Jonah Freedman
Friday December 26th, 2008

This is it, footie fanatics: the last Rankings of 2008. By now, the top spot should be inarguable for anyone who follows the Beautiful Game. But man, isn't it crazy how things can change so quickly in the sport? Six months ago, Barcelona was the biggest mess of the big clubs. Ronaldinho's waistline took up more ink than anything the club did on the field, the locker room was splintering and the squad was turning on Frank Rijkaard. Now, they're the Greatest Show on Turf once again. Barça deservedly closes out the year as the undisputed No. 1. Happy Holidays to all and a Happy New Year as well. See ya in '09.

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Dec. 25.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1FC Barcelona
Previously: 1
FC Barcelona
Here's the line on the Barça scoring juggernaut at the winter break: an average three goals scored per game in both La Liga and the Champions League, including six matches in which the Blaugrana scored five or more. The best part is that not even a whisper of locker-room discord has made the rounds since Pep Guardiola inherited the reins. Kinda makes you wonder when Mount Eto'o is gonna blow, doesn't it?
Previously: 2
The dropoff from No. 1 is painfully precipitous right now, but Liverpool still sits atop the toughest league in the world -- barely. Bizarrely, despite good goal production, the offense has looked somewhat anemic over the past month or so, as the Reds have won one of their last five in Premier League play. How much are you relishing the return of Fernando Torres?
3Inter Milan
Previously: 3
Inter Milan
The beat(down) goes on for the Nerrazzuri in Serie A, where they're undefeated over three straight months. And despite it all, Inter's juicy Champions League draw has stolen the headlines away from its domestic dominance: José Mourinho vs. Sir Alex Ferguson once again? Pass the meat pies alla Milanese!
Previously: 4
Break up the Old Lady! (Man, that doesn't sound good, does it?) Juve is on an absolute tear, winning nine of its last 10 to enter the Serie A break a manageable six points behind Inter. Soon-to-be Italian citizen Amauri is one off the scoring lead, too, with 11 goals. Why Dunga is cracking jokes about a guy who will probably never accept a Brazil call-up is beyond me.
5Manchester United
Previously: 5
Manchester United
As far as trophies go, Man U's Club World Cup title is last and certainly least on its list of accomplishments in 2008. Still, coming home from Japan with another piece of hardware isn't a bad way to spend a long flight (between sips of champagne and lovely first-class service). By the way, if you didn't catch the latest episode of I'm on Setanta Sports, check it out now -- the bit with a late-night karaoke-ing Wayne Rooney is priceless.
6Bayern Munich
Previously: 6
Bayern Munich
The pretzel-munchers head into the winter break even with upstart Hoffenheim atop the Bundesliga, but with an inferior goal differential. But at least they're contending again and could be an outside threat to get to the later rounds of the Champions League. Best side note of the week: Club officials are not pleased that Allianz Arena is melted into schnitzel in the new Keanu Reeves sci-fi disaster flick The Day the Earth Stood Still. Apparently, Bayern was never consulted nor asked for permission. As Neo himself might say, "Whoa."
7Atlético Madrid
Previously: 10
Atlético Madrid
Don't look now, but los Colchoneros haven't dropped a game since losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League back in October -- that's 15 straight games undefeated in all competitions. And all of a sudden, Atlético is back in the race in La Liga, too -- well, the race for second, that is. And if high-scoring Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán aren't enough for you, Argentina's '06 World Cup star Maxi Rodríguez is back in the mix, too, with eight goals in his last 12 games.
Previously: 7
The plaudits Luiz Felipe Scolari was receiving earlier in the season for engineering pretty, entertaining soccer have now devolved into calls for the Brazilian's head as Chelsea has lost all of its bite. That's two straight games and counting now in which the Blues have failed to capitalize on opportunities to take back the EPL lead. In fact, Chelsea has only one win in its past five league matches.
9São Paulo
Previously: 9
São Paulo
The beer stains from a sixth Brazilian title are still wet, yet the club is busy preparing for next season. São Paulo inked a two-year, $8 million sponsorship deal with German electronics giant Siemens (Real Madrid's former shirt sponsor) that gives the club some deep pockets to reinforce the squad for a run at the '09 Copa Libertadores. Already in the fold are veteran striker Washington, center back Renato Silva and left back Júnior César. How about one more name to throw in the rumor mill? Heard of that Rivaldo guy?
10Boca Juniors
Previously: --
Boca Juniors
There are some things I'll never get about Argentine soccer. What's the advantage of a two-seasons-per-year-system? Why does goal differential not figure into the standings, yet it does in a three-team playoff? Why do all the official decisions always seem to go Boca's way? Never mind -- when you win a 23rd league title in arguably the world's most underrated league, you make the grade here. Juan Román Riquelme and his cast of kids were fantastic all season. That, anyone can get.
Honorable mentions: Aston Villa, TSG Hoffenheim, Tigre, AC Milan, FC Porto, Hamburger SV, Ajax Amsterdam, CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos, FC Twente
Dropped off: Villarreal

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