September 11, 2016

English Premier League Power Rankings: September Edition

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Eighty thousand pairs of eyes were transfixed on the ball. Kevin De Bruyne had curled it towards the back post, out of reach of the goalkeeper. The only possibilities were the ball going in or going wide. The Manchester United defenders stopped for a split second and watched. Only, there was another option, and one offensive player was prepared for it.

The ball rebounded off the post, straight to young Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who tapped the ball in the net for a 2-1 lead and the winning goal in Saturday’s Manchester Derby. After the huge defeat of their hated rivals, Manchester City ranks first in my first set of Power Rankings for the 2016-17 season.

Second is Manchester United, as they are off to a strong start to the season. Despite the aforementioned loss to City, the first month under Jose Mourinho has gone well. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in three of four games and looked right at home. In third is Chelsea, who have won all three of their games so far.

They have had some tough moments, especially defensively, but Antonio Conte is settling in as coach and they can expect to improve over time. Liverpool’s impressive attacking players place them fourth in the Power Rankings. Manager Jurgen Klopp often starts Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Phillipe Coutinho in the same game. This quartet of speedy and talented players creates numerous opportunities and scores goals week in and week out.

The next four teams in the rankings are Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester City and Hull City. As Arsenal’s injured players and new signings return to the lineup, they should be able to win games consistently. The same goes for Tottenham Hotspur, as their key players are just getting back into form after their exertions at Euro 2016 this summer.

Dele Alli and Harry Kane, who both represented England at Euro 2016, scored their first goals of the season this weekend. Champions Leicester City have played well, but the defense has been weaker than in their title-winning campaign last time out. Hull City is the highest-ranked team that was promoted from the championship. They have played well in every game, winning two games, losing to Manchester United in the last minute, and drawing with Burnley.

Everton, Watford, West Ham and Middlesbrough take up the 9-12 positions in the Power Rankings. As the middle of the Power Rankings, it is hard to tell if these teams will trend upward or downward from here on out. Everton has made a strong start under new coach Ronald Koeman, but questions remain in attack.

Watford had another summer full of new signings, player sales, and another new manager. Can Walter Mazzari make the best of a diverse, international squad? West Ham should be able to finish higher than eleventh in the final table, but much like many other teams in the rankings, integrating new players will take time. Conceding four goals to Watford this past weekend is nonetheless cause for concern. Middlesbrough, another newly promoted club, have started well. They have consistently remained in games and look to have the toughness to survive a season-long battle to avoid relegation.

The next group of teams are Southampton, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Burnley. Southampton has struggled to score goals after the sale of top striker Graziano Pelle to a big-spending Chinese club. Crystal Palace made a number of impressive signings this summer, and the talent of Steve Mandanda and Christian Benteke can go a long way to ending their terrible run of form stretching back to last winter.

Bournemouth and Burnley, two of the Premier League’s lowest-spending teams, veered from their ways this summer to bring in Jordon Ibe and Steven Defour for club-record fees. While Defour has unquestionably started better than Ibe, both clubs will be happy to be in this section of the power rankings, and not the one below.

Swansea, Sunderland, West Brom and Stoke make up the bottom four clubs in the Power Rankings. Swansea have really struggled to get going this season. Their prize summer addition, Fernando Llorente, has to score goals for Swansea to make any progress this year. Sunderland have a decent chance to succeed under new coach David Moyes, but it has not happened yet, so they rank quite low in the Power Rankings.

West Bromwich Albion is dealing with fan unrest. Not only have they struggled on the field, but manager Tony Pulis has apparently suffered a breakdown in relations with the board who run the club. Stoke City rank last with a solitary point to their name after four matches. Surely it is just a slow start for Stoke, and they will improve in a few weeks; having finished in the top ten for several years in a row now, it is unlikely that they will finish in the bottom three by the end of the campaign.

This concludes the first edition of my English Premier League Power Rankings for the 2016-17 season. Check back every month or so for another edition of the Power Rankings, and come back every week for another column of The Beautiful Game.