Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Premier League Power Rankings - 15 Games

20. Sunderland
- Bottom of the table with 8 points from 15 games
- Dropped 11 points from winning positions this season
A mixed week at best for O'Shea

They're not playing as bad as they were under PDC earlier on in the season which should give fans some optimism. However they are still losing most games, 11 so far, the most in the division. They've picked up just 8 points in total. To put that into perspective, relegation rivals Palace picked up 6 in just four days last week. Sunderland are now 5 adrift at the bottom of the league. They need to start winning games to try get themselves out of this hole. Away to West Ham next Saturday would be a great place to start.

19. West Ham
- 17th in the table
- Lost to Crystal Palace on Tuesday and at Liverpool on Saturday

Red for Nolan on Saturday

After their gift of a goal to bring it to 2-1 at Anfield on Saturday, they did look from a while like they might grab an equaliser and make a game out of it. They couldn't, conceded two more goals and their misery was compounded when skipper Kevin Nolan was sent off for a malicious stamp on the back of Jordan Henderson's leg. That sort of reckless indiscipline from your captain is deplorable and Ravel Morrison's thuggish behaviour after Tuesday's loss is a sign of a clear lack of content at the Hammers right now. To top it all off they lost Stewart Downing to injury too (to a mistimed rather than intentional challenge). Andy Carroll's return can't come soon enough for big same.

18. Fulham
-  Replaced Martin Jol with Rene Meulensteen last week
-  Ended a run of 7 straight losses with a win over Villa on Sunday

Finally the boss - Rene

Martin Jol's reign ended with a shambolic collapse to West Ham last week. Rene Meulensteen's first week in sole charge has ended with a win over Villa and a narrow defeat to Spurs from which there were encouraging signs. One particular positive note is the apparent resurgence of Dimitar Berbatov under his old Manchester United colleague Meulensteen. So far this season he just hasn't fancied life at the bottom of the table, scrapping about for the odd point here and there but he looked revived and up for it on Sunday. Well, about as revived and up for it as it's possible for Dimitar to look. Trouble is, he's made quite loud noises about wanting out in January and performances like this will put him in the shop window. Fulham will probably get a few more good games out of him, then he'll be off to pastures new.

17. Crystal Palace
- Off the bottom of the table
- 3 wins in 4 games since the appointment of Tony Pulis

Palace are finally looking like a PL team

What an impressive impact Tony Pulis has had at this club. Only three weeks ago they looked like they were already looking ahead to next season in the Championship. With 9 points from 12 since his appointment, they're off the bottom and looking like they will at least make a fist of staying in the Premier League this season.

Cameron Jerome, who publicly criticised Pulis after playing under him at Stoke has found himself back in the manager's favour and back amongst the goals on Saturday as Palace secured a vital win against potential relegation rivals Cardiff. Marouane Chamakh was on hand to score his 2nd goal in a week. He has three now this season from only four shots on goal. Pulis has a proud record of never having been relegated as a manager and he looks very much like he intends to keep it this year.

16. Cardiff
- Just 2 points won in the last 5 games
-  Lost to Crystal Palace on Saturday, haven't scored in 3 games

Mackay is enduring a tough season

They're not scoring goals and, consequently, not winning games. Their last goal was Kim Bo-Kyung's stoppage time equaliser against Man United. They haven't won since Steven Caulker gave them that famous victory over Swansea in the derby on November 3rd. They've won many fans over this season by putting up a good fight against the big teams. They held United, beat City and ran Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs close until the final stages. This is an admirable quality in a team but if you give your all in those games, your unlikely to have a lot left for the games that really matter to their survival bid, against the likes of Crystal Palace where the results are far more important.

15. West Brom
- Lost at home to Man City and Norwich this week.
- Just 1 win in 9 since the success at Old Trafford.

Another home defeat for WBA

Steve Clarke left both Saido Berahino and Shane Long out of his starting XI at home to Norwich on Saturday which seemed a strange decision. He went with Victor Anichebee and the horribly out of form Stephen Sessegnon up front. This backfired. Despite creating a few decent chances, particularly in the 2nd half, West Brom suffered the indignity of another home defeat.

