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Wheeler: United maintains top spot in EPL Power Rankings

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Gareth Wheeler
2/8/2013 12:50:09 AM
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Manchester United remains in top spot of this weeks rankings.  West Ham United also jumped into the Top 10.  Here are the rest of the TSN Premier League Power Rankings.

1) Manchester United (20W-2D-3L, previous ranking: 1)

Previous Result: 0-1 W at Fulham

A nine point lead atop the league for United, but don't expect complacency after relinquishing an eight-point cushion last season.  United's deficiencies are plain to see, namely an unreliable goalkeeper leaking far too many goals, particularly on set pieces (31 in 25 matches).  The pushback in this year's side is incredible, earning 27 points from losing positions this season.  Wayne Rooney has followed Robin van Persie's lead, scoring at will as of late.  Rooney has averaged a goal per game in his last 10 matches in all competitions.  United has their eye set on the Treble; balancing all competitions shouldn't be a worry with superior squad depth to any other Premier League team.  Often criticized winger Nani still has a role to play.  United are a much more fluid team playing with defined outside players. 
Next up: Everton

2) Manchester City (15-8-2, previous ranking: 2)

Previous Result: 2-2 D Liverpool

City has continued their run of steady, yet unspectacular play.  Back-to-back draws have dug themselves a hole in their Championship defence.  It's not the deficit that's so much daunting.  It's the overall ordinary play.  Roberto Mancini certainly isn't getting the most out of his squad, as he did last season.  Mario Balotelli has been sold and not replaced.  Despite his antics, Super Mario was an important piece in their Championship campaign.  Yaya Toure was missed while on African Cup of Nations duty.  And the overall squad depth was tested with mixed results.  Individual displays of brilliance seem to stand out more than any complete team effort.  Pablo Zabaleta has been the Premier League's top right back.  James Milner continues to improve.  And the quality of David Silva and Sergio Aguero are still top class.
Next up: at Southampton

3) Tottenham Hotspur (13-6-6, previous ranking: 3) 

Previous Result: 0-1 W at West Brom

Gareth Bale.  Need I say more?  The Welshmen is the driving force of this team and has proven himself as one of the most electrifying, top quality midfield players in the world.  Bale averages a goal every two games in Premier League play and causes fits with his pace and cannon of a left foot.  Bale will be relied upon for his attacking prowess after losing striker Jermain Defoe for the next thee weeks with ankle ligament damage.  It was always a risk for Spurs not to bring in another attacker in the transfer window.  Emmanuel Adebayor's return from the African Cup of Nations couldn't come at a better time.  A slow start to the season for Adebayor coincided with a lack of playing time.  Now he'll have every chance to earn his hefty salary at White Hart Lane as Spurs push to secure a Champions League spot.
Next up: Newcastle

4) Everton (10-12-3, previous ranking: 5)

Previous Result: 3-3 D Aston Villa

The scrappy Toffees battle on, coming away with a point in a 3-3 draw with Aston Villa.  On paper, the result seems like a letdown.  But the second half comeback was impressive and reflective on the fight Everton continues to show under David Moyes.  A league high 12 draws is a blessing and curse.  Points are obviously valueable, but by all indications, Everton are good enough to push for a Champions League spot.  It's imperative they turn ties into wins coming down the stretch.  Leighton Baines has proved himself to be the top left back in the Premier League; efficient defensively and standout in attack on off set pieces.  A healthy (finally) Kevin Mirallas could be key for Everton, adding quality in attack.  Perhaps the Belgians influence can ease the pressure on misfiring Nikica Jelavic.  Six Premier League goals in 22 games is a far cry from the torrid pace of nine in 10 games, taking the English top flight by storm after his transfer from Rangers last season.
Next up: at Manchester United

5) Chelsea (13-7-5, previous ranking: 4)

