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Power Rankings: United out of top 10

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Richard Farley

Richard Farley is the editor of and a contributing writer to


Saturday's match at the Santiago Bernabeu left little doubt which team would, which team should be considered the best in the world. Perhaps Qatar's Al-Sadd will have something to say about that on Thursday when the Asian champions meet Barcelona in Tokyo, but more likely, the defending European champions' next big test will be on Sunday. Then, they're expected to face Neymar, Ganso, Elano and Santos, provided South America's champions can get the host nation's representative. Don't be surprised if Kashiwa Reysol makes it two straight years the Libertadores winners are kept out the final.

But let's pause for a moment and consider the opposite scenario and how it would affect these rankings. What if Santos not only beats Japan's champions, not only gives Barcelona a scare (as Estudiantes did two years ago) but wins the tournament. What effect would that have on this ranking?

Some of you may already be rolling your eyes as we talk about hypothetical scenarios affecting our inconsequential ranking, but as with everything associated with this Power Ranking, there is a huge, implicit assumption: Nobody's taking this thing too seriously. With that in mind, it's fun to consider what would happen if Barcelona falls this weekend, particularly considering it's unlikely to happen. The time to talk about it is now.

Given what we saw on Saturday, it would be difficult to displace Barcelona at the top based on one loss, be it to Al-Sadd, Kashiwa or Santos. One slip can't completely subvert the notion that Barcelona are the best in the world. We're going to need to see a prolonged slump - a dip that hints there may be a more substantial shift in quality.

As for any team that upsets Barcelona and claims the Club World Cup, it wouldn't be difficult to justify their place in the top ten, though only one other team would have a convincing case. Al-Sadd's march through Asia has been controversy-laden, and while Santos has the talent to make a claim to a ranking, their poor showing in the Campeonato (10th place) would be hard to overlook based on one result. Only Kashima, though they got into the tournament through a host nation invite, would be worthy of serious consideration.

But those are all issues for next week's list. This week, we start with the teams that dropped out.

Zenit St. Petersburg (last week: 10) - The Russian Premier League leaders went to Lisbon and got the result they needed, with a 0-0 draw versus Porto clinching the club's first Champions League knockout stage berth, but in doing so they looked anything like one of the top 10 teams in the world.

Manchester United (8) - Much like Barcelona will have to have a trip up a number of times to relinquish their top spot, Manchester United has some convincing to do, with their next big opportunity coming on January 8 against Manchester City in the FA Cup. Until then, the Red Devils best chance to return will be the stumbles of others.

#10. Udinese (last week: NR)

Fact File
League: 9-3-2, second place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in the round of 16, hosting Chievo
Europe: 2-2-1, second place, UEFA Europa League's Group I

Compared to most other clubs under consideration, Udinese have been flying below the radar, having been relegated to Europa League by Arsenal in the playoff round. Now that the Gunners are surging, that loss doesn't look as bad, and although Udinese's Europa League record is disappointing (holding a -1 goal difference through five matches), they're even on points with Juventus at the top of the Serie A. Through 14 rounds, Udinese's allowed only seven goals, four fewer than the next-stingiest team in Italy. Not bad for a team that had to sell its best player last summer.

Upcoming matches: Celtica (Europa League, Thursday), at Lazio (Serie A, Sunday)

#9. Napoli (7)

Fact File
League: 5-6-3, fifth place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in round of 16, hosting Cesena
Europe: 3-2-1, second place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

A weekend draw at Novara gives Napoli more draws than wins in league, though their small drop in the Power Rankings have more to do with the results of others than their own failings. Still, Napoli needs to start getting three more often in Italy, particularly with Lazio hosting Udinese on Sunday. If Edy Reja's team picks off the Bianconeri, in the process staying ahead at least seven points ahead of Napoli, it will be difficult to justify keeping the Neopolitans above them.

