Wheeler: Man United claims top spot in BPL power rankings

Gareth Wheeler
11/9/2012 2:29:50 AM
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We finally have a new front-runner after ten weeks of the Barclays Premier League season.  Chelsea had firm control atop the Power Rankings before their recent slip-ups at home to Manchester United and at Swansea City last weekend.  The Blues may very well be the most talented side in the Premier League, but certainly not the deepest. 
Meanwhile, the rest of the table remains as tight as ever, with just three points separating fourth from tenth place.  And there is clear separation from teams in the relegation zone and the rest of the table.  The early season deficit will not be easy to dig out of for Reading, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton.  Managerial changes are on the horizon pending a dramatic change in form.
Here are your latest TSN Premier League Power Rankings:
1) Manchester United (8W-0D-2L, last week: 2) – Back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Arsenal is no small feat.  Four wins in a row since a home loss to Spurs, and United has weathered the early season storm.  Defender Chris Smalling made his return in the Champions League, and Phil Jones has returned to training, giving an over-worked and under performing back four proper reinforcements.  Incredibly, United has scored two goals or more in every game but their opener in a loss to Everton.  This team is scary as they come in attack.  Wayne Rooney in a deeper midfield role has proven to be the right decision.  And with wide players Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young back in the team, United has proper balance and spacing across the park.  United's next five matches are against soft opponents before a visit to the Etihad December 9th.
2) Chelsea (7-2-1, last week: 1) – Roberto Di Matteo rolled the dice playing his regulars mid-week in League Cup action against Manchester United ahead of their trip to Swansea.  The move backfired with Chelsea conceding late in a 1-1 draw.  Fatigue looks to be setting in on a team with a busy schedule and limited squad rotation.  The players in Di Matteo's regular starting XI are top quality.  But with Lampard injured and Terry suspended, Di Matteo has very few proven options to turn to.  He needs to trust his younger players going forward.  A good start would be more Victor Moses.  Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday will be another tough test.
3) Manchester City (6-4-0, last week: 3) – Another sluggish display in a draw at Upton Park, followed by a home draw with Ajax in the Champions League, seemingly ending City's chances of advancing.  It has been anything but a strong start for the defending Champions.  Yet, City is still undefeated in the Premier League.  City may not be on top form, but they have a wealth of riches and top players who when not at their best are still good enough to pick up points.  A home win against Spurs on Sunday would go a long way to stopping the bleeding.  No goals from Mario Balotelli are a problem.  The conversation has to be had at some point whether the headaches that come along with the player are worth his erratic performances. 
4) Everton (4-5-1, last week: 6) – Few have played as high quality football as Everton.  But over the last month, the results haven't followed.  Lapses in defensive coverage and responsibilities, combined with a lack of precision in front of goal have turned wins into draws.  Everton haven't won since September.  David Moyes is a defender and attacking midfielder away of having the kind of depth needed to take this team to the next level.
5) Tottenham Hotspur (5-2-3, last week: 4) – Andre Villas-Boas was flying after a win at Old Trafford and a strong start to the season.  Losses in two of their last three in the BPL and questions again have started to mount.  The home crowd showed their displeasure seeing top scorer Jermain Defoe substituted off in the 58th minute a goal down against Wigan.  Defoe responded in the Europa League with a hat trick.  AVB needs to keep it simple and not fuel any unnecessary fires.  Consistency at the back would go a log way to stabilizing the side. 
6) Arsenal (4-3-3, last week: 5) – It wasn't that Arsenal lost at Old Trafford.  It was how the Gunners went down; without much fight and very little urgency.  Complicating matters, Arsenal doesn't have a prototypical centre forward, rather a bunch of attack-minded players lost in their own system.  There are also missing a true positionally sound defensive midfield to pull the strings in the middle.  Strangely enough, they sold those two exact players in the summer. Wonder why so many are questioning Arsene Wenger?
7) West Bromwich Albion (5-2-3, last week: 7) – No dip in form in a 2-0 win over Southampton at The Hawthorns.  The win was much needed after back-to-back heartbreaking losses against Man City and Newcastle.  There is good balance in the squad: a big and physical back four, the emergence of Claudio Yacob as a rock in the centre-midfield, and Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long on top form in attack.  Steve Clarke has competition for places in his side; an absolute bonus for any mid-table club.  Superb at home, West Brom will be tested away at Wigan on Saturday.
8) Fulham (4-3-3, last week: 9) – It was a rarity seeing Fulham second best throughout their 2-2 draw at home to Everton a week ago.  Steve Sidwell played hero with a late minute equalizer.  Goals haven't been a problem for Fulham, with 21 on the season.  Keeping them out has been an issue.  Although Fulham are unbeaten in their last three away, they have conceded six in the process.  Fulham have players who prefer to keep hold of the ball.  That will be a challenge at the Emirates and Arsenal ahead on Saturday.
9) Newcastle United (3-5-2, last week: 8) – Alan Pardew's side has been rather sub-par and is lucky to pick up points, second best at Anfield last week.  Newcastle have only one win in their last five league matches; not good enough for a team with a goal of a top-4 finish.  A -2 goal differential is evidence of the shaky play.  Injuries have played a role. But so has discipline.  Midfield Cheick Tiote and defender Fabricio Coloccini are both serving suspensions.  Back-to-back home matches against West Ham and Swansea are crucial to securing their place in the top half of the table.
10) West Ham United (4-3-3, last week: 10) – The Hammers were ecstatic after a home draw with City last week, and were actually unlucky to have a goal called incorrectly offside.  And the team is brimming with confidence.  Aside from Matthew Jarvis, the side plays very narrow, keeping things compact, relying on hard work and physical play.  West Ham gets in trouble when the back four are stretched, making discipline in the midfield positions all-important.  A result at St. James's Park on the weekend isn't out of the question.
11) Swansea City (3-3-4, last week: 12) – Canadian-born Jonathan de Guzman starred in a 1-1 home draw against Chelsea.  And the draw was well earned.  Swansea show discipline on the ball, patience in attack and are creative in their movement.  There's no question Michael Laudrup is a Premier League quality manager.  But it's up for debate whether he's found the proper mix and best starting XI for his squad.  It seems a natural target-man like Danny Graham is a better choice from the get-go, giving proper balance to Laudrup's formation.
12) Liverpool (2-5-3, last week: 11) – Luis Suarez scored a candidate for goal of the season, but that's all Liverpool could muster in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle at Anfield.  Brendan Rogers has nothing in terms of a reliable goal-scorer after the Argentine striker.  The squad is as thin as it ever has been at the historic club.  A weakened side lost 1-0 to Anzhi in the Europe League.  The good news: Liverpool is unbeaten in their last five in the league and the back-line and midfield is starting to take shape.  A true test to Rogers' tactical prowess comes at Chelsea on Sunday.  There is very little to suggest he has an answer to Chelsea's dynamic attack.
13) Wigan Athletic (3-2-5, last week: 13) – Back-to-back wins for the Latics, and a significant on at that; 1-0 over Spurs last time out.  Wigan could have had multiple first half goals if it wasn't for the top play of goalkeeper Brad Friedel.  For the team to continue to progress, similar link-up play to the weekend is required.  Wigan isn't blessed with the most talented roster. Getting players in support and proper positions comes from hard work and the tactical superiority of their manager, Roberto Martinez.  If Wigan can find a reliable scorer in front of goal, a top 10 finish isn't out of the question.
14) Norwich City (2-4-4, last week: 16) – Last month, Chris Hughton ranked among the most likely managers to be sacked.  Unbeaten in their last four in all competitions, Hughton's job is safe and the Canaries are on a decent run.  Key to the turn-around has been tightening things up at the back.  Norwich has conceded just once in their last three league matches after conceding nine goals in two games prior to the international break.  Norwich has also improved up the middle with some standout play from Alexander Tettey and Wes Hoolahan.
15) Aston Villa (2-3-5, last week: 17) – A struggling Villa side kept their composure and played their best match of the season in a 1-0 away win at Sunderland.  Gabriel Agbonlahor's first goal of the season paced Villa, and Paul Lambert will hope the oft-injured winger is returning to form.  He's such an important player for a team lacking influential attacking players from wide positions.  Agbonlahor is a constant threat cutting in from the left into central positions.  Belgian International Christian Benteke continues to impress in attack.  And Darren Bent still struggles to get into the squad.  Rumours swirl around Bent's future at the club.  It wouldn't be a shock if Villa tries to cash in on another clubs' desperation in finding a proven goal-scorer.  Bent could be gone.

