Messi, Barcelona soar in AP soccer rankings

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LONDON (AP) - Lionel Messi’s domination of European soccer was clear in the Associated Press Global Soccer Rankings, while his team Barcelona stayed at the top of the poll.

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie was the only player to challenge Messi in the latest survey of the last week’s games.

Lionel Messi, the little flea, just can’t stop biting,” panelist Will Tidey of the San Francisco-based Bleacher Report said. “Fresh from his Ballon d’Or coronation, Messi scored one and was involved in two others as Barcelona beat Malaga.”

Twenty soccer journalists around the world, awarding 10 points for their top team and top player, gave Messi 172 points and Van Persie 136 in the vote for the top 10 players. No other player scored more than 41 points, with Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta third with 41.

Last week’s winner of the individual award, Napoli forward Edinson Cavani, was absent from this week’s list.

Barcelona scored 192 points out of a possible 200 in a vote for top 10 teams. The Spanish league leaders reached the halfway point of their season with a near-perfect record of 18 wins, one draw and no losses.

The season is far from over, but Barcelona is 11 points ahead of nearest rival Atletico Madrid.

The two Manchester teams, which appear to be slugging it out for the Premier League title, came in second and third, with United earning 158 points, 20 more than City.

United won a tricky match against Liverpool over the weekend, while City looked comfortable beating an Arsenal team weakened by the sending off of central defender Laurent Koscielny. United has opened a seven-point gap over City at the top of the league.

“Manchester United dominated the game for one hour against Liverpool,” Aurelio Capaldi of Italy’s RAI Sport said, “and that was enough to put another victory in their pocket with Robin Van Persie still top scorer and always ready to make the difference.”

Lazio, second in Serie A and closing in on Juventus, was fourth with 80 points, while Chelsea’s 4-0 victory over Stoke was enough to gain the third-place Premier League team fifth and 65 points.

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, second to Messi last week, fell to eighth this week, despite scoring a hat trick in the Copa del Rey against Celta Vigo.

Ronaldo may be suffering from his team’s poor form. Real Madrid is in a distant third place, 18 points adrift, the largest deficit Madrid has faced since it was 20 points behind league-leading Atletico in May 1996. The team did not make it into the top 10 teams this week in the AP poll.

AP Global Soccer Rankings for week ending Jan. 13.

(With previous rankings)

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