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End of Year 2010 European Power Rankings

In the final edition of the 2010 European Soccer Power Rankings, it isn’t surprising the top two teams hail from Spain, the nation who won the World Cup this past summer. After the 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid in “El Clasico,” Barcelona proved they are right now far and away the best club in the world, and this group of Blaugrana is playing at a level the sport has rarely seen. 43 points earned in 16 matches, with a plus-42 goal differential (51 goals to just 9 allowed) is stunning. The final three candidates for the Balloon d’Or are Barcelona players (Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi), while six of Spain’s World Cup winning starting XI are starters for Barca and manager Pep Guardiola. So while it is obvious who number one is, who else finishes 2010 in the top 25?

1. Barcelona – The only question facing this team down the stretch is whether being alive in three competitions after a World Cup summer will wear down some of Barca’s players? Xavi is constantly playing through pain, but with Real Madrid right on their heels he can’t afford to sit, while Puyol, Abidal, Iniesta and Villa have plenty of mileage on their legs. How Pep Guardiola manages his roster during the run in is pivotal.

2. Real Madrid – In any other league they would be the run away leaders, and yes that includes the EPL. Outside of Barca, no team blends explosive attacking football with lock-down defense quite like Mourinho’s men. Cristiano Ronaldo has been top notch, and even without Gonzalo Higuain for two months and with Kaka on the shelf all season, Madrid were a Champions League (CL) best +13 in goal differential during the group stage (15-to-2). Mourinho still wants another striker during the January transfer window, but it doesn’t seem like he will get his way. Will Kaka’s return be enough of an offensive spark with Higuain expected to miss another month at least?

3. Manchester United – Typical Man U. Superb defense, erratic offense, and in first place. The Red Devils have been without Wayne Rooney for much of the season, while Dimitar Berbatov has killed below-average competition, but has been below-average against good opponents. Nani has been electric while Nemanja Vidic has returned to  world-class form.  Zero losses through 18 matches is impressive, and while they have 39 goals, they must be more prolific in front of goal.

4. Arsenal - The young Gunners are growing up this season, but as usual injuries have meant a lack of consistency. Samir Nasri has been unbelievably good during the first half of the season, while Marouane Chamakh has been a nice addition from Bordeaux. Theo Walcott is much improved, and Johan Djourou is a nice, new option at centre-back. There are still questions about the goalkeeper situation and the best attacking lineup, but overall Arsenal has been impressive.

5. AC Milan – The Italian giants are back amongst Europe’s best. Milan started slowly, but they are finally starting to discover chemistry in attack, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been lights-out. Robinho is still trying to rediscover his best form, and it seems Ronaldinho is on his way out with Antonio Cassano replacing him. Luckily for the Rossoneri, they have perhaps the best centre-back on the planet in Thiago Silva. The Serie A has been unimpressive again this campaign, but among just a few bright spots is Milan’s current form.

6. Manchester City – The Citizens are currently dealing with some transfer drama as Carlos Tevez continues to talk about how he no longer wants to play in Manchester and no longer loves soccer, but it seems as though he will remain at City until the summer. The rest of the Man City squad is playing very well, especially GK Joe Hart, who is making his case as being the EPL’s best.

7. Borussia Dortmund - In perhaps the continent’s most offensive league, it is east to see why Borussia Dortmund have been so successful this season; their defense. BVB currently hold a ten point lead in the table over Mainz and Bayer Leverkusen thanks to a dominating defense (ten goals allowed in 17 matches), although they have also scored the most goals in the Bundesliga (39). Barring a stunning collapse, BVB will be in title contention all season, but they won’t sneak up on anybody during the season’s second half, especially since they are still alive in three competitions.

8. Tottenham Hotspur - For Tottenham, the key to winning is simple; keep Rafael van der Vaart healthy. Sure, it is easier said than done, but when the Dutch maestro is in the lineup for Spurs, they have been truly elite. With a midfield of VDV, Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric (who has been sensational) and Gareth Bale (who has been even more sensational), Spurs are tough to beat. If their defense can be just good, not even great, but good, and Gomes can just not make the big mistake in goal, a finish among the top four is certainly attainable.

