The festive period of the English Premier League, specifically the congested nature of the fixture list during this time, has come to an end and it has helped clear up the picture a bit in regards to the league's pecking order. Manchester United's successive losses has resulted in Manchester City being the the unanimous No. 1 side by our eight voters for SB Nation Soccer's Week 21 Power Rankings. In addition, it has also resulted in Spurs moving up to the No. 2 spot. The story of the past week may be Martin O'Neill's surging Sunderland side. Since his appointment, no other side in the league has been able to match the 13 points from the Black Cats during that six match span.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all explanations are by Gene Um
1. Manchester City - Roberto Mancini's side entered the past weekend level on points with Manchester United and some wondered if the momentum in the title race was shifting. If that was the case, it was short-lived. Despite their weekend loss to Sunderland, City enter this weekend with a three point advantage over their rivals after United dropped six points in a five-day span. Starting on Saturday, City will be without midfield stalwart Yaya Toure and also his brother Kolo, as each will be on national team duty for Ivory Coast during the African Cup of Nations.
2. Tottenham Hotspur - At this moment in the season, it might not be far-fetched to argue that Spurs have the strongest first-choice side in the Premier League. Perhaps a better tactician than he is given credit for -- or maybe he often stumbles across the right tactics by accident -- Harry Redknapp's recent switch from a 4-4-1-1 shape to a 4-3-3 is something his side has transitioned well into. If Spurs were to suffer injuries to the likes of Gareth Bale, Emmanuel Adebayor, and/or Luka Modric, would their title hopes vanish? This scenario has some skeptical of their title contending credentials.
3. Manchester United - When these power rankings were presented to you last week, United had gone nine successive league matches unbeaten and were coming off of successive 5-0 victories. How quickly things can change. The past week saw the champions suffer a shock defeat at Old Trafford to bottom-of-the-table Blackburn and that was followed by a 3-0 thrashing from Newcastle. Whether it's through injury recovery to their depleted squad, or through reinforcements in the January transfer window, Sir Alex Ferguson's side needs a boost.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION CONTENDERS
4. Arsenal FC - We had problems against Fulham with fitness and imagination; hopefully January reinforcements, if any, will help with fullbacks and striker depth. Once Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, and Jack Wilshere return, things will be looking much better for the starting XI. - Ted Harwood, The Short Fuse
5. Chelsea FC - The Blues had gone four successive league matches without victory until their 2-1 away defeat of Wolves on Monday. Drama coincided with this victory as Frank Lampard should have arguably been sent off prior to his 89th minute winner. This is the first time Andre Villas-Boas' side has dropped out of the top four in our Power Rankings but Chelsea could make a statement during their next league match when they host surging Sunderland.
6. Liverpool FC - The turmoil continues for Luiz Suarez and the club but perhaps that will subside a bit now that the Uruguayan has accepted his eight-match ban for racially abusing United's Patrice Evra. This past Tuesday was Liverpool's first match without their influential striker and the result was a 3-0 defeat by leaders City. It could be argued that the scoreline flattered City's performance but Kenny Dalglish's side lacked creativity in attack without Suarez.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION PRETENDER
7. Newcastle United - Newcastle finished a lackluster holiday program with perhaps their best performance of the campaign against Manchester United. The next challenge will be keeping current form without key players Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote, who will miss significant time as they compete in the Africa Cup of Nations. - Robert L. Bishop, Coming Home Newcastle
8. Sunderland AFC - The Black Cats continued their recent run of impressive form with victories over Manchester City and Wigan during the past week. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, O'Neill's appointment as manager has resulted in no other side in the Prem has matching Sunderland's 13 points during his reign. The victory against leaders City was quite the statement and another bold one could be made when the Wearsiders travel to Stamford Bridge for their next league tie.
9. Stoke City - The Potters had gone three successive matches without victory but a trip to Blackburn solved that issue. It's been a successful season thus far for Tony Pulis' side as he has Stoke 8th in the table and qualified for the knockout of the Europa League. One could be forgiven if they still found it difficult to comprehend that Spanish side Valencia will be facing Stoke in European competition -- perhaps even on a cold night.
10. Norwich City - Out of the three promoted sides this season, it may surprise some that Paul Lambert has Norwich sitting highest in the table amongst the three. Because Queens Park Rangers were the champions of the Championship last season and because of Swansea's pleasing-to-the-eye brand of football, it seems the Canaries attract the least amount of attention. However, Lambert is proving to be an astute tactician and his switch to a 3-4-1-2 shape -- which provided more width than his typical diamond 4-4-2 -- was a brilliant move against 10-men QPR.
11. Everton FC - Being bottom [of this Power Rankings] is nothing more than they deserve after such an abject performance against Bolton. That points to a worrying future for the club (i.e. relegation within two years unless something changes). - Thomas Mallows, Royal Blue Mersey
12. Fulham FC - It was Arsenal's Yohan Djourou that provided the opportunity when he was sent-off in the 78th minute and it was the Cottagers that took full advantage. Against 10-man Arsenal, Steve Sidwell leveled the match and Bobby Zamora scored the winner in the 90th minute. An impressive and fully deserved result.
13. Aston Villa - It has been an erratic winter for Aston Villa thus far. After showing what the team was capable of in a thrilling victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Villa came crashing back down to Earth in an embarrassing defeat at home to a vastly superior Swansea City. Questions still remain about Alex McLeish's vision for the club, not to mention the rumours swirling about the increasingly maligned Darren Bent. - Gareth Simpson, 7500 To Holte
14. Swansea City - The Swans have gone their past three matches unbeaten and they did well to earn the full three points during their away tie to Aston Villa. The Welsh side are six points clear of the relegation zone and while that is far from allowing them to be complacent, they do appear to be a notch above the bottom five sides in the table for the moment.
15. West Bromwich Albion - The loss to Spurs can be excused but the combined effect of that along with the home loss to Everton -- and the fact that they didn't score over the two matches has to mute any enthusiasm you had for the brief revival in December. - Neal Thurman, Never Manage Alone
16. Queens Park Rangers - In six matches against other likely candidates for relegation, they had a grand total of 2 points. They dropped 3 more vital points to Norwich at home in mid-week. Not a good sign. -Thurman
17. Wolverhampton Wanderers - Unlucky against Chelsea but that's the sort of luck a modestly talented team needs to find to avoid a relegation battle. The point on the road at Bolton can be described as "OK at best" but they needed 3 points there to start feeling more comfortable. -Thurman
18. Bolton Wanderers - Bolton replaces Wigan as the team in the bottom four with a little momentum on the heels of their win at Everton and draw with Wolves. The question is whether it will amount to anything or just fade as Wigan's momentum did. -Thurman
19. Wigan Athletic - The good run of results and performances had to come to an end some time, but the last two games have been winnable. Sunderland just turned out to be a poor performance, as was the refereeing -- or maybe I'm biased. Things don't get easier next week against Manchester City. - Kieran Heapy, Pie Eaters Footie
20. Blackburn Rovers - Well, at least they'll have famous wins against Arsenal and Manchester United fresh in their memories to hold them in the Championship next season. -Thurman
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); 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); Gareth Simpson (7500 To Holte); Thomas Mallows (Royal Blue Mersey)