At the top, the choices for the top six are unanimous: all 8 voters in this week's SB Nation Soccer's Power Rankings for the English Premier League see Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Spurs as England's top 4 while they also see Arsenal and Liverpool as the clear competitors for European spots. It's quite the mix of votes for the mid-table sides but it appears clear that both Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers are the bottom two in England's top-flight. Without further ado, here are our Power Rankings ahead of the Boxing Day clashes.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all explanations are by Gene Um
1. Manchester City - The leaders have rebounded nicely from their loss at Stamford Bridge by defeating Arsenal 1-0 and Stoke City 3-0 -- both at the Etihad Stadium. As a result, City are top of England's top-flight at Christmas for the first time since 1929.
2. Manchester United - The champions appear to be finding their league form as evident by the ease of their recent victories over Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, and Wolves. Much has been made of their exit from the Champions League and of their 6-1 defeat by rival City. However, the 44 points United have earned thus far from 17 league matches puts them on pace for 94 points. Only once since the existence of the Premier League would a 94 point total fail to win the title.
3. Chelsea FC - After their impressive defeat of leaders City at home, it has been a run of draws for the Blues. The first came after a blunder from goalkeeper Peter Cech at the DW Stadium versus Wigan and latter resulted after a thrilling match with Spurs at White Hart Lane. Chelsea are 11 points off the pace in the title chase but their upcoming fixture list is favorable and provides opportunity to make up ground. However, manager Andre Villas-Boas will be without striker Didier Drogba soon when he leaves for the African Cup of Nations.
4. Tottenham Hotspur - Spurs -- despite having a game in hand on the rest of the league along with Everton -- impressively sit third in the table at nearly the half-way point of the season. Manager Harry Redknapp appears adamant about not selling during the upcoming January transfer window but will he be buying? There are many who believe that Spurs' depth may be the only hindrance in their quest to re-qualify for the Champions League.
5. Arsenal FC - The Gunners, theoretically can stand toe-to-toe with any of the top five, but they have problems at both full-back spots and attack in terms of squad depth. The return of Bacary Sagna at the New Year should help with the former, but the latter may require additions in January, or else Aaron Ramsey could really wear down more than he has already. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waits in the wings to take over the reins from some of Arsenal's waning talents. - Ted Harwood, The Short Fuse
6. Liverpool FC - It has been a tumultuous week for the club as they've had to deal with the news of talisman Luis Suarez's eight-match ban due to the charges that he racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra during a match in October. While Liverpool has the right to appeal, Suarez's ban can be extended if the appeal fails. The loss of midfielder Lucas was a big blow and the loss of of their Uruguayan striker for an extended period of time could prove to be the knockout blow for their Champions League qualification hopes.
7. Newcastle United - At one point this season, Newcastle were one of only two teams who had yet to suffer a defeat. Now, they're the only team that hasn't earned a win in the last six matches. Will this run of bad -- no, atrocious -- form convince Mike Ashley there are holes that need to be filled, or will they simply be sellers? The smart money says the latter, unfortunately for supporters. Robert L. Bishop, Coming Home Newcastle
8. Everton FC - Goals have been difficult to come by for David Moyes' side but nonetheless, Everton sit 11th in the table and with a game in hand. Help is on the way when American Landon Donovan comes to Merseyside in January for a short-term loan. However, one would have the right to be skeptical if they felt as if that might be the only reinforcements on the way for a club that has financial constraints. Will youngster and England international Jack Rodwell be sold in January?
9. Stoke City - Stoke defended deep at the Etihad and allowed City to incredibly complete 842 passes. However, those tactics proved futile as Roberto Mancini's men easily won 3-0. Nonetheless, Tony Pulis' side sit comfortably in Premier League's top ten and they have also earned qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League. Who would have ever anticipated a Valencia versus Stoke matchup in European competition?
10. Norwich City - Norwich sit highest amongst the promoted sides at 9th in the table and perhaps much of that credit should be given to Paul Lambert -- a manager that many feel is undervalued. The past week saw the Canaries earn away draws with Everton and Wolves and their next two fixtures during the festive period will occur at home when they host London-sides Spurs and Fulham at Carrow Road.
11. West Bromwich Albion - It has been an impressive week for the Baggies as they were able to earn three away points from both Blackburn and Newcastle. Roy Hodgson's (or 'Woy if you prefer) side are in impressive form and they perhaps provide a formidable foe on Boxing Day when they host leaders Manchester City at the The Hawthorns.
