Jonah Freedman
Thursday December 10th, 2009

You missed us. And we appreciate it. We skipped out last time for MLS Cup duty which, of course, left a big hole in all our club-ranking hearts. But seriously, how are we supposed to focus this week? Admit it: We've all got World Cup fever. Six months is just far too long to wait. Even looking down this week's rundown, we're finding it hard to look at each club objectively. All we see is Barcelona and Real Madrid, each with five Spanish national-teamers, Manchester United with five England players and Chelsea, the grand-daddy of them all so far, with as many as 20 players who likely will play in South Africa next summer -- eight of them in the Group of Death alone!

Still, we have a job to do here. So enjoy this week's rundown, and remember to click on the "Email Jonah" link above to spit venom in my general direction. (And stay tuned for SI.com's very first Soccer Podcast, co-hosted by yours truly and Goal.com's Noah Davis -- we'll break down the World Cup draw and speak with three-time World Cup veteran and former U.S. national-team legend Brian McBride.)

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Dec. 9.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1FC Barcelona
Previously: 2
FC Barcelona
It's good to be on top again. The defending everything champs are starting to look like their unbeatable selves again, with a nice lead in La Liga (padded by a solid win over archrival Real Madrid) and an easy run-in to the Champions League group phase. Sit back and watch Lionel Messi collect all the year-end hardware, Zlatan Ibrahimovic dazzling in more ways than you can count and an uneventful holiday in Abu Dhabi -- uh, I mean, participation in the FIFA Club World Cup.
 
2Manchester United
Previously: 5
Manchester United
Two points back in the Premier League, easily through in the Champions League and eyeing a Carling Cup semifinal against those light-blue guys across town, things are looking pretty good at Old Trafford despite the spate of injuries raining down on Alex Ferguson's men. Still, it's a little comical that the back line is so ravaged, Sol Campbell may be brought in as a temporary replacement. Add the out-of-work center back to a roster of geriatrics and oft-injured veterans such as Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Wes Brown, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen, and you've got one-quarter of England's 2002 World Cup roster.
 
3Chelsea
Previously: 1
Chelsea
The Blues are looking decidedly vulnerable of late, from bowing out on penalties to Blackburn in the Carling Cup, to getting flat-out beat at Manchester City, to coughing up a home game to a team from Cyprus in the Champions League. They may still be on top of the EPL, but that's a lot of bad karma in a seven-day span. To make matters worse, Rankingsville favorite Michael Essien is out up to a month with a torn hamstring after Tuesday's clunker against APOEL Nicosia. Which begs the question: From Chelsea's point of view, is it better he gets hurt now and not risk injury at next month's African Cup of Nations?
 
4Inter Milan
Previously: 7
Inter Milan
Yes, the three-time defending Serie A champs were beaten fair and square at Juventus last weekend, but Inter is starting to resemble the powerhouse it should be. The Nerazzurri still are leading the pack in Italy and have progressed to the Champions League knockout phase. Mario Balotelli and Samuel Eto'o are looking like one of the most potent strike pairing in Europe, and Wesley Sneijder is looking like an inspired signing. We're all waiting around as usual, of course, for Inter's karma machine to screw it all up.
 
5Real Madrid
Previously: --
Real Madrid
Finally, some good news at the Bernabéu. Despite Real's 1-0 loss to Barça, Manuel Pellegrini is working his way back into the Madridistas' favor, with four wins out of five in league play and a solid performance at Marseille to progress in the Champions League. To make things rosier, Cristiano Ronaldo is back from his long layoff and is producing -- which has brought and end to a mind-numbing run of 1-0 wins.
 
6AC Milan
Previously: --
AC Milan
Milan? Really? We can't believe it either. After writing off Leonardo as too inexperienced to coach this club and laughing off his veteran squad as too long in the tooth, the Rossoneri have been on an absolute tear. They've won seven of their last eight (and haven't lost in 10 straight) in Serie A to climb all the way to second place and also have done just enough to squeeze into the last 16 of the Champions League. True, Milan didn't impress all that much in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with FC Zürich, but this might be a team you don't want to face in the next round.
 
7Girondins de Bordeaux
Previously: 8
Girondins de Bordeaux
The defending French champs aren't going away. Les Girondins are still on top of Ligue 1 by four points after a two-game stumble last month. Laurent Blanc's crew also enters the Champions League round of 16 as a top finisher, which may keep it alive for a few more games. Bordeaux's close-out win over Maccabi Haifa allowed Blanc to give a second-string lineup some time, which may help with depth as the season progresses.
 
8Sevilla
Previously: 4
Sevilla
Much like Arsenal, which was pushing hard toward the top of the EPL, Sevilla's quest to hang with the Big Two took a bit of a hit lately (way less so than the Gunners, however). Las Sevillistas have fallen to fourth place in La Liga after two straight draws. But, again like Arsenal, Sevilla finished on top of its Champions League group and has the talent to hang around for awhile. But losing creative spark Luís Fabiano until next month with a badly sprained ankle hurts. He'd better hurry back before Fredi Kanouté and Didier Zokora disappear for Cup of Nations duty or Sevilla will be way thinner on scoring threats.
 
9Flamengo
Previously: --
Flamengo
Returning the freshly crowned Brazilian champs to these Rankings surely will please some of our Twitter followers (we're looking at you, @rikerland), and we're comfortable in putting them here. After all, they won 12 of their final 17 games to finish on top of what we think is a highly underrated marathon Brasileirão tournament. But like SI.com's Tim Vickery, we simply wish Flamengo's rivals put up more of a fight. Palmeiras crashed hard, losing six of its last 10, while São Paulo faded down the stretch and Internacional got hot too late. Still, we're happy to see the mercurially talented Adriano on top again. We'd toast him with a cold one, but that seems insensitive.
 
10LDU de Quito
Previously: --
LDU de Quito
Let's be clear: Liga occupies the charity spot for winning the Copa Sudamericana, South America's version of the NIT. And for that, we salute the Ecuadorians, who add to a two-year haul that includes the '08 Copa Libertadores and Recopa Sudamericana. But this is a one-week pass -- LDU bowed out of Ecuador's bizarre four-phased league system in the semis. Still, we enjoyed seeing a team reinforced with a good portion of Ecuador's '06 World Cup roster get a last taste of glory. Kudos to Tricolor veterans Édison Méndez, Ulises de la Cruz, Néicer Reasco and Cristian Lara.
 
Honorable mentions: Juventus, FK Rubin Kazan, Olympiakos, SL Benfica, Arsenal, Werder Bremen, Valencia, FC Twente, PSV Eindhoven, Banfield
Dropped off: Arsenal, Juventus, Pohang Steelers, TP Mazembe

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