They had a couple of games they should have won but didn't at the start of November. This has turned into a winless streak of five games, three of which were at home. They are the 2nd biggest fallers in the Premier League from the table one year ago. Steve Clarke now finds himself unfortunately in the 'manager under pressure' category.

14. Stoke
- Just 1 defeat in 6 league games
- First league win over Chelsea in 38 years

'Ireland 32' was in form on Saturday

What is it about certain player manager combinations that bring out the best in players. In Italy, Arsenal flop Gervinho is enjoying a rejuvenation at Roma under his former Lille boss Rudi Garcia whilst in the much less glamorous surroundings of the Potteries, Stephen Ireland is getting his career back on track under Mark Hughes. Ireland came off the bench in the first half and played really well against Chelsea, scoring a goal and creating the chance for Assaidi to score his wonderful winner. Having had a breakout year under the Welshman in 08/09, Ireland has been pretty anonymous since Hughes left Man City in late 2009 and he consequently lost his place in the side under new boss Mancini. He's currently enjoying his best run of form since then having been reunited with Hughes.

Stoke overall seem to be in much better shape than last year. Players like N'Zonzi and Walters are playing better. Defensive solidarity is not quite what it was in their early Premier League days . If they can get that right they will be very tough to beat, particularly at the Britannia.

13. Norwich
- Beat West Brom 2-0 away on Saturday.
- 3 wins out of 5 since losing 7-0 at Man City

Norwich in the midst of a mini-revival

A turning point for Norwich was half time in the home game against West Ham on November 9th. They went in 1-0 down at home against another struggling side and had last week endured a 7-0 humbling at the Etihad. Defeat here would have been disastrous and perhaps have splelt the end for Chris Hughton, but they managed to turn it around and win 3-1. Since that evening, Norwich have looked a much better side.

The annual Luis Suarez pillage of them aside, they've looked pretty impressive in every fame since. On Saturday they withstood heavy West Brom pressure in the second half and scored a breakaway goal through Leroy Fer to wrap up the game. Gary Hooper had given them the lead early on with his third goal of this mini-revival. He's taken a while settling in but is now starting to replicate some of his Celtic form in the Premier League.

12. Hull
- First ever win over Liverpool a week ago
- Highest placed of all the promoted sides

Graham may have forgotten how to celebrate

It had been 342 days, 1626 minutes, almost 30 hours of football spanning 28 appearances for 3 different clubs but Danny Graham finally ended his monumental goal drought at Swansea on Monday night. Of course as Swansea are his previous club (the one he last scored for) he did the customary non-celebration so his delight was not so obvious.

Hull suffered a home loss to Crystal Palace a few weeks ago but aside from that they've been mostly consistent in their results. The win against Liverpool being the first real upset victory this season, they've lost to most of the top teams but generally done well against the teams around them in the table. They'll look to continue that against Stoke next week.

11. Man United
- 2 points from the previous 12
- 5 defeats from 15 games

Misery upon misery for David Moyes

A tweet I saw on Saturday summed up United's current in humorous fashion: "The transition from Ferguson to Moyes at Old Trafford has gone about as well as King Robert to Joffrey on the Iron Throne". This weekend one year ago, a last minute Robin van Persie free-kick at the Etihad sent Ferguson's Man United 6 points clear at the top of the table. This year, a Yohan Cabaye strike for Newcastle condemned David Moyes' United to another home defeat and left them 13 points of the top of a league they walked last year. Replacing 'The Godfather' was never going to be easy, but the job Moyes is doing is simply not up to standards.

Moyes seems really out of his depth here in pretty much every department. His training methods have been called out-dated by some. He was criticised by Rio Ferdinand this week for leaving his team announcements until matchday. His media handling seems bizarre with quotes about Shinji Kagawa eating too much this week being the latest in a string of 'Did you really just say that?' moments. Above all else his tactics and mentality are not up to scratch. Surely him saying he'd have taken a point from Cardiff should have set alarm bells ringing among the United faithful but saying before this game that they were going to 'make life difficult for Newcastle' was a step too far. You don't 'make it difficult' for visiting teams at Old Trafford, you go out there and dominate them. The underdog mentality he had at Everton should have been left there but it's obviously carried over.

It's hard to know how long Moyes will be given as the Glazers' have literally zero history of dealing with under performing managers. Given that he has a 6-year contract, I imagine he'll see out this season at least. Everton's success and United's decline since his switch has maybe revealed that he's not cut out to manage at the top level.

On the plus side, Class of 92 is a quality watch!

10. Aston Villa
- Five game unbeaten run stopped at Fulham on Sunday
- 5 points better off than this stage last year when they narrowly avoided relegation

Delph's first goal was worth the wait.

Chrisitan Benteke isn't scoring, and as a result Aston Villa aren't scoring. Aside from the bizarre win over Southampton, they've really struggled to hit the back of the net this year. It's worrying that the out-of-form Belgian is still their top scorer in the league with 4 goals. Gabby Agbonlahor doesn't score as much these days. He opened his league account for the season against Southampton. Big Czech striker Libor Kozak has picked up an injury too so its hard to see where Villa are going to get goals.

Villa's win over The Saints last Wednesday was similar to their triumph over Man City at Villa Park earlier in the season. They had just 25% possession during the game and just six shots on goal. But goals win games and Villa made their chances count, a wonderful breakaway strike from Fabian Delph, who's impressed in midfield this year, won them the game.

9. Swansea
- Look likely to advance to the knockout stage of the Europa League
- Yet to win consecutive league games this year

Shelvey worked his magic against Newcastle

Swansea, like Newcastle last season, are finding that their Europa League exploits on a Thursday night having quite the knock-on effect on their Premier League form the following weekend. They've failed to win any of their previous four league games off the back of a European tie and these include very winnable games against West Ham and Stoke. Whilst advancing as far as  possible in the competition will benefit the club in terms of revenue, it will probably continue to hurt the team in terms of league results.

Michu is back earlier than expected which is good news for them. They had been looking a bit short up front, particularly with Bony also absent. Jonjo Shelvey played in a forward role against Newcastle and did very well despite the fact that he should have been sent off. His footballing contribution was massive as Swansea ripped them apart. When they play well they're a very very good side. Just too inconsistent.

8. Southampton
- Ended a run of 3 defeats with a draw on Saturday
-  Conceded more goals in the 3 defeats than the rest of the season combined

Osvaldo produced a magical moment

The wheels have come off the Saints bandwagon recently. It all began with Artur Boruc's moment of madness at the Emirates which led to a Giroud goal and a defeat. They followed this up by surrendering a lead at Stamford Bridge before going down surprisingly at home to Aston Villa. The defensive discipline that was so stringent for the opening ten games seemed a distant memory as they conceded some very soft goals in these games.

The manner of their draw against Man City on Saturday will have been much more encouraging than the actual result as it proved that the previous run was merely a slump and not the whole bubble bursting. Southampton were on top for much of the game and probably should have won. Dani Osvaldo scored a brilliant goal, humiliating the best defender in the league and chipping a 6'8 keeper. It was his biggest contribution since his move to England, but didn't really do much else. He's undeniably got quality but I fear he's not as good a fit for this Southampton team as Ricky Lambert. He is making an effort to play their high tempo pressing game but seems to lack the fluidity and mobility which this attacking philosophy requires.

7. Spurs
- 7 points out of  last 9
- Two away wins to Fulham and Sunderland this week

Back to something like normality

Spurs have recovered well from their castration by Man City a few weeks ago. A draw at home to United has been followed up with two wins on the road. And four goals from open play, which have been hard to come by for Spurs this season. The four they managed against United and Fulham were all long range efforts. The two the got at Sunderland (albeit one an own goal) were both as a result of crosses. It's these type of goals that Soldado should have  been contributing whilst he was in the team.

