Oct 29, 2007

The World’s Top 25 Clubs, Oct. 29, 2007 Edition

Here we go, folks. The list you've all been waiting for. This past week saw a full slate of club action, both domestic and continental. There were several upsets, but mostly this was about the planet's top teams staking their claims. Meanwhile, some of the pretenders (you know who you are, Man. City) were exposed. In other words: things are starting to take shape. The cream is rising to the top:

1. (1) Arsenal. What kind of a Spurs fan am I to put the Arse first for the second week in a row?!? This makes them the first repeat #1 since I started the list. And the Gunners didn't even win this weekend! True, but neither did last week's #2, Inter. In fact the Milan side played Palermo to a scoreless tie. Last week's #3, Bayern Munich, did the same, at Dortmund. I couldn't reward that. Besides, Arsene Wenger's men were faced with a formidable task, playing at Anfield in a clash of the Premiership's last two unbeaten teams. A great game that probably could have gone either way, but no arguing Arsenal deserved the point. I can forgive them for not getting three. Their Champions League spanking of poor Slavia Prague bolsters their case, as margin-of-victory tends to do in these rankings.

2. (2) Inter Milan. Okay, so playing at Palermo may not have been as tough as playing at Anfield. Still, the scoreless draw is acceptable as the Sicilian side was fifth in Serie A going into the weekend. The Nerazzurri also did well pulling out a mid-week Champions League game at CSKA Moscow. Inter was down 1-0 at halftime, but goals by Hernan Crespo and Walter Samuel gave them three important points.

3. (4) Manchester United. Last week at this time I said I didn't see much of a chance of Man U slipping up. I was right. Impressive victories at Dynamo Kiev and home to Middlesbrough. But now things get very interesting. Travel to Emirates Stadium Saturday in the biggest game of the season thus far. Not just the Premiership season. Any league's.

4. (3) Bayern Munich. Their UEFA Cup victory at whatever the team that used to be called Red Star Belgrade is now known as was impressive. The scoreless draw at Borussia Dortmund in weekend Bundesliga action? Less so. It only cost them one spot by virtue of the fact that Dortmund is always a tough place to play--even when the team is crap, like they are (so far) this year.

5. (7) Real Madrid. Solid victories in both games this week. The first, to #15 Olympiakos in Champions League action at Bernabeu, was more impressive because Real had to battle back twice, before winning 4-2. Sunday's victory over Deportivo La Coruna also saw them come from behind. Face a tough week: at #22 Valencia Wednesday and at Sevilla Saturday.

(5) Barcelona. Beat Almeira to firmly establish second place in La Liga for themselves (Real is first, natch) but dropped one spot in this table due to the scoreless draw at #21 Rangers.

7. (10) Chelsea. I promised Blues fans their team would break into the top ten with two wins. I keep my promises. It's their first appearance at these heights, after beating Schalke in the UCL and--more impressively--Man Sh...City 6-0 in Premiership action. Suddenly look like contenders--for a number of trophies.

8. (8) FC Porto. Only played one game this week, a 1-1 Champions League draw at Marseille Wednesday. Face Leixoes (I've never heard of them either) today and Belenenses Sunday in Portuguese league action. Will probably need to win both to keep their spot in the top 10.

9. (19) Olympique Lyon. How do I justify this massive jump in the table? Easy. Lyon won both their games, both on the road (granted both at teams--VfB Stuttgart and Paris SG--that have seen better days) and each of the 10 teams ahead of them had at least one loss--some to truly inferior opponents.

10. (6) Juventus. As a team that does not have a chance to prove themselves against the continent's best this season, the "Old Lady" needs to do very well domestically. They weren't up to the task, losing to Napoli, 3-1. But can make up for it with home games against Empoli and then Inter this week.

11. (-) Roma. Why is a newcomer this high on the list? Two reasons: impressive victories at Sporting Lisbon (2-1) and at AC Milan (1-0). More importantly, this team plays an attacking, entertaining style. Unusual (I thought impossible. I was wrong) for an Italian side.