Previous Result: 2-3 L at Newcastle

The Rafa Benitez experiment has been a flop from the get-go and shows no signs of getting better.  Chelsea under Benitez has only earned 22 points in 13 matches after earning 24 in 12 under Roberto Di Matteo.  Di Matteo's sacking made little sense at the time, and the controversial hiring of Benitez hasn't ignited the side, or Fernando Torres as owner Roman Abramovich had hoped.  Frank Lampard continues to shine and score goals, despite being deemed to be surplus requirements and destined to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.  The 34-year old has scored 10 goals in 12 starts on the season, and remains a consistent presence in the middle of the park.  Depth is a serious issue at the club. And one wonders how despite the millions spent, they've been unable to compliment the first team with up and coming players in the system, developed at the club.  Injury concerns for Chelsea are concerning, highlighted by goalkeeper Petr Cech breaking a finger in Chelsea's loss at Newcastle.  Ross Turnbull has hardly looked up to par with Cech on the sidelines.
Next up: Wigan

6) Arsenal (11-8-6, previous ranking: 6)

Previous Result: 1-0 W Stoke City

A different side of Arsenal came to play last week.  A scrappier, physical group came to play in a victory over Stoke.  Sure, the winner may have come courtesy of a stroke of luck.  But the team spirit and clean sheet are something Arsene Wenger can build from.  Problem is, the team is entirely inconsistent and the back four cannot be relied upon.  Theo Walcott has come into his own, leading the way with 11 goals.  And the inspired central midfield play of Jack Wilshere bodes well.  Whether the supporting cast is up to snuff remains to be seen.  They can turn up the class, but more times than not look lost and uninspired.  Chasing down their rival Spurs is number one priority.  Gunners sit four points back of a Champions League spot.
Next up: at Sunderland

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

Previous Result: 2-2 D at Manchester City

Two matches against Manchester City and Liverpool should have arguably come away with two victories.  Bringing Daniel Sturridge to Anfield has paid immediate dividends.  Luis Suarez has been asked to do too much at the club.  Now he has some pace to play off of.  And playing Stewart Downing or Raheem Sterling in a higher position on the wing to compliment the new look attack has worked.  It also lets the three-man midfield; led by Steven Gerrard, use better possession of the ball, showing much more decisiveness.  Liverpool has navigated through a difficult stretch of games and look to be a team on the rise.
Next up: West Brom

8) Swansea City (8-10-7, previous ranking: 7)

Previous Result: 1-0 L at West Ham

34 points and 8th place sounds good by Swansea standards.  But you can't help but come away thinking this team could do even better.  They've been competitive throughout the campaign and play a ball possession game that makes it hard not to like what their doing.  And the accomplishment looks better with problems at left back early, a long-term absence for goalkeeper Michel Vorm, and lacking a typical high man to lead the attack.  It may pain Canadian soccer supporters, but Jonathan De Guzman's call-up to the Netherlands was was deserved.  He has been outstanding.  Swansea brings up the tail on a clearly defined top eight in the rankings.  The drop off is noticeable from here.
Next up: QPR

9) West Ham United (8-6-11, previous ranking: 13)

Previous Result: 1-0 W Swansea City

Andy Carroll to the rescue.  Haven't been able to say that too often.  The misfiring striker made his return for his first start since November to head home the winner to the delight of Sam Allardyce, who has already tied up a permanent move for Carroll to call Upton Park home beyond this season.  More goals are needed from West Ham attackers.  Kevin Nolan leads the way with six at the club, and no striker has scored more than twice.  The win was just West Ham's second since the beginning of December; a stretch that saw the Hammers fall into the bottom half of the table.  Their physical, no-nonsense style of play will keep them competitive, and out of the relegation zone.  But the ceiling isn't much higher. 
Next up: at Aston Villa

10) Fulham (7-7-11, previous ranking: 12)

