new year, Allardyce has since signed free agents Mladen Petric and Carlton Cole but clearly deems playing with no strikers preferable to either of these. The result is by far the stupidest formation currently in the league. Four attacking midfielders and no striker. Not even a false-nine.


Despite having six midfielders, West Ham were drastically out-matched in the middle by Chelsea on Saturday and slumped to a 0-3 defeat. Once they get Carroll back fit and playing in this team, I think they'll improve but they're going absolutely nowhere right now.

16 - Norwich

Beating West Ham two weeks ago may have saved Chris Hughton's job. Despite losing to Newcastle on Saturday there were more positive signs for Norwich. They were the better side in the second half of the game and despite looking fragile on the counter attack, might well have gotten a point had circumstances swung their way. One thing to do have in their favour is Leroy Fer who continues to impress. His pace, power and general athleticism make him the near perfect central midfield player in the modern game. Other than Fer, there isn't much exciting things happening at Norwich right now.

15 - Stoke

Stoke picked up their first league win since August on Saturday. Given that, it seems amazing to think Mark Hughes hasn't been under more pressure. They've looked better to watch recently, less emphasis on long balls towards Crouch (though there is still some of that) but generally they like to play more passes through the middle. Charlie Adam, Glenn Whelan and Steven N'Zonzi formed a three-man central midfield on Saturday and outplayed Sunderland, with both goals coming as a result of them playing through the defence rather than hoofing it over them. Crouch was impressive on Saturday, leading the line very well and proving a handful for the Sunderland defenders. N'Zonzi was excellent too finishing with a goal and an assist.

14 - Cardiff

Fully deserving of at least a point from their game with Man United, something most newly promoted clubs have only been able to dream of over the past two decades. Gary Medel continues to impress and the £11m they spent on him during the summer is starting to look value for money. He and Jordon Mutch cut United apart with two incisive passes, Frazier Campbell finished the job. In general they over-ran a very weak United midfield.

Campbell took his goal very well, his third against Manchester clubs this season

It had been suggested that Malkie Mackay would be gone should he fail to get anything from Cardiff's home double header against United and Arsenal which seems incredibly harsh. Unfortunately, despite Mackay performing to the board's ridiculously high expectation, I fear the writing may be on the wall for him. Such a shame.

13 - Hull

Hull have enjoyed a solid start to life back in the Premier League and have been quietly going about their business without causing too much headlines but a home defeat to Crystal Palace should set alarm bells ringing. They've hit a bit of a rough patch lately having been torn apart by Southampton just before the international break. A worrying stat for them is that they've only managed four goals at home all season. Joint worst in the league. They are going to have to find goals from somewhere to avoid being dragged into the relegation scrap.

12 - Aston Villa

Villa had the best away defence in the league going into this round of games. Seems strange considering they went 20+ games without keeping a clean sheet up until the start of this season. This was undone by Shane Long in about ten minutes at the Hawthorns on Monday night. Nonetheless they fought back, a resurgence which began once they brought Agbonlahor on and switched to 4-3-3. Benteke's lack of goals is a big worry for them as they don't really have another consistent source. Second season syndrome may have claimed yet another victim.

11 - West Brom

It should have been Steve Clarke and West Brom who ended Mourinho's phenomenal unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge but they were denied in farcical circumstances. Aside from collapsing at home to Liverpool, West Brom have been very impressive the last six games or so. They should have four more points to their name, being on the wrong end of ridiculous decisions in two of these games.

Long is back amongst the goals big time

Shane Long struck against Chelsea and followed this up with two against Villa on Monday. I feared for his future once his move to Hull fell through given the amount of new strikers at West Brom this season but he's worked his way back into the team and is proving to Steve Clarke that he was wrong to consider him dispensable. Holding down a place in this side will be some achievement for him.

10 - Spurs

Oh dear. The one thing Spurs had done better than anyone else in the league this season was defend. Six goals conceded in eleven games, they managed to match that tally in just ninety minutes on Sunday at the Etihad. Despite having more of the ball, they typically failed to do anything with it and whilst their opponents ran amok. Becoming a theme at Spurs this year.

Where to start? Lloris mistake in the first minute set the tone. City 1-0 and the game-plan undone within 14 seconds. Paulinho was one of the standout poor performers for me. Even without trying for the first half Yaya Toure managed to have a much bigger impact on the game. Paulinho is a fine passer of the ball but his laziness and lack of defensive effort contributed in a big way to Spurs being totally overran at times.

Lloris saw six fly by him on Sunday

Only Crystal Palace and Sunderland, 19th and 20th in the table have scored fewer goals than Spurs in the Premier League. Robert Soldado was bought from Valencia for £26m in the summer and his impact seems to have been minimal. He doesn't look to be in sync with the other players, the supply isn't great and I don't think either party is fully responsible, they could just do with a developing a better understanding which should have happened by now. Negredo, who also arrived from La Liga this summer looks on a different level to Soldado right now.