9. Villarreal - In another league, Villarreal could be title contenders, but in Spain they are fighting for no better than third place. Diego Lopez is a first class keeper while Santi Cazorla is again an elite winger now that he is healthy. Youngsters Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi have been dynamic in attack, while Joan Capdevila is one of just two players in Spain’s starting XI not playing for Barca or Madrid (Fernando Torres is the other). A long-term injury to Marcos Senna hurts their chances to upset the big boys, and it would be nice to see Jozy Altidore get some playing time or go out on loan, but it appears the Yellow Submarines want to keep him around.

10. Chelsea - It is hard to believe the club that began the season at the top of these power rankings has fallen all the way to ten, but in the case of Chelsea their current form is embarrassing. The Blues are 2-3-4 in their last nine league matches, and they also lost their last CL match against Olympique Marseille. When Frank Lampard returns Chelsea fans hope wins will follow, but right now one of the world’s deepest and most talented teams is floundering.

11. Shaktar Donetsk - The first club not from one of the power leagues (EPL, La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga), Shaktar isn’t even from a next tier league, but this Ukrainian powerhouse wins plenty of matches despite the lack of household names. Europa League (EL) champions in 2009, Shaktar outgunned Arsenal to finish on top of their CL group. A nice mix of Ukrainian, Croatian and Brazilian players, Donetsk are a great balance of size, speed and technical ability. Luiz Adriano is a goal scoring machine, while former Arsenal striker Eduardo is rediscovering his best form, and Dmytro Chygrynskiy is back from a terrible season with Barcelona to lead a solid backline. The key player for Shaktar is captain Darijo Srna, a dynamic right back who creates numerous scoring chances from his crosses and set pieces. Their match-up with Roma in the CL Round of 16 will be fun to watch.

12. FC Copenhagen - Like Shaktar, FC Copenhagen, or Kobenhaven, is the dominant team in Denmark, but The Lions have never had quite the success they are enjoying right now. In just their second ever appearance in the CL group stage, FCK have advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time in their club’s history, and it’s the first time any Danish team has reached the group stage. In the Danish Superliga, FCK are absolutely dominating. No losses and just three draws in 19 matches, while scoring 50 goals and allowing just 15. It is no surprise the league’s top two scorers are from FCK, as Cesar Santin and Dame N’Doye have each netted 13 times this season.

13. Zenit St. Petersburg – The recently crowned Russian champs were outstanding from start to finish in 2010. Unbeaten in the Russian Premier League until October 27th, Zenit lost just two matches all year while posting a +40 goal differential. Portuguese midfielder Danny was the creative spark, while his fellow countryman Bruno Alves was a vital signing during the summer transfer window. The only drawback to Zenit’s season was not qualifying for the CL group stage. They didn’t let that disappointment bother them however, going 6-0-0 in EL group stage play and easily moving on to the next round. With their season over however, it will be interesting to see how the rust of not playing affects Zenit come February and March.

14. Olympique Lyon - CL semifinalists and Ligue 1 runners-up last season, Lyon is having a tough time repeating that success in 2010-11, but their goals are all still ahead of them. After a treacherous start to this season’s campaign, they are just one point behind leaders Lille, and they qualified for the Round of 16 of the CL (although they did draw Real Madrid). Lyon seem to be playing their best football of the season right now, but they need to keep progressing if they hope to lift any type of silverware in 2011.

15. Bayern Munich - I know, I know, they are fifth in the Bundesliga, 14 points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, but even with numerous injuries and questions at the back they dominated their CL group. Arjen Robben has been on the bench all season with injury issues (big surprise), while Franck Ribery just recently returned from his injury problems, yet Bayern is still in the hunt for three trophies. Mario Gomez is finally living up to his huge transfer fee, but FC Hollywood will only go as far as their defense takes them.

16. FC Porto - Another domestic powerhouse having an out-of-this-world start to their campaign. The Dragons are 11-2-0, scoring 29 goals and allowing just five, even after selling star defender Bruno Alves in the summer. Porto strikers Hulk and Falcao have scored 17 and 15 goals respectively in domestic and EL play, and both could be making big money moves in the summer. Until then, Porto will look to win a nice double since they are unable to test themselves in the CL.