Previous Result: 0-1 L Manchester United

The lights went out at Craven Cottage in Fulham's 1-0 home loss to Manchester United.  But the play of the Cottagers lit up the occasion.  Fulham was very good for long stretches in a match that saw two close range efforts cleared off the goal line by United defenders.  And Fulham did so without the services of Dimitar Berbatov.  Martin Jol's side is entirely predictable; decent at home (5 wins, +4 GD) and terrible away (2 wins, -10 GD).  The team sits back away from home and gets thorough dominated on the field.  It's a disturbing trend that keeps a talented side wavering in the depths of mediocrity.  Loan moves for midfielders Emmanuel Frimpong and Urby Emanuelson add some much needed young legs to an old and uninspiring midfielder group.
Next up: at Norwich City

11) Stoke City (6-12-7, previous ranking: 10)

Previous Result: 1-0 L at Arsenal

What's happened at Stoke City?  The normally defensively responsible side is leaking goals at an incredible rate.  Stoke haven't picked up a clean sheet in eight matches, and have conceded 17 in the process.  And they haven't won since Boxing Day.  It's hardly goalkeeper Asmir Begovic's fault.  But the one-time Canadian under-20 player is set for a summer exit after the club purchased England International goalkeeper Jack Butland in the transfer window.  Time to get back on track this weekend at Fortress Britania.  It's time for Reading to crash back down to earth.
Next up: Reading

12) West Bromwich Albion (10-4-11, previous ranking: 9)

Previous Result: 0-1 L Tottenham

West Brom's season has been turned upside-down after a scorching start.  Steve Clarke's team has picked up just one point in their last six.  A lot has been made of Peter Odemwingie's attempted move to QPR.  The drive to Loftus Road has put his short-term future at the club up in the air.  A summer exit is a good bet.  But it's a big decision for the club how they handle the player the rest of this season.  Odemwingie's talent is undeniable, and the team is worse off not having him available for selection.  If it were up to the supporters, he would be gone already.  Clarke best moves on without him in his plans.  The true reason for the team struggles is the extended absences of central midfield duo Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu.  The return fixture of the opening day scalp they took from Liverpool lay ahead.
Next up: at Liverpool

13) Newcastle United (7-6-12, previous ranking: 16)

Previous Result: 3-2 W Chelsea

Will it go down as the match that turned around Newcastle's season?  It has the makings of season defining moment, as new cult hero Moussa Sissoko's 90th minute strike gave Newcastle a 3-2 in over Chelsea.  The transder window was a period of boom or bust for manager Alan Pardew.  Although losing top scorer Demba Ba still stings, it seems he's pulled off the ultimate coup bring Sissoko to the club from Toulouse.  Although Sissoko is only two games deep into his Newcastle career, the box-to-box play, the size and the strength all bode well for success going forward.  Fellow Frenchmen defender Mathieu Debuchy and winger Yoan Gouffran also look the part.  As the team gets healthy and hit stride together as a new unit, it wouldn't surprise to see the team climb the table.
Next up: at Tottenham

14) Sunderland (7-8-10, previous ranking: 15)

Previous Result: 2-1 L at Reading

The up and down season continues at the Stadium of Light.  The good news for the Black Cats is they keep picking up wins to give them a cushion outside the relegation zone.  It seems they've seen off the poor form that mired the beginning of their season, easing the pressure on Martin O'Neill.  Although the squad lacks depth, there is enough talent to see this team to a mid-table finish.  The onus on Steven Fletcher to score goals has been eased by the arrival of Danny Graham from Swansea, who will be on a mission to prove his worth as a Premier League player after being banished to the bench by Michael Laudrup. 
Next up: Arsenal

15) Southampton (5-9-11, previous ranking: 14)

Previous Result: 2-2 D at Wigan

The decision to replace manager Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino was a controversial and unpopular move amongst the club supporters.  But there's no denying the players have responded to the move and have played very well under their new manager.  The Saints were unlucky to have left Old Trafford without anything to show for after dominating the league leaders in the second half in a 2-1 loss.  And they left the DW unlucky to take away all three points in a 2-2 draw.  The team is strong down the wings an have all kinds of young talent in the team.  Staying up has always been the goal, especially after a porous start to the season.  There is a lot to like about the way the team is playing.  And if they can remain consistent, it will be mission accomplished. 
Next up: Manchester City

