Wheeler: United continue to lead in EPL Power Rankings

Gareth Wheeler
1/18/2013 1:12:49 AM
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1) Manchester United (18W-1D-3L, previous ranking: 1)

Previous Result: 2-1 W Liverpool

Manchester United is rolling, and for the first time all year, healthy at the right time. It seems disaster was averted with Nemanja Vidic free of serious knee injury. Aside from Darren Fletcher, who will miss the season in his battle with ulcerative colitis, the team is at virtual full strength. And squad depth is paying dividends. Sir Alex Ferguson named a starting XI midweek against West Ham featuring 10 changes from the win over Liverpool. And he was able to give Robin van Persie a well-earned rest ahead of this weekend's visit to White Hart Lane. Spurs beat United at Old Trafford 3-2 in September in their only home loss of the season. I was in the crowd that day. And Spurs match up very well against United. Ferguson will have the task of adjusting his line-up to cope with Spurs' superior midfield. That being said, United's 55 points is the most through 22 matches in Premier League history.

Next up: at Tottenham

2) Manchester City (14-6-2, previous ranking: 2)

Previous Result: 0-2 W at Arsenal

City is rolling after winning at Arsenal for the first time since 1975. The news is even better, as captain Vincent Kompany won his appeal for a red card at the Emirates. It's a massive bit of fortune for City as three matches without their top defender would have been a big ask. In this analyst's opinion, Kompany is lucky to get off. Any time a player leaves the ground for a two-footed challenge, he's tempting fate. City has won three straight with two clean sheets in the process. The name of the game right now is to keep the pressure on United.

Next up: Fulham

3) Tottenham Hotspur (12-4-6, previous ranking: 3)

Previous Result: 0-0 D at QPR

The draw at QPR was a decent result for Spurs considering Harry Redknapp's side were up for the match against their manager's former club. It was a rather dire 90 minutes of football with Spurs unable to create much of anything. Andre Villas-Boas played two up front which didn't pay off. His side plays much better playing a lone target man with a recess striker playing off the high man. Disappointing for Spurs was losing midfield stalwart Sandro long-term through a knee injury. The Brazilian had played in every league match this season, and has really grown into a stabilizing force in Spurs' midfield. AVB does have a surplus of central midfielders at his disposal. But Sandro will be missed.

Next up: Manchester United

4) Chelsea (12-6-4, previous ranking: 4)

Previous Result: 2-2 D Southampton

Chalk up a win and a draw for Chelsea in two matches last week. The win; a convincing 4-0 performance at Stoke. The draw; coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Southampton. It's this kind of inconsistency that drives supporters of the Blues up the wall. Overall, the team is playing decent under Rafa Benitez, but not good enough. Frailties in defending are ever apparent. Shockingly, Chelsea has only won five times in 11 tries at Stamford Bridge. Demba Ba has fit right in since his move from Newcastle, scoring his third goal at Chelsea in four matches. In comparison, it took Fernando Torres 25 matches to score three times.

Next up: Arsenal

5) Everton (9-10-3, previous ranking: 5)

Previous Result: 0-0 D Swansea

Everton continues to grind out results with their team composed equally of sandpaper and skill. The Toffees have not played in a league match decided by more than a goal since September. David Moyes is remaining optimistic about his teams' chances in the second half of the season, aiming for a top three finish. These lofty goals are not out of reach. Everton finished as strong as any last season. And the squad will be helped by the return of long-term absentee Kevin Mirallas (hamstring).

Next up: at Southampton

6) Arsenal (9-7-5, previous ranking: 6)

Previous Result: 0-2 L Manchester City

Any hope of knocking off City last weekend was killed off early with the 9th minute sending off of defender Laurent Koscielny and the ensuing converted penalty. It's defensive errors such as that which have plagued and characterized Arsenal's season. Still, the team doesn't look fluid enough in attack. And the Gunners are more and more looking like a squad with decent players who aren't on the same page. Jack Wilshere needs more help in the middle of the park. And Theo Walcott is often times playing out of position. A lot has been made of Walcott's contract issues. But in truth, the player is being over-valued. Walcott is a good player, but not great. And it seems Arsenal will overpay the player to avoid the optics of losing another top player.

