SEVILLE – Power Rankings are inherently deceiving. The fact that they're posted at all implies importance, though that's really not the case. No matter how much work's put into creating a fair, defensible order, Power Rankings are always done in vain. They're an attempt to answer a question that exists precisely because we can never truly know which teams are better than the others. Yes, we can be reasonably sure which team is the world's best right now (provided we can agree on what "best" is), but as you descend the list, there's almost nothing concrete that distinguishes one club from the next.
There do, however, seem to be tiers of clubs - groups of teams whose resumes have similar strengths and weaknesses. Barcelona's resume is distinct, putting them on a level by themselves, while Real Madrid may more readily be grouped with one or two other clubs. Beyond that, a series of teams start to look the same, with our biases left to distinguish which clubs we rank above others. While the line between clubs one and two is clear and runs through a wide chasm, 10 and 11 are separated by a border that each side draws differently.
Thankfully, this is just "power ranking", not international diplomacy. Not only is the divide between lower ranking clubs hard to define, there's almost no point in doing so. We can only get so serious about an exercise that has no point beyond focusing a debate.
So with that in mind, let's start with the teams - nay, team - that's been dismissed from last week's list.
Napoli (last week: 9) : The Azzurri already had the weakest case of any of the ranking's club, with their results in the Champions League's toughest group (along with the performances they give when they're at their best) keeping them in the top 10. However, after Roma posted a 3-1 win Sunday at the San Paolo, Walter Mazzarri's team has no basis for consideration.
#10. Benfica (last week: NR)
League: 10-3-0, second place, Portugal's Primeira Liga
Cup(s): Will begin League Cup on Jan. 3; eliminated from Portuguese Cup in round of 16.
Europe: 3-3-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group C; will face Zenit St. Petersburg in round of 16.
Last 30 days: 4-1-1
Benfica fell behind early on Friday to visiting Rio Ave, but five goals between the 34th and 72nd minutes gave Portugal's co-leaders (on points) an impressive 5-1 victory. While a win over a relegation-embattled club isn't normally a head-turner, Benfica posted a five-spot on a team that had only allowed 14 goals in 12 previous league matches. It's the type of performance that helps distinguish the Águias from the three or four other clubs that have a claim to this spot.
Upcoming matches: Do not play again until January 3rd, at Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese Cup.
#9. Chelsea (5)
League: 10-2-4, fourth place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup; host Portsmouth on Jan. 8 in third round of the FA Cup
Europe: 3-2-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group E; will face Napoli in round of 16
Last 30 days: 4-1-3
With stronger weeks from the Italian teams that occupied the last spots on last week's list, Chelsea's draw at Wigan could have sent them tumbling out of the rankings. Instead, the Blues barely hang on, but for all the good Chelsea did with convincing wins versus Newcastle, Valencia and against a previously undefeated Manchester City, they rekindled doubts when they gave up an equalizer to Wigan (a weak team in a league showing surprising weaknesses) and seemed to have to hold on to leave the DW with a point.
Upcoming matches: at Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League, Thursday)
#8. Udinese (10)
League: 9-4-2, third place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will face Chievo on Jan. 11 in Coppa Italia round of 16.
Europe: 2-3-1, second place, UEFA Europa League's Group I; will face PAOK in the round of 32.
Last 30 days: 3-3-1
Udinese could have vaulted up the charts had they taken full points on Sunday at the Stadio Olimpio, but a draw at Lazio is nothing to scoff at, particularly given Giampiero Pinzi's 74th-minute equalizer pulled an own goal. Though the draw ceded their co-leadership of Italy to Juventus, a mid-week win over Celtic pushed the Bianconeri into Europa League's knockout rounds, where they got a fortunate draw.
Upcoming matches: Juventus (Serie A, Wednesday)
#7. Arsenal (8)
League: 9-2-5, fifth place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Eliminated in quarterfinals of Carling Cup; will host Leeds United on Jan. 9 in FA Cup
Europe: 3-2-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group F; will face AC Milan in round of 16.
Last 30 days: 4-1-3
Arsenal shouldn't have expected to get anything from the Etihad (which they didn't), but Sunday's big match did show a team capable of knocking off one of the world's best. Yes, the Gunners' defense is still Arsenal-ian, but Arsene Wenger's team went blow-for-blow with City on their turf, giving a performance that one could reasonably argue deserved a point. Although that means little to the standings, the Power Rankings are here to augment the picture, bumping the Gunners up a spot despite their losing ground in England.
