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Power Rankings: Of course, it's Real

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Richard Farley

Richard Farley is the editor of and a contributing writer to FOXSoccer.com.

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Like it or not, the divide between Europe's big two and the rest of the continent is becoming a chasm. England's best have failed to convince in Champions League, Germany's perennial power has hit a dip in the Bundesliga, and Italy's leaders didn't even qualify for European competition this year. Particularly when you're looking for sides that have accumulated an impressive resume in Europe, league, and Cup, the number of teams who stand out can be counted on one hand.

For this week's ranking, there's no need for a spoiler alert: Real Madrid and Barcelona are going to be one-two, and after this weekend's result, you know who's going to take the top spot. The real drama lies in spots three through 10 (and below).

#10. Napoli

Fact File
League: 4-4-3, eighth place (with a game in hand), Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in Round of 16
Europe: 2-2-1, second place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

To the eye, Napoli seems to warrant a higher place on the list, but an increased reliance on one man (Edinson Cavani) combined with a slow start in Serie A means their resume does not look at strong as the nine teams above them. Look for Walter Mazzarri's team to climb this list as they gain their domestic footing, with Tuesday's match against Juventus being their first opportunity.

Upcoming matches: Juventus (Serie A, Tuesday), Lecce (Serie A, Saturday)

#9. Tottenham Hotspur

Fact File
League: 9-1-2, third place (with a game in hand), Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will enter FA Cup in January, eliminated in third round of Carling Cup
Europe: 2-1-1, third place, UEFA Europa League's Group A

Without UEFA Champions League competition, Spurs' resume looks a little thin, but one item really stands out: On a points-per-game basis, Tottenham is outperforming second place Manchester United in the Premier League. This ranking could come crashing on Wednesday if Spurs fail to get the home win they need over Greece's PAOK to advance in Europa League, but with their only loss in Europe coming in Kazan, their standing in group slightly belies their performance.

Upcoming matches: PAOK (Europa League, Wednesday), Bolton (Barclays Premier League, Saturday)

#8. Benfica

Fact File
League: 8-3-0, second place, Portugal's Primeira Liga
Cup(s): In Round of 16 of Portuguese Cup, will enter League Cup in January
Europe: 2-3-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group C

Though they sit second in Portugal, two line items distinguish Benfica from FC Porto. First, they've already taken a point from the Dragao in league, so while goal difference puts them behind Porto in the league's table, Benfica has a very small leg up. Second, Benfica is through to the knockout stages of Champions League while Porto may get the unfortunate opportunity to defend their Europa League title.

Upcoming matches: at Maritimo (Portuguese Cup, Friday), Otelul Gulati (UEFA Champions League, Wednesday)

#7. Manchester United

Fact File
League: 9-3-1, second place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will enter FA Cup in January, in quarterfinals of Carling Cup
Europe: 2-3-0, second place, UEFA Champions League's Group C

While it's strange to see Manchester United so far below the top tier of Europe, their last truly impressive win was all the way back on September 18, and depending on what you think of Chelsea, that win may not be so impressive. Unable to get home wins against Benfica or Newcastle, why are they ranked this high? Being second in England is worth something, and both of their recent draws deserve special consideration; given own goals, busted offsides calls, and the like.

Upcoming matches: Crystal Palace (Carling Cup, Wednesday), at Aston Villa (Barclays Premier League, Saturday)

#6. Juventus

Fact File
League: 7-4-0, first place (with a game in hand), Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in Round of 16
Europe: Did not qualify

With no European competition to judge them on, Juventus is a hard sell this high on the ranking, but with Serie A looking stronger than it has been in recent years, Juve's undefeated record deserves some respect. That, and they're actually playing quite well. Tuesday's Napoli match could deflate this balloon, but having already defeated Milan, Inter Milan, and Lazio, Juventus has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Upcoming matches: at Napoli (Serie A, Tuesday), Cesena (Serie A, Sunday)

#5. Manchester City

Fact File
League: 11-2-0, first place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will enter FA Cup in January, in quarterfinals of Carling Cup
Europe: 2-1-2, third place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

Before a few stumbles last week, Manchester City would have been ranked higher, but when you're on the brink of missing Champions League's knockout stage it's difficult to rank you amongst Europe's best. With City's personnel and approach, they won't be missed by Champions League's potential upset victims, though that leaves us to rely on their Premier League form to gauge their value. Thankfully for City supporters, there are few complaints on that front. Even Sunday's draw at Anfield will likely prove a strong result at season's end.

Upcoming matches: Crystal Palace (Carling Cup, Wednesday), at Aston Villa (Barclays Premier League, Saturday)

#4. AC Milan

Fact File
League: 7-3-2, second place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will enter Coppa Italia in Round of 16
Europe: 2-2-1, second place, UEFA Champions League's Group H

Having pushed Barcelona twice (though their draw at the Nou Camp was hardly convincing), has Milan establishing themselves as dark horse contenders for Champions League. Now sitting second in Italy, they've already recovered from a slow start, now in position to take advantage of Juventus's eventual stumble. Between Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Thiago Silva, the Rossoneri have an enviable spine, and with Max Allegri on the sideline, Milan has their most dangerous team since Kaka was onboard.

Upcoming matches: at Genoa (Serie A, Friday), at Viktoria Plzen (Champions League, Tuesday)

#3. Bayern Munich

Fact File
League: 9-1-4, third place, Germany's Bundesliga
Cup(s): In third round of DFB Pokal
Europe: 4-1-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group A

When you're undefeated and in first place of Champions League's most difficult group, you get some leeway to, say, drop two straight in league action. That leeway is running out, however, and while Bayern Munich is the only team in Europe that's shown glimpses of being able to threaten the continent's big two, those glimpses are going to have to become more frequent lest we relegate below Milan (because the argument for Bayern is already difficult to make).

Upcoming matches: Werder Bremen (Bundesliga, Saturday), at Manchester City (Champions League, Wednesday)

#2. Barcelona

Fact File
League: 8-4-1, second place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): Leads L'Hospitalet 1-0 after first leg of Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie
Europe: 4-1-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group H

Barcelona's first loss of the season made the number two spot obligatory, but even before Saturday's upset in Madrid, there was a growing feeling that their trailing Real Madrid in Spain was more accurate state of the world than temporary dissonance. As Pep Guardiola continues to move toward playing ten midfielders and a `keeper, some tactical adjustments need to be made (how to get some width, for example). With Real Madrid rolling, Barcelona has two weeks until a trip to the Bernabeu that could decide the league.

Upcoming matches: Rayo Vallecano (La Liga, Tuesday), Levante (La Liga, Saturday)

#1. Real Madrid

Fact File
League: 11-1-1, first place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): In Round of 16 of Copa del Rey
Europe: 5-0-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group D

Last year Real Madrid was in a similar place, with many slotting them as the world's best ahead of Jose Mourinho's first Clasico. One 5-0 drubbing in Barcelona later, and many started questioning whether Los Merengues were really better off under Mourinho than Manuel Pellegrini. So while Real Madrid deserves this spot - their resume for 2011-12 is clearly better than their competitor's, right now - we've walked this road before. Real Madrid pride themselves on their European Cups, but this is the reality of the modern game: Real is judged against Barcelona. We'll see where they stand in two weeks.

Upcoming matches: at Sporting Gijon (La Liga, Saturday), at Ajax (Champions League, Wednesday)

Also considered: Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Liverpool, Udinese, Porto, Corinthians.

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

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