Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Premier League Power Rankings: February 4th 2014

20 - Fulham

Rene is in a serious hole 

A tame home defeat to Southampton at the weekend, combined with good results for their fellow strugglers has left Fulham rooted to the bottom of the table, without a Premier League point since New Years Day. The January window has produced some signs of optimism however with a couple of new faces arriving at Craven Cottage. Jonny Heitinga and Lewis Holtby will bring Premier League experience. Kostas Mitroglu has been persuaded to give up another Greek title medal and a very real chance of a Champions League quarter final berth to join Fulham's relegation battle. His goals and influence may prove vital come the end of the season.

Anyway, Fulham's thirteen year stint in the Premier League now faces it's biggest challenge since that miraculous escape in 2008. Given the worrying news coming from Bolton recently with regards to crippling debts, it's not nice to imagine what could happen to Fulham if they went down.

19 - Cardiff

Ridiculous athleticism for a big man

Cardiff may look back to half-time in the Norwich game as a turning point in their season. The introduction of Wilfried Zaha, frozen out by Moyes at United, made a real difference as did fellow new arrival Kenwyne Jones. Another arrival from United, Fabio, had a rather more forgettable Cardiff debut, being caught out of positions numerous times, Norwich's opener being one of them. It's hard to believe he started in a Champions League final just over two years ago.

Solskjaer's first Premier League points will be a welcome boost. The side has a strong look to it now, Jones and Zaha give them an extra edge going forward for sure. They are certainly good enough to pull themselves away from the drop zone.

18 - Swansea

Bony is Swansea's one bright spark recently

Oh dear Swansea. The disappointing story of the season. Their freefall down the table in recent weeks was temporarily halted with a win against bottom club Fulham in midweek but normal service was quickly resumed with a defeat at Upton Park on Saturday. They've had injuries, but the crisis is not nearly bad enough to justify this slump in form. The team avoided the fabled 'second season syndrome' last year but Laudrup himself may be experiencing it as a manager following his successful debut season last year. Michu should return in the next few weeks which will ease the goalscoring burden on Bony but Swansea need improvement and they need it fast.

17 - West Ham

Nolan thrives feeding off a big man like Carroll

They went to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and gave one of the most effective displays of 'parking the bus' that I've ever seen, eventually leaving with a well-earned and valuable point. Their mini-revival following a disastrous January continued on Saturday with a victory over Swansea where we finally witnessed the full effect of the Carroll-Nolan axis Big Sam has pinned much of his hopes on.

The two combined for both goals before Andy Carroll was sent off for catching Chico Flores in the face with a trailing arm. It didn't look intentional and Flores reaction certainly contributed a lot to the referee's decision. It looks like this newly blossoming partnership may be put on the back-burner for a few games at least.

16 - West Brom

Does he speak English yet? It's quite useful if you don't.

There's not been a lot of headlines surrounding West Brom lately that don't centre around Nicolas Anelka. Pepe Mel hasn't spent much time in the spotlight which he'll probably be grateful for, but early signs would indicate he's not quite the Pochettino-like messiah West Brom were hoping for. He's yet to win a game and managed to lose to Aston Villa in midweek despite having a two goal lead. Something that won't help to get the fans on side.

At the end of a season when we look at turning points for a team, The Baggies being robbed of the win at Stamford Bridge in November fits the bill better than any. They've managed just one win since that day, three months and fifteen games ago.

15 - Norwich

Norwich.. these guys play for Norwich

It's all pretty quiet at Norwich lately. They didn't do any major business in the transfer window. Holding on to all their first team players and bringing in Jonas Gutierez and Joseph Yobo on loan to add some experience to the squad. Chris Hughton may live to regret not being as active as other managers around him. Norwich are in a bit of a rut, not winning many games and giving up easy points to teams around them as they did on Saturday. They may yet find themselves in a lot of trouble.

14 - Crystal Palace

"I'm great at penalties"

A couple of months ago Crystal Palace looked like a hopeless case, doomed to relegation where the best case scenario for them would be a credible number of points to their name by the end of the season. Fast forward to February and they're in the top half of the Premier League's form table, only their disastrous opening ten games is keeping them out of the top half of the table.

13 - Stoke

Charlie Adam, 28 going on 50

A massive week for Stoke City as they became the latest club to break a winless streak of multiple decades against Manchester United at the weekend. They did have a bit of luck. Charlie Adam's free kick could have easily deflected out for a corner and the ball could have fallen to anyone other than Tom Cleverley in that late goalmouth scramble and the result would be different but overall Stoke didn't fluke this one and were pretty good value for their win.

They've struggled for goals this season and haven't properly addressed this issue in the transfer window. They are one of many clubs who find themselves at risk of being dragged into the relegation mix as others around them improve.

12 - Hull

Still not a patch on the old Long-Cox duo

Hull have done very well in their transfer window, strengthening their most problematic area, their strikeforce. They've added someone who certainly knows how to score in the Premier League in Shane Long and someone who used to know how in Nikicia Jelavic.

