Posted: Thursday November 30, 2006 11:28AM; Updated: Thursday November 30, 2006 4:35PM
Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Nov. 29.
World Soccer Power Rankings
How dominant are Les Gones back in France? This little bit of number-crunching comes courtesy of Joel Haywood of Macon, Ga.: Lyon's 14-point lead is so huge that any other Ligue 1 team with 14 fewer points would be firmly entrenched in the relegation zone. Meanwhile, Les Lyonnais still look like the team to beat in Champions League, securing first place in Group E with a 2-2 draw at No. 8 Real Madrid. Semis or bust? Stay tuned.
First of all, let's give a shoutout to Carlo Cudicini, who has been stellar in Petr Cech's absence. The Italian veteran has allowed only two goals in six starts since, well, since regaining consciousness. Cech has been so dominant over the past few seasons, you almost forget Cudicini was once one of the best keepers in the Premiership. Second, my favorite Chelsea moment of the past few weeks was Geremi's pretty free-kick goal against West Ham on Nov. 18, immediately after which he was shepherded to the touchline by Didier Drogba and presented to José Mourinho -- a subtle reminder to the boss that the Cameroonian midfielder is still on the roster.
Felicitações, Brazilian champs. São Paulo wasted no time in clinching its fourth title, sealing the deal with two matches to spare behind -- who else? -- inspirational Rogério Ceni, whose return from injury lifted his team. It's been an impressive 20-month run for the Tricolor Paulista, who have won a league title, a Paulista state title, a Copa Libertadores title (and were runners-up again this year) and a club world title. That's a run of domination few teams can replicate.
United still maintains its tenuous three-point lead atop the Premiership, but for every three-goal explosion against Bolton, there's an upset at the hands of a Southend United or a Celtic. And letting that lead over Chelsea escape was a killer; that's why the Red Devils sit below the second-place Blues here. Meanwhile, in Champions League, Manyoo needs a result against Benfica in its final group-stage match to ensure passage to the round of 16. Where have we seen that one before?
All things considered, Barça has done everything it had to do in the past two weeks: two resounding wins in La Liga to reclaim first place and, between them, a solid Champions League win over Levski Sofia. And considering their horrid performances in the latter competition, the Blaugrana really can't ask for a better scenario: They control their own destiny in a one-off, must-win home match against No. 9 Werder Bremen. Triumph and they advance. (And if you haven't seen this work of art by Ronaldinho yet, check it out now!)
Finally, the Inter we were looking for at the outset of the Serie A season. The Nerazzurri still haven't lost in league play and have gone unbeaten in their past 14 matches. Most telling has been how Inter has responded to its Italian title challengers, grabbing big wins over the likes of AC Milan and Palermo. With a showdown at Bayern for the top place in Champions League Group B looming next week, expect Roberto Mancini to shuffle his attack options, perhaps giving Adriano a chance to snap out of his funk and Esteban Cambiasso more minutes.
How much would you have loved to be a fly on the wall in the executive suites of the Bombonera? After last weekend, it's probably a good thing Diego Maradona is no longer employed as Boca's vice president. El Diez has been notoriously critical of a certain Leader of the Free World, and there's no way he would have tolerated the Bush twins in the official team skybox during Boca's 4-1 win over Colón de Santa Fe. Maradona has said he'll remain close to the club and president Mauricio Macri, but man, has he got to be going nuts about that one.
Funny, it was right around this time last year that Real's season starting going south and Arsenal's started to pick up steam. This year, it's the other way around. What are the odds these two draw each other again in the Champions League round of 16? While we're at it, next time you're at Barnes & Noble, grab a copy of FourFourTwo's December issue for its fantastic feature package on the revival at Real.
Chelsea's motivation to win wasn't as great, but Bremen's triumph in the Champions League over the Blues on Nov. 22 was about as big as it gets at the Weserstadion. But for the high-scoring Bremenites to advance, they'll have to top in-form Barcelona at the Camp Nou. That's no easy task. Rumors of both Miroslav Klose's and Ivan Klasnic's departure in the January transfer window aren't exactly a distraction they need, either.
We were itching to get Colo Colo onto the Rankings for the first time, but how can anyone ignore the stunning work Gordon Strachan's bunch has done in the past few weeks? Celtic is only the second Scottish club ever to advance to the Champions League round of 16, and unlike the first one -- last season's Rangers squad, which backed in with just one win -- the Hoops punched their own ticket with a sensational 1-0 win over Man Utd with a game still to play in the group stage. That's to say nothing of Celtic's Lyon-like 13-point cushion in the Scottish Premier League.
Honorable mentions: Colo Colo, Sevilla, FC Porto, Pachuca, PSV Eindhoven, AS Roma, VfB Stuttgart Dropped off: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors