Jonah Freedman
Thursday August 20th, 2009

Like a recurring ulcer, we're back after a summer of excess and decadence. When we last checked in, Cristiano Ronaldo was still a Red Devil, AC Milan looked competitive and the U.S. national team looked like it could beat Spain, no problem. Honest. In any case, we're getting the Rankings machine going again after a blistering summer of some serious cash moving around, despite the supposedly slow economy.

Will the balance of power shift this year? Perhaps. It's going to be a thrill watching Real Madrid try to unseat Barcelona with its remade roster, and it's very possible Manchester United will give up its English Premier League crown for the first time in four years. Serie A may be a bit longer in the tooth, but it looks like the Bundesliga is up for grabs again. In South America, it's anyone's game, and in CONCACAF, well, we just want you to watch. (Let's go, San Juan Jabloteh!)

Seeing as we're ringing in our fourth year of doing these Rankings, it's probably a good time for a refresher course. The modus operandi here is that we are not doing a rundown of the 10 best clubs in the world. What this is is a reflection of the shifts in power between the biggest and most successful clubs in the major spheres of power around the world.

Regional competitions such as UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores are given a certain amount of heft, as these tournaments are the bellwethers of who holds the power, but winning trophies in tough leagues and other tourneys are also crucial. Most weeks, you'll find European clubs dominate because that's where the money goes in the Beautiful Game. But as a rule, we make a point to include at least one non-Euro team each week, and that's at the risk of angering, annoying and just plain inducing laughter. We're big boys over here in Rankingsville; we can take it.

Speaking of which, feel free to e-mail me here with any missives you see fit. Criticism is welcome, as long as it's intelligent banter (calling me names is an invitation for the "Trash" button). Winning lottery numbers are always encouraged, too. Enjoy!

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Aug. 19.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1FC Barcelona
Previously: --
FC Barcelona
The pressure is squarely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic: How do you make a team that tallied a near record in points, scored almost three goals a game and won everything last season better? "Exactly," he told SI.com shortly after signing for Barça. "The team is already on top. I [came here] to bring something different that I'm good at." At a towering 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he's a lot bigger and stronger than departed Samuel Eto'o, that's for sure. But does he have the heart? Game on. (Stay tuned for a full Q&A with Zlatan next week.)
 
2Chelsea
Previously: --
Chelsea
The Blues are the trendy pick to win back the English Premier League crown, and with good reason: Carlo Ancelotti is about as steady and stable a manager as you're going to find, and he'll have no trouble getting the most out of this group. Looking forward, he also gives Chelski a bona fide entrée into attracting Serie A players to Stamford Bridge. "Carletto" is still hot to bring over Andrea Pirlo and -- really sticking it to his former employer -- Alexandre Pato.
 
3Real Madrid
Previously: --
Real Madrid
Ronaldo, Kaká, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, etc. all for the low, low price of $365 million! What more is there to add about los Galácticos II? The pressure on this high-priced roster to win is going to be insane, and I wouldn't give all that money to switch places with Manuel Pellegrini right now. (That's a huge lie -- yes I would.) Still, whether it succeeds beautifully or fails like the first go-around, we'll be plastered to our TVs for the first mega-Clásico with Barcelona in November.
 
4Inter Milan
Previously: --
Inter Milan
José Mourinho leaned on his "this isn't my team yet" stick all of last season, his first at the San Siro. Lúcio, Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Eto'o are all nice pickups, but if this is more "his team," I'm not exactly running out to buy an Inter jersey just yet. Still, he's got the most talent in Serie A -- especially young guys like Mario Balotelli, Davide Santon and Kerlon. The Special One has enough for a fifth straight Scudetto. But that elusive Champions League trophy? If there isn't more help on the way, I wouldn't bet on it.
 
5Estudiantes de La Plata
Previously: --
Estudiantes de La Plata
A delayed shout-out to the new South American champions. It can't be said enough how impressive Juan Sebastián Verón's Magic Johnson act has been for Estudiantes. Rarely in soccer can one player take an entire team on his back and make good players extraordinary. During his South American comeback, La Brujita guided his club to the Argentine Clausura 2006 title (its first league crown in 23 years), to the '08 Copa Sudamericana final (its first international final in 37 years) and now, its first Copa Libertadores crown in 39 years.
 
6Arsenal
Previously: --
Arsenal
It's all over for Arsène Wenger and the gang, eh? Not yet. The Gunners are the story of the early season, first with their 6-1 smackdown of Everton at Goodison Park, then by grabbing two (very ugly) away goals at Celtic Park in the final round of Champions League qualifying. This may not last long, and the predicted struggles may set in soon. But for now, I'm going to enjoy watching high-flying Andrei Arshavin, the always thrilling Cesc Fàbregas and electric Eduardo try to piece together a run.
 
7VfL Wolfsburg
Previously: --
VfL Wolfsburg
The defending Bundesliga champs picked up right where they left off with two straight wins to open the season. Can new manager Armin Veh guide Wolfsburg to back-to-back titles, becoming the first club not named Bayern to do so in 14 years? He's certainly giving his team the chance, holding onto German Player of the Year Edin Dzeko and giving the Bosnian some cover with striker Obafemi Martins.
 
8Juventus
Previously: --
Juventus
Three additions have given the Old Lady her strongest squad since the Calciopoli scandal sent her biggest stars scrambling for new clubs. The Brazilian midfield pair of Diego and Felipe Melo instantly make Juve more dynamic, and even though Fabio Cannavaro has lost a step, his maturity and leadership will help immensely. In the meantime, look for Sebastian Giovinco to have a breakout season under promoted-from-within Ciro Ferrara.
 
9Manchester City
Previously: --
Manchester City
City certainly is making good on its promise to steal the spotlight in Manchester. The remade Citizens have splashed out some $138 million in fees alone for Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry, Kolo Touré and Roque Santa Cruz, and they're probably not done. Now crafting a team out of all this that can actually win is the real question, and an unenviable task for Mark Hughes. City's Arab owners say the top six is the target -- just like the last owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, told Sven-Göran Eriksson...
 
10Liverpool
Previously: --
Liverpool
Man U has a loss, too -- why is the 'Pool here instead? Because the Reds didn't lose to a team that just made the top flight for the first time in 33 years. Despite doing little this offeseason (and losing some big pieces), Rafa Benítez still has a stronger squad than most are giving him credit for. If Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard can stay healthy and hot, the Reds have a good shot at making some unexpected noise.
 
Honorable mentions: Manchester United, Girondins de Bordeaux, São Paulo, Sevilla

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