Soccer Power Rankings: Liverpool moves into top spot with Arsenal showdown looming; Atletico Madrid rises

There's not long to go before the end of 2018, but we are just at the midway point of the European soccer season. While some leagues take a longer break than others, there are still plenty of big games to enjoy before Jan. 1, including one of the world's greatest rivalries. So before we get to our power rankings, here are the top three games to watch before the year concludes.

Dec. 26: Inter Milan vs. Napoli: This should be a darn good one on the day after Christmas. It's a Serie A battle between the second and third-place teams. Neither is quite as good as Juventus, and Napoli has an eight-point lead over Inter for second, but a win by Inter would make things interesting. Both teams have prolific players in attack but have struggled to find consistent scoring. This is a game that could produce serious momentum moving forward. 

Dec. 29: Liverpool vs. Arsenal: Oh, boy. This is a tasty one. Liverpool will enter this game (12:30 p.m. ET, available on fuboTV) in first place in the Premier League, and second-place Manchester City will have its eyes on this showdown. The Gunners' unbeaten streak ended earlier in the month but they are hoping to build another one led by their dominance in the final third. Expect a game filled with speed but few golden chances, as the battle in the middle with guys like Lucas Torreira and Fabinho should be fascinating.

Dec. 29: Rangers vs. Celtic: Ah, the Old Firm. It's one of the world's greatest rivalries. The first meeting was back in 1888, and this will be the 415th all-time game between the two sides. As usual, they are the top two teams in the league. Celtic is first with a one-point lead over Rangers. The winner finishes the year in first, while a draw for Celtic will also keep them at the summit. It's a game always filled with drama, emotion and a wild atmosphere. 

And now, the rankings...


How the rankings work

We list the top 25 teams in the world based on recent form. The teams playing the best soccer -- in their respective leagues and in international competitions -- will be considered. Quality of the opponents will also be taken into an account, but above all, the most important factors are recent results and overall standings in competitions.

World Club Soccer Power Rankings

Previous rankings:  Dec. 18 | Dec 10 | Dec 3 | Nov. 26Nov. 12Nov. 5 Oct. 30 Oct. 23 | Oct. 10 | Oct. 3 | Sept. 26 | Sept. 17 | Sept. 4 | Aug. 28 Aug. 23 | Aug. 15 | Preseason rankings

RKTEAMCHGANALYSIS

1. 

Liverpool (ENG)

+2

A four-point lead in the Premier League and allowing just 0.38 goals per game. Outrageously good. 
2.

Juventus (ITA)

-- Six straight wins in Serie A, all of them clean sheets. An eight-point lead over Napoli already makes the race feel over.
3. 

Manchester City (ENG)

-2 What in the world was that? A nightmare against Crystal Palace. Time to rebound before another slip-up piles on the pressure.

4.

Barcelona (ESP)

+1 Twenty-one goals in 20 games for Lionel Messi, and the club just boosted its backline with Valencia's Jeison Murillo on loan. Trending upward. 

5.

PSG (FRA)

-1 Five goals in their last four league games doesn't sound right. Where has the scoring touch gone? The chances are there, but they aren't on frame.

6.

Atletico Madrid (ESP)

+4

Diego Simeone's team has gone two months without losing, yet they still aren't being talked about in La Liga or the Champions League. Time to start realizing how dangerous this team is.

7.

Borussia Dortmund (GER)

-1

No longer undefeated in the Bundesliga, but still a nice six-point lead in the league. But watch out, because Bayern Munich looks to be turning the corner. 

8.

Tottenham (ENG)

+1

Mauricio Pochettino's name has again been linked to the Manchester United job, and it's no surprise. What he's done at Tottenham is nothing short of fantastic. And six goals at Everton isn't bad. 

9.

Arsenal (ENG)

-2

Two straight losses were answered by a quality win over Burnley, but the injuries may catch up with this team before long. They need Hector Bellerin back soon.  

10.

Chelsea (ENG)

-2

Ugly loss at home to Leicester City, and two shots off the post added to the frustration. Two steps forward, and three steps back once again.

11.

Bayern Munich (GER)

+1

Don't look now, but the German giants are back into the thick of things in the Bundesliga race. That's a problem for every team in the league.

12.

Napoli (ITA)

-1

Bizarro world all around. The defense has been great, the attack hasn't. Still just feels like Itay's second-best team and nothing more.  

13.

Porto (POR)

+2

The cream of the crop in Portugal, but defensively the team has struggled a bit as of late. In the central of the pitch, the physical play just hasn't been there.

14.

Ajax (NED)

+2

If you haven't seen Frenkie de Jong play, you need to. Potentially the next great Dutch midfielder. Loads of potential and already catching the eyes of the world's biggest clubs. 

15.

Inter (ITA)

-2

It's like there is a switch for scoring that was just turned off. Mauro Icardi continues to deliver, but the team needs somebody else to also step up in the final third.

16.

Lyon (FRA)

+1

Out of the French title race, as that will go to PSG, but still plenty to play for with two domestic cups and the Champions League. Nabil Fekir is one of the most underrated players in Europe.  

17.

Manchester United (ENG)

+6

Far from back, but the signs showed against Cardiff were encouraging. Now let's see them do it against the big boys, whom they struggled against under Jose Mourinho. 

18.

PSV (NED)

+2

PSV has a two-point lead over Ajax, and get this -- both have 60 goals scored and eight conceded in 18 games. 

19.

Lille (FRA)  

-1

Second place in Ligue 1 but not even close to a contender. So far, just the best of the rest. 

20.

Real Madrid (ESP)  

+4

Club World Cup champs, but Los Blancos have failed to convince anybody that they can contend in the league, Champions League or Copa del Rey. Expect them to invest heavily in January.
21.

Roma (ITA)  

-2

The club has fallen to 10th place in the league and are only ranked because they are still in the Champions League. Playing with fire at this point. 

22.

Borussia M'gladbach

NR

No shame in losing to Dortmund. The club has gotten some very good results as of late and the defensive style with short, smart passes bodes well for them to stick around 

23.

Sevilla (ESP)

-1

Hanging around in La Liga with some quality performances. Pablo Machin's team is playing some attractive soccer. 
24.    

Watford (ENG)

NR

The best in the Premier League after the big six. They need just four more wins to pass last year's win total, and they have 20 games to do it. 

25.

Lazio (ITA)

NR

Twenty-four shots in the 3-1 win over Cagliari. Ahead of Milan in the top four race with so many different players making an impact.


Biggest movers:
Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Manchester United
Out of top 25: Schalke (GER), Cruz Azul (MEX), America (MEX)
Honorable mentions: Istanbul Basaksehir (TUR), Celtic (SCO)

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CBS Sports Writer

Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europe's top clubs to Argentina's first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Goal.com... Full Bio

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