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Wheeler: Man. City, Chelsea hold on in Power Rankings

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Gareth Wheeler
11/26/2012 8:13:42 PM
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 One shot on goal. That's all Chelsea could muster against Manchester City in Rafa Benitez' debut as manager of Chelsea. The supporters at Stamford Bridge were vocal of their displeasure of the decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo, who brought Champions League and FA Cup glory to the club, replacing him with the Spaniard.
 
If the thought was Benitez would light a fire under the out-of-form Fernando Torres, then think again. Torres was the worst player on the pitch over 90 minutes against City. The misfiring Spanish striker is unfocused and lacks proper spirit to regain form of the previous version of the player. Torres used to be a pillar of strength, rarely dispossessed of the ball while at Liverpool. The new Torres is easily out-muscled, out-played and out-worked.
 
Chelsea struggled. And Manchester City wasn't much better. Still, both teams have the players to contend in a league where all teams have noticeable flaws. A quick turnaround for the Premier League with midweek games upon us.
 
Here are your latest TSN Premier League Power Rankings:
 
1) Manchester City (8W-5D-0L, last week: 1) – Another sub-par performance for City. But it's hard to knock them from top-spot after a draw at one of the toughest grounds in the league. After all, Roberto Mancini's side is still unbeaten, and looks to be as tough as any to break down with any regularity. Mancini's decision to start Edin Dzeko over Carlos Tevez was a head-scratcher. Six of Dzeko's seven goals have come as a substitute. And of Tevez's 79 BPL goals, only one has come off the bench; back in 2009, his last goal for Manchester United. It's decisions like this that made City an altogether frustrating team to watch thus far.

2) Manchester United (10-0-3, last week: 2) – Manchester United has fallen behind in 13 of 18 Premier League and Champions matches this season, yet they top the table and have already advanced in the Champions League. Quite the season for the erratic, defensively undisciplined United. In fact, United have fallen behind in nine of 13 in the Premier League, only to pick up a remarkable 18 points in the process. It's incredible a team can win a match playing eight minutes of good football. Three goals in that span after the introduction of Anderson and Chicharito were enough to down lowly QPR. Sir Alex Ferguson sung the praises of the influential Anderson. The Brazilian has shown flashes over the last month to justify his spot in the team. Fitness is the centre-midfielders biggest problem. The middle of the park is of concern at United. Anderson can help. But is he the answer?

3) West Bromwich Albion (8-2-3, last week: 3) – West Brom is in third place. That's not a typo. Steve Clarke has many questioning whether his team is overachieving at all. The Baggies' only loss came in a last minute rally by Manchester City. If they could have held on last month, West Brom would be second in the table. Four different goal-scorers at Sunderland and another convincing win. Five players in the team have three or more goals. It's a well-rounded approach with depth throughout the team that has made West Brom a legit contender for a spot in Europe. It's a big ask for Clarke and Co. But week after week, our questions are answered.

4) Chelsea (7-4-2, last week: 4) – How the unaesthetic approach of Rafa Benitez fits with the raw talent at Chelsea is mystery. Benitez hardly seems a fit at the club. Chelsea was stifled at home, with little to suggest they would find a breakthrough at home against City. Fernando Torres is not the answer, and banking on the Spanish striker to get it right is a risky proposition. There's not too much Chelsea can do about finding a proper target-man until January. Until that time, the three man attacking midfield of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar are going to have to carry the load. While Mata has remained consistent, Hazard and Oscar have shown a dip in form in recent weeks. Fatigue could be playing a role. It's been over a month since Chelsea won in the league. The pressure will be on in the West London derby against Fulham on Wednesday.

5) Everton (5-6-2, last week: 5) – Another late goal conceded by Everton and another draw. The Toffees have only won one of their last seven in the league and are experiencing a real dip in form. Problems at the front and the back are equally to blame. Everton create as many chances as anyone in the league, but are often wasteful. And goalkeeper Tim Howard has been shaky. It may be time for Everton to start looking elsewhere for more consistent goalkeeping. Criticism aside, this is still a team that will compete for a Champions League spot.
 