Next up: at Chelsea

7) Swansea City (7-9-6, previous ranking: 7)

Previous Result: 0-0 D at Everton

Another hard fought point for Swansea, proving they can play both with flair and physicality. It's been a busy match schedule for the Swans and Michael Laudrup has done an admirable job using his squad appropriately. Swansea hasn't lost in their last five league games. Stoke beat Swansea at the Britannia earlier this season. Chances of redemption are likely at the Liberty.

Next up: Stoke

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

Previous Result: 2-1 L at Manchester United

It was a game of two very different halves for Liverpool at Old Trafford. Brendan Rodgers side looked completely out of their depth over the first 45 minutes. Rodgers switched to a 4-4-2 at the half, bringing Daniel Sturridge into the match and it paid immediate dividends. Luis Suarez needs proper support up front. And the spacing looked much better for the visitors. Sturridge has now scored in both appearances as a Red. And the new partnership looks to continue to grow against Norwich; a team Liverpool has owned as of late. Suarez has scored a hat trick in the last two games against the Canaries. The man is a talent when not diving around the pitch.

Next up: Norwich City

9) West Bromwich Albion (10-3-9, previous ranking: 8)

Previous Result: 3-2 L at Reading

West Brom left Reading with nothing to show for after 80 minutes of solid football. In a blink of an eye, West Brom's 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 loss. Romelu Lukaku continued his tear scoring his team best 8th and 9th goals of the season. The 19 year-old has turned into a difference maker on a team short on standout players. That's three straight losses for West Brom. Injuries and absentees in Steve Clarke's midfield are to blame. Claudio Yacob cannot return soon enough.

Next up: Aston Villa

10) Stoke City (6-11-5, previous ranking: 10)

Previous Result: 0-4 L Chelsea

It's been a tough go for Stoke as of late, as the schedule turned on them with matches against some of the topsides in the league. The usually defensively sound Potters have conceded 10 in their last three games. Jon Walters had a nightmare last weekend, with an unthinkable two own goals and a missed penalty. Walters redeemed himself with a brace in a FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace midweek. Expect Tony Pulis to tighten things up and get Stoke sorted out in the coming weeks. This stretch has been uncharacteristic. Former Toronto FC and Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu has been loaned to Turkish side Buraspor.

Next up: at Swansea

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

Previous Result: 0-0 D Newcastle

The Canaries picked up their first point in their last five matches in a draw against Newcastle. Before this recent dip in form, Norwich was among the hottest teams in European football, unbeaten in 10 straight. Norwich is back in the bottom-half of the table but the panic button isn't being pressed. It's surprising Norwich hasn't done anything in the transfer market to add a proven goal scorer. A reported bid for Swansea's Danny Graham may fit the bill. It seems most of their goals are created on set pieces. A more influential attack in open play is needed to keep them competitive.

Next up: at Liverpool

12) Fulham (6-7-9, previous ranking: 13)

Previous Result: 1-1 D Wigan

It's been an odd season at Craven Cottage. Stylish at times, and abysmal the next moment, Fulham have become one of the toughest teams to read in the Premier League. A win and a draw in their last two games will have Fulham feeling confident going forward. Then again, a reported training ground altercation between Martin Jol and John Arne Riise makes you wonder what's going on. Good news for Fulham, the Cottagers won at Blackpool in the FA Cup midweek while resting star player Dimitar Berbatov. A rested Berbatov may not be enough for points at the Etihad this weekend.

Next up: at Manchester City

13) West Ham United (7-5-9, previous ranking: 12)

Previous Result: 3-0 L at Sunderland

It has been a tough stretch for Sam Allardyce, with only one win for West Ham in their last six league matches. Allardyce isn't content with his current squad, still looking to add in the transfer window. Joe Cole and Marouane Chamakh and Joe Cole have arrived but defensive help is still on the agenda. Allardyce top priority should be keeping Mohamed Diame, who has been one of the top players at Upton Park this season. The fact no striker has scored more than two goals is a massive issue.

Next up: QPR

14) Southampton (5-7-10, previous ranking: 14)

Previous Result: 2-2 D at Chelsea

Southamton remain a feel good story after a disastrous start to their season. A win and a draw in two matches last weekend, including coming from behind for a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, leave Southampton three points above the relegation zone and trending up. Southampton has picked up points in every match but one since the festive period. And they've done so without top midfielder Adam Lallana (knee). Rickie Lambert has answered those who questioned whether he would be an effective Premier League forward with 10 goals this season.

