Soccer

Wheeler: Chelsea still on top of EPL Power Rankings

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Gareth Wheeler
9/26/2012 7:54:18 PM
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Greetings from not-so-sunny Southwest England.  Spending the night at Land's End, UK does nothing to make me even contemplate ending Chelsea's run atop the Premier League rankings. 
 
Competitive balance in the new season is as even as ever.  Strong starts from Everton and West Bromwich Albion have put the big clubs on alert.  But at present time, it's going to take something special to knock off the big four. 
 
Here are your latest TSN Premier League Power Rankings:
 
1) Chelsea (4W-1D -0L, last week: 1) – A hard fought 1-0 win over Stoke City earned Chelsea full points while clearly not at its best.  Three points is all that matters.  And in a season where it seems points will be conceded by the top clubs more regularly, points through sub-par performances are all-important.  Of most concern for Chelsea, Fernando Torres continued to struggle in front of goal.  And the back four had all kinds of problems with the size and strength of the Stoke City attack.  The good news: the quality of Chelsea's midfield was again second to none.  Brazilian midfielder Oscar followed up a Man-of-the-Match performance midweek against Juventus with another sublime performance.  The deepest midfield in the Premier League is more than capable of covering the relative weaknesses in the squad, Torres or otherwise.
 
2) Manchester United (4-0-1, last week: 2) – Much like Chelsea, United were able to pick up an all-important three points at 10-man Liverpool.  The high emotion and bubbling rivalry made the trip to the Merseyside a precarious tie, despite Liverpool's inferior form.  Jonjo Shelvey's sending off gave United the upper edge, although they were unable to initially take advantage, falling behind 1-0.  The response was swift: first Rafael with a wonderful strike, then Robin van Persie converting a penalty.  The verdict: United will take the points but has significant work to do.  With Nemanja Vidic out 8 weeks (knee), United has only two ‘healthy' centre-backs, and Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand are hardly sure things when it comes to clean bills of health.  Adding to worry, Antonio Valencia is on crutches and his status is up in the air.  Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher made midweek returns in Capitol One Cup action, and the latter was impressive in his comeback.  It will be a testing period for Sir Alex Ferguson, with crucial Champions League matches and a tough Premier League schedule ahead.
 
3) Arsenal (2-3-0, last week: 3) – Going down a goal at the Etihad was a death sentence last season.  Arsenal was able to bounce back admirably, taking the game to City, and eventually finding a late equalizer.  Undeniably, Arsenal continues to hit their stride.  And even more impressive impressive about the 1-1 away draw at City was it was achieved without defensive lynchpin Thomas Vermaelen.  Arsene Wenger has a bevy of young talent in his side, allowing him to rotate attacking players while maintaining fluidity.  There is a lot to like about Arsenal if Lukas Podolski and Gervinho maintain their superior form.  Chelsea at the Emirates Saturday will be another test.
 
4) Manchester City (2-3-0, last week: 4) – Nobody is hitting the panic button yet, but it certainly hasn't been a start to remember for the Champions.  City has now given away as many points at home as they did all last season.  Manager Roberto Mancini fielded a reasonably strong side Tuesday in their Capital One Cup home match against Aston Villa, and City still came out on the losing end of a 4-2 score-line.  It's hard to say anything is really fundamentally wrong with the team.  The magic from last campaign isn't there.  And they are no longer the hunter.  That being said, Mancini has to demand better team defending.  Joleon Lescott played culprit of a sloppy clearance on the weekend – the latest of lapses that have seen City concede 7 goals through 5 matches.  Sergio Aguero has returned to fitness for City, which is good news.  But there is nothing easy about City's next three competitive matches (Fulham A, Dortmund H, Sunderland H).
 
5) Everton (3-1-1, last week: 5) – Nevermind the Capital One Cup setback against Leeds; Everton is on top form and one of the most thorough teams in the Premier League.  The Toffees utterly embarrassed Swansea at the Liberty to the tune of a 3-0 win last weekend, yet again proving this hot start may be sustainable.  The start to the season has always been an Achilles Heal for David Moyes at Everton.  Not anymore.  The performance at Swansea was even more impressive than the scoreline.  Moyes was without star striker Nikica Jelavic, yet the team was as dominant going forward than at the back.  Few sides have a better midfield combo than Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini (3 goals on the season).  Squad depth remains an obvious concern.  But with a generous schedule ahead, Everton looks set to make a run for European competition.
 