6) Tottenham Hotspur (6-2-5, last week: 8) – A comprehensive performance by a team due for a breakout game. Jermain Defoe's solo effort for the opener in their 3-1 win over West Ham was as good a goal as you will see. The English striker has been a revelation, with seven goals thus far. Defoe already has more starts under his belt this year than all of last season. And Gareth Bale continues to tear the opposition apart. The win ended a three-game losing streak, with a mouth-watering encounter with Liverpool waits Wednesday. Spurs have more speed, talent, and depth on paper. But that's just on paper.

7) Arsenal (5-5-3, last week: 6) – Arsenal were in tough on their trip to Villa Park. And despite dominating possession, the home side had the better chances to take the points. The Gunners certainly missed the midfield presence of Jack Wilshere. It was a drab end to what had been a good week for Arsene Wenger. With Champions League progression in hand, Wenger has some more breathing room going forward. Although, his decision to substitute Olivier Giroud with two minutes to go in a game where they needed a goal made little sense. Lukas Podolski has been substituted off in every league match.

8) Liverpool (3-7-3, last week: 9) – A lot has been made about the continued growth and improvement of Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers. Sure, you see flashes. But there is not nearly enough to believe Liverpool is near competing with the best sides in the league. A dire 0-0 draw at Swansea was an anti-climactic return to the Liberty for Rodgers. It's easy to imagine the gaffer looking to the team on the other side wishing he had the players in white to work with rather than those in red. Liverpool has already drawn eight of 13 matches; the most ties ever for the Reds at this point of a top-flight season. And Rodgers says he doubts Liverpool spends in January. So this looks to be the team going forward. After Luis Suarez, the question remains who is going to score goals. The play of Jonjo Shelvey continues to impress in a bit role. More playing time looks to be in the cards for the 20-year-old.

9) Swansea City (4-5-4, last week: 11) – The Swans were unable to beat their former manager at the Liberty, but did well enough to earn a point. An Ashley Williams header was cleared off the line, rueing his efforts to ruin the day of his mortal enemy, Luis Suarez. The intelligent, pass first and give what the opposition gives you approach still works. And Pablo Hernandez and Michu are giving Swansea the game-breaking ability needed to climb in the table. The most important thing for Swansea is to remain disciplined at the back. If they do so, the top half of the table is a realistic endeavour.

10) West Ham United (5-4-4, last week: 7) – The wind was taken out of West Ham's sails after a thorough defeat at the hands of Spurs. The Hammers were burned by a team with speed and able to press them from high positions. The good news; Andy Carroll scored his first goal of the season. It was a 14-game goalless streak for the big man up front. And more is needed to keep West Ham in the top half of the table. An incredible hard stretch of matches continues with Manchester United Wednesday. The ugly; fan behaviour directing anti-Semitic gestures and remarks towards Spurs supporters. A disgusting display with no place in the game. The club must be reprimanded for such despicable actions from their supporters.
 
11) Norwich City (3-6-4, last week: 12) – Sebastien Bassong's standout season got even better Saturday. This time contributing in front of goal with the last-minute equalizer at Goodison Park. And don't look now, but the Canaries are unbeaten in the league in their last six. October 6 was their last loss, and they've expertly navigated through a tricky portion of their schedule. Winnable games lay ahead, as they look to break though into the top half of the table. And this is no fluke. After a shaky start, Norwich settled into the match and was competitive across the field against a tough Everton side. A superior work-rate and more positional discipline across the park have paid dividends.

12) Fulham (4-4-5, last week: 10) – Fulham struggle to play against direct, physically dominant sides. Thus, it was no surprise the Cottagers lost 1-0 at Stoke City. What's more surprising their first legit chance on goal came with 15 minutes to go in the match. Martin Jol has requisite offensive talent at his disposal to take the game to slower, less possession-based sides. Yet his team Saturday didn't have proper depth or balance to get anything going. Upcoming matches against London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham are more suited to Fulham stylistically. But it's a big ask to expect Fulham, who are dealing with some injury concerns, to pick up anything more than a draw over the next week.

