World Power Rankings
With three Champions League quarterfinal bouts decided before the second leg was even played, a clear schism has emerged in world soccer, with a few contenders running away in the battle for the hegemony of Europe. Here are the hottest teams in the world right now:
League record: 27 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws; European stage: Champions League semifinals
It's rather frightening when a club can hop, skip and jump into the final four of Europe -- for the third straight year, mind you -- and be eight points ahead of Real Madrid in the Primera Division without bothering to play on all cylinders more than once. Indeed, the only time Barca has really broken into a sweat recently was the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Arsenal. On Saturday will dawn 18 days of reckoning, though, when the Catalans will face Real Madrid in the league in the Copa del Rey final and in the Champions League semifinals.
2. Manchester United
League record: 20-3-9; European stage: Champions League semifinals
United has rebounded well from its early-March blip when it lost league matches to Liverpool and Chelsea in a week's time. Since then, it has won three straight in the EPL and defeated Olympique Marseille and Chelsea in the Champions League to reach the semifinals for the fourth time in five years. It also has consolidated its once-fragile top spot in the Premier League, pulling seven points ahead of Arsenal, which does have a game in hand.
3. Real Madrid
League record: 24-3-4; European stage: Champions League semifinals
After a hesitant few months following the winter break, Real has rediscovered its groove. Although the 1-0 home loss to Sporting Gijon on April 2 was unsightly, the 5-0 aggregate win over Tottenham Hotspur to push into the Champions League semis was clinical. Jose Mourinho has righted his ship and set it up well for what will be a combustible foursome of faceoffs with mortal enemy Barcelona.
4. FC Porto
League record: 24-0-2; European stage: Europa League quarterfinals
This is turning out to be a very special year for the Dragons. They already clinched the Portuguese title and are four games removed from finishing their domestic campaign undefeated. A 5-1 quarterfinals first-leg win over Spartak Moscow has all but assured a spot in the Europa League semis. What's more, if Porto manages to turn around a 2-0 deficit going into the second leg of the Portuguese Cup semifinals, the club is probably the best bet in Europe of doing the treble this year.
5. Borussia Dortmund
League record: 20-3-6; European stage: knocked out in Europa League group phase
A 1-1 draw with Hamburg, which was earned in the dying minutes, made it four dropped points for Dortmund in three games. What was once a 12-point lead in the Bundesliga has dwindled to five. Dortmund has been spilling points regularly in 2011. But that it nevertheless looks unlikely to cough up the title speaks to the futility of the rest of German league this year.
6. AC Milan
League record: 20-4-8; European stage: knocked out in Champions League round of 16
Milan continues to do everything in its power to ruin its run to its first Serie A title since 2003-04. Yet it continues to squeak through with its lead untarnished. For example, on Sunday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic got himself sent off for yelling at a linesman just before the Rossoneri wrapped up a complicated 2-1 win at Fiorentina. If Milan holds on to win Serie A, it may be remembered as the most unconvincing league champion in memory.
League record: 18-5-8; European stage: knocked out in Champions League round of 16
Despite the not-so-glorious return of Jens Lehmann on Sunday, Arsenal beat Blackpool 3-1, producing its first win in four league games. Although the Gunners haven't lost in the Premier League since Dec. 13, they will look back and wonder what could have been if they'd done better than to draw their three games before the win over Blackpool. Yes, Arsenal has a game in hand (against Tottenham, to be played on Wednesday), and yes, it plays the Red Devils on May 1, but making up seven points against league leader United will be a tough ask.
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League record: 20-7-5; European stage: knocked out in Europa League round of 32
This has been a breakout season for a talented group of Napoli players led by Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik. This team is tenacious and for real. Although many expected Napoli to have exposed itself a long time ago and drop out of the title race, it has kept the pressure on Milan throughout the domestic campaign. As such, with six games remaining, Napoli is just three points out.
9. Schalke 04
League record: 11-12-6; European stage: Champions League semifinals
In a turnaround for the ages, Schalke has managed to recover from Felix Magath's reign of terror and parlay Ralf Rangnick's managerial appointment into a 7-3 aggregate thumping of defending champion Inter Milan in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The team is still very much going nowhere in the Bundesliga, floundering in ninth place, but its European campaign could be a first sign of the popular club starting to make good on its immense potential.
10. Inter Milan
League record: 19-7-6; European stage: knocked out in Champions League quarterfinals
How quickly things can change in world soccer. A little less than a year ago, Inter won the treble and soundly outplayed opponents in every competition it entered. Now it's on its second coach of the season, out of the European Cup, two places off the top spot in Serie A. At this point, it's really in contention for only the Italian cup. The aging team seems in need of a face-lift to inject youth and raise spirits.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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