12. Aston Villa - It says a lot about the current mindset of the average Aston Villa supporter that a loss was called encouraging, but the narrow defeat to Arsenal did a lot to make up for the embarrassing display at the weekend against Liverpool. Villa's general incompetence when defending set pieces is becoming a worrying theme, however. - Gareth Simpson, 7500 To Holte
13. Fulham FC - Despite sitting in the mid-table prior to their past weekend match with Manchester United, the London side had an impressive goal differential of 0. This perhaps hinted that Fulham were a bit overlooked. However, a 5-0 defeat by United at home put a dent into that goal differential and now the Cottagers sit just 4 points from the relegation zone. Reports are that striker Bobby Zamora has a knock on his knee but rumblings are that he's in some sort of conflict with manager Martin Jol. Can Fulham weather the current storm? Two of their next three fixtures include Chelsea and Arsenal.
14. Swansea City - Brendan Rodgers' side continues to play attractive football but the Swans sit in the bottom half of the table. At this point, it wouldn't be foolish to suggest that the Welsh side may be in a season-long battle to avoid relegation. However, the Swans are currently 4 points clear of the relegation zone and their goal differential is vastly superior to the bottom five sides in the table. Perhaps this suggests that Swansea will play successive seasons in the Premier League?
15. Sunderland AFC - Since being appointed manager at Sunderland, manager Martin O'Neill has won two of his initial three matches with the Black Cats. This has gone a long ways at alleviating concerns over at Wearside. The near-term presents more opportunity to pick up points as their next two matches will occur at the Stadium of Light. However, the latter of the two is against leaders Manchester City.
16. Queens Park Rangers - It's been a difficult run for Neil Warnock's side as QPR have gone five straight matches without a victory -- the last three have resulted in defeat. The next match for the Londoners is an away tie versus fellow promoted-side Swansea City -- these are the sort of fixtures that may prove vital if QPR want to avoid relegation.
17. Wigan Athletic - Great result for the Lactics at the weekend, coming from behind to clinch a vital point from Chelsea (and during the midweek from Liverpool). We were the better side for most of the game and could have won it had we not missed so many chances. The signs are looking good, but the run of fixtures in the next few aren't easy and any points we pick up will be massively important, along with the home crowd keeping their voices loud when the likes of Chelsea come to play. Hoping to see some more good football from the blue and white army, and don't expect another slump, the only way is up for Wigan. - Kieran Heapy, Pie Eaters Footie
18. Wolverhampton Wanderers - The past week saw Wolves defeated by Stoke and draw against Norwich City -- both at the Molineux. It's likely to be a season-long battle to avoid relegation and that fight won't get any easier when Mick McCarthy's side clash with Arsenal, Chelsea, and Spurs in upcoming fixtures. It's very possible that the West Midlands' side finds themselves in the relegation zone after this run of fixtures but it perhaps would be foolish to doubt the resiliency of this squad.
19. Bolton Wanderers - Congrats to Owen Coyle -- your side won the clash to be 2nd worst in England's top-flight when Bolton defeated Blackburn during the past weekend. However, Bolton still sit 19th in the table and they also have the worst goal differential in the Premier League. Their next two matches are versus a reeling Newcastle side and versus relegation rival Wolves. Both of these ties are at home and it will be vital to earn points from these matches -- both also may help Coyle avoid the sack come the New Year.
20. Blackburn Rovers - It appears only to be a matter of time before manager Steve Kean gets the sack. The vitriol from from the vociferous Blackburn supporters has pretty much made Kean's position at the club untenable. Perhaps he will be relieved of his duties after Blackburn's upcoming away trips to Anfield and Old Trafford to face Liverpool and Manchester United, respectively.
How It Works: The rankings were determined by a poll of 8 voters. Each voter ranked the clubs 1 through 20 and the final rankings were determined on the average of those votes.
Who Participated: Gene Um (SB Nation, Soccer and The Busby Babe); Graham MacAree (SB Nation, Soccer and We Ain't Got No History); Kevin McCauley (SB Nation, Soccer and Cartilage Free Captain); Robert L. Bishop (Coming Home Newcastle); Ted Harwood (The Short Fuse); Gareth Simpson (7500 To Holte); Kieran Heapy (Pie Eaters Footie); Ryan Rosenblatt (SB Nation, Soccer)