EACH WEEK, FOX SOCCER'S EXPERTS GET TOGETHER TO RANK THE WORLD'S TOP CLUBS. CASES ARE MADE, VOTES ARE TALLIED AND THEN SOMEONE NEEDS TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL. THIS WEEK, THAT MAN IS THOMAS HAUTMANN.
Heading into the long international break, Bayern Munich and Barcelona continue to look unstoppable despite significant injuries to their key players. Both Madrid clubs are staying right on their heels, while Manchester United are back on the radar after shutting down Premier League leaders Arsenal at Old Trafford. And while Chelsea and Manchester City have continued to make their lives difficult, don't count either of them out to make a quick return to the rankings in case United slip up.
Posted Nov. 15, 2013Follow @HautmannOnFOX
Bayern Munich (10-2-0)
With a 3-0 win over Augsburg, Bayern broke perhaps the last Bundesliga record they didn’t own -- the longest-ever unbeaten streak, which is now at 37 games. Franck Ribery told reporters a win at Dortmund on Nov. 23 could already predetermine the championship, which sounds a bit premature until you remember that Bayern held an eight-point lead this time last year and we all know how that story ended. Losing Bastian Schweinsteiger for the rest of 2013 is only a minor hit, as Thiago Alcantara finally returned to practice earlier this week.
While Lionel Messi’s inability to stay healthy is worrisome -- this time, the world’s best player is set to miss 6-8 weeks -- it’d be amiss to view his absence as catastrophic to Barca. When Messi went down against Real Betis last week, Andres Iniesta replaced him, only last year’s second runner-up to the Ballon d’Or. Gerardo Martino simply needs to adapt and tailor his offense around the likes of Iniesta, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas instead. Nobody will feel sorry for him.
Atletico Madrid (11-1-1)
A tale of two own goals at El Madrigal saw Atleti fall two points further behind La Liga leaders Barca in an almost faultless chase at the top so far. News of Diego Costa pulling out from the Spain squad could initially bring worried faces over at the Vicente Calderon, but they will hope that his thigh injury will heal up in a fortnight for a return to league action. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to put a wedge between the top two La Liga giants.
Real Madrid (10-1-2)
Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 19th career La Liga hat-trick in a 5-1 romp over Real Sociedad, one of La Liga’s top defenses. Ronaldo now has nine goals in his past four games and a whopping 24 in the season. That’s more than Messi and Neymar’s combined total of 18 goals this season, and just two shy of PSG’s prolific duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani (26 goals combined). In short, CR7 is making one heck of a closing argument for the Ballon d’Or.
Paris Saint-Germain (9-4-0)
Life continues to be rosy for the defending Ligue 1 champs after a 3-1 victory over Nice last week, thanks in large part to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hat trick at Parc de Princes. The Zlatan and Edinson Cavani partnership has now combined for an astonishing18 goals in the French top flight, making the striking duo one of the deadliest in club football. Expect their scoring tally to increase as the Parisians face basement boys Sochaux next week.
Losing at Old Trafford is hardly enough to condemn the Gunners’ chances at some silverware, but the lackluster display does indicate one thing: Arsenal desperately need an alternative to the tiring Olivier Giroud. When Nicklas Bendtner comes on to provide a spark, you know you lack punch off the bench. And while the returns of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will help, Arsene Wenger would be well-advised to look for options in the winter transfer window.
It says it all about Roma’s start that, despite two disappointing draws at the start of November, they still sit top of Serie A. Having taken the lead against relegation battlers Sassuolo and Torino, they’ve been stunned by a relatively late goal from each in consecutive games. Concentration – or even complacency – may have become an issue after their record start, but a much-earned break could invigorate and help them keep up the pace at the top.
Borussia Dortmund (9-1-2)
After falling to Wolfsburg over the weekend, Borussia lost two matches in a row for the first time since losing last season’s Champions League final and a meaningless Bundesliga finale. The previous time that’s happened, you have to go all the way back to February 2010. But that is the least of Jurgen Klopp’s problems at the moment. Losing Neven Subotic (torn MCL and PCL) for the season is a huge blow to his defense, and comes at the worst possible time with Bayern coming to town next.
Could there be problems creeping into what was a promising start for Rafael Benitez and co? Scraping past Champions League group whipping boys Marseille is one thing, but they were completely dominated by Juventus. A small positive came from an unlikely source as minnows Sassuolo held runaway leaders Roma, but questions remain over their own title credentials. Convincing losses to rivals Juventus and Roma in their two biggest games certainly give them food for thought.
Manchester United (6-1-3)
Well, well, well, look who’s back! After squashing league leaders Arsenal at home, United have now won four of their past five league games after losing three of the previous four. Thanks in large part to the other contenders’ recent hiccups, the Red Devils are suddenly just five points out of first place. Even better, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are starting to click; RvP has scored in each of his last four league games, adding two assists, while Rooney accounted for two goals and two helpers in that span.
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