Goals have been Hull's biggest problem this season. Their six in one game against Fulham account for over 25% of all their goals this season. Long got off to a good start against Spurs on Saturday, scoring the opener as The Tigers secured their first league result of 2014. They've got a few games coming up against Sunderland and Cardiff which they will view as must-win if they want to aviod being dragged down into the relegation mire.

11 - Sunderland

No dirty knees for Gus Poyet after this year's derby

Three Premier League wins in a row and a spot in a Wembley cup final, Sunderland are another club, like Crystal Palace who have really turned their fortunes around recently. It's ironic that both these clubs who have spent the majority of the season nailed to the bottom of the table now find themselves in-form and full of optimism ahead of the final months of the season.

Sunderland's run has seen them lose just twice in their last fourteen games in all competitions (one of the defeats ended in a penalty shoot-out win) and carried them into uncharted territory out of the relegation zone. The resurgence of Adam Johnson on the right wing has played a big part in this. He was in deadly form again at St James Park on Saturday as Sunderland chalked up yet another emphatic derby victory against Newcastle.

A big problem for them is their misfiring strikers, right-back Phil Bardsley in their 2nd highest scored after Johnson. The English winger surely can't maintain this electric form forever so will need some help, certainly in terms of goals, if they are to avoid this bubble bursting.

10 - Aston Villa

Big derby win for Villa secured by Benteke

Villa had a horrible run over Christmas and the new year period but things have picked up recently. A derby victory is always good for raising spirits, particularly a dramatic one and Villa got that on Wednesday night against Midlands rivals West Brom, edging them out 4-3. This followed up an impressive display at Anfield where they took a 2-0 lead and were unlucky not to leave with a famous victory.

There's a chasm in the middle of the Premier League table separating the top 9 and the bottom 11. Villa currently find themselves at the top of the second tier. They will be looking over their shoulder rather aiming to be safe from relegation rather than aiming to enter the race for the European spots.

9 - Newcastle

They will miss 'Kebab' in a big way

The fans have had to endure another transfer window of frustration at the incompetence of Joe Kinnear to deliver on any of his promises with regards to signing new players. The only arrival at St James Park in January was loanee Luuk de Jong , a little-known striker from Borussia Monchengladbach. Added to this they lost their talisman Yohan Cabaye to PSG with virtually no time to replace him.

Newcastle are already missing Cabaye. They followed up a fairly mediocre draw at Norwich with an absolute collapse at home to Sunderland on Saturday in the derby. They looked out run by the visitors in midfield and were picked apart at will. The cracks were there even before Cabaye left but now they are being brutally exposed. They're too far ahead to be dragged into the relegation zone, but I can't see them climbing any higher this season. Mid-table mediocrity awaits.

Update: Tuesday morning, Joe Kinnear is GONE!

8 - Manchester United

"At least it's better than the bench... KInda"

Juan Mata's arrival at Old Trafford two weeks ago created a feeling of hope and optimism around the club that had not been felt since early May and the period between the 2013 title being secured and Alex Ferguson announcing his retirement. It's taken just ten days for the optimism to vanish and be replaced by the more familiar hopelessness and despair.

United lost for the fifth time already in 2014 on Saturday, going down meekly to struggling Stoke at the Brittania, a game that exposed David Moyes more than any other as the tactical dunce he is. Even taking a look at the size of the two sets of players would tell anyone that the usual United tactic of bombarding the opponents with crosses was never going to work. United could have had Lionel Messi in the forward line on Saturday and that tactic wouldn't have worked. Their goal came from one of the few times they actually played through the middle. A beautiful through ball from Mata finished off by van Persie. How neither Moyes nor any of his coaching staff can see this is beyond farcical at this stage.

Frankly, United are lucky to be only seven points off a Champions League spot at this stage. I even think that is a stretch for them and Thursday night football next season is looking more and more probably. If they even make the top 6 that is.

7 - Southampton

Superstar player with superstar haircut to match. Adam Lallana. Going to Brazil

A season can be a series of peaks and troughs. Southampton looked to have peaked early on in the season and sat proudly in the Champions League places. They then took a bit of a downward turn before Christmas, loosing some games they really shouldn't have, but now seem to back on an upwards trajectory.

They earned a good point against Arsenal on Wednesday and followed this up with a demolition of Fulham on Saturday with a delightful goal by Jay Rodriguez the pick of three excellent finishes. They didn't bring in any new faces in January but did a good bit of business in sending the disgraced Dani Osvaldo back to Italy on loan. I'd imagine he'll return there permanently in the summer, he seems to be a rather disruptive influence to this team both on and off the pitch.

