Premier League Power Rankings: Matchweek 19
Both sides of Manchester dominate the PL hierarchy as the second half of the league calendar ensues
By: Maxwell Argento
19 match weeks down, 19 to go. Most Premier League teams have reached the fulcrum of their seasons, so seeing how each club stacks up for the stretch run is a must.
(Table positions and point totals have been recorded as of Monday, January 25th at 12:00pm EST, where several teams have experienced scheduling changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and thus have less matches played than other clubs).
1. Manchester City (2nd — 18mp, 38pts)
There is not a team in Europe who wants to have to play 90 minutes with the Citizens right now. After a (somewhat) muted start to the league campaign, Pep Guardiola’s men have found their stride, and have gone unbeaten in 16 straight matches, notching a clean sheet in 13 of them.
Much of the reason for why can be traced to the team’s rear-guard, led by the brilliant central defensive partnership of Rúben Dias and John Stones. The former’s arrival to Manchester has gotten the best out of the latter, who, right now, looks like the best defender in England.
Even worse for league opponents is the fact that this run of form for City has happened without Pep being able to deploy a true striker, having to play either Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling or Phil Foden as a “false-nine”. Although it appears that Belgian talisman Kevin De Bruyne will miss several weeks with an hamstring injury, getting Sergio Aguero back from Covid-19 isolation soon should provide a bit of a boost.
Stamp this in permanent ink; City wins the title this season.
2. Manchester United (1st — 19mp, 40pts)
The belief that the red-half of Manchester can hoist the trophy after 38 Premier League matches has been growing steadily and surely over the last handful of matches, and reached a crescendo after a vital 2–1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage last Wednesday.
In my mind, that belief is justified as long as Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes continue to provide decisive moments from midfield, both by creating and scoring goals. That fact, in tandem with the growing confidence of Harry McGuire and Eric Bailly, has the spine of United looking as strong as it has in years, and gives them a chance in every match they play.
I have simmering doubts about Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s ability to get his team over the line when he is staring the likes of Guardiola, Klopp, Ancelotti and Rodgers in the eye, but there is no doubt that United have enough quality to win the Premier League this year.
3. Leicester City (3rd — 19mp, 38pts)
Is there a more grooved side in the league right now than Leicester City? I am not sure there is. After a disappointing end to last season’s campaign that culminated in the Foxes missing out on the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers’ side have “gone again”, and look a real threat to achieve the highest level of European competition this season.
Plaudits surely must be given to James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, who have both taken massive leaps forward this season, providing another source of goals other than the prolific Jamie Vardy. Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and veteran defender Johnny Evans have provided calm at the back, and have allowed the raw ability of youngster Wesley Fofana to shine in central defense.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but as good as the Leicester City team that miraculously won the title was, this team is just as good. Watch out for the Foxes.
4. Everton (6th — 17mp, 32pts)
The Carlo Ancelotti Effect has Toffee fans buzzing, and for good reason. Only being two points behind Merseyside rivals Liverpool despite having two matches in hand speaks to the effectiveness of the Italian manager’s tenure thus far, and the ability he has to improve the quality of every single player on his team.
The biggest example of this dynamic is the burgeoning success of English forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has found himself in the middle of a Golden Boot race, as well as the conversation to play a serious role for his country come the Euros in the summer. Tack on the arrival of former “galactico” James Rodriguez, and Everton all of a sudden looks on track to be a perennial Champions League contestant.
If Jordan Pickford can hold his nerve in between the sticks for Everton, I don’t doubt Everton’s chances at becoming a contestant in said competition as soon as next season.
5. Tottenham Hotspur (5th — 18mp, 33pts)
Tottenham find themselves in a serious scrap for the top-4, but will be buoyed by the notion that they have the right manager to get them over the line when the last match of the season is played, in the form of José Mourinho.
Perhaps Mourinho’s biggest achievement thus far with Spurs is his ability to wring out every single ounce of production from superstars Son Heung-min and Harry Kane. Both men have, in tandem, singlehandedly propelled their side all year long by scoring and assisting goals, so much so that Spurs fans have begun to wonder if end-product can come from another avenue.
Youngsters Steven Bergwin and Tanguy Ndombele is the most likely answer, the latter’s spat with his manager that had his place in the side in jeopardy last season all but forgotten. If he can continue to provide goals like the one he scored against Sheffield United last match (please do yourself a favor and go watch it online) then Spurs should like their chances to finish the season where they want in the league.
6. Liverpool (4th — 19mp, 34pts)
The champions are human.
After three years of utter dominance both domestically and in Europe, Jürgen Klopp’s men have finally shown signs of mortality after a run of four straight matches without a victory within the league. All of a sudden a goal drought (of sorts) has befallen the Reds, and the lack of confidence and decisiveness in the final third that it has caused is a troubling sight considering the talent they have present in attacking areas of the pitch.
I think it’s virtually impossible for Liverpool to finish outside the European places in the table, but at this stage of the game anything less than a title will be considered a failure in the eyes of Klopp and his Merseyside supporters. If there is any group of players who can right the ship it’s this one, but the fall from grace we have seen from them since their 7–0 thrashing of Crystal Palace is nothing but alarming.