13) Stoke City (3-7-3, last week: 15) – The fortress that is Britannia Stadium is Stoke City's saving grace. A 1-0 win over Fulham made it 13 league matches unbeaten at home for the Potters. However, Stoke has only scored five goals in six home matches. This is nowhere near good enough. Good news for Stoke as defender Ryan Shawcross is reportedly set to sign a new six-year contract to stay at the club. Ridding of transfer speculation surrounding their leader at the back was essential for this team to move forward. Tony Pulis can now turn his attention on finding more support for Peter Crouch up front.

14) Wigan Athletic (4-2-7, last week: 16) – Saturday was the Jordi Gomez show, ladies and gentlemen. Gomez was pressed into action with injuries mounting in the side. He rewarded Roberto Martinez for keeping faith, becoming just the second Spaniard to score a Premier League hat-trick in a 3-2 home win over Reading. Goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, for how good he has been for Wigan, almost cost them a win with an own-goal made for the blooper reel. Three points was massive for Wigan, who has become one of the most unpredictable teams week-to-week.

15) Newcastle United (3-5-5, last week: 13) – Time to press the panic button at St. James's Park. Newcastle has lost three in a row, including an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Southampton. 12 regular players are out due to injury or suspension, killing any consistency in the side. Midfield leader Yohan Cabaye is now set to have a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a groin surgery. Europa League matches complicate things further with a congested fixture list. Newcastle was among the healthiest teams last season in a fifth-place finish. They won't come near that spot this time around.

16) Sunderland (2-6-4, last week: 14) – The heat is on at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland dropped another match on the weekend, this time at home to West Brom. The club has quashed suggestions that manager Martin O'Neill is ready to resign amidst tension on Tyneside. In fairness, Sunderland has performed much better in recent weeks. But now O'Neill has to deal with significant injury concern with Lee Cattermole and John O'Shea out for the next couple weeks with a knee and calf injuries respectively. Sunderland isn't a team with substantial depth. So the coming weeks will be a challenge.

17) Aston Villa (2-4-7, last week: 17) – A solid, well-earned draw for Villa against Arsenal. Manager Paul Lambert had a touchline ban for the match, but his fingerprints were all over the decision to leave Darren Bent out of the team, despite returning to fitness. Bent is the most likely candidate to be transferred in January. Incoming funds can be used to bring in a much needed veteran presence in the midfield. Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke continue to play well. Villa may be in the relegation zone. But upcoming games against Reading, QPR, and Stoke are a golden opportunity to climb in the standings.

18) Southampton (3-2-8, last week: 18) – Back-to-back wins for the Saints see them out of the relegation zone. In fact, two wins a row have highlighted Nigel Adkins' preference to play attacking football while actually picking up results. The Saints are an easy team to cheer for. Adam Lallana and Jason Puncheon are improving every week. But most important for Southampton is the improvement in defending, becoming the last team in the league to secure a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Newcastle.

19) Reading (1-6-5, last week: 19) – Defensive frailties were on full display in a 3-2 loss at the DW Stadium. Despite a shaky second half, the Royals looked set to steal an away point, before Jordi Gomez stole victory at the death. Reading was dominated in possession and looked vulnerable down the wings. It's been said in this space that Reading relies on out-working an opponent. But that's an impossible ask over a demanding Premier League schedule. More quality is needed in the team to avoid what seems an inevitable drop back to the Championship.

20) Queens Park Rangers (0-4-9, last week: 20) – £3 million was enough to bring Harry Redknapp out of his slumber to take on the seemingly impossible task of saving QPR from relegation. Four points, and no wins, from 13 matches have QPR off to the worst start in league history. Only one team with seven points or less through 13 games has ever avoided the drop. Redknapp wasn't on the bench for the 3-1 loss at Old Trafford. But Harry was in the crowd, and the steady rain could not mask the flaws in his new side. Yes, QPR did hold a shock lead. But this is not a team with proper defenders, or proper balance across the field. Redknapp has called for hard work from his new players. And rest assured, if Harry isn't satisfied, he will find players who fit the bill.

Manchester City v Everton from the City of Manchester Stadium airs across the TSN and TEAM Radio Networks this Saturday, with coverage kicking off at 9:30am et/6:30am pt.

You can reach and follow Gareth Wheeler at:
gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca
@WheelerTSN

Sergio Aguero (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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