6) West Bromwich Albion (3-1-1, last week: 8) – Another home three points for Steve Clarke as WBA continue there hot-start.  And the latest win comes without the suspended Peter Odemwingie.  Don't look now, but West Brom are fourth in the table, with an 100 percent home record, and have every opportunity to improve their standing with matches against lesser likes Aston Villa and QPR ahead.  Clarke has the team playing its resilient best, while goalkeeper Ben Foster continues to show the talent he was billed to have while at Manchester United.  Most impressive however is West Brom looks comfortable in attack, creating plenty of opportunities each week.  It's nothing pretty, but effect, direct football.  Romelu Lukaku, on-loan from Chelsea, looks to be an absolute coup for the Baggies.
 
7) Newcastle United (2-2-1, last week: 7) – Newcastle got back to their winning ways against Norwich.  And they are finally returning to full health.  Midfielder Cheick Tiote and defender Fabricio Coloccini – two of the most important players in the squad – both returned to the line-up Wednesday night.  And striker Papiss Cisse finally looked back to his dynamic best, scoring in Capitol One Cup competition at Old Trafford, with an overhead kick off the bar, made out of nothing, keeping him from adding another. 
 
8) Tottenham Hostpur (2-2-1, last week: 9) – If Andre Villas-Boas wants to take credit for anything, he should put his hand up for the outstanding form of striker Jermain Defoe.  The often under-used, misfiring Defoe has taken full advantage of the opportunity given by his new manager, scoring his 6th goal of the season in a 2-1 come-from-behind home victory over QPR.  Spurs are on of the quickest sides in the Premier League, and Defoe has seemingly found his stride playing with like players..  At the back, AVB still has a headache with incoming goalkeeper Hugo Lloris unhappy with his current role as number two.  But Brad Friedel's superior play hardly justifies making a change. 
 
9) Swansea City (2-1-2, last week: 6) – Injuries and poor form have decimated Swansea's back line and they haven't been able to recover.  The loss of Neil Taylor (ankle) at left back cannot be understated.  And defender Chico Flores suspension hardly has helped matters.  But most disconcerting has been the poor form of Ashley Williams.  The Welsh centre-back was a force for the Swans last season.  This season he's looked sloppy and unfocussed.  He needs to set things right for Swansea to be truly competitive.  On the bright side, Jonathan de Guzman continues to impress in the midfield.  And although he looked out of sort in his debut on the weekend, Pablo Hernandez has the makings to be a true force on the wing.
 
10) Fulham (3-0-2, last week: 12) – Fulham went out and proved they could perform away from Craven Cottage with a win at Wigan.  Dimitar Berbatov continues to look well worth the discounted price tag it took to lure him to London.  Berbatov fits right in with a gifted Fulham attack, with plenty of talent in reserves.  They are not a team that can be relied upon every week.  But they have enough difference makers in the squad to keep them from settling for draws.  Even better news for Fulham, it looks like their usually steady backline is re-emerging after some shaky performances to start the year. 
 
11) Stoke City (0-4-1, last week: 10) – The streak of draws was bound to come to an end.  Losing at Chelsea with the fight Stoke showed is nothing to frown at.  Ryan Shawcross continues to keep his head on straight, making vital plays at the back, keeping Stoke in games.  But the question remains whether Tony Pulis has the difference makers in his side to regularly pick up points away from the Britannia.  Sorry to burst any bubble, but Michael Owen is not that player.  Stoke will remain a tough out, playing a five-man, compact midfielder.  The lack of width or ability to stretch the field hurts the team in attack.
 
12) Sunderland (0-4-0, last week: 11) – The Black Cats are making like Stoke – four straight draws to start the year.  The last two coming without standout winger Adam Johnson (thigh).  Late goals continue to be an issue, but odds  are Martin O'Neill will work things out, just as he has done so many times before.  The Black Cats are a pesky team, with James Maclean and Sebastian Larsson deputizing the wings.  And critics are eating their words as Steven Fletcher has now scored four goals since his big money move from Wolves.
 