Upcoming matches: Roma (Serie A, Sunday)

#8. Arsenal (9)

Fact File
League: 9-2-4, fifth place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will face Leeds United in FA Cup in January, eliminated by Manchester City in quarterfinals of the Carling Cup
Europe: 3-2-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group F

Arsenal effectively treads water this week, moving into the spot vacated by Manchester United while failing to gain meaningful ground on the list. More convincing performances against Olympiakos (loss) and Everton (win) could have seen the Gunners climb higher after a week of draws in Italy, but we need to keep everything in perspective. That Arsenal are this high at all represents a great turnaround for Arsene Wenger and his charges. They're certainly entitled to one so-so week, but only one. They have City on Sunday.

Upcoming matches: Manchester City (Premier League, Sunday)

#7. AC Milan (5)

Fact File
League: 8-4-2, third place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in Round of 16, hosting Novara
Europe: 2-3-1, second place, UEFA Champions League's Group H

Draws at Viktoria Plzen and Bologna make for a lackluster week for the Rossoneri, allowing two teams to pass them on the list. If Arsenal and Napoli hadn't stubbed their toes slightly, Max Allegri's team may have slid further, though it's hard to generate any serious doubts in the Rossoneri based on this week's results. Sure, they could have performed better, but nothing we saw brings their Scudetto-contender status into question. So they drop a few spots in the Power Rankings? As we've seen over the last few weeks, the slightly, most insignificant results are what serve as reasons to distinguish the cluster below number three.

Upcoming matches: Siena (Serie A, Saturday)

#6. Juventus (4)

Fact File
League: 8-6-0, first place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Defeated Bologna 2-1 to advance to the Coppa Italia quarterfinals
Europe: Did not qualify

Roma was always going to be a bad matchup for this Juventus team, so for the Old Lady to get a point from the Stadio Olimpico on Monday was a relatively good result, one emboldened by Gigi Buffon's penalty kick save on fellow icon Francesco Totti. Alberto Conte's men remain unbeaten, and while Roma was able to control the Monday's match, there are very few teams in Italy who'd be able to approach Juventus the same way. Juve's next big test will be next Wednesday when they host Udinese, the one Scuedtto-threat they've yet to face.

Upcoming matches: Novara (Serie A, Sunday)

#5. Chelsea (NR)

Fact File
League: 10-1-4, third place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Eliminated in quarterfinals of Carling Cup; will host Portsmouth in January in the FA Cup
Europe: 3-2-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group E

With the bottom half of the Power Rankings posting a series of ho-hum results, Chelsea was able to jump into the top five after a convincing win over Valencia and their Monday victory over Manchester City, the Citizen's first league loss of the year. The key for Chelsea has been Andre Villas-Boas being forced to settle on his go-to lineup, a group that includes Oriol Romeu, Raul Miereles, Daniel Sturridge and Didier Droga. While John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres are now unquestionably second choices, Chelsea now has a clear definition of roles, a set-up upon which they can move forward.

Upcoming matches: at Wigan Athletic (Premier League, Saturday)

#4. Manchester City (6)

Fact File
League: 12-2-1, first place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will face Liverpool in the semifinals of the Carling Cup; will face Manchester United in the FA Cup in January
Europe: 3-1-2, third place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

No team should expect three points from Stamford Bridge. Losing 2-1 while down to ten, where the winning goal is a late penalty kick? That's hardly anything to hold against a team trying to win at Chelsea. Though their midweek victory over a half-strength Bayern team wasn't that impressive, it's enough to see City to ease up the charts at the expense of Italy's best.

Upcoming matches: Arsenal (Premier League, Sunday)

#3. Bayern Munich (3)

Fact File
League: 11-1-4, first place, Germany's Bundesliga
Cup(s): In third round of DFB Pokal
Europe: 4-1-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

Only a handful of regulars saw time at Eastlands during Bayern's midweek loss to Manchester City, and while that result is taken into consideration, it's not enough to affect their ranking, particularly given the team's Sunday win at Stuttgart. The one club on the continent that's shown they may be able to compete the with continent's big two, don't expect Bayern to move from this spot any time soon.