Upcoming matches: at Aston Villa (Premier League, Wednesday)
#6. AC Milan (7)
League: 9-4-2, second place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will face Novara on Jan. 18 in Coppa Italia round of 16.
Europe: 2-3-1, second place; UEFA Champions League's Group H; will face Arsenal in round of 16.
Last 30 days: 3-3-1
Milan was more impressive than their 2-0 home win over Siena may superficially hint. The Rossoneri pummeled their guests over Saturday's first 45 minutes only to reach halftime scoreless. Their two second half goals weren't terribly impressive - an Antonio Nocerino deflected shot followed by a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty kick after Kevin-Prince Boateng fell over a defender. Still, Milan's combination of talent, fluidity and cohesion in the final third showed why Max Allegri's team has posted an impressive 33 goals in 16 games, six more than the league's next-highest total.
Upcoming matches: at Calgiari (Serie A, Tuesday)
#5. Juventus (6)
League: 9-6-0, first place, Italy's Serie A
Cup(s): Will face the winner of Roma-Fiorentina on Jan. 24 in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia.
Europe: Did not quality.
Last 30 days: 5-2-0
After being roughed up a bit in Rome last Monday (getting a point that looks especially good after Rome routed Napoli on Sunday), Juventus got back into the win column, posting a 2-0 victory against Novara in Turin. Though Juventus has already answered a number of questions this season, Wednesday's match in Udine provides another opportunity for a team that didn't qualify for Europe to show it deserves to be mentioned amongst the world's best. Reasonably, some still have doubts.
Upcoming matches: at Udinese (Serie A, Wednesday)
#4. Manchester City (4)
League: 13-2-1, first place, Barclays Premier League
Cup(s): Will face Liverpool in the semifinals of the Carling Cup; will face Manchester United in the FA Cup on Jan. 8.
Europe: 3-1-2, third place, UEFA Champions League's Group A; will face Porto in UEFA Europe League's round of 32.
Last 30 days: 4-1-2
Sunday's win over a tough, in-form Arsenal side would normally warrant a bump up the chart, but with Bayern Munich posting its own impressive result (more on that, below), Manchester City merely illustrated that there are four clubs that seem to be much better than the rest of the continent. With their relegation to Europa League, City does have a major pock on their resume, but looking at the bigger picture, it seems City have the misfortune of seeing their slips come in Europe (whereas others' have been in the league or cup). The farther we get from those Napoli results, the better case City has to penetrate the top three.
Upcoming matches: Stoke City (Premier League, Wednesday)
#3. Bayern Munich (3)
League: 12-1-4, first place, Germany's Bundesliga
Cup(s): Will face VfL Bochum on Dec. 20 in third round of DFB Pokal
Europe: 4-1-1, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group A; will face Basel in round of 16.
Last 30 days: 4-0-3
Giving visiting Köln false hope, Franck Ribery got sent off 33 minutes into Friday's match. With the score nil-nil, Stale Solbakken's team had reason to believe themselves on track for at least a point at the Allianz. Three minutes into the second half, Bayern squelched that belief, with Mario Gómez scoring the first en route to a 3-0 victory. In the end, Ribery's sending off gave FCB a chance to show off, though Jupp Heynckes can't be happy one of his stars excused himself for the match's final hour.
Upcoming matches: at Bochum (DFB Pokal, Tuesday)
#2. Real Madrid (2)
League: 13-1-2, first place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): Lead Ponferradina 2-0 after first leg of Copa del Rey round of 16 tie.
Europe: 6-0-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group D; will face CSKA Moscow in round of 16.
Last 30 days: 7-0-1
Much like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid did damage with 10 this weekend. Unlike Germany's leaders, the Merengues waited until they had control of the match before losing the advantage. When Pepe was dismissed in the 44th minute, los Blancos were already up 3-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan, eventually posting six on a team that had only conceded 11 times through La Liga's first 15 rounds.
Upcoming matches: Ponferradina (Copa del Rey, Tuesday)
#1. Barcelona (1)
League: 11-4-1, second place, Spain's Primera Division
Cup(s): Leads L'Hospitalet 1-0 after first leg of Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie
Europe: 5-1-0, first place, UEFA Champions League's Group H; will face Bayer Leverkusen in round of 16.
Other: Won FIFA World Club Cup, defeating Al-Sadd and Santos by a combined score of 8-0.
