Winter lulls create rankings unrest

In the month since our last World Club Power Rankings, the biggest change has been teams’ form. Rather than using their time away from European competition to pad their resumes, most clubs have given us reason to doubt. Juventus keeps drawing, Manchester City has lost three times, while Bayern has coughed up the lead in Germany. Whereas there’s always been a gap between our list’s top two (Barça, Real) and the rest of the group, now the divide is huge. Four or five teams have a claim to sit third, but none have the form to make a straight-faced claim for second.

That chasm should give us pause. While many fans have derided the Spanish league for being a duopoly, the bigger European picture isn’t much different. True, the gap between Barcelona and Valencia in Spain is huge, but the space between Real Madrid and the Bayerns, Milans and Citys of the world is no more encouraging.

The lack of movement amongst the top two makes a list like this even more laughable than it inherently is. Yes, there is something to be said for providing some analysis and a focal point for discussion. How interesting can a rundown be if the top two never change? If Justin Bieber and whomever else the kids are listening to were always 1-2 in the charts, wouldn’t we eventually stop checking?

That logic seems to assume this list had meaning to begin with. We make no such assumptions. However, if you are going to derive some pleasure from the process, think about the teams who are one or two good results away from making their first appearances:

  • In France, Paris Saint-Germain appears to be consolidating under Carlo Ancelotti. Out of Europe, they’ll have to put together a longer string of good results, but at least they’re forcing us to take notice.

  • In the Netherlands, PSV has snatched the lead in the Eredivisie, and having provided some context for their league form by impressing in Europa, the Dutch power deserves consideration.

  • In Ukraine and Russia, Dynamo Kyiv and Zenit St. Petersburg have accumulated resumes that would merit consideration, though it’s difficult to put teams on break into the top 10 when they weren’t holding down regular spots before.

  • In Germany, Schalke continues to stay in the title race, equalling Bayern’s 41 points.

  • And in Belgium, Anderlecht has opened up a seven-point lead on second place Racing Gent after an impressive (and exciting) 4-2 win on Sunday.

With European competition restarting, those clubs will have a chance to make their case for a spot on the list, potentially seizing opportunities presented as top ten clubs pick each other off. For now, they sit on the outside looking in along with the two clubs who lost their spots:

Dropped out

Inter Milan (last month: 10) – The Nerazzurri’s surge up the table in Italy earned them a spot in the list, making it four Serie A teams amongst our top ten. Since then, Claudio Ranieri’s team has fallen back to earth and out of our countdown.

Udinese (8) – Even though Udinese remain in Italy’s title race, they’ve lost three of their last five. Their place in the top ten was tenuous to begin with. Now, they’re out.

#10. Tottenham Hotspur (last month: 7)

Fact File

League: 15-5-4, third place, Barclays Premier League

Cup(s): Eliminated in the third round of the Carling Cup; will face Stevenage in the fifth round of the FA Cup

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

Last 30 days: 3-1-2

Spurs failed to take advantage of a weakened Manchester City squad on Jan. 22, losing at the Etihad. They also drew at Anfield (Monday) and were drawn at home by Wolves on Jan. 14. Wins over Everton and Wigan have allowed Tottenham to maintain their comfortable third place perch; still, the last month has shown Spurs are not quite ready for a title challenge. Their ranking on our fake list has been adjusted accordingly.

Upcoming matches: Newcastle (Saturday, Premier League)

#9. Manchester United (NR)

Fact File

League: 17-4-3, second place, Barclays Premier League

Cup(s): Eliminated by Crystal Palace in the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup; eliminated by Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup

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

Last 30 days: 4-1-1

Manchester United’s only loss in the last 30 days may have been an understandable one at Anfield, but there was little to recommend the Red Devils after Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge. While Alex Ferguson’s side has deserved to be lauded for their perseverance, their comeback requires context. It’s been a while since Chelsea has been very good, yet Manchester United found a way to spot them three goals. They needed two Howard Webb interventions to pull close enough to salvage a point, and on the back of last month’s thrashing at the hands of Newcastle the game served as a further reminder that United is a very good but very flawed team.

Upcoming matches: Liverpool (Saturday, Premier League)

#8. Borussia Dortmund (NR)

Fact File

League: 13-4-3, first place, Germany’s Bundesliga

Cup(s): Advanced to the semifinals of the DFB Pokal with a 4-0 win over Holstein Kiel on Tuesday.

Europe: 1-1-4, fourth place, Champions League’s Group F (eliminated from European competition).

Last 30 days: 4-0-0

Dortmund may be in first place in Germany, but they carry what is at best a mixed resume. Their rock bottom finish in an easy Champions League group gives detractors a megaphone, but as more time passes and Dortmund continues accumulating wins, it becomes easier to see their Champions League struggles as merely a phase.