Upcoming matches: Koln (Bundesliga, Friday)

#2. Real Madrid (1)

Fact File
League: 12-1-2, second place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): Will face Ponferradina Tuesday in Copa del Rey round of 16.
Europe: 6-0-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group D

Some post hoc analysis has promoted the chances Real Madrid were able to create Saturday against Barcelona, but there are some stark facts that underscore the divide between the best and second-best teams in the world. Real Madrid was not able to create a goal on their own. They were gifted a lead and couldn't hold it. They allowed three goals at home for only the second time in the Mourinho era, and despite coming into the match in first place in league, they still lost by multiple goals at home. The gap between Real Madrid and Barcelona is much more narrow than it was a year ago; still, Real Madrid's not that close.

Upcoming matches: Ponferradina (Copa del Rey, Tuesday), at Sevilla (Primera Division, Saturday)

#1. Barcelona (2)

Fact File
League: 11-4-1, first place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): Leads L'Hospitalet 1-0 after first leg of Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie
Europe: 5-1-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group H

This is no college basketball or (American) football poll. It's going to take more than a slip for Barcelona to be moved off this top spot after what they did to Real Madrid on Saturday. The Merengues weren't that bad in the season's first Clasico, yet Barcelona still found a route to three goals and (ultimately) a comfortable win. It's going to take a significant dip in Barcelona's form to entertain a discussion about them being anything but the world's best team.

Upcoming matches: Al-Sadd (FIFA Club World Cup, Thursday)

Honorable Mentions: Schalke, Zenit, Lazio, Benfica, CSKA

Quick questions

Before we go, let's take some time to address some feedback to last week's ranking, be that feedback via email, Twitter, or in the comments.

Wow, I am glad someone finally sees that Bayern are class and deserve a high ranking among the likes of Madrid and Barcelona! 2012 Champions League dreams perhaps? -- Ryan, via email

Before their two Bundesliga losses, I think you could argue Bayern deserved to be in the discussion with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Now? They're a clear third but have the pieces to be at May's final at the Allianz, particularly if the two Spanish titans are again drawn on the same half of the knockout round bracket.

Do you think its fair to hold Tottenham's B team results vs their A-team's credentials in your Power rankings? -- different Ryan, via email

All results count, but you certainly have to give less weight to results played with reserves. The comment, referring to Spurs' Europa League loss at home to PAOK (a result that knocked them out of the Power Rankings) seems to imply Luka Modric is part of Spurs' B-team? That's confusing. Regardless, Spurs' result with only five or six starters playing certainly gets less consideration than, say, their loss at Stoke; however, no team gets a pass when they play their best player. As Ron Burgundy would say, "It's science." (No, it's not.)

@richardfarley you must be on Sepp's payroll if you think Man U are 8th. Still grinding out wins that matter in the league. -- @dean3b, via Twitter

Needless to say, this was a Manchester United fan. Just goes to show how much can change in a week.

How are Juventus and Milan ahead of Machester City? Milan's domestic record is weak for it's spot, and Juventus has had more draws. -- Abragos, via comments

Juventus's performances against Milan, Inter Milan, and (most recently) Napoli, the Napoli result being particularly telling because Walter Mazzarri's team had taken four of a possible six points from City in Champions League. As for Milan, Milan's performances against Barcelona spoke for themselves, with the Rossoneri posting a 4-5 scoreline over 180 minutes against the world's best. In both cases, though, you have to balance the overall record against most recent form, with Milan in particular done a disservice with a resume dragged down by a slow start. September's a long time ago in the Power Ranking world (hence Manchester United not even getting a Honorable Mention).

I don't understand how Barca will be top next week in the rankings if they tie vs Real Madrid. If both teams are facing each other and they tie then the status quo must remain. -- RedNgreen, via comments

Barcelona getting a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu wouldn't be status quo. Real Madrid expects to win all their home games.

There were some interesting comments from some regarding my ranking of Arsenal, those falsely assuming that the Wigan result carried a lot of weight (despite the words "persist" and "confirm" being used in the explanation), but that's what these Power Rankings are all about. I have my say, you have yours, with the hope that some feedback is minimally constructive (we are nothing if not optimists). So, let's give it another try.

You can provide your feedback via email ( or Twitter, and we'll try to address your questions again next week.

Richard Farley is the editor of and a contributing writer to He can be reached on Twitter at @richardfarley.

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