Commentary

World Power Rankings

This week, top clubs were tripped up by opponents both big and small

Updated: March 8, 2011, 8:43 AM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

In a seismic week in world soccer, top clubs tripped up on opponents both big and small, causing dramatic movement in our World Power Rankings.

1. (Last week: 1) Barcelona

23 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws (league); 4-1-2 (Champions League)

Barcelona literally played circles around hapless host Mallorca on Saturday to notch yet another all-too-easy win in the Primera Division. In the 38th minute, Lionel Messi, who probably should have scored after a give-and-go with Andres Iniesta in the 31st, let bounce an improbably high chip by Seydou Keita, nodded it on, rounded his man, and then headed it over the goalkeeper in his best seal impression. In the 57th, Mallorca's high line caught up with it when David Villa strolled by on a through ball, eventually rounding the keeper, who could only give chase on all fours. Then, in the 66th, Pedro rammed one in from the edge of the box to make it 3-0. On Wednesday, third-place Valencia, undefeated in 2011 and for nine straight home games, put up fierce resistance, pressuring Barca well. In spite of creating five good chances -- three for Messi, two for Villa -- in the first half, it took Barca until deep into the second half for Messi to finally score the winner on splendid service from Adriano.

2. (2) Real Madrid

20-2-4 (league); 5-0-2 (Champions League)

Much of Real's game at Deportivo on Saturday went by without yielding anything worth writing about. Only in the 78th minute did a first chance present itself, when Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick was saved fairly routinely. A minute later, Emmanuel Adebayor connected on a cross but the post, as it tends to, won out over the ball. Fearing the scorn of his brother, the other post beat the ball, too, when Ronaldo took a shot after an elegant run in the 82nd minute. Finally, in the 84th, Karim Benzema somehow muffed a tap-in, leaving things at a status quo-honoring 0-0. Spilling points the week after making up two on Barca, Real fell behind Barca by 10 points. But in an amazing about-face, on Thursday Real destroyed Malaga to the tune of 7-0, which included a hat-trick for Ronaldo. Although Los Blancos still have a long way to go to catch Barca, they sure provided some nice entertainment at the Bernabeu on Thursday.

3. (6) Borussia Dortmund

18-2-4 (league); 2-1-3 (Europa League)*

However it turned out, Dortmund's Saturday showdown at Bayern Munich was going to be a watershed moment. It if won, it would all but wrap up the title. If it lost, it could one day be looked back on as the moment everything fell apart, since it had already been misplacing points, drawing three of its past five league games. On the day, Bayern never once looked like it was going to threaten Dortmund's hegemony. In the fourth minute, Bayern gave the ball away and Dortmund rumbled down the field and scored on a simple Lucas Barrios finish. In the 16th, a Franck Ribery cross was karate-kicked in by Luis Gustavo to equalize. But Dortmund remained superior, since just two minutes later Nuri Sahin curled the ball in beautifully from 20 yards out to put his side ahead for good on its way to a 3-1 win.

4. (5) FC Porto

19-0-2 (league); 6-1-1 (Europa League)

The blue-and-white train steamed on in Portugal -- still undefeated, still unstoppable. On Saturday, its latest casualty was Olhanense, which rolled over in a 3-0 defeat. This time around, Fernando Belluschi (one) and Radamel Falcao (two) scored the goals. Between the all-but-won Liga Sagres and a spot in the final 16 of the Europa League, this could turn out to be a nice year for Porto's already overstuffed trophy case.

[+] EnlargeWesley Sneijder
Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty ImagesInter extended its league winning streak to three straight thanks in part to Wesley Sneijder.

5. (7) Inter Milan

16-6-5 (league); 3-3-1 (Champions League)

Inter extended its league winning streak to three straight, also getting its sixth win in seven games by scampering past Sampdoria in a drab Sunday affair. In the first half, Sampdoria hit the post. In the second, Wesley Sneijder took advantage of Sampdoria's difficulty building a sturdy wall by quickly whipping a ball in from 30 yards. In the final minute of the game, Samuel Eto'o made it 2-0.