But on its own, Dortmund’s record doesn’t justify a spot on this list above a Paris Saint-Germain (first place in France) or Zenit (first place in Russia). This is a case where the eye test becomes a deciding factor.

BVB look the part. They’re playing like a top ten team, thrashing opponents since returning from break. Having scored 14 goals in four matches since the restart, BVB’s play hints they’ve refound the stride that allowed them to comfortably secure last season’s Bundesliga title.

Upcoming matches: Bayer Leverkusen (Saturday, Bundesliga)

#7. AC Milan (4)

Fact File

League: 13-5-4, seond place, Italian Serie A

Cup(s): Will face Juventus on Wednesday in Coppa Italia semifinals.

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

Last 30 days: 5-1-2

The "Last 30 days" mark obscures the Rossoneri’s more recent form: one point from their last two games and only two wins in their last five. Were it not for that dip, Max Allegri’s team would be in the top half of this list.

Milan will have a chance, over the next week, to prove this drop too harsh. They look to hand Juventus their first loss of the season on Wednesday, the Old Lady visiting the San Siro for the first leg of the clubs’ Coppa Italia semifinal. Three days later Milan is in Udine, with the club’s Champions League campaign resuming on the 15th against Arsenal.

Should Milan run the table, they’re likely to bounce all the way to number three.

Upcoming matches: Juventus (Wednesday, Coppa Italia), at Udinese (Saturday, Serie A)

#6. Manchester City (6)

Fact File

League: 18-3-3, first place, Barclays Premier League

Cup(s): Eliminated by Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup; eliminated by Liverpool in the semifinals of the Carling Cup.

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: 3-1-3

The last time we gathered, Manchester City was coming off three losses and paid the price for it, dropping from four to six. Now City’s form has only marginally improved, though their three losses come in a slightly different context. For much of this span, they’ve been without Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli. While teams will always miss players and should be expected to adapt to challenges, the reasons those three have been out are unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

But the real reason City hasn’t dropped farther is the failure of others. Milan hasstumbled, United is still a mixed bag and Spurs lost at the Etihadt to a Kompany/Toure-less side. Like many others on this list, City owes its spot more to other’s shortcomings than its own accomplishments.

Upcoming matches: at Aston Villa (Sunday, Premier League)

#5. Benfica (9)

Fact File

League: 14-3-0, first place, Portugal’s Primeira Liga

Cup(s): Will face Porto on March 20 in the semifinals of the League Cup; 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: 6-0-0

Benfica has now won 10 in a row, a streak that is over two months old. They are five points up on Porto in the league and have outscored opponents 29-6 since being eliminated from the Taça de Portugal at the beginning of December. Ultimately, fifth spot may prove too high, but their résumé justifies this placement, as does their personnel and their to-the-eye form.

The only reason the Eagles wouldn’t be ranked this high is an inherent belief teams from Portugal (and similar leagues) can’t be this strong, a belief this list dismisses.

Benfica may not stay here long, but for now, they’ve earned the spot.

Upcoming matches: Nacional (Saturday, Liga), at Zenit (Wednesday, Champions League)

#4. Bayern Munich (3)

Fact File

League: 13-2-5, second place, Germany’s Bundesliga

Cup(s): Will face Stuttgart on Wednesday 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: 1-1-1

Coming out of Germany’s winter break, Bayern won only one of three league matches, begging two questions (as it pertains to our little list). First, how far should they drop? And second, should Borussia Dortmund, now sitting top of the league, rank above FCB?

Let’s start with the second. Why do we have Bayern above Dortmund? With only two points separating the clubs in the league, it’s not too difficult to craft an argument as to why Bayern deserves the better ranking, particularly when you consider the clubs’ results in Europe. Bayern is a dark horse contender in Champions League, and while Dortmund has the better form of late, they’re out of Europe entirely. Considering Bayern has the slightly better goal difference in the league (for what that’s worth), reasonable minds can both disagree and be justified in their logic.

The second question is much easier to answer. It’s hard to fall very far when nobody’s stepping up to take your spot. City’s "Last 30 days" are the worst on the countdown, and Milan stumbled this week. The best arguments are for Benfica and Dortmund, one of which will be in this spot soon unless Bayern rights its ship.

Upcoming matches: at Stuttgart (Wednesday, Pokal), Kaiserslautern (Saturday, Bundesliga)

#3. Juventus (5)

Fact File

League: 12-9-0, first place, Italy’s Serie A

Cup(s): Will face Milan on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Coppa Italia.

Europe: Did not qualify.