I don't understand AVB's team selection sometimes. At times at Chelsea it was bizarre to say the least and some of the decisions he made on Sunday were just baffling.

  • The line-up in general was just very attack minded. Far too attack minded for an away game against the best home side in the division.
  • They were dominated in the final third. Paulinho and Holtby both don't like defending which often left Sandro up against the marauding Toure and Nasri whilst trying to aid the centre backs who were unable to deal with Negredo and the red-hot Aguero. Not to mention Vertonghen being given a torrid time by Navas. A bit more defensive muscle in midfield might not have gone amiss.
  • This seemed to me, the worst possible fixture to give Lamela his first Premier League start. Better to play him from the off against weaker opposition.
  • Bringing on Adebayor at half time. Bizarre. Utterly bizarre. Particularly when you consider Jermaine Defoe was left on the bench for the whole game.

9 - Swansea

Injury to Michu will have been a blow but a much-changed Swansea side had enough to overcome Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday thanks to a brilliant strike from Jonjo Shelvey late on. Swansea have had a bit of a mixed bad lately, defeat to Cardiff and struggling at home to Stoke would have been worrying. They might be in for a bit of a boring year in the league this season. It doesn't look like they'll challenge for the Europa League spots or flirt with relegation. The FA Cup might be the best source of excitement the fans will get domestically.

Thursday will be a big night for the club as they welcome Valencia to the Liberty Stadium, the first big European name to arrive there and a sign of the massive progress the club has made since promotion in 2011. They've come a long way and they've done it the right way. Living within their means and playing some wonderful football.

 8 - Newcastle

Three wins in a row with Chelsea and Spurs among the scalps taken has seen Newcastle rise to a very strong position, just two points off 4th place, in a very open Premier League table. They have Tim Krul to thank for his goalkeeping heroics during the upset win at White Hart Lane but it was Loic Remy who got the goal that day and he was on the score-sheet again on Saturday as Norwich were seen off. Remy, who actually turned down Newcastle for QPR in January is still only on loan from Loftus Road, has got eight goals in nine starts. He's part of the very strong French spine at Newcastle with Cabaye and Debuchy being the other outstanding players this season.

Remy has scored half of Newcastle's goals this season

They weren't at their best against Norwich on Saturday, particularly in the second half and you just get the feeling that last season, the relegation threatened Newcastle would have let this one slip. They didn't however and held on. Signing Remy permanently should be made priority in January to ensure long-term stability.

7 - Everton

In a World Cup year, Ross Barkley will no doubt earn the praise of the English media after his return to form in the Merseyside derby but Gerard Deulofeu is twice the player his team mate is. Deulofeu got a good 40 minutes of game time on Saturday due to the injury to Leighton Baines and he lit up Goodison with his pace, technique and amazingly quick feet. There were times when his lack of experience showed however, several occasions were a pass rather than a shot/dribble would have been the better option. That will come with time. He's a very exciting prospect.

Just another off the Barcelona conveyor belt of talent

Lukaku was another player right back in form on Sunday. A constant menace to the Liverpool defence, he finished with two but probably should have had four. Everton had the better chances to win the game and may look back on this as two points dropped. The first two goals they conceded were there own doing. The third equalising goal was as a result of them switching off and being unable to see a game out. The lack of a winning mentality was probably to blame for this. You can't imagine a team like Chelsea, accustomed to winning, conceding a goal in that manner.

6 - Man United

The term transitional period is normally just a cop out for a bad run of form, but I think it's what I'll use to describe United right now. Fergie never needed that excuse. 2003-06 aside, United have always been challenging for every Premier League title. Ever.

Its boring at this stage but the biggest problem is still central midfield. Fellaini improved slightly but is still nowhere near justifying his price tag and the length to which the club pursued him. Tom Cleverley, who impressed in his last game against Fulham, failed to win a single tackle during Sunday's game and made no key passes. You've got to do at least one of those things well in central midfield and if he can't do this against Cardiff, he's just not good enough for Man United. Moyes desperately needs to address this issue in January. When you play with two in the middle, they have to be good and energetic. Fernandinho and Yaya Toure fit the bill perfectly. Fellaini and Cleverley do not. They were bossed by Cardiff, a side who played at Barnsley this weekend last year. Pitting this United side up against Barcelona tomorrow would make the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals look like closely matched affairs by comparison.

Cleverley's time as a starter may be ending

Robin van Persie missed out again this weekend. This marks his third separate injury since Moyes took over in the summer. I don't remember him missing a game at all due to injury last season. I don't know what's going on there but it's worrying. Without him, and Rooney, United are nothing more than a mid-table side and I fear for them. Not home and dry in Europe yet either.