12. (-) Benfica Lisbon. Another newcomer? Believe it. Doing well in Champs League, beating Celtic last week and are second behind #8 Porto in the domestic league, where they won again Sunday. Thanks again to Fredy Adu, who again scored the winner, again minutes before time, this after not starting. Again. And you thought the Swiss press was tough on U.S. soccer players? But that's all right Fredy! Keep up the good work!

(14) PSV Eindhoven. Played Fenerbace to a scoreless draw at home in mid-week Champions League play and beat up on some crap Dutch team over the weekend. Moved up one spot not through the quality of these performances, but because they didn't lose like everybody else in this part of last week's table.

(20) Club America. The Mexico City side knocked Vasco da Gama out of the Copa Sudamericana at midweek, before beating Chivas in the 199th edition of "El Clasico" at Azteca last night. A game that convinced me they belong, even (especially?) at these heights.

15. (12) Olympiakos. I was all set to forgive their 4-2 loss to Real, but then they went and played a 3-3 tie at Ergotelis, who sit second-from-last in the Greek league. So they dropped a few spots.

(13) Liverpool. Tough loss at #19 Besiktas Istanbul in Champs League, but showed their class by leading #1 Arsenal for 70-some minutes at Anfield Sunday. Clearly a top team, but may not make it past the CL group stages. There's always UEFA, but may not make that either.

18. (11) Villareal. A week after beating mighty Barca, played one good game in the UEFA Cup (a 1-1 tie at Fiorentina) and one terrible one (a 4-1 loss at Zaragoza). Could fall further, with trip to Atletico Madrid this weekend.

19. (-) Besiktas Istanbul. Huge win against Reds got them on the list. Would have made a higher debut had they won their Turkish league match. Unfortunately, all they could muster was a scoreless draw against some other Istanbul club whose name I didn't recognize (not Galatasaray or Fenerbace).

20. (21) Dynamo Zagreb. Beat some Croatian team on the road and are still unbeaten (and only once tied) in that country's league. Haven't been tested yet but UEFA Cup coming up Nov. 8 (home to Switzerland's FC Basle, so maybe it won't be much of a test).

21. (15) Rangers. Nice game against Barca, but unfortunately let it go to their heads and lost to Dundee to fall behind Celtic in SPL. When's the next Old Firm derby?

22. (16) Valencia. Lost at Rosenborg in Champions League and then beat coach-less Sevilla. Host #5 Real Madrid Wednesday. We'll see what they're made of then.

23. (22) Celtic Glasgow. Champs League loss at Benfica hurt, but currently sit top of the SPL table thanks to impressive victory versus Motherwell Saturday.

24. (-) Santos Laguna. Nice win at Atlas (by 5-2 score), got them back to the top 25 after a two week absence. Sit tops of their Apertura group with only one loss in 14 games.

(-) Werder Bremen. Made it into the top 25 by virtue of a strong week. Beat Lazio (Champions League) and tied at Schalke. Pretty smooth sailing ahead: Home games against Duisburg in the DFB Pokal and Hansa Rostock in Bundesliga.

Dropping out: Manchester City (9), Chivas (17), Sao Paulo (18), Espanyol Barcelona (23), Portsmouth (24), Shakhtar Donetsk (25)
Also receiving consideration: Hamburg SV, Atletico Madrid, River Plate, Blackburn, Fiorentina, Bordeaux, Rosenborg, Fenerbace.

