Jonah Freedman
Thursday December 11th, 2008

It's been a dizzying couple weeks of action around the world: The Champions League and UEFA Cup group stages are coming to an end, the Latin American leagues are naming their champs, the Copa Sudamericana has crowned a new winner and the quarterfinal draw is complete for the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League.

And if it's mid-December, that can mean only one thing: It's FIFA Club World Cup time. Jump up and down! Wait, you're not jumping. What's the matter with you? Actually, I'm finding it hard to get excited myself, and it's not for lack of trying. Read my take on this year's FIFA's Folly on my Throw-Ins Blog.

Manchester United certainly could do without the Club World Cup this winter. The defending European champs are wrapping a busy week of defending their title, traveling to London this weekend for a showdown with a suddenly dangerous Tottenham Hotspur team and then jetting off to Japan next week. Hope Sir Alex Ferguson has a team's worth supply of Ambien.

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Dec. 10.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1FC Barcelona
Previously: 1
FC Barcelona
Barça has outscored three of its five closest pursuers in the Spanish-league standings (Valencia, Sevilla and Atlético Madrid) by a combined 13-1 this season. Up next on the schedule are the other two, Real Madrid and Villarreal. That's why Madrid (and presumably new manager Juande Ramos) is quaking in its boots at the prospect of Saturday's Clásico at the Camp Nou -- Pep Guardiola's men haven't forgotten their humiliating 4-1 loss to Real at the Bernabéu last May.
 
2Liverpool
Previously: 2
Liverpool
'Pool faithful have got to be heartened by their team's come-from-behind win over PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday, a victory that clinched the Reds first place in Group B in the Champions League. It was a gutty effort by a young, mostly second-string unit -- Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Alberto Riera and David Ngog, in particular -- which suggests Liverpool now has the depth it has lacked in seasons past to make a real run at the English Premier League title.
 
3Inter Milan
Previously: 4
Inter Milan
Riddle us this, Nerazzurros: How can Inter be undefeated in 10 straight Serie A games, yet winless in its past three Champions League games? Methinks this suggests that the three-time defending Italian champs are still in over their heads when it comes to balancing their schedule, a trend that has dogged them badly in recent years. European success is what José Mourinho was hired for, so let's hope the Special One is getting through to his troops -- at least the ones who haven't tuned him out.
 
4Juventus
Previously: 6
Juventus
The Bianconeri are slowly returning to their pre-Calciopoli status as one of the game's elite. They've won seven of their last eight games in Serie A, with the lone loss a 1-0 setback to Inter -- whom they're now just six points behind -- and enter the Champions League round of 16 as a group-winner, despite Wednesday's dull draw with Belarusian club BATE. There's also talk of calling in reinforcements in January, with Werder Bremen stud Diego tops on the list.
 
5Manchester United
Previously: 7
Manchester United
Here come the Red Devils. Man. United won its record 19th straight Champions League game on Wednesday, is undefeated in its past four EPL games and -- not that you care -- is the only Big Four club still kicking in the Carling Cup. Whether Carlos Tévez stays or not, he seems to have snapped his spell. Maybe it's the rumors of acquiring French goal machine Karim Benzema from Lyon that have lit a fire under him?
 
6Bayern Munich
Previously: 8
Bayern Munich
If you missed Bayern's thrilling come-from-behind win over plucky Hoffenheim last Friday, shame on you. Besides being able to see how good a team the Bundesliga debutantes actually are, you missed some of the best fighting spirit Bayern has exhibited in years. The 21-time champs have grabbed a share of first again and march on in the Champions League. Meanwhile, are we alone in wondering if part of Jürgen Klinsmann's decision to take Landon Donovan on loan is meant to send a message to Lukas Podolski? The German international is too good to give up on, and we know Klinsi has a load of Phil Jackson-like motivational tricks up his new-age sleeves.
 
7Chelsea
Previously: 5
Chelsea
If you're downplaying the significance of Chelsea needing the last round of group-stage games to advance in the Champions League, you're dreaming. The Blues were flirting with disaster in a must-win game and shouldn't have had that much trouble with a club from Transylvania. This injury-hit bunch needs help, and it looks as if someone may be on the way after all. But who? Michael Owen? Amr Zaki? Tuncay Sanli? Braga's Orlando Sá? CSKA Moscow's Vágner Love? And does a club this goal-gifted really need another scorer?
 
8Villarreal
Previously: 3
Villarreal
The Yellow Submarine's comeback from a 3-0 deficit against plucky Getafe last weekend was impressive. But it begs the question, why did Villarreal get itself into that mess in the first place? Just one win in its last three La Liga games has this club trailing Barça by four points, and it was disappointing to see it throw in the towel at Celtic on Wednesday, which assured Villarreal would be a second-place finisher in the Champions League. On the plus side, our boy Jozy Altidore may be selected to the roster for the knockout rounds after starting two straight league games.
 
9São Paulo
Previously: 9
São Paulo
Three straight Brazilian Championships down, and a record sixth overall: a brilliant achievement considering the Tricolor Paulista was a whopping 11 points off the lead at midseason. How to explain the killer instinct down the stretch? No Copa Sudamericana to worry about. São Paulo bowed out of Latin America's second-tier cup in the early phases to focus on league play. As Tim Vickery wrote earlier this week, São Paulo brass prioritizes its goals the right way, and would rather chase the big fish -- the Copa Libertadores -- early in the year, and then move on to the league title. A hearty felicitações to Rogério Ceni and his teammates.
 
10Atlético Madrid
Previously: --
Atlético Madrid
In my mind, this spot was up for grabs, and Porto, AC Milan and a handful of others -- even Internacional, for its first Copa Sudamericana title -- had a decent claim on it. But we hand the charity stripe to los Colchoneros. They may still be nine points back in La Liga, but outside of unstoppable Barcelona, no one has been hotter: Atlético is undefeated in its past 13 games in all competitions, and has rolled into the Champions League knockout rounds in its first participation in 12 years despite being drawn into arguably the toughest group.
 
Honorable mentions: FC Porto, TSG Hoffenheim, SC Internacional, Olympique Lyonnais, CSKA Moscow, Aston Villa, Ajax Amsterdam, Boca Juniors, Sporting Lisbon, Tigre
Dropped off: Al-Ahly Cairo

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