16) Stoke City (1-6-3, last week: 15) – Stoke City has just tasted victory once in league play.  In fact, they've just won once in their last 16 matches in league play.  Tony Pulis' side relies on home form, and they've only played four matches at the Britannia.  They are now in a soft spot in their schedule, where draws are not enough.  The challenge over the next few matches will be to open up enough to create more in attack.  It's all far too narrow, and more width is needed to find positive areas for attack across the field.
17) Sunderland (1-6-2, last week: 14) – Who is going to score goals for the Black Cats? Better yet, who is going to create goal-scoring opportunities?  Only one player has scored for Sunderland in the Premier League.  And six goals in nine matches is about right considering how few chances they create.  A Martin O'Neill managed side will never be short on effort.  But the side needs to be unleashed from the stale game plan that has the side playing a basic, easy to match formation.  The players are there.  And current form is simply nowhere near good enough.  The next two matches on the road will be a true test what this team is made of.
18) Reading (0-5-4, last week: 18) – Reading is still winless after a 1-1 draw with QPR.  Most discouraging for manager Brian McDermott, it marked the fifth time in nine matches his side had blown a lead.  And it's not for a lack of effort.  Reading is one of the hardest working teams in the BPL.   Last week, Reading may have tried to sit on their lead a little too much.  And amidst a frantic finish, they could have certainly stolen a home win.  With a little luck, as well as tidying up things defensively, a win is surely on the horizon.  It seems Alex McCarthy is a much better option in goal than Adam Federici.
19) Queens Park Rangers (0-4-6, last week: 20) – The locals are restless as QPR are still winless.  Individual quality in the team cannot make up for the complete lack of cohesion and inconsistent effort.  Mark Hughes continues to have the faith of the board.  But it can't last much longer.  At the very least, they have to start scoring goals.  The proven scorers at the club have only eight goals through ten matches.  Southampton at home is a match both managers are coaching for their jobs.
20) Southampton (1-1-8, last week: 19) – It's become a broken record for the Saints; porous defending is killing the side.  28 goals conceded in ten matches are unacceptable.  That's nine more goals conceded than any other team in the BPL.  And it may cost Nigel Adkins his just.  Adkins is said to be safe, but another ugly loss this weekend, and he very likely will be shown the door.  It's too bad, because he has capable players going forward in attack.  Swansea and QPR in the next two will ultimately determine Adkins fate.
-Arsenal v Fulham from Emirates Stadium airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks Saturday November 10th, with coverage kicking off at 930am ET/630am PT.

Manchester United Celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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