13) West Ham United (2-2-1, last week: 14) – It's never boring with West Ham.  The Hammers left it late, with Captain everything, Kevin Nolan finding the equalizer against Sunderland.  West Ham is the best among promoted teams in the Premier League, but not the most stylish.  Their direct style is their biggest asset and worst enemy.  The team lacks a creative spark in the midfield, and instead relies on the industry of players like Nolan.  That's not a bad thing.  But leaves very little room for error.
 
14) Wigan Athletic (1-1-3, last week: 13) – It's been a tough start for Roberto Martinez.  But in fairness, his team record doesn't reflect how well the team has played.  Wigan remain a well organized team, where the manager seemingly gets the most out of players at his disposal.  Striker Arouna Kone looks ready to be the latest to emerge under the brilliant manager.  Too many mistakes at the back, and a midfield that has yet to provide adequate service in attack has haunted the Latics thus far.
 
15) Liverpool (0-2-3, last week: 15) – Are you still buying the need to practice patience with manager Brendan Rodgers.  In fairness, despite another loss, there was little more 10-man Liverpool could do against Manchester United.  No matter how hard the team works, they cannot make up for fatal flaws in the squad composition.  Liverpool is beyond paper-thin up front.  The back four is in need of a shake up.  And the brightest spots in the team have been teenagers not ready to yet make the jump to being contributing regulars.  All in all, it's a season of transition.  It's unlikely ownership will spend requisite dollars needed to immediately improve in January.  So the lumps will continue to add up.  At least we all can enjoy the Liverpool Reality Television Show.
 
16) Norwich City (0-3-2, last week: 16) – Norwich City will be fighting tooth and nail with relegation until the end.  Chris Hughton's team is full of fight.  And in fairness, they aren't a bad side.  But they've only scored two goals in five matches.  And none have come from the big man up front, Grant Holt.  Norwich fought to keep him in the summer, and he has failed to have the influence of his 15-goal Premier League season last year.  The Canaries need him to return to form to rise through the table.
 
17) Southampton (1-0-4, last week: 19) – A deserved first win for the Premier League newcomers in comeback fashion against Aston Villa.  For all there problems defending, Southampton has players looking very much the part in attack.  Four goals in the second half was an impressive display of what the Saints have to offer, including debutant, Uruguayan International Gaston Ramirez.  Striker Rickie Lambert has the look and skill-set of a true Premier League target-man, if I've ever seen one – big, strong, and doesn't score pretty but is effective in his craft. 
 
18) Aston Villa (1-1-3, last week: 17)
– It was a tale of two halves for Paul Lambert at St. Mary's: the first, a well organized, balanced side with the teams' top scorer finding goal. The second half, a team exposed on the wings, showing both inexperience and lack of quality at the top level.  A 4-1 loss stings for a team who looked to have turned a corner.  Paul Lambert must hope a Capital One Cup victory at Manchester City restores team belief.  Winger Gabriel Agbonlahor returning to form and fitness will go a long way to helping. 
 
19) Queens Park Rangers (0-2-3, last week: 18) – QPR started well at Spurs and should have really left White Hart Lane with a point for their troubles.  Too many defensive mistakes continue to rue them.  No matter how well Julio Cesar plays – and the former Inter Milan goalkeeper was solid on the weekend – he needs better organization and discipline in front of him.  QPR will always be a handful going forward, featuring Canadian born Junior Hoilett who is developing before our eyes.  Manager Mark Hughes has his hands full, figuring out how to make this overpriced cast of misfits work.
 
20) Reading (0-1-3, last week: 20) – The bottom of the Power Rankings beckons for Reading, who haven't shown Premier League quality as of yet.  Perhaps Wednesday night's Capital One Cup, comeback win over QPR will set the Royals in the right direction.  Off-season prized acquisition, Pavel Pogrebnyak scored the winner.  6 goals for Fulham in a short spell proved Pogrebnyak could be a difference maker in the Premier League.  Service up front will be an issue.  And there are no easy answers for the least talented squad in the league.
 
Fulham v Manchester City live from Craven Cottage airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks Saturday September 22nd, with coverage kicking off at 9:30am et/6:30am pt.
Chelsea celebrates (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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