Messi back at top of AP rankings, Iniesta 3rd
LONDON (AP) — Lionel Messi moved back to the top of the AP Global Soccer rankings, and Barcelona stayed No. 1 in the team poll after a 4-0 win over Levante in the Spanish league.
Messi earned 183 out of a possible 200 points from The Associated Press' panel of 20 global soccer journalists. Last week's winner, Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was second. Ibrahimovic topped the previous poll mainly for his four goals for Sweden against England.
Barcelona was voted the top club of the week after stretching its lead to three points over Atletico Madrid and 11 points over third-place Real Madrid.
Ibrahimovic had 124 points, while another Barcelona player, Andres Iniesta, moved into third place with 119.
"Two clinical finishes from Messi got Barca rolling towards a 4-0 win against Levante and followed his Champions League double against Spartak," panelist Will Tidey of the San Francisco-based Bleacher report said. "Gerd Mueller's record is just three goals away."
Mueller, a former Germany and Bayern Munich great, holds the record for most goals scored in a calendar year with 85.
The panel's two Italian voters, Paulo Condi of La Gazzetta Dello Sport and Aurelio Capaldi of Rai Sport, paid tribute to Iniesta.
"He made things easy for Barca as he twice set up Messi, scored a goal and allowed Cesc Fabregas to kill the game," Capaldi said.
Borussia Dortmund, which is giving Bayern Munich a fight in the Bundesliga, had two players in the top five. Striker Robert Lewandowski was fourth with 83 points and midfielder Mario Goetze, who played a key role in Lewandowski's two goals in Saturday's 2-1 victory over Mainz, was fifth with 63.
"Mario Goetze is currently in superb form," Christian Schaetzle of website derfussballblogger.de said. "He was the outstanding player in both Dortmund's Champions League win in Amsterdam and in his side's important away win at Mainz in the Bundesliga, involved in nearly all the goals."
Several panelists thought Philippe Mexes' overhead kick in AC Milan's 3-1 Champions League victory at Anderlecht was even better than Ibrahimovic's dramatic goal against England a week earlier.
"His goal was more beautiful than that of Ibrahimovic, because he controlled the ball first with the chest and there was a goalkeeper between the posts," Francois Colin of Belgium's De Standaard said. "Most of all this was a game that mattered."
For Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, it was a "prettier goal in many ways than the bicycle kick from Ibrahimovic."
Mexes' efforts brought him into sixth place.
With Barcelona seemingly glued into the top team position, Bayern and Dortmund were second and third in the AP poll, with no English team in the top five for the first time since the survey began.
Barcelona had 176 points, well ahead of Bayern with 129 and Dortmund with 105. Real Madrid, which lost to Real Betis on Sunday, plunged to 24th.
"There's a team in Europe nobody expected anything from before this Champions League season," Schaetzle said. "Borussia Dortmund won Group D, the Group of Death (with opponents Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax), with its phenomenal 4-1 win at Ajax to reach the Round of 16."
AC Milan was rewarded for its 1-0 victory over Serie A leader Juventus and the victory over Anderlecht by being voted into fourth by the panel, which gives 10 points to their top choice down to one point for 10th.
Unglamorous English team West Bromwich Albion, which has slipped almost unnoticed into third place in the Premier League, was in the top 10 for the second straight week, coming in eighth, a few points behind Manchester United.
Newly-crowned J-League champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima was voted into 10th after clinching the title with one round still to play.
John Duerden, of website www.kickoffasia.com, paid tribute to J-League top scorer Hisato Sato.
"He has had his critics over the years but his goals have given a first title to Hiroshima," Duerden said.