Arsenal and Chelsea bite the dust

Manchester United fell out of the list after losing at Basel, but makes a triumphant return to FOX Soccer’s World Club Power Ranking. Since returning from Switzerland with their hats in hand, United has won four in a row, posting a 16 goals for, 1 assist since. True, their opponents have been questionable – a quartet of clubs sitting between 13th and 18th in the Barclays Premier League – but at some point we have to acknowledge that Manchester United is on the way.

Unfortunately for fans of the Premier League, that form is not shared across the rest of the league’s powers. Of the league’s top six teams, only two came away with wins over Boxing Day. Perhaps it’s no coincidence those two clubs have cracked the countdown, replacing two sides that have had trouble finding three points:

Arsenal (last week: 7):

Dropping Arsenal out of the ranking completely feels harsh (as I sit here, having to explain myself), but failing to get three points at home against a struggling side after you’ve gone up a goal (as Arsenal did Tuesday against Wolves) forces some reevaluation. That examination shows a team that is 2-1-1 in their last four, with their two wins coming via late goals versus struggling sides (Dec. 10 vs. Everton, Dec. 21 at Aston Villa). In reality, there seems to be little that separates Arsenal from the last few clubs on the list, but burdened by their recent dip in form, Arsenal find themselves just outside the top 10 (this week).

Chelsea (9):

Since defeating Manchester City on Dec. 12 for their third straight (quality) win, Chelsea has played three 1-1 matches, dropping points to the likes of Wigan and Fulham. Though the Blues had some bright moments (Dec. 22 at Spurs) they looked ordinary vs. the Latics and Cottagers. As a result, they find themselves on the edge of the list.

Before we go to the actual list, let’s talk about the winter break everybody save England (amongst the biggest leagues) is observing. For some readers, this will give the English clubs an unfair advantage with the rankings, having a chance to impress while other clubs sit. For others (Arsenal and Chelsea fans this week, most likely), it means clubs will be risking their rankings on the pitch while others watch safely from the sidelines.

The Power Rankings are primarily concerned with a team’s recent results, but we use the clubs’ broader resume to inform how likely it is recent form tells us of true quality (whatever that is). For a team that hasn’t played in weeks, they aren’t penalized or rewarded. It’s like their record is frozen until it thaws in January.

Now, the list:

#10. Benfica (last week: 10)

Fact File

League: 10-3-0, second place, Portugal’s Primeira Liga

Cup(s): Will begin League Cup on Jan. 3; eliminated from Portuguese Cup in round of 16.

Europe: 3-3-0, first place, UEFA Champions League’s Group C; will face Zenit St. Petersburg in round of 16.

Last 30 days: 3-0-1

Benfica was in danger of falling out of the list, being idle while England and (mid-week) Italy played. But for as many teams that answered questions, others answered wrongly, allowing Benfica to survive at 10.

Three points allow the Aguias to survive in this spot: They look the part when you actually watch them; their overall record is stellar; they have gotten results at Porto and Manchester United.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until January 3rd, at Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese Cup.

#9. Tottenham (NR)

Fact File

League: 12-2-3, third place, Barclays Premier League

Cup(s): Eliminated in the third round of the Carling Cup; host Cheltenham Town on Jan. 7 in third round of the FA Cup

Europe: 3-1-2, eliminated in third place, UEFA Europa League’s Group A

Last 30 days: 4-1-2

An impressive road performance on Tuesday edges Spurs into the top 10, though we’re still not far enough from their Europa League elimination to think that disappointment irrelevant. Spurs fans have emailed and asked why those results should count when Spurs weren’t taking the matches seriously. Though those matches are weighed less than others, it’s worth considering that most elite teams in the world find a way to manage their competitions without completely abdicating. Spurs’ conclusion that they couldn’t give Europa League their all in the face of their league assignments tell us not only of their priorities but their depth.

Upcoming matches: at Swansea City (Saturday, Premier League)

#8. Udinese (8)

Fact File

League: 9-5-2, third place, Italy’s Serie A

Cup(s): Will face Chievo on Jan. 11 in Coppa Italia round of 16.

Europe: 2-3-1, second place, UEFA Europa League’s Group I; will face PAOK in the round of 32.

Last 30 days: 2-4-0

If Udinese can’t find a way to start winning matches, they’re going to fall down this list, particularly if teams like Tottenham continue playing as well as they have. It would, however, be harsh to drop Udinese when their latest draw was against undefeated Juventus. With upcoming matches against Cesena, Chievo, Genoa and Catania, the Bianconeri will have their chance to pad their win total. If they can’t, those who see the Serie A as overrepresented in the rankings will be appeased.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until January 8 versus Cesena.

#7. Manchester United (NR)

Fact File

League: 14-3-1, second place, Barclays Premier League

Cup(s): Eliminated in quarterfinals of Carling Cup; will face Manchester City on Jan. 8 in FA Cup

Europe: 2-3-1, eliminated in third place, UEFA Champions League’s Group C; will face Ajax in Europa League round of 32.

Last 30 days: 5-0-2

Impressive as Manchester United has been, there is a wariness to ranking the Red Devils this high. Alex Ferguson’s team were equally impressive at the onset of the season yet were found out as the season went on. Still with holes in midfield and defense, you wonder whether United is again flattering to deceive and if they won’t be found out again when they visit the Etihad in the FA Cup.

Until then, Manchester United’s surge up the ranking rests on one obvious argument: They look so much better than the other teams contending for this spot.

Upcoming matches: Blackburn Rovers (Premier League, Saturday)

#6. Juventus (5)

Fact File

League: 9-7-0, second place, Italy’s Serie A

Cup(s): Will face the winner of Roma-Fiorentina on Jan. 24 in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia.

Europe: Did not qualify.

Last 30 days: 3-3-0

Like Udinese, Juventus needs to start winning matches if they’re to maintain their place this high in the ranking. The clubs in the top half of this list are consistently posting results, explaining why Udinese can hold on to its spot in the lower half while Juve slips after the same result. With Manchester United heating up, Juventus could find itself closer to Udinese than league-leading Milan before the next match, but with nearly as many draws as wins thus far this season, it has little cause for complaint.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until January 8 at Lecce.

#5. AC Milan (6)

Fact File

League: 10-4-2, first place, Italy’s Serie A

Cup(s): Will face Novara on Jan. 18 in Coppa Italia round of 16.

Europe: 2-3-1, second place; UEFA Champions League’s Group H; will face Arsenal in round of 16.

Last 30 days: 4-2-0

Milan’s 35 goals scored are six more than the next most-prolific team in Serie A, where they haven’t lost since the beginning of October (at Juventus). Their only other losses this season were at Napoli (September) and to Barcelona (November). Given some of the hiccups we’ve seen from the top three teams on this list, it’s time to start taking Milan’s candidacy more seriously. The on-field product is certainly there.

Upcoming matches: Do not play until January 8 at Atalanta

#4. Manchester City (4)

Fact File

League: 13-3-1, 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 on Jan. 8.

Europe: 3-1-2, third place, UEFA Champions League’s Group A; will face Porto in UEFA Europe League’s round of 32.

Last 30 days: 5-2-1

Manchester City got a taste of the big time on Monday. Visiting West Brom on Boxing Day, the Citizens faced a classic Roy Hodgson team playing the underdog role. The Baggies were content to keep nine behind the ball and tried to hit City when they were weak (which almost worked, twice). Ultimately, the 0-0 draw was just one of those games. You can’t win them all, not even when your pockets are bottomless.

Upcoming matches: at Sunderland (Premier League, Sunday)

#3. Bayern Munich (3)

Fact File

League: 12-1-4, first place, Germany’s Bundesliga

Cup(s): Will face Stuttgart on February 8 in the quarterfinals of DFB Pokal

Europe: 4-1-1, first place, UEFA Champions League’s Group A; will face Basel in round of 16.

Last 30 days: 4-0-2

At second division Bochum in the German Cup, Bayern needed a very late goal from Arjen Robben to break a 1-1 tie and advance, though it’s going to take more than that nervy showing to draw FCB closer to fourth. Having seen Bayern and City on the same pitch twice this season, it’s going to take more than a passing result to get the Citizens to third. Milan, however? That’s becoming a different story.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until January 20 at Borussia Moenchengladbach

#2. Real Madrid (2)

Fact File

League: 13-1-2, first place, Spain’s Primera Division

Cup(s): Will face Malaga in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32.

Europe: 6-0-0, first place, UEFA Champions League’s Group D; will face CSKA Moscow in round of 16.

Last 30 days: 5-0-1

As we sit in the prolonged wake of Barcelona’s win at the Bernabeu, it bares mentioning how great Real Madrid is. Clearly, they are not Barcelona, but their only other loss of the season was a 1-0 defeat at Levante in September. Since then, Real Madrid has scored 71 goals (allowing only 14) while going 18-1-1.

While it makes sense to look at what Barcelona did to Real Madrid and ask how big the gap is between the Merengues and the rest of the world, the answer is ‘very big.’ The gap between Real Madrid and the rest of the world is larger than the gap between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until facing Malaga on January 3

#1. Barcelona (1)

Fact File

League: 11-4-1, second place, Spain’s Primera Division

Cup(s): Will face Osasuna in the Copa del Rey round of 32.

Europe: 5-1-0, first place, UEFA Champions League’s Group H; will face Bayer Leverkusen in round of 16.

Other: Won FIFA Club World Cup, defeating Al-Sadd and Santos by a combined score of 8-0.

Last 30 days: 7-0-0

How did Barcelona celebrate winning the Club World Cup? By posting a 9-0 result on L’Hospitalet in the Copa del Rey. Yeah, it’s easy to shrug that off and say ‘who are they?’,  but consider all the different cup competition results we splashed on our monitors and how few are so lopsided. Of course, the sportsmanship of posting such a score on an inferior opponent should be considered, but given only three of Barca’s goals came from nominal starters, it’s hard to find any exceptional fault.

Upcoming matches: Do not play again until facing Osasuna on January 4.

Honorable mentions: Arsenal (England), Chelsea (England), Lazio (Italy), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), CSKA Moscow (Russia), APOEL (Cyprus), Porto (Portugal)

Look out for: PSV (Netherlands), Olympiakos (Greece), Internazionale (Italy), Schalke (Germany), Napoli (Italy)

Don’t forget about: Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Basel (Switzerland), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Lille (France), Liverpool (England)

And now, the tough part – your interrogation:

PSG/Lille/Montpellier: I know they are not in the power rankings … but for those who have FOX Soccer Plus perhaps a breakdown of who in your opinion is the strongest? I think it would help some of those who don’t know where and when to invest time in Ligue 1 programming. – TurkishSpider, via comments

The best value for your viewing time is Lille, hands down. If you were lucky enough to foresee my advice and catch their last match before the break, you saw a 4-4 shootout. Montpellier are upstarts who are likely to get found out as they go through the league for a second time, but a breakout season makes Olivier Giroud worth watching, particularly if you’re studying up for Euro 2012 (as he’s forcing his way into Laurent Blanc’s plans). PSG can be frustrating to watch for their failure to meet expectations, through with Beckham and Ancelotti possibly arriving before their January friendly against Milan, they may be worth watching for the drama and spectacle.

Hey, if Gala didn’t get much consideration because they’re not in Europe then why is Juventus in fifth? And I realize that Serie A is placed higher on FIFA rankings of leagues than the Super Lig. Juve should be on the list but not fifth. Milan should be ahead of them for that reason. – Abragos, via comments

I think it’s a bit misleading to say Galatasaray aren’t getting consideration because they’re not in Europe. However, the lack of European soccer makes it difficult to judge them, particularly since there aren’t a lot of other Super Lig teams in continental competition. Galatasaray dserves credit for points against Trabzonspor and Besiktas (as well as Fenerbahce), but it’s a thin resume without Europe to augment it.

Juventus, on the other hand, do get dinged for not being in Europe, but their results against Milan, Napoli and Inter give us some idea of how they compare with the three teams who are in the Champions League knockout rounds. They’ve also faced other known commodities in Udinese, Lazio and Roma (teams from which Juve have taken five road points).

I like the list but I think Liverpool should move up two spots from "Don’t forget about" to "Honorable mention". I really think they should be ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea for beating both and Chelsea twice. They also drew with City. You say they have only won 8 of 16 but they have only lost once in the last 14 games. But I agree they aren’t top ten yet…just neither are Chelsea or Arsenal. I know old habits die hard and you have to put the traditional leaders up there…evidenced by you repetitively defending yourself for leaving Man U out of the top ten. It’s OK Richard, Man U don’t deserve to be there…don’t feel bad! – Totokia, via comments

Thanks, totokia. Regarding Liverpool, their case is beguiling because you see them play the best and you can’t deny their quality. However, they lost at both Fulham and Stoke City, and drew against Blackburn, Wigan, Swansea, Norwich and Sunderland. For all the good results you note, they seem to have as many (if not more) head scratchers.

@ Richard Farley, in your opinion, what would it take for Bayern to leapfrog Madrid into the 2nd spot? Arguably Bayern plays tougher opponents in the Bundesliga than Madrid do in La Liga (aside from Barca obviously). Bayern won the CL "group of death" with a game to spare and also have been missing either Robben or Schweinsteiger all season. – DKONE, via comments

It’s going to be tough. As is detailed, above, Real Madrid’s a high standard, but as you note, Bayern deserve consideration.

Bayern’s going to have to maintain the form they’ve shown for all but the November Bundesliga dip where they lost two straight league matches. Even then, Real Madrid’s only lost twice this year: a 1-0 one-off at Levante and to Barcelona.

FCB’s going to have to be near-perfect, look dominant and do it against good competition. It’s a high bar, but it’s one Bayern was reaching earlier this year, before their November swoon. For now, though, their nearest comparable is Milan, not Real.

After a long Power Ranking, it’s time to call it a day. Until next week, you can provide your feedback via email (Richard.Farley@FOX.com), on Twitter (@RichardFarley), or for those who want to talk it out with the rest of the community, there’s the comments section, below.