6 - Everton

Everton may look to Mirallas to fill Lukaku's giant shoes

Everton bounced back from their Merseyside Derby massacre at Anfield with a hard-fought win against Aston Villa on Saturday which said a lot more about their character than it did about anything else. It's always difficult to bounce back right away from a defeat like the one they suffered on Tuesday and the face that they were able to come from behind and get the late winner against Villa on Saturday speaks volumes about the mentality that Roberto Martinez has instilled into this team.

They really missed Seamus Coleman against Liverpool who played with Danny Sturridge out wide against John Stones which proved  a total mismatch. Added to that, Romelu Lukaku now faces a spell on the sidelines, a spell which will really test the depth of this Everton squad.

But Aiden McGeady didn't look hopeless on his full debut. It was strange seeing him actually look like a decent player.

5 - Tottenham

They've stayed in the hunt for 4th despite another hiding last week

They place some nice attacking football under Sherwood but his failure to adapt his tactics for the big games will result in more beatings like the one they took from Manchester City on Wednesday night. It was a similar case to the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in early January, an attack-heavy midfield can give the defence very little protection and leave them exposed.

They did have some bad luck with the disallowed goal and the red card/penalty incident but they would have lost the game even with eleven players on the pitch. Sherwood is new to management so we can perhaps forgive him slightly for his tactical naivety at this stage in his career. He showed no signs of having learned his lesson on Saturday, playing Paulinho (a number ten) as part of a two man central midfield and they slipped up again. He will have to adapt eventually.

4 - Liverpool

Is he a little teapot or what's the gameplan with this celebration?

They demolished Everton last week in what will prove a memorable win for fans and players alike but either side of this performance, Liverpool have looked decidedly average lately, particularly when it comes to defending. They went down 2-0 against Villa and needed a debatable penalty to salvage a point from the game. This weekend they dropped two more points in the race for the Champions League when a suicidal pass from Kolo Toure gifted West Brom a draw at the Hawthorns.

While they have Sturridge and Suarez leading their attack they will score in probably every game so it will be a case of trying to outscore their opponents rather than see games out and cling onto scrappy 1-0 wins. This philosophy may result in them dropping some more easy points before the end of the season but they will be very enjoyable to watch as they chase a return to the Champions League.

3 - Chelsea

Another tactical masterclass from Mourinho and a priceless win

Masterclass. The only way to describe Chelsea's victory over Man City on Monday night which, despite what Mourinho says, puts them right in contention for this years league title. He got his tactics spot on and they players executed them superbly. He was a lot more adventurous than some might have expected in the build-up to the game. He certainly didn't come for the draw and Chelsea probably should have won by more.

Nemanja Matic is looking like one of the buys of the season already, despite costing seven times what they sold him four three years ago. He does everything Mikel does only better and can actually attack when needed. Eden Hazard is now probably the 2nd best player in the league and Willian is another whose really shone over the past few months after getting off to a sluggish start at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are in the hunt this year and they proved that on Monday. It was more than just three points in the title race, it may just help to swing the momentum the way of the West-Londoners ahead of what will be a fascinating couple of months

2 - Arsenal

The Ox in centre mid? A glimpse of the future perhaps..

Sometimes you don't realise how far someone has come and how much they've improved until they slip up. For Arsenal this happened on Wednesday. For a team so prone to avoidable slip-ups in recent years and known for throwing away silly points, the fact that the draw with Southampton on Wednesday was their first points dropped to anyone outside the top seven since early October shows how much Arsenal have improved in that department.

They are picking up routine win after routine win. On Sunday against Crystal Palace both goals were provided by Oxlade-Chamberlin, deployed in an unusual central midfield role in the wake of the abundance of injuries in that area they are currently working with. Wenger will have been disappointed not to have added significantly to his squad in January with sole loan signing Kim Kallstrom now on the injured list for the next while.

I don't think they will win the title, I don't think they can compete with Man City now they are seemingly hitting top gear, but barring a typically Arsenal collapse in February, they at least shouldn't be made to sweat when it comes to Champions League qualification.

1 - Manchester City

Only one man can do that at White Hart Lane... 

A slip-up against Chelsea on Monday and the chance of a perfect home season out the window, City's march to the title may not be as much of a procession as their form of the previous couple of weeks had suggested. The ease with which they picked Tottenham apart in midweek sent out warning signs to the rest of the league but Chelsea proved on Monday night that City are beatable.

They missed Fernandinho in a big way on Monday. Martin Demichelis, a slow centre half, deputised and was horribly exposed by a Chelsea midfield which won the battle a lot more comfortably than it should have. It was an example of Pellegrini getting a tactical decision so very wrong on a night where his opponent and his players were both faultless

Defeat on Monday brought to an end a run of eight consecutive league wins which is most definitely title-winning form. Another characteristic of champions is their ability to bounce back immediately from a disappointing defeat, which is where City will now be tested. At the moment, they look more like champions than any other side in the league, they've the best squad by far. The emerge of Stevan Jovetic at long last means they shouldn't even miss the injured-again Sergio Aguero for the crucial month of February.

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