17. Olympique Marseille - A lot like rivals Lyon, OM is having a tough time replicating their form of last season. The defending Ligue 1 champs bounced back from a poor CL campaign last season to progress to the Round of 16 this year, but their domestic performance has suffered as they sit in fifth place, three points behind Lille.

18. PSV Eindhoven – The Dutch powers currently lead the Erevidisie by four points, but that doesn’t accurately showcase their dominance. PSV registered a 10-0 win earlier this season against storied Feyenoord, helping Eindhoven’s goal differential reach an outrageous +34. Just two losses is a testament to how well this team has played, but they sold star midfielder and Dutch national team member Ibrahim Affelay to Barcelona and they will need other players to step up and fill his cleats.

19. Valencia - No David Villa, no David Silva and it hasn’t been much of a problem for Valencia. Sure, the team isn’t quite as dynamic on the offensive end, but Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz each have ten goals this season and have been a nightmare for opposing defenses. If Ever Benega can get back on the field before the CL knockout round, their chances of advancing past Schalke greatly increases.

20. Napoli - Just the second Italian team on this list, but Napoli is well deserving of their place in these rankings. Second place in the Serie A, Napoli has won three straight games by a 1-0 scoreline, showcasing a typically defensive approach. On offense, on loan striker Edinson Cavani is tied for the league lead with ten goals, while Marek Hamsik has added another seven from his midfield position. Their elimination in the EL hurts their cause in these rankings, but it could help them down the road since they now have one less competition to worry about.

21. Lille - They haven’t won a league title since 1954, but this year their offense hopes to carry them to the top of a very balanced French championship. Moussa Sow leads Ligue 1 with 14 goals, while Ivory Coast international Gervinho has seven strikes. Although he only has two goals so far, Eden Hazard might be Lille’s most valuable player, and he has attracted plenty of praise across Europe, including that of French legend Zinedine Zidane.

22. Rangers - The defending Scottish champions are at it again this season, jumping out to an impressive 13-2-1 record, including an 8-1-0 mark and 24-to-10 goal differential on the road. Once again, Rangers failed to progress to the knockout round in the CL, but they figure to be a handful in the EL with striker Kenny Miller notching 22 goals in all competitions. On January 2, the Old Firm derby will go a long way in deciding the SPL title.

23. Olympiacos - Greek’s most successful club, Olympiacos has had a decent start to the 2010 season after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign. A 12-0-3 record and +22 goal differential is impressive, as is their five point lead in the Greek Super League. The biggest problem with Olympiacos is their lack of European football and the fact that two of their three losses this season were to second and third place rivals Panathinaikos and AEK Athens respectively.

24. Trabzonspor - I’m not going to lie. I don’t know a damn thing about this team, other than that they are leading an underrated Turkish Superlig. Some fun things to know, just for kicks. They have won the most Turkish titles of any club based outside of Istanbul, they won a game earlier this season 7-0, tying a club record, they are sponsored by Nike, and they are one of the few teams Liverpool can actually beat this season.

25. Inter Milan – I originally didn’t have Inter in the top 25, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for getting rid of Rafael Benitez and replacing him with Leonardo. The obvious fatigue of players like Wesley Sneijder, Maicon, Julio Cesar and others has really hurt this team, and the bench players have failed to perform the way they did last year for Mourinho. This team is still one of the most talented on the planet, but sometimes winning teams who got good luck the season before can go south quickly if they lose faith, which the club obviously did in Rafa.

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A sports die-hard through and through. I grew up playing almost every sport possible, and to this day I try to stay as active as possible. However, since I'm not a professional athlete, talking and writing about sports is the next best thing. A University of Florida graduate but living in my hometown of Washington D.C. (well Northern Virginia), my favorite teams are the Florida Gators, Miami Dolphins, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Real Madrid, good up-tempo NBA teams (so not the Knicks), and Washington Capitals.

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