Soccer

Wheeler: United still leads EPL Power Rankings

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Gareth Wheeler
1/11/2013 1:35:33 AM
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With the holiday season in over, Manchester United remains in top spot. Here are the rest of the TSN Premier League Power Rankings.

1) Manchester United (17W-1D-3L, previous ranking: 1)

Previous Result: 0-4 W at Wigan

United remained undefeated over festive period. The most dramatic result, a 4-3 come from behind home victory over Newcastle.  Robin Van Persie continues to be the most important player in the Premier League, with a league best 16 goals in 21 matches. Defensive issues still plague the squad, despite being back to full strength.  While organization looks better with Nemanja Vidic deputizing, it seems a lack of ability to read the game and picking up marks in dangerous positions is the critical issue.  Sir Alex Ferguson says he will rotate Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, ensuring a veteran presence at the back.  With no plans to dip into the transfer market, this looks to be the team going forward.  A lack of current width will be solved when Nani returns next month from an extended absence (hamstring).
Next up: Liverpool

2) Manchester City (13-6-2, previous ranking: 2)

Previous Result: 3-0 W Stoke

City has bounced back from a shock loss to Sunderland with two consecutive Premier League wins.  But the team will be tested in the coming month.  The team's most important player, Yaya Toure is away at the African Cup of Nations, and Sergio Aguero is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines (hamstring).  The Aguero absence particular stings because it takes super-sub Edin Dzeko out of his all-important role of the bench.  Or, it pushes the unreliable Mario Balotelli into service.  The fiery Italian has only one goal to show for this season.  And the headlines have read more about his poor attitude and transfer rumours than anything of substance for his current squad.  Perhaps Balotelli needs a regular run in the team.  But will it help or hurt a team that looks unsure under the wavering guidance and seemingly inconsistent approach of manager Roberto Mancini.
Next up: at Arsenal

3) Tottenham Hotspur (12-3-6, previous ranking: 3)

Previous Result: 3-1 W Reading

The festive season was a breeze for Spurs, beating up on Premier League lesser likes Aston Villa, Sunderland and Reading.  A more difficult period lay ahead, and they'll do so without Emmanuel Adebayor who was a late call-up for Togo for the African Cup of Nations.  Adebayor's absence leaves Spurs thin up front, with the in-form Jermain Defoe the only consistent option.  That being said, Spurs may have the strongest midfield with the most quality in depth in the Premier League.  A fit Mousa Dembele is a difference maker.  And the talent of Gareth Bale is in a different class.  With Scott Parker easing his way back into the team, Andre Villas-Boas has plenty of options.  Tottenham have been linked to multiple players in the transfer window.  A depth player in attack and a possibly veteran cover at the back would help the team in its pursuit of Champions League qualification.
Next up: at QPR

4) Chelsea (11-5-4, previous ranking: 5)

Previous Result: 0-1 L QPR

The up-and-down season continues at Stamford Bridge.  A disappointing home loss to QPR and a sloppy performance in a 2-0 loss to Swansea midweek in the Capitol One Cup is a reminder this team is far from a complete product.  The good news for Chelsea is the return of Captain John Terry from long-term injury.  Also, Demba Ba looks to be a proper front-line option after scoring a brace in his Premier League debut for Chelsea.  There is no good reason Fernando Torres should keep his place in the team over Ba.  If he does, it's because of the moment of madness owner Roman Abramovich splashed out £50 million for the player and the assume edict for Rafa Benitez to play the player.  Selection issues aside, with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in advanced attacking positions, Chelsea are a constant threat to score, no matter the opponent.
Next up: at Stoke City

5) Everton (9-9-3, previous ranking: 4)

Previous Result: 1-2 W at Newcastle

It hasn't been pretty, but Everton continues to grind out results.  The consistency of the left-side of the field with Steven Pineaar and Leighton Baines reeking havoc has gone a long way to pacing the club to it's outstanding record thus far.  And they've done so without Kevin Mirallas (hamstring) and top player Marouane Fellaini out through suspension.  This is the best Everton side we've seen in years.  David Moyes is as good as they get in terms of managers in the Premier League.  And he's rightfully looking for cover at the back in the transfer window.
Next up: Swansea

6) Arsenal (9-7-4, previous ranking: 6)

Previous Result: 1-1 D at Southampton

Things are coming together for Arsenal.  The ability of the team was on full display in a 7-3 victory over Newcastle over the holidays.  On that day, Theo Walcott was a magician, highlighting the importance for Arsene Wenger to get the winger to put pen to paper on a new contract.  Walcott looks close to signing.  And more relevant to the on-field conversation, is being put in more advanced positions and looks comfortable doing so.  Important midfielder Abou Diaby is almost ready to rejoin the first team recovering from injury (thigh) that has kept him out since the beginning of October. Four points back of a Champions League spot, the time to make a run is now.
Next up: Manchester City

7) Swansea City (7-8-6, previous ranking: 8)

Previous Result: 2-2 D Aston Villa

Three draws and a win over the festive season for Swansea as the Swans continue to turn up the style while picking up points.  One the best teams to watch as a neutral, they managed to get by while missing top player Michu for a short period through injury.  Since returning, Michu continues to pace the team, scoring in Swansea's Capital One Cup upset over Chelsea.  Michu has 13 goals in 20 league games.  Not to go unnoticed, fellow Spaniard, defender Chico Flores has been among the best at his position since his summer transfer.  The Spanish revolution in South Walres looks set to continue; with Real Betis midfielder Jose Canas set to join the club in the summer.  Manager Michael Laudrup is still looking to do some minor business in the transfer window.  Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones is said to be a target.  Not known for his natural ability but high on strength and pace, it remains to be seen how a player as such would fit in with the current squad.
Next up: at Everton

8) West Bromwich Albion (10-3-8, previous ranking: 10)

Previous Result: 1-2 L Fulham

A decent stretch of play took a step back with a disappointing New Years Day home loss to Fulham. West Brom have done well, sitting 7th in the table on 33 points and are five points out of a Champions League spot.  Manager Steve Clarke is dealing with somewhat of a crisis in his midfield. Zoltan Gera will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his ACL, and he is without the dynamic duo of Youssouf Mulumbu (African Cup of Nations) and Claudio Yacob (hamstring).  The loss of Yacob has been particularly noticeable, as he was a standout performer in West Brom's early season success.  The good news at the Hawthorns is top goal scorer Romelu Lukaku extended his loan from Chelsea until the end of the season. The 19-year old Belgian International is proving to be a force with a good balance between strength and skill in his play.
Next up: at Reading

9) Liverpool (8-7-6, previous ranking: 13)

Previous Result: 3-0 W Sunderland

Aside from a 3-1 beat down at the Britannia, Brendan Rodgers has a lot to be happy about with the performance of late of his side.  Liverpool righted some wrongs by actually winning against teams they are supposed to defeat. Even when he's scoring and playing well, Luis Suarez cannot avoid controversy.  The latest surround his handball goal.  The handball incident isn't the problem; it's a reputation and history of offenses, which distracts from how productive the player truly is.  15 goals on the season are incredible considering the team has very little support in attack for the Uruguayan striker.  Whether Daniel Sturridge is the answer remains to be seen.  There is a lot to like about the young England International.  But his game is far from complete, and it's not known where he is best deputized on the pitch. 
Next up: at Manchester United

10) Stoke City (6-11-4, previous ranking: 9)

Previous Result: 3-0 L at Manchester City

It was somewhat of a bizarre world for Stoke over the holidays, conceding three goals in back-to-back matches, as well as scoring three in consecutive games.  Stoke, known for it's lower scoring affairs, remains a tough team to play at home, undefeated on the season (five wins, five draws).  Manager Tony Pulis would like to make some changes to the roster in the transfer window, but has been told by the Chairman he must raise funds for any potential buys.  Don't expect any drastic changes.  Putting pen to paper on a new contract with Captain Ryan Shawcross and keeping goalkeeper Asmir Begovic were always the top priorities to begin with.
Next up: Chelsea

11) Norwich City (6-7-8, previous ranking: 7)

Previous Result: 2-1 L at West Ham

After going on a miraculous streak of 10 straight undefeated (including wins over Arsenal and Manchester United), Norwich have crashed back down to earth losing four straight. It's not as though they've been thoroughly dominated, losing back a goal in each contest.  They have remained competitive, but not being able to pick up points has dropped them to 12th in the table.  Manager Chris Hughton says he will only dip into the transfer window if the player and the deal is right.  Grant Holt has only scored four goals on the season.  Another proven goal scorer is wouldn't hurt a team that relies on team strength, rather than any standout player.  Playing time has been few and far between for Canadian Simeon Jackson.  Patience has been preached.  But perhaps a move elsewhere where regular playing time can be assured would be best for the player.
Next up: Newcastle

12) West Ham United (7-5-8, previous ranking: 11)

Previous Result: 2-1 W Norwich

The Hammers ended a four-match winless streak with a New years Day win over Norwich.  Manager Sam Allardyce has dealt with various injuries to his side by dipping into the transfer window straight away.  Familiar face, midfielder Joe Cole returned to the club he started with after years of disappointing play.  Cole looked right back at home in West Ham's 2-2 FA Cup draw with Manchester United.  The diminutive winger adds a different element to a team relying too heavily on work-rate over talent.  Allardyce is also rolling the dice with Arsenal castaway Maroane Chamakh.  The Moroccan striker scored seven goals for the Gunners in the 2010/11 season.  Playing time has been hard to come by since, having not playing in the Premier League this season.  It's worth the risk for Big Sam.  No striker on his roster has scored more than two league goals.  And on the misfiring note, Andy Carroll is due to make his return in a matter of days.
Next up: at Sunderland

13) Fulham (6-6-9, previous ranking: 14)

Previous Result: 1-2 W at West Brom

A rare away win has put the Cottagers back on track.  It was only Fulham's second away win all season; taking advantage of an injury depleted West Brom.  Top man Dimitar Berbatov has started scoring again.  His t-shirt unveiled, 'Keep Calm and Pass me the Ball' says it all.  Berbatov needs the proper service to make him entirely effective.  Fulham has scored far more goals than any other team in the bottom half of the table.  But the 37 conceded in 21 matches in nowhere near good enough.  Fulham haven't kept a clean sheet in their last seven matches.
Next up: Wigan

14) Southampton (4-6-10, previous ranking: 16)

Previous Result: 1-1 D Arsenal

Southampton remains a feel good story after such a tough start to the season.  The Saints have largely solved their problem conceding cheaply and have no gone on a nice run, drawing their last three matches.  Wins are what will save Southampton from relegation, but it's important to note they haven't lost a game by more than one goal since early November.  The transfer window could be a key period for Nigel Adkins.  He's ruled out a move for promising England International goalkeeper Jack Butland, who would certainly help the Saints.  But Southampton looks closer to dipping back into the Serie A for an important player, with their eyes on Cagliari centre-half Davide Astori. And Akins has kept the future of the club looking bright, inking 17-year old left-back Luke Shaw to a new contract.
Next up: at Aston Villa

15) Newcastle United (5-5-11, previous ranking: 15)

Previous Result: 1-2 L Everton

A poor start to the season has turned into genuine concern at Newcastle.  Three straight losses, and Demba Ba being plucked away by Chelsea leave a team two points out of the relegation zone searching for answers.  Transfer rumours swirl around the club.  On the exit front, top defender Fabricio Coloccini reportedly wants to return to his antive Argentina.  Having just signed a four-year contract, a move seems unlikely.  But the news is unsettling nonetheless.  Those thinking Marseille striker Loic Remy is the answer for the departed Ba should think again.  The player's reputation exceeds anything he brings on the field.  Alan Pardew will be looking for a gut-check kind of response from his men this weekend.  Papiss Cisse, Jonas Gutierrez, and more importantly, midfielder Yohan Cabaye is all set to return from injury.  And new signing, Mathieu Debuchy is set to make his debut.
Next up: at Norwich

16) Sunderland (5-7-9, previous ranking: 18)