16) Norwich City (6-10-9, previous ranking: 11)

Previous Result: 0-0 D at QPR

The wheels have fallen off at Norwich City.  After going 10 unbeaten, the Canaries are now winless in their last eight.  Goal scoring has run dry with only two goals in their last five.  Transfer window purchases Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara are unlikely to solve the woes.  Norwich has relied on set pieces to create chances all season.  And now they are not clicking, the team is struggling.  Wes Hoolahan and Robert Snodgrass have looked decent going forward, but that's about it.  Lone striker Grant Holt is asked to do far too much up high by himself.  And it's not working.
Next up: Fulham

17) Wigan Athletic (5-6-14, previous ranking: 17)

Previous Result: 2-2 D Southampton

Nothing comes easy at Wigan.  And this season is no different.  Roberto Martinez is no stranger to the relegation fight.  He'll need to work all his magic with this Wigan side that have suffered a series of debilitating injuries to his defence.  Wigan has grinded out draws in three of their last four games.  But wins are needed to stay in the Premier League.  Martinez will rely heavily on the play of midfield duo James McArthur and Jmes McCarthy.  And top goal scorer Arouna Kone cannot return from the African Cup of Nations soon enough.  No matter whom they play, Wigan refuses to change from a style perspective.  That consistency bodes well for Martinez and is battle to stay up, yet again.
Next up: at Chelsea

18) Reading (5-8-12, previous ranking: 20)

Previous Result: 2-1 W Sunderland

The magic at the Magic at the Madejski is out in full force.  The Premier League's least impressive squad, in terms of name and quality, is defying the odds and common sense.  A week after super-sub Adam Le Fondre's late brace earned an improbable draw with Chelsea, Jimmy Kebe played hero in a 2-1 win over Sunderland.  Reading have won four of there last six to climb out of the relegation zone.  Credit hard work and direct play for their recent success.  Manager Brian McDermott deserves at statute in his honour erected outside the Madejski Stadium if he can see Reading to safety with this squad.
Next up: at Stoke City

19) Queens Park Rangers (2-11-12, previous ranking: 19)

Previous Result: 0-0 D Norwich City

QPR are undefeated in the New Year.  That's the good news.  The bad news is QPR is stuck on two wins, are at the bottom of the table and are still six points out from safety.  It hasn't been pretty.  It's actually been downright ugly.  It's been defend with reckless abandon type stuff, the willingness of defenders to sacrifice their bodies and some decent play by goalkeeper Julio Cesar that has lead to QPR earning points under Harry Redknapp.  The manager was stubborn this week, defending his approximate £22 million in transfer buys and substantially more in contracts.  It's not his money after all.  The main question is whether his team is now good enough to stay up.  It's hard to say yes.  Christopher Samba may be the best of the bunch, but the rest of the side lacks quality and goal scorers.  The work rate and commitment will be there under Harry.  But expecting the results to continue to follow is a bit of a reach.
Next up: at Swansea City

20) Aston Villa (4-9-12, previous ranking: 18)

Previous Result: 3-3 D at Everton

Marouane Fellaini delivered a devastating blow to the spirit of Aston Villa in their relegation fight, snatching victory from the desperate visitors in a 3-3 draw at Goodison Park last time out.  Three points were too good to be true for a team that hasn't won since November.  The kids at Villa Park are learning on the fly.  And it's entire disappointing the club didn't bring in true, veteran reinforcements in the tranfser window to help the young talent see out this difficult stretch.  Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann have been bright spots.  But they are not enough.  A -26 goal differential is a league worst.  They may not be on the bottom of the table, but it's hard to argue Aston Villa is not the Premier League's weakest team. 
Next up: at West Ham

Sunderland vs. Arsenal from The Stadium of Light airs Saturday February 9th on TSN Radio and the TEAM Radio Network. Coverage begins with Gareth Wheeler and Noel Butler at 930am EST/630amPST.

You can reach Gareth at gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca or follow him on Twitter, @WheelerTSN

Hernandez and van Persie (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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