Last 30 days: 8-0-1
Over the nine games Barcelona played in the last month, they outscored their opposition 31-4. The teams they have faced include their arch rivals Real Madrid, Italy's defending champions and the kings of South America - all of whom they played away from the Nou Camp (and scored 10 goals against). Given Barcelona has long since expended any superlatives that could be used to describe their play, the best we can do is note they may now have reached a height none of us could have anticipated. More trophies, more goals, more lopsided results? By now, we've seen it all. Unfortunately, all that's left is to see them fall.
Upcoming matches: L'Hospitalet (Copa de Rey, Thursday)
Honorable mentions: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Manchester United (England), CSKA Moscow (Russia), Schalke (Germany), APOEL (Cyprus), Porto (Portugal), Tottenham Hotspur (England)
Look out for: Olympiakos (Greece), PSV (Netherlands), Lyon (France), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Lille (France)
Don't forget about: Internazionale (Italy), Basel (Switzerland), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Anderlecht (Belgium), Liverpool (England)
We've added some depth to the Honorable Mentions, adding two more categories. The Honorable Mentions will continue to be the clubs that got consideration for the top 10. "Look out for" attempts to draw attention to some clubs which are bringing themselves into the conversation, while "Don't forget about" are clubs which are either reestablishing their case or continue to linger at the edge of the conversation.
And speaking of conversation, on to your feedback:
WTH, man? Manchester United's not in the top 10? Do you even watch football? -- Richard, Los Angeles
Admittedly, this is me cheating, posting a question that's sure to be asked: Why is a team that was in first place in England for a few hours on Sunday not in the top 10? It's not a difficult question to answer.
United is less than two weeks removed from losing a must-win match to Basel, a result that put them out of the Champions League. Though they've looked good in the two matches that have followed, those two matches were against Wolves and QPR. Given United hasn't beaten a top opponent since defeating Chelsea in August, they'll need to do something to make me believe they deserve a spot above Benfica, who have a better resume to couple with the teams' head-to-head results.
Now for some real feedback:
Where is Liverpool? How can Udinese and Arsenal and Chelsea be better than Liverpool? Remember, Liverpool beat Chelsea twice and beat Arsenal as well. -- Tiber, via email
Thanks for the reminder! Liverpool is obviously very talented, and Kenny Dalglish has made them a handful for any team at any time, but I think it's a stretch to say Liverpool is a top 10 team in the world. While they have beaten the teams you listed, they've only won eight of 16 games and don't have European competition to round out their resume.
OK Farley humor me....Galatasaray Top 10 next week. Here is why:
Top of Super Lig
Beaten title rivals Fenerbahce and Trazbonspor by 3-1, 3-0 respectively. First win was home second on road. We are not in Europe but hey who knows with the match fixing what really was last season in the Super Lig but granted the Lions were awful -- TurkishSpider, via comment
Galatasaray got consideration this week, but as you allude, it's hard to gauge how good they are since they're not in Europe. However, the derby win was impressive, they've passed the eye test, and the European performances of Trabzonspor and Besiktas help their case.
That said, does Gala have a better case than, say, Olympiakos, who have been dominant in Greece and nearly qualified for the knockout rounds of Champions League? How about PSV or Anderlecht? Kyiv didn't get out of group in Europa, but they're the head of the three-team race in Ukraine?
This is another example of the pyramid effect. At the level where we're talking about Olympiakos or Galatasaray, 15 to 20 teams start to look pretty similar. That's where teams from all over the world start slotting in, be they Corinthians, Boca Juniors, Kashiwa Reysol or others.
It's also where the conversation gets truly fun.
BF 7's BUM rankings... Worst is first...
3. FC Nurnberg
5. Real Zaragoza
9. Racing Santander
10. SC Freiburg
-- BF7_CFC, via comment
Inverse top ten list topic for this week: World's ten worst kits. If somebody can come up with a good list, we'll make a gallery of your fashion catastrophes.
United is an easy target for the critics and those who dislike them. Everyone is accustomed to seeing United compete on all fronts year in, year out so setbacks such as the CL and CC give the perfect opportunity to dish it out.
There's a lot of truth regarding United's form and performances this season. The team just does not look good. But to suggest that United won't be a big pain ... for any team facing them is crazy. One of the great things about a SAF team is that they will fight all the way even if they are weakened. -- BirthFootballDeath, via comment
I'd be shocked if Manchester United isn't in England's title race all season. Not being ranked for consecutive weeks is about form, not potential. As difficult as it is to argue that United is a top ten team right now, I find it equally difficult to make the case that they won't be back amongst the world's elite when I write this piece in May. We've seen their low point.
Until next week, you can provide your feedback via email (Richard.Farley@FOX.com), on Twitter ( @RichardFarley ), or for the brave, there's the comments section, below.