We are nearly at the half-way point for the current campaign and the ability to group teams together is becoming possible. Thus, this week's edition of the SB Nation Soccer Power Rankings for the English Premier League has been broken down into tiers. The two Manchester clubs appear to be clear title contenders while the likes of Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool are the obvious contenders to claim the Premier League's final two qualification spots for next season's UEFA Champions League. There may not be much separation in point totals between some of the mid-table sides and the relegation contenders, however, the goal differential of the bottom five sides indicates a clear divide. Here are our Week 19 Power Rankings.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all explanations are by Gene Um
1. Manchester City - City were leaders at Christmas for the first time since 1929. However, Roberto Mancini's side dropped points on Boxing Day versus West Brom for the third time in their past six league matches. The consequence is that rival United are now level with them on points -- although the 6-1 drubbing that City handed United at Old Trafford accounts exactly for the favorable goal differential they have on last season's champions.
2. Manchester United - Since the mentioned derby disaster with their 'noisy neigbours', United have gone unbeaten in nine successive league matches -- eight of which are victories. Sir Alex Ferguson's squad is missing an incredible 11 players at the moment due to injury or illness, however, his versatile side have won their past four league matches by a combined 16-1 scoreline. The fact that Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra spent the majority of the Wigan match at center-back can attest to both United's injury crisis and versatility in their squad.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION CONTENDERS
3. Tottenham Hotspur - Gareth Bale continues to impress as it was his brace on Tuesday that accounted for all the goals in Spurs' defeat of Norwich City. The latter goal was particularly impressive as it displayed the Welshman's pace, power, and finishing ability. Both Bale and Rafael van der Vaart have impressed in their free roles in Spurs' recent fluid 4-3-3ish system.
4. Chelsea FC - The Blues' 1-1 result in their West London derby with Fulham was their third successive league draw. These recent results has caused Andre Villas-Boas to all but declare his side out of the title chase. However, Chelsea still have much to play for as they continue their Champions League campaign in the knockout stages while also desiring to secure a top four finish in league so that they can return once again to Europe's grandest stage.
5. Arsenal FC - Arsenal continue to dominate, but if they don't find a way to start making more of their chances count, particularly against weak opposition, they won't be able to challenge for the top three. Despite outshooting Wolves 11-1 on target, they grew desperate at the end, and Wayne Hennessey kept his team afloat. When United win 5-0, and Spurs don't drop points, not winning by two or three starts to hurt. - Ted Harwood, The Short Fuse
6. Liverpool FC - Soon after talisman Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing United's Patrice Evra -- a decision that he is likely to appeal -- the Uruguayan was hit with an additional one-match ban due to a separate incident that involved 'improper conduct' (he flipped the bird) in a recent match at Craven Cottage. The striker admitted to the latter charge and he will serve his suspension on Friday when Liverpool host Newcastle.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION PRETENDER
7. Newcastle United - Now that Newcastle has finally earned an unremarkable win against inferior competition, let's have some perspective. The Magpies will sit in at least 7th place to start 2012, and I'll bet you don't know a lot of people that predicted that one. The next fixture at Anfield brings some extra motivation: they can climb above some former teammates in the table with a strong performance. - Robert L. Bishop, Coming Home Newcastle
8. Everton FC - Referee Howard Webb controversially pointed to the spot for Everton and it was Leighton Baines that hammered home the penalty during the Toffees' 1-1 draw with Sunderland. Goals have been tough to come by over at Merseyside but their defensive record is 5th best in league.
10. West Bromwich Albion - The Baggies impressively earned a draw against leaders City on Boxing Day. Roy Hodgson's side showed discipline and grit as they did well to keep their defensive shape when City had possession. The West Midlands side have taken 7 points from their past 3 matches and they now sit 9th in the table.
11. Aston Villa - (see comments on Stoke)
12. Fulham FC - Flourishing: A late first half of the season charge has them punching above their weight against the teams challenging for European places. Floundering: "Good at home, bad on the road." Fulham actually have been bad at Craven Cottage against mid-table teams with only one point to show for two matches against that group at home. - Neal Thurman, Never Manage Alone
13. Norwich City - Flourishing: 4 unexpected points from their 4 matches with teams battling for 4th place (plus Spurs who were predicted to be part of that battle before the season). Floundering: Perhaps nitpicking but they've only picked up 11 points from the 6 matches that should be their most prosperous -- at home to mid-table and relegation threatened teams. It's okay for avoiding relegation but it's below par for a mid-table team. - Thurman
14. Swansea City - A draw versus fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers keeps them five points above the relegation zone. The Welsh side play attractive football but doubts remain whether enough results will accompany this pleasing-to-the-eye style. However, this possession based system helps them keep a solid defensive record by not allowing their opponents to have the ball -- it has them tied for 7th best in league for goals conceded.
15. Sunderland AFC - Although the Black Cats will feel aggrieved by the controversial penalty awarded to Everton during their 1-1 draw, there is still room for joy at the Stadium of Light as newly appointed manager Martin O'Neill has taken 7 points from his initial 4 matches as boss. A fight for a top ten finish may be more likely than a relegation scrap at season's end.
16. Queens Park Rangers - QPR are without victory in their past 6 matches and the streak likely won't be broken when they travel to the Emirates for a New Year's Eve London derby versus Arsenal. After the match versus the Gunners, QPR don't face another top 6 side until mid-March -- this may be the defining stretch of their season.
17. Wolverhampton Wanderers - 10-man Wolves impressively battled to a 1-1 draw at the Emirates. That is successive draws for Mick McCarthy's side and next up is a possible 'six-pointer' at the Reebok versus Bolton.
18. Wigan Athletic - Well, that sums up the gap in the Premier League: Play a top team and you will get smashed time to time. Yet, we have nothing to get down about. For 45 minutes, we equaled United for the most part but a stupid sending off saw us slump and inevitably lose the game heavily. But there is and will be light at the end of the tunnel for a growing Wigan side. - Kieran Heapy, Pie Eaters Footie
19. Bolton Wanderers - Flourishing: They've crushed it on the road against their fellow relegation rivals to the tune of 9 points in 4 matches -- and they get the reverse fixture at home in the season's second half. Floundering: Just three points at home so far this season. Nothing says floundering quite like that. - Thurman
20. Blackburn Rovers - You have to wonder if there are Blackburn supporters who actually wished for their side to lose prior to match at Anfield so that it was even more likely for Steve Kean to be sacked. However, every supporter likely was joyous as goalkeeper Mark Bunn continually came up with tremendous saves near full-time. If a drubbing is desired by supporters as a means to the end of Kean's reign, then their wish may be granted on Saturday when Blackburn travel to Old Trafford to face an in-form United.
How It Works: The rankings were determined by a poll of 6 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); Robert L. Bishop (Coming Home Newcastle); Ted Harwood (The Short Fuse); Kieran Heapy (Pie Eaters Footie); Ryan Rosenblatt (SB Nation, Soccer); Neal Thurman (Never Manage Alone)