Jonah Freedman
Thursday March 19th, 2009

We're going to get on with it this week since I'm highly distracted by MLS starting back up. Why, because I think there's a high probability of a Chicago-Chivas USA final? Sure. But here at the San Francisco home base, we're salivating over the possibility of a Pacific seaboard six-way mega-rivalry by 2011: Vancouver and Portland to go along with the L.A. Galaxy, Chivas USA, San Jose and Seattle. Talk about a West Coast bias. And if you're into big Euro clubs touring the U.S., it looks as if Chelsea, Barcelona and both Milan clubs will be swinging through both coasts this summer. Road trip, anyone?

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through March 18.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1Manchester United
Previously: 1
Manchester United
That 4-1 drubbing at home to Liverpool was stunning, but let's not panic here. Man. United still has a good four-point lead with a game in hand and all but three of its remaining 10 English Premier League games are against clubs in the lower half of the table. The wildcard is how well it can juggle the latter stages of the Champions League and the FA Cup.
2FC Barcelona
Previously: 2
FC Barcelona
After going winless in five straight in all competitions, Barça seems to have rebounded from its little blip. But the dangers are the same: chasing Champions League glory and a 25th Copa del Rey title. They'd better get their licks in now, because starting in late April, this is their La Liga schedule over four games: home vs. Sevilla, at Valencia, at Real Madrid and home against Villarreal. Yikes.
Previously: 5
Guus Hiddink has brought a new swagger to Stamford Bridge, but I don't think it's any coincidence that Chelsea is winning again with Michael Essien back in the lineup after a six-month injury layoff. We've said this before, but in terms of the impact one player can have on any given game and the way the opponent is impacted, there aren't many on earth who are more of a force to be reckoned with than the Ghanaian midfielder.
Previously: 6
The 'Pool is back. After that stirring victory at Old Trafford -- its biggest there since 1936 -- it trails Chelsea for second on goal differential. Still, as usual, it's Champions League on the brain after its 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid. "We are not running scared of anybody," said Steven Gerrard to Setanta Sports. "I think it is the other seven teams in the draw who are going to have concerns about coming up against us after that Real Madrid result." With the Reds' record of bucking the odds in Europe, you'd be a fool to bet against newly re-signed Rafa Benítez & Co.
5Real Madrid
Previously: 3
Real Madrid
While I agree with my colleague Gabriele Marcotti that merely a few tweaks are needed to fix what ails Real, that doesn't excuse what was a monstrous collapse against Liverpool. Los Blancos looked humbled, weak and powerless against a team that, frankly, they should have beaten. If you think the uncertainty and scandal in the boardroom hasn't trickled down to the players, watch the tape and think again.
6Inter Milan
Previously: 4
Inter Milan
I think we're a little too hasty if we fault José Mourinho for yet another Champions League exit. Yes, the Special One was brought in to cure this very sickness at the San Siro, but the city of Milan wasn't built in a day and neither will be Mourinho's stamp on this team. Give him another offseason to recruit the players he wants (hello, Didier Drogba; ciao, Hernán Crespo) and then we'll talk. For now, a 17th Serie A title and sixth Coppa Italia will have to do.
7FC Porto
Previously: 8
FC Porto
We can detract from the Dragons for dominating a second-tier league and for getting a favorable draw against Atlético Madrid. But there's no denying this simple fact: They've reached the knockout stages of the Champions League four times in the past five years and have been competitive each time. That's what you point to when you talk about long-standing dynasties. Though it'll be awhile before Porto pulls another shocking title grab, à la '03-04.
8Boca Juniors
Previously: 7
Boca Juniors
Boca's start to the Argentine Clausura campaign has been dicey, but the club has made it clear the Copa Libertadores is the main goal. And los Xeneizes are swimming in that department, even though they're not yet flexing their muscles. Their 3-1 comeback win at Guaraní of Paraguay on Wednesday all but clinched a spot in the knockout rounds (though that phantom foul for the equalizing penalty kick left me with a bitter taste in my mouth). Of particular concern, though, is the mercurial Juan Román Riquelme, who persists in showing up only when he wants to.
9São Paulo
Previously: --
São Paulo
The other Libertadores co-favorite is back on here, and is also a result away from advancing thanks to a tough 1-0 win at Defensor Sporting of Uruguay on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the three-time South American champs are engaged in their usual dogfight in the Campeonato Paulista (a.k.a. the only Brazilian state tournament halfway worth following) with the usual suspects: Palmeiras, Corinthians and Santos. The crosstown quartet is separated by six points.
10Bayern Munich
Previously: --
Bayern Munich
Nothing like drawing the weakest link in the European field to get back on your feet. With the two legs against Portugal's Sporting and last weekend's rout at Bundesliga bottom-feeder Bochum, Bayern has won its past three games by a combined 15-2. How long that lasts is another story, as it's still four points behind Hertha Berlin in league and has a 71 percent chance of drawing either Barcelona or an English club in the Champions League quarterfinals. And losing leading scorer Miroslav Klose for the rest of the season is a big, big deal.
Honorable mentions: Arsenal, Juventus, Cruzeiro, Olympique de Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Hertha Berlin, AZ Alkmaar, Libertad, Dynamo Kiev
Dropped off: Hamburger SV, Juventus

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