Lots of movement this week. I wasn't aware of how many upsets there were until I did this list. Basically, every team in last week's middle tier lost at least one game. This was especially true of Spanish clubs, though Real and Barca proved the exception there. Still, the latter's scoreless draw at Ibrox, while not a loss, counted against them, especially with Gers losing in the Scottish league yesterday. This because losses to quality competition are not punished in the polls as severely as losses to crap teams. I'm not saying Gers are crap--and even if they are, they still didn't beat Barca--but losing to Dundee United doesn't exactly cast them in a good light. So how did Inter and Arsenal get away with keeping their rankings even though they also tied inferior opponents on the road? Especially in Gunners' case, with Liverpool losing to Besiktas earlier in the week? This because Liverpool's loss at Besiktas was to quality competition. Gers loss to Dundee was not. So Liverpool was not punished as severely either, which made Arsenal's tie with them more excusable. And Palermo have been in good form in Serie A, so the same applied with them and Inter. Yeah, yeah I know Dundee is now third in the SPL, but for all its charms the SPL is still not as good as Serie A. Finally, I am aware that Man City were ninth last week but are this week nowhere to be found. That's because they simply didn't look like a top 25 team at Stamford Bridge Saturday. I looked at City's schedule and found exactly one quality win--against Man United back on Aug. 19, when Sir Alex' troops weren't exactly in midseason form. Other than that they've beaten Derby, West Ham, Villa, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Birmingham. No offense, but D.C. United could probably beat most of those teams. Bottom line, City's top ten ranking last week was clearly inflated and it will probably take quite a bit for them to make a return trip.

Still with me? I didn't think so. I hope the ratings criteria, as it is--and it's still a work in progress--makes sense. If you're in the U.S. and/or familiar with college football's Byzantine rankings system, it might. Either that or you can at least identify with its nonsensical qualities. But hang in there. It gets pretty intuitive after awhile.


  1. I would have dropped Bayern another place for the Belgrade match. OK the pitch was the worst Europe has seen in a while, so you can't perform wonders on it, but their game still could have been better. In the end they were trailing 2-1 in the final ten minutes. What was impressive was 17 year old Toni Kroos.

  2. Nice list. Arsenal looks fantastic. I would not mind seeing them win CL.

    Roma unusual for an Italian side? I don't suppose you've been watching Serie A close enough have you m'boy? The middle table teams have been playing offensive soccer for years. The truth is that the Italian game has been opening up for a few years now - in fact, the process began since 1994. This is further evidenced that for the last two or three years Serie A has had a higher goals per game total than Spain or England.

    The prevailing perception is that Italy plays "defensive" which is misguided. They play tactical soccer. In Italy they don't run for nothing and are highly deliberate and realistic in their play. But don't mistake this for "boring" play.

    While outsiders who don't follow Serie A may be mislead into believing Italy played defensive soccer in Germany the fact is that this is not entirely accurate; catenaccio has been dead for years. One need only look at Marcello Lippi's brilliant managing to show how versatile Italian soccer really is.

    Did anyone notice he threw out five offensive minded players against Germany? Since when does Italy do that?

    Last, as if this wasn't enough, I was reading that apparently in Italy there is a lack of upcoming quality defenders in the Baresi, Maldini, Nesta, Canavarro mold.

    While I am a fan of Spain and England, Italy deserves more credit than it gets.

    That all said, I agree: Roma plays elegant soccer. A little rocky at the back but attractive nonetheless. They were unlucky to not come away with a draw in Old Trafford earlier this month in CL.

    Very nice soccer blog by the way.

  3. thanks for the compliment! Regarding Italian soccer, I keep hearing that catenaccio is dead, but I keep seeing signs that it is, in fact, alive and well. Take the Milan-Roma game, for example. Milan was content to sit back and counter attack and they were playing at home! The Italian national team looked pretty defensive-minded to me at the World Cup. France dominated play throughout the finale and if it hadn't been for some excellent goalkeeping by Buffon (probably the best goalkeeper in the world, and probably by a wide margin) they would have netted another. Germany also had more of the semifinal game. Actually, Australia should have booked Italy's exit tickets from that tournament, and probably would have if it weren't for FIFA corruption. The last time I saw Italy play the way they can and should was also the first time: Spain, 1982.