Jermain Defoe started both of Spurs recent wins as AVB seems to have lost patience with his expensive Spaniard. He didn't score either game but looked very sharp at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Another who impressed was Paulinho, now playing in a much more suitable attacking midfield role. He should thrive here leaving Dembele and Sandro/Capoue to shield the defence.

Side note, Andre Villas Boas really needs some PR training. The media have a great deal of power in the game and its wise to keep them on side, regardless of how wrong you think they might be.

6. Newcastle
-  5 wins out of 6 in the league
- 3 points off a Champions League place

Cabaye was on the spot to beat United

Should we even be surprised at teams coming to Old Trafford and outplaying the home side anymore? Newcastle followed West Brom, Southampton and Everton in besting their  famous opponents at what was once such a dreaded venue for visiting sides. Yohan Cabaye ensured Newcastle won away at United for the first time in 41 years.

Pardew changed his tactics for the United game, omitting Shola Ameobi from attack and playing an extra centre midfielder in order to control the game. In all honesty he probably didn't even need to. Tiote was everywhere chasing down the ball and winning it back. Cabaye was excellent as usual. The pair are among the best centre midfield duo in the league. Newcastle weren't really troubled by United.

They were by Swansea as they collapsed to a pretty surprising 3-0 defeat in midweek, the only blotch in their recent results which have also included wins over Chelsea and Spurs. Pardew has some very capable French talent in his squad with serious Champions League ambitions. At the moment I don't seem them challenging for a Champions League spot (which unfortunately means Cabaye, Debuchy etc) may want to leave.

5. Chelsea
- 3rd defeat of the season against Stoke on Saturday
- Conceded 12 goals in the last 5 games

Schurrle has been somewhat underused so far

By the time Jose Mourinho had lost three league games in his first stint as Chelsea manager, it was March 2006 and his side were on the cusp of a second consecutive Premier League title. This time it's only taken until November of his first season, the defeat at Stoke, a place they normally do quite well, could prove vital come the end of the season.

They had a lot more trouble than they should have had midweek at Sunderland, the brilliance of Eden Hazard being the main reason they escaped with a 4-3 victory. Fernando Torres started that game and again on Saturday looking equally hopeless in both game. Andre Schurrle started against Stoke and contributed two goals. He's played up front for Germany before so perhaps he's another alternative to Chelsea's current crop of misfits up front. At the back, Cech made a costly mistake whilst they were leading. The 3 goals he shipped on Saturday makes it 17 for the season, already more than the entire 2004/05 season.

They will probably count themselves lucky to be only 5 points adrift of Arsenal considering how poor they seem to have been this season. They play the Gunners in two weeks and by then they could even be looking to leapfrog them if results go their way. Grinding out points without hitting your best form is the hallmark of a title-winning side. If they hit their stride in the new year we can expect a serious title push.

4. Man City
- 4 points from 2 away games this week
- Host leaders Arsenal next Sunday

Toure and Nasri both in top form

A win at West Brom and a good point at Southampton suggests that whilst they aren't anywhere near replicating their home form on the road, they are improving outside of Manchester. The win against West Brom, only their 2nd of the season away from home, should have been a lot easier than the scoreline suggests. City raced into a 3-0 lead before getting sloppy and giving away two goals in a frantic finale. Against Southampton they took the lead but were outplayed for much of the game and by their manager's own admission, lucky to escape with a draw.

City are still every bookies favourites to win the title with no one offering prices of better than 7/4. They're six points behind Arsenal whom they face next week. A win here is pretty much essential if they want to mount a serious title challenge in the new year. Don't be surprised to see them rest a few players midweek for what is surely an impossible mission in Munich. They must beat European Champions Bayern by more than 3 goals to top the group.