7. Aston Villa (8th — 17mp, 29pts)
Over the course of one offseason window (which we need to remember was shortened due to the truncated schedule caused by the pandemic) Aston Villa have transformed themselves, from a team that avoided relegation on the last day of the season last year into a side capable of beating any club in the division.
The man who needs to receive a majority of the credit is manager Dean Smith, whose squad has found the perfect balance between ruggedness and creativity. The defensive unit for Villa (anchored by goalkeeper Emi Martínez) has been one of the most consistent in the league, and has allowed their front-lying teammates to play fluid football. Jack Grealish is the most incisive player in the country currently, and Ross Barkley’s return has provided yet another jolt of creativity to side. If Ollie Watkins can match his goal scoring record up with his work rate and tenacity, Villa will be able to cause even more problems in the second half of the year.
Think about Villa this way: They brushed Newcastle aside on Saturday afternoon with the ease of a perennial Champions League team handling a relegation-bound club. If Dean Smith’s men continue to play in this vein, we will be able to say that that is exactly what we were watching when the season is over.
8. Arsenal (11th — 19mp, 27pts)
As we all know, winning cures all ailments. In the case of Arsenal, four wins and a draw in their last five matches (albeit against floundering clubs in the bottom half of the table with much less talent) has not only given the club from North London a bit of momentum, but has more than likely saved Mikel Arteta’s job.
Credit, in part, should be given to the manager for weathering the storm of bad results by placing his faith in the young, hungry members of his squad, namely Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe. The pair have elevated the performances of senior players like David Luiz, Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka (and have even been able to rip club captain Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang from his lowly goal-scoring slump).
Arsenal don’t have the ability (or the talent) to reach the top four this year, but Arteta is clearly building a defined culture and style of play, which will only continue to blossom with the addition of signings like Thomas Partey and Norwegian “wonderkid” Martin Ødegaard, who is expected to sign a loan deal from Spanish giants Real Madrid within hours.
9. West Ham (7th — 19mp, 32pts)
There may not be a team in the division who has benefitted more from their manager giving them a defined style of play than West Ham with David Moyes. The former Manchester United boss has totally transformed the vibe in East London by filling his squad with players who are not only capable of playing his brand of football, but are eager to do so as well.
The combination of Tomáš Souček and Declan Rice (who has claimed the role of captain in all of the matches that Mark Noble hasn’t featured) in the middle of midfield has been a revelation for Moyes all year. Their box-to-box style, tenacity and work rate have allowed West Ham to feel as though they are never overmatched in the center of the park, and has given the attacking talent present on the team the license to be creative and explosive in the final third without fear of being exposed on the counter.
Perhaps the best bit of news for Hammers fans is that they have attacking talisman Michail Antonio back from injury and already back on the scoresheet, his performance against West Bromwich Albion highlighting his eye for goal, as well as his ability chase the ball endlessly and start the press from the front of the West Ham formation. If he gets back to his best (and stays off the injured list) the Hammers should finish in the top-half of the table with little to no fuss.
10. Southampton (10th — 18mp, 29pts)
The Saints are a perfect example of a mid-table club doing mid-table things. An astonishing victory over Liverpool was followed by a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Leicester City twelve days later, which has then propelled them to two important victories in the FA Cup (one of which coming against Arsenal).
Much like David Moyes and West Ham, Southampton has benefitted greatly from the vision of Ralph Hasenhüttl and his ability to create a defined style of play. Deploying his classic 4–4–2 style has provided a clear structure, and you can tell when watching his players that they are always aware of where they need to be and clear in their intent with the ball in possession.
If Southampton can find the answer to the question “where do goals come from besides James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings?”, they are solid enough at the back to finish as high as seventh or eighth in the table when the 38th match is played.
11. Chelsea (9th — 19mp, 29pts)
Frank Lampard, we hardly knew ye.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich pulled the plug this morning on the Frank Lampard experiment due to the club’s recent struggles in the league despite his team beating Luton Town in the FA Cup over the weekend. After a busy offseason that included parting ways with hundreds of millions of pounds for world renowned international talent, the expectation for Chelsea was to qualify for the Champions League and challenge for silverware on all fronts. After a blistering start the team’s form and confidence have severely waned, and it looks like former Borussia Dortmund and PSG boss Thomas Tuchel is going to be the man who attempts to coax the squad back into life.
The first order of business for Tuchel will be straightening out the German duo of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, who never managed to settle in properly under Lampard or validate their massive price tags. Reports suggest Tuchel, despite the quick turnaround, will be present on the touchline for Chelsea’s match against Wolverhampton in two days. Whether he is there or not, Chelsea can’t afford anything other than three points or else the sense of despair inside Cobham Training Ground will only intensify.
12. Crystal Palace (13th — 19mp, 23pts)
Palace find themselves in a puzzling predicament.
Their club has too much talent and experience (both on the field and on the touchline) to ever get relegated, but look miles off the European places in the table with no clear plan to get there.
