Jonah Freedman
Thursday March 5th, 2009

I blew it. I totally dropped the ball. I missed out on an exclusive one-on-one with Beckham, just like T.J. Simers. But unlike the lovable Los Angeles Times sourpuss, I didn't get dissed by Goldenballs. I was too busy talking to Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and a trio of Cubans to give Becks any time. Huh?

Of course, we're not talking about a certain (current? former?) L.A. Galaxy midfielder, but of former University of Georgia star Gordon Beckham, a Chicago White Sox prospect who's currently in Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz. That's where I've been for the past week, where the closest I got to the Beautiful Game was daily drives past the University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of the U.S.' 2-0 victory (what else?) over Mexico in a friendly two years ago.

We're back in Rankingsville, and there's a big shakeup at the top. You probably know what's coming...

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through March 4.

World Soccer Power Rankings
1Manchester United
Previously: 2
Manchester United
I think we all saw this one a mile away. With 11 straight wins, Man. United has extended its lead atop the English Premier League to seven points, still with a game in hand over second-place Chelsea. And the quest for the unprecedented quintuple is very much alive, with Alex Ferguson's men winning their second trophy of the season in the Carling Cup final last weekend. Are we witnessing history?
 
2FC Barcelona
Previously: 1
FC Barcelona
I really wanted to post Sid Lowe's terrific cover story from the March issue of World Soccer. I really wanted you to know how dominating Barça has been in La Liga; how its 59 goals at the winter break were the most ever; that its 590 minutes of possession were more than 100 better than second-place Real Madrid, that its 9,104 completed passes were some 2,000 more than its arch-nemesis. Curse that print lead time. The Blaugrana's lead suddenly is down to four points in Spain and they haven't won a game in any competition in nearly a month.
 
3Real Madrid
Previously: 5
Real Madrid
Break up los Blancos! Real has won 10 straight league matches and has closed the previously unassailable gap between Barça and the rest of La Liga. "Whoever thinks the chase is over is wrong," manager Juande Ramos told Spanish daily AS. Now there's just that little matter of somehow scoring a couple goals next week at Anfield.
 
4Inter Milan
Previously: 3
Inter Milan
It's getting slightly ugly for Inter. The Nerazzurri's lead in Serie A is still seven points, but they lost a 3-0 laugher Wednesday in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi matchup with Sampdoria. Not to mention the impotent showing at home against Man. United in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg. Meanwhile, Mario Balotelli and José Mourinho will be disciplined for their theatrics from a 3-3 draw vs. Roma last weekend -- the Special One said the referees were guilty of something he called "intellectual prostitution." If you say so, pretty boy.
 
5Chelsea
Previously: --
Chelsea
In Guus we trust. Look at how fast the Dutch Jedi Master Guus Hiddink has brightened the mood at Stamford Bridge (though I believe in my heart of hearts that Luiz Felipe Scolari would have righted the ship). The Blues are in the EPL race again -- or at least closer -- and can keep the momentum going if they can get past Coventry City (no problem) in the FA Cup quarters this weekend, then for an encore finish off Juventus (tricky, but doable) in the Champions League next week.
 
6Liverpool
Previously: 4
Liverpool
Stop me if you've heard this one: Liverpool's hopes of grabbing a first EPL title since 1990 continue to go up in smoke with each game, yet Rafa Benítez keeps working his magic best against seemingly superior European competition. Sooner or later, it'll be time to make a choice: Does Rafa exhaust his troops in pursuit an ultimately futile goal back home? Or go for the Champions League glory in which he has real experience and better know-how than many of his peers?
 
7Boca Juniors
Previously: 7
Boca Juniors
Boca stands alone here representing Latin America based on its spotless Copa Libertadores record thus far. Los Xeneizes came away with a thrilling last-minute win Wednesday night at Venezuela's Deportivo Táchira thanks to a beautiful Luciano Figueroa header off a Pablo Mouche cross. They should have little trouble with the tournament's Group 2 -- Boca is its only representative from one of South America's Big Two leagues.
 
8FC Porto
Previously: 6
FC Porto
Just like we called it, Atlético Madrid's dazzling attack ran roughshod over Porto's overmatched defense in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash. The Dragons were fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw, thanks to dual Lisandro López strikes to keep them in the game. Porto's back line (and keeper Helton, especially) is going to have to work to get behind the ball and hold down the fort in the friendly confines of the Estádio do Dragão next week. Those away goals are just a cushion.
 
9Hamburger SV
Previously: 9
Hamburger SV
Hamburg lost a golden chance to take sole possession of first in the Bundesliga last weekend with a disappointing 3-1 loss to Wolfsburg, its first defeat at home this season. But Martin Jol's men are still only a point behind Hertha Berlin, and they're going strong in the UEFA Cup (into the last 16) and the German Cup (into the semis). The only other German club alive in three competitions is Werder Bremen.
 
10Juventus
Previously: --
Juventus
The Old Lady is back on track in Serie A, undefeated in four straight and still hoping to catch Inter. She has her work in the Champions League cut out for her, though, hoping to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Chelsea back home in Turin next week. This is Pavel Nedved's swan song, and the Czech wizard wants to go out on top. Sorry, blondie, but there's a long way to go for that. (This in no way reflects any lingering bitterness towards the way Nedved carved up the U.S. at the '06 World Cup.)
 
Honorable mentions: Olympique Lyonnais, Cruzeiro, Paris Saint-Germain, CSKA Moscow, Hertha Berlin, AZ Alkmaar, Libertad, Caracas FC, Ajax Amsterdam, Dynamo Kiev
Dropped off: Aston Villa, São Paulo

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