Next up: Everton

15) Sunderland (6-7-9, previous ranking: 16)

Previous Result: 3-0 W West Ham

Somehow Sunderland has climbed up to 14th place in the table despite some ugly losses and overall disappointing play. A 3-0 win against West Ham was a refreshing display where the Black Cats were able to crate chances in attack. It hasn't been anywhere near good enough in the final third at the Stadium of Light. Martin O'Neill continues his search for usable squad players. Lee Cattermole returned for 15 minutes of action in the FA Cup after being out with a knee injury since November. Cattermole allows Sunderland's wing players to return to their natural positions. Squads such as O'Neill's cannot afford any loss of an important squad player like Cattermole. They simply don't have the depth to compensate.

Next up: at Wigan

16) Newcastle United (5-6-11, previous ranking: 15)

Previous Result: 0-0 D at Norwich

Tensions continue to rise at St. James's Park, with Newcastle only two points out of the relegation zone. It's anything but stable in the North of England. Hatem Ben Arfa has issued a threat about his future at the club if they do not show ambition. And Alan Pardew not only has to manage his team out of trouble, but also is trying to keep defender Fabricio Coloccini from leaving the club and returning to his native Argentina. Pardew needs Coloccini and commitment from his top players. It's not excuse, but injuries and lack of squad depth have killed Newcastle. They have lost three out of their last four games. Back to back games against Reading and Aston Villa are must wins to provide a cushion and quell any uprising. They have much to play for, both in the league and Europa League.

Next up: Reading

17) Wigan Athletic (5-4-13, previous ranking: 17)

Previous Result: 1-1 D at Fulham

Another week and another injury for Roberto Martinez to deal with. Defender Ivan Ramis will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Martinez backline has been ravaged virtually season. Antolin Alcaraz (groin) is near return, which alleviates some concern. But Martinez will certainly be in the market for another defender before the transfer window closes. Wigan remains out of the relegation zone on goal differential. The team still looks the part going forward. If defensive issues can be resolved, Wigan will be fine. Afterall, they've been in the relegation battle before. They are not sweating … yet.

Next up: Sunderland

18) Aston Villa (4-7-11, previous ranking: 18)

Previous Result: 0-1 L Southampton

After a decent stretch dating from late November to mid-December, it has all gone sideway for Villa. Four losses in five matches have turned the heat on Paul Lambert. He has a squad short on experience and talent. And the feel good stories of Christian Benteke and Andrea Wiemann aren't enough to distract the desperate state of affairs. Even more disconcerting, it doesn't seem ownership is prepared to sufficiently add to the squad in the transfer window. A Premier League mainstay, a drop to the League Championship is a realistic possibility for the historic club.

Next up: at West Brom

19) Queens Park Rangers (2-8-12, previous ranking: 19)

Previous Result: 0-0 D Tottenham

It hasn't been pretty, but Harry Redknapp has turned an unbalanced group of players into a competitive unit. QPR are unbeaten in four matches overall but still sit at the bottom of the table and five points deep in the relegation zone. Redknapp has convinced ownership to open its wallet with a double swoop for France Internationals striker Loic Remy and midfielder Yann M'Vila. Remy seems a natural fit for a team lacking a decent striker. In an odd turn of events, Remy spurned the chance to join Newcastle in favour of playing in London. From what I've seen of Remy, it seems his reputation is superior to the play of the French striker. Nothing I have seen convinces me he will be an effective player in the Premier League. M'Vila is a combative midfielder – nothing flashy – and will be useful for Redknapp. M'Vila was linked with a move to much bigger clubs in the summer. So the move seems an odd one as well. The jury is still out whether their arrivals will be enough to save QPR.

Next up: at West Ham

20) Reading (3-7-12, previous ranking: 20)

Previous Result: 3-2 W West Brom

In the most improbable and dramatic win of the season, Readin fought back from two goals down in the last 10 minutes to defeat West Brom 3-2 at the Majedski. It was a treat for the home supporters who have shown incredible support for a team destined for the drop. The win gives Reading a glimmer of hope they can survive. Realistically, Reading concedes far too much to stay in matches. And it doesn't look like the club is in any position to invest in the transfer window to make marked improvements to a side in need of an injection of talent. But for last week, the Royals were the toast of the league. And rightfully so.

Next up: at Newcastle

Liverpool vs. Norwich City from Anfield airs Saturday January 19th on TSN Radio and the TEAM Radio Network. Coverage begins at 930am EST/630amPST.

Robin van Persie (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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