Wilfred Zaha has looked spritely while sharing attacking duties with the hulking Christian Benteke, and young phenom Eberechi Eze has provided a spark of creativity and directness that must be a breath of fresh air for Palace fans accustomed watching to Roy Hodgson’s rigid style. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before Eze goes to a bigger English club, where dreams of hoisting trophies and playing with the best players in the world can become a legitimate reality instead of a hypothetical possibility.
13. Leeds United (12th — 18mp, 23pts)
We know a lot of things about Leeds United at the halfway point.
We know that their ability to score is equaled by their propensity to leak goals, and we know that any time they play it is must-watch television. Marcelo Bielsa’s style has captured the heart of the neutral thus far this campaign by showing us that football can still, in fact, be a beautiful game.
The club announced Monday morning that 49ers Enterprises, an “investment entity affiliated with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers”, have increased their ownership stakes with the club to 39%, which is an incredibly exciting development for fans of the sport on either side of the pond. The continued growth of one of the biggest clubs in the country is not only good for Leeds fans, but for the Premier League as a whole.
With the threat of relegation looking benign at this stage of the calendar, eyes will start to drift towards next year, where the round of funds brought on by staying in England’s top-flight league will allow them to reach for higher levels of achievement in 2021–2022.
14. Wolves (14th — 19mp, 22pts)
We knew that Raúl Jiménez getting sidelined after his traumatic head injury earlier in the year would be a big miss for Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves, but I’m not sure we thought it would be this big.
The already-thin squad (which is the manager’s preference) has looked unequipped to handle the loss of their Mexican talisman, as well as the truncated schedule caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. João Moutinho, Rúben Neves and Daniel Podence all light up the screen when they play for Wolves, but only so much can be heaped on the shoulders of several players, especially when they are asked to play so frequently.
Wolves won’t go down, but this season (so far) is certainly a step back for Nuno’s squad after reaching the lofty heights they did last year, both in the league and in Europe.
15. Burnley (15th — 18mp, 19pts)
Sean Dyche’s men delivered the result of the league season so far with their 1–0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield, snapping the champion’s 68-game home unbeaten run under the shadow of “The Kop”.
The rear guard for Burnley (for my money) is the second best of it’s kind in the league behind Manchester City, the duo of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski controlling everything from the center of defense, despite the latter being linked with signing for bigger clubs this January transfer window.
Burnley face a grueling schedule on the horizon, their next three matches coming against Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester City. Claiming any points from those fixtures will hopefully mean further distancing themselves from the relegation places, so that they can guarantee their new ownership another season of Premier League football next year.
16. Brighton (17th — 19mp, 17pts)
Graham Potter looks in no danger of losing his job as Brighton manager, mainly because of how well he has done in transforming the way in which they go about playing their football.
That very lack of danger may result in Brighton going down this season, because as pretty as the product is on the eyes at times for fans of the club, it doesn’t appear that it is translating to very many points. It’s like a basketball players with a pretty jumpshot who can’t seem to make enough baskets to justify his choice to shoot. If it doesn’t go in, who cares what it looks like.
Potter’s saving grace may be the ineptitude of the clubs below him, but at this rate that list of clubs is starting to look slimmer and slimmer.
17. Fulham (18th — 18mp, 12pts)
Fulham are the only team in the bottom five that look like they are steadily improving, which is a good sign for Fulham fans everywhere. Scott Parker, after looking ill-prepared early in the season for the rigors of getting his team properly set up week in and week out in the league, has all of a sudden made his team much harder to break down.
The triumvirate of Ademola Lookman, Ivan Cavaleiro and Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek all look a good balance between steel and silk, and will be relied upon to score the goals required to stay in the division. If the Cottagers can claim wins against table-mates Brighton and West Bromwich Albion in their next two matches then a collective sense that safety is realistic will start to seriously seep into the squad.
18. Newcastle (16th — 19mp, 19pts)
At the rate Steve Bruce’s Newcastle are going in the league currently, relegation seems a near certainty. Out of the 20 teams in the division I don’t think any team makes scoring goals look harder than the Geordies, as they’ve only scored two in their last nine matches. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that is going to get it done.
The only question I have is: can Callum Wilson play all eleven positions simultaneously? If the answer is no, Newcastle fans may face the harsh reality that 2021 will be played in the Championship.
19. West Bromwich Albion (19th — 19mp, 11pts)
Big Sam Allardyce gambled by putting his perfect record of keeping teams up from relegation on the line when he took over West Brom earlier in the year, and right now it doesn’t look like the best choice.
Simply put, the Baggies, barring some sort of collective surge the likes of which we have never seen before, won’t be able to gather enough points to stay up. Their reward will be the siphoning off of their best players to bigger clubs, as well as a search for another manager once Big Sam collects his last check and hops on a jet for a six month vacation somewhere tropical.
20. Sheffield United (20th — 19mp, 5pts)
I’ll go easy on Chris Wilder and Sheffield United by saying this: I’m not too sure five points is going to get it done.