6. (4) Manchester United

17-2-9 (league); 4-0-3 (Champions League)

In Tuesday's hotly anticipated bout at Chelsea, United got off to a good start when Wayne Rooney wasn't closed down at the edge of the box and blistered the ball through a corridor leading into the net by the near post in the 29th minute. In the 54th, however, United failed to close down David Luiz on a cross that was headed on, allowing him to volley home the equalizer. United had a right to feel aggrieved when Yuri Zhirkov went down in the box after being grazed by Chris Smalling, making it 2-1 Chelsea on a Frank Lampard PK, and seeing Nemanja Vidic get a red card when Luiz could have done with one, too. Overall, though, Chelsea ended up outmuscling and out-playing United in the second half for a deserved win. So instead of building some momentum after its Saturday win over Wigan, which would have taken United seven points clear at the top, Alex Ferguson's men stumbled -- reopening the title race.

7. (3) Arsenal

17-5-5 (league); 5-2-0 (Champions League)

For the past six years, Arsenal has been the best club in the world that doesn't win things. Sunday brought a rare opportunity to collect a trophy since snapping up the FA Cup in 2005. Of course, the Gunners blew it. We'll spare the ugly details for Arsenal fans, and at least there was a bright spot for them this week. It came on Wednesday, when Arsene Wenger's men easily defeated Leyton Orient in the fifth round FA Cup replay. Perhaps the worst bit of news, though, wasn't the Carling Cup loss but that Robin van Persie injured his knee during that match and will be out for three weeks, missing the Champions League return match against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

[+] EnlargeZlatan Ibrahimovic
Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty IMagesZlatan Ibrahimovic helped AC Milan to a win over second-place Napoli.

8. (10) AC Milan

17-3-7 (league); 2-3-2 (Champions League)

Continuing to play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with itself, Milan won its third league game in a row on Monday, extending its unbeaten run to 10 games. This just a week and a half after being soundly outplayed by Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League. The timing was perfect, as Milan was facing second-place Napoli, the season's revelation. Napoli didn't look like anything special against Milan, however, in a game that was watchable only in the second half. In the 48th minute, a Napoli defender gave Milan striker Pato a smack as they tussled for the ball, incurring a penalty kick, which Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted. Two subsequent Pato breakaways made it 3-0.

9. (8) Napoli

16-7-4 (league); 1-2-4 (Europa League)*

When this week began, Napoli looked like a solid contender for the Europa League and a threat to AC Milan for the Serie A title. Today, it looks like neither. Last Thursday, Napoli hosted Villarreal in its second leg in the Round of 32. While Ezequiel Lavezzi helped put Napoli ahead (the first leg had ended 0-0) by serving Marek Hamsik's head the goal on a platter, Nilmar cleverly equalized on the break and Giuseppe Rossi scored the winner when his shot took a freak deflection. On Monday, Napoli took the aforementioned trouncing from Milan, putting it six points off the lead and dropping it into third place, behind Inter.

10. (9) Bayern Munich

12-6-6 (league); 6-1-0 (Champions League)

Bayern has spent this most frustrating of seasons taking one step forward only to take two steps back time and again. Last Wednesday, it had fired on all cylinders to avenge its Champions League final loss of last season in a deserved 1-0 win over Inter. But once again Bayern failed to seize the momentum by stumbling to Dortmund 3-1 on Saturday, irrevocably bouncing it from the title race. Bayern is now down to fourth place and 16 points out. To make matters worse, Schalke 04 put an end to Bayern's German Cup defense on Wednesday too, as Raul nodded the game's only goal in early after which Schalke set about staving off the equalizer -- with success.


* eliminated from continental competition

Disagree with our rankings? Argue your differences in the Comments section below. The continental competitions and top-tier leagues from the following countries were included for consideration in the above rankings: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, CONCACAF Champions League, Copa Libertadores, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Ukraine, United States.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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