David Silva has been missing through injury for over a month now and Samir Nasri has started every game in that time and given Pellegrini a selection headache once the Spaniard is fit again. Nasri is universally unpopular amongst away fans but no one can deny he's playing wonderfully right now. Two more goals for him against Swansea last week capped off another fine performance. Yaya Toure has been impressive going forward too and Sergio Aguero's ridiculous run of form is going almost unrecognised due to the proficiency of another in-form South American...

3. Liverpool
- 2nd in the table on goal difference
- Luis Suarez has 14 goals in 10 league games

Take that Norwich! For whatever you did!

Is there a team in the Premier League more dependant on one player? And is there a better footballer in the league than Luis Suarez? Probably no. To both.

What is it about Norwich that brings out the best in him? He bagged his third hat-trick against them on Wednesday night with four goals, three of which were absolutely world class and the fourth itself probably a  goal of the week candidate any other week but this. If he keeps going at this rate he's going to smash the record for most goals in a Premier League season. The 38 game record currently stands at 31 set by Alan Shearer in 96 and matched by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008. Suarez is on track to better this, despite being suspended for the first 5 games.

Without him, or when he doesn't dominate games, they look a different side. They went down meekly to Hull a week ago when he had an off day. With Steven Gerrard joining Daniel Sturridge on the sidelines after the weekend, their dependence on their Uruguayan will be greater than ever. The defence looks pretty creaky. It seems that simply hitting the ball near Martin Skrtel in the 18 yard box is enough to earn opponents a goal against them. They look pretty awesome at home as they did in their prime under Benitez of 07-09. Away form will determine whether or not they can break back into the Champions League places.

2. Everton
- 4 points from trips to Old Trafford and The Emirates
- A single defeat all season, fewer than anyone

First Old Trafford win in 21 years

A lofty position, but anyone who has seen either of their past three league games would find it hard to argue against this ranking. Everton have been phenomenal recently and probably deserved to have added Arsenal's scalp to United's this week. The mental block Roberto Martinez talked about of not being able to beat the big sides away from home is well and truly gone.

The victory against United had an element of smash and grab about it. They were under the cosh for stages of the game and looked like they might concede early in the 2nd hald. But the defence held firm and they capitalised late on to strike through Bryan Oviedo, overall they were good value for the win. They played even better at the Emirates, outplaying Arsenal in the first half before the hosts got back in the game and took the lead. Going 1-0 down with ten minutes left away to the league leaders would be the end of most teams but not this Everton side. They showed amazing resilience to equalise through Deulofeu, who will not look out of place in the Barcelona side next year, and might even have snuck a winner late on through Lukaku.

Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman both deserve to be singled out for praise too. Both were brilliant against Arsenal. Kevin Mirallas was impressive against United too. One big problem for Everton is that three of their key players (Deulofeu, Barry and Lukaku) are all only on loan and two at least are expected to be wanted back by their parent club next season. This is not really ideal in when it comes to long-term building but Martinez is a clever manager and with him in charge they'll have no trouble finding replacements. Surely a Manager Of The Year candidate.

1. Arsenal
- 5 points clear at the top
- Beat Hull and drew with Everton at the Emirates this week

Slowly becoming 'runaway' leaders

Week by week they are further emphasising their title credentials. This particular week they navigated a potentially tricky visit to Cardiff with relative ease, rotated the team to play Hull but again won with relative ease and took a point from an enthralling clash with an in-form Everton.

Against Everton they did look 2nd best for most of the opening hour but started to impose themselves on the game and looked like they would nick it when Mesut Ozil struck on 79 minutes, only to be denied by a moment of brilliance from the magical Gerard Deulofeu. Player of the season so far Aaron Ramsey was rather quiet on Sunday but destroyed Cardiff all by himself the week before and contributed greatly against Hull in midweek. Bacary Sagna was a notable absentee through injury. He's been excellent this season and they'll hope he won't miss too long.

Amazing that despite them being the only team in the Premier League to show any sort of consistency, people still rank Chelsea and Manchester City as title favourites ahead of the Gunners. Should they become the first side this season to take anything other than a beating from the Etihad next week then even the most stringent doubters might start to believe that this threat is genuine.

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