Last 30 days: 4-2-0

With nine draws in league play, Juventus has rarely looked like the third-best team in the world. Third, however, is a relative distinction, and if nobody’s going to outperform them, the Old Lady gets the spot.

To imply that the place has defaulted to them undersells Juventus’ accomplishments. True, they had a disappointing weekend draw against Siena, but before that? A convincing victory over an improving Roma and three points from third place Udinese reminded us Juventus is undefeated for a reason.

In other years (and on other lists), this Juve team may not rank this highly, but after a January that saw many list stalwarts stumble, Juventus is a clear number three.

Upcoming matches: Cagliari (Sunday, Serie A)

#2. Real Madrid (2)

Fact File

League: 18-1-2, first place, Spain’s Primera Division

Cup(s): Eliminated by Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

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

Last 30 days: 6-1-1

Still only the second-best team in the world, Real Madrid’s performance in the second leg of the Copa del Rey Clasico showed the gap between them and their rivals is not as big as some imagine. Should the teams meet in Champions League, it’s not inconceivable that Real Madrid could have a plan in place to dethrone Europe’s champions, but until we see that plan work, los Merengues stay firmly entrenched at number two.

Upcoming matches: Levante (Sunday, Liga)

#1. Barcelona (1)

Fact File

League: 14-6-1, second place, Spain’s Primera Division

Cup(s): Even with Valencia 1-1 after first leg of Copa del Rey semifinals

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

Last 30 days: 5-4-0

The blind Madridista will want El Real’s large Liga lead to catapult them to number one, but to put Barcelona anywhere but number one would be a bit disingenuous. Even Barça’s most ardent hater has to concede this is the best team in the world. Something beyond a few draws needs to happen in order to knock them from this spot.

Upcoming matches: Valencia (Wednesday, Copa del Rey), at Osasuna (Saturday, Liga), at Bayer Leverkusen (Tuesday, Champions League)

Honorable Mentions (unordered): Paris Saint-Germain (France), PSV (Netherlands), Zenit (Russia), Schalke (Germany), Chelsea (England)

Look out for: Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany), Basel (Switzerland), CSKA (Russia), Arsenal (England), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)

Don’t forget about: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Porto (Portugal), Valencia (Spain), Lille (France), Galatasaray (Turkey)

Now that you have enough to argue about, your questions (remember, these are nearly one month old):

Is it possible to do a power rankings for CONCACAF/CONMEBOL teams??? I know they are not top clubs as UEFA, but it would be awesome to see some rankings on this side of the pond… cheers! — H1ram, via comments

Particularly with Libertadores and (CONCACAF) Champions League about to enter the conversation, this needs to happen. We’ve been looking for ways to bring some variety to this list. Doing a weekly World Club roundup becomes a bit tedious unless you start sensationally moving teams around at the slightest variation. Perhaps a better use of our time would be to ask experts like Ives Galarcep, Rupert Fryer and John Duerden to give us their thoughts on their regions.

With a convincing performance in the CL Group Stage and a surging run of form should Inter start to be considered ahead of Juve (no Europe and an unconvincing win over Lecce) and possibly Milan (some disappointing CL performances outside of the first Barca fixture and depending on the outcome of the derby a loss to Inter–if it is a win for Milan no need to respond) — TurkishSpider, via comments

Remember, that question dates back to when Inter were hot, but it’s a good opportunity to explain methodology.

If Inter had kept their streak up for a couple of more weeks (and we continued doing rankings as frequently as we were), I would have had no problem with them passing Juve and any other club that had failed to truly impress. As you’ve mentioned before in the comments, this list heavily weighs form, as can be seen in City’s ranking above. On talent, City is probably second to only Barcelona and Real Madrid, and their results in England justify a higher spot. But with three losses in the last 30 days, it’s not difficult to see a talented Benfica side beating them right now. Same goes for a resourceful Juve.

Why is it that week in week out the top three teams in the rankings seem to be engraved in stone, while everyone else is moving around??? — Milan4life, via comments

We’re not going to move clubs around just for variety’s sake. These rankings may have entertainment value as their main motive, but we’d like that entertainment to come from the pitch, not our imaginations.

Farley, I should bring to your attention that we just beat City 3-2 in the FA cup — ManURebel via comments

Nearly giving up a three goal lead to a team playing with 10 men isn’t something to recommend a team. We’re not giving out silverware here. We’re looking not only at results but circumstances to determine which teams deserve recognition. After that match, it was difficult to assert Manchester United was a top team.

Until next time, you can provide your feedback via email (, on Twitter (@RichardFarley), or for those who want to talk it out with the rest of the community, there’s the comments section, below.