Previous Result: 0-3 L at Liverpool

Back-to-back wins were offset by back-to-back losses for Sunderland.  The six points gained were huge for Martin O'Neill's struggling side, getting them out of the relegation zone and giving them a four-point cushion.  An easier, manageable stretch is ahead for the Black Cats.  O'Neill completed his first transfer of this window, landing 22-year old central midfielder Alfred N'Diaye from Buraspor.  The middle of the park was in desperate need of bodies with Lee Cattermole a long-term absentee (knee) and various players playing out of position.  It looks unlikely Sunderland will be able to land Tim Cahill on loan.  So the search continues for further attacking reinforcements.  O'Neill would be wise to nab a central defender as well.  Please, no more Titus Bramble.
Next up: West Ham

17) Wigan Athletic (5-3-13, previous ranking: 17)

Previous Result: 4-0 L Manchester United

It's been a trying season thus far for Roberto Martinez at Wigan.  I stand by my claim this is a team far better than their standing.  Wigan find themselves in the relegation zone, having only one win in their last eight matches.  Martinez says he will not sell any of his young talent in the transfer window.  They have added midfielder Roger Espinoza from Sporting Kansas City, and many are exited to see young Manchester United loanee, Angelo Henriquez in action.  Martinez is high on the 18-year old Chilean, who will be pressed into action with top goal scorer Arouna Kone away at the African Cup of Nations.  It looks like Antolin Alcaraz is finally ready to make his return to Wigans backline after being out since August (groin).  Injuries have decimated the Latics defense in the first half of the season.
Next up: at Fulham

18) Aston Villa (4-7-10, previous ranking: 12)

Previous Result: 2-2 D at Swansea

No team has a worse go of it over the festive period than Villa.  Paul Lambert's side picked up one point in four matches, but that only tells part of the story.  Lop-sided losses resulted in a shocking two goals for and 17 against in four matches.  It was that ugly.  Lambert had his side over-achieving for a stretch, relying on superior organization and the ability of Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann to lead an otherwise thin frontline.  Benteke and Weimann have been solid contributors for Villa.  But the team is thin, and very poor elsewhere.  Lambert is hoping for a response.  And the club has been linked to Inter Milan midfielder Philippe Coutinho in the transfer window.  One player is not enough.  And until the team invests in players who are ready and able to play in the Premier League to offset the bright young players in the side, the team will struggle and remain in the relegation conversation.
Next up: Southampton

19) Queens Park Rangers (2-7-12, previous ranking: 19)

Previous Result: 0-1 W at Chelsea

Harry Redknapp renewed faith amongst QPR supporters with an improbable 1-0 win at Stamford Brdige last time out.  It's herculean efforts as such that will be vital in the uphill climb for survival.  They are still buried in a five-point hole.  QPR are a much more organized, disciplined side under Redknapp.  Important for the manager, he was able to keep star player Adel Taarabt from going away on African Cup of Nations duty.  Redknapp understands he requires some savvy January buys to keep his team afloat.  A bid for West Brom defender Jonas Olsson was rejected, but that doesn't mean the end of business for the club.  It's no secret, defender Ryan Nelsen would prefer to step away after being hired as manager of Toronto FC this week.  And in fairness, QPR has relied on the 35 year old far too much and could use an upgrade.  That's not a shot at Nelsen, rather the state of QPR's central defending options.  A showdown between Redknapp and his former club Tottenham kicks off the weekend action.  Nothing would be sweeter than QPR playing giant killer again for their manager.
Next up: Tottenham

20) Reading (2-7-12, previous ranking: 20)

Previous Result: 1-3 L at Tottenham

Reading played tough over the holidays, picking up four points in four matches.  It's tough to get too excited by anything going on at the Madejski.  Manager Brian McDermott has done all he can, working with a shoestring budget.  Low-cost and unproven acquisitions of defender Daniel Carrico from Sporting Lisbon and midfielder Hope Akpan from Crawley Town do little to dispel the belief relegation lay ahead. 
Next up: West Brom

Stoke City v. Chelsea FC from Britannia Stadium airs Saturday Janauary 12th on TSN Radio and the TEAM Radio Network. Coverage begins at 9:30am et /6:30am pt.

 

 

Wayne Rooney (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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