5 - Southampton

I find it really admirable that Southampton's game-plan does not change, regardless of the opposition. They treat a trip to Arsenal the same way they treated the home game with Hull two weeks before. Go out, press the opposition, get the ball back and control the game from there. It's always effective. They matched Arsenal both in terms of possession and completed passes, something no one should ever be able to do at The Emirates. The turnaround is even more remarkable when you consider that they were beaten 6-1 in the same fixture just thirteen months ago.

They were undone by two mistakes. A bit of absent-mindedness from Artur Boruc to hand Giroud his opener on a silver platter and a needless tug by Fonte on Mertesacker to give Arsenal a penalty. The last goal they conceded that wasn't from a defensive error was to Robin van Persie at Old Trafford over a month ago. They're a hard side to break down and a hard one to keep out when England new-boy Adam Lallana is on song. He wasn't fully fit on Saturday but still quite effective.

4 - Liverpool

Everton are probably a better team in more areas of the park than Liverpool but as long as they have Luis Suarez in the team they always have a chance. He's so so good, can create a chance out of absolutely nothing. Gerrard's delivery from set pieces also produced two of their three goals. Star quality won't be enough to make up for the mediocrity of other players in the long run however.

Suarez is on top of his game right now

Despite having Daniel Agger back fit in the centre of defence, Liverpool shipped three goals to a team that hadn't scored in three games and that's not a good sign. Their high defensive line was caught on the break several times and were it not for Mignolet in goal, they would have lost this game. Coutinho was not in the game enough after his goal early on, I believe he's wasted out on the left side and would bring a lot more were he to play a more central role. Joe Allen on his return went pretty unnoticed until he blasted wide from six yards with the goal gaping. They still have a lot of average players in the team. Suarez won't be able to make up for them every single week.

3 - Man City

Utterly dominant going forward against Spurs on Sunday, every attacked looked threatening because there are so many players who will do damage if left unattended to. Even Fernandinho who's primarily a ball-winning midfielder, looked like he might get in on the act as City swarmed Tottenham and scored six times.

How City overwhelmed Tottenham

Defensively they look shaky whenever Kompany isn't playing, which seems to be all the time now, but going forward, particularly at home, City look absolutely irresistable. However their mediocre away form can't be ignored and it's the only thing stopping them from topping the table right now. It's hard to believe the team that's put 4 past United, 7 past Norwich and 6 past Spurs at the Etihad have lost at Sunderland, Chelsea, Cardiff and Villa already this season.

Sergio Aguero is vying with Luis Suarez for the title of best player in the country right now. He's scored 15 in 15 this season. Beside him Negredo is looking every bit the player Soldado should at Spurs. Jesus Navas is running riot down the right wing and Samir Nasri played really well on Sunday. Yaya Toure didn't need to start playing until the second half, Fernandinho was doing so much in midfield that it didn't really matter.

Negredo's goal was wonderful

Averaging 6 goals per game at the Etihad the past month, if they start playing as well away as they are at home, there simply won't be any stopping them. In the Premier League or in Europe.

2 - Chelsea

Shading it ahead of City based on marginally less inconsistent recent results, the Mourinho machine is taking its time getting into top gear. The demolition of West Ham this weekend was another indication that they are threatening to hit their stride.

Lampard returned to haunt West Ham again
Saturday's 3-0 win at Upton Park falls under the heading 'routine'. Chelsea scored early on through Frank Lampard and were never threatened from there on. Next up its a trip to Basle and the chance to wrap up qualification for the knock-out stages with a game to spare. A scenario that looked highly unlikely after their opening night loss. Like City, it's hard to estimate just how good this team is as they look entirely different from week to week. The side that trounced West Ham looked unrecognisable from the one that needed a gift of a penalty to salvage a point at home to West Brom. Ultimately if they can stamp out their inconsistency before City do, they'll win the league.

Interesting fact, Di Matteo was sacked after 12 league games last year when Chelsea had 24 points. They have the exact same amount this time around. Get your coat Jose!

1 - Arsenal

Even though they lost, in a way the game at Old Trafford two weeks ago showed how far Arsenal have come. Two years ago they went there and lost 8-2. Last year they were dominated and lucky to only lose 2-1. This season, despite losing again they looked the better side for about 70 minutes and United were the ones defending almost constantly which is unusual for them at Old Trafford. In the past, this fixture has been described as men against boys. Arsenal have definitely grown up now.

This week they were back to winning ways, albeit with a huge helping hand from Southampton who shot themselves in the foot. Twice. Despite that Arsenal created enough chances to win the game and defended well to keep the Saints attack at bay. No mean feat.

Arsenal have been very solid at the back this season
On the European front, the win against Dortmund was massive. Qualification from the group of death is now in their own hands and they should start by securing a routine win against the whipping boys Marseille on Tuesday. They've a tough enough fixture list over December. Currently five points clear, if they're still top by that much on January 1st then they have a very good chance of staying there.

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