Oct 1, 2007

The World's Top 25 Clubs (updated)

I see this post has attracted a lot of attention as well as its share of criticism (all of it fair, as far as I can tell. Part of the purpose of this exercise was to see where exactly it would fall short, to gauge if it could be rescued or if it was instead doomed to collapse under its own weight). BBC Sport's 606 forum picked up on it and based on some of those comments, I find it necessary to offer the following clarifications:

First of all, this is not meant to rank the 25 best clubs in the history of the sport. The only history I am concerned with is this season's and how the club has performed domestically and internationally in that time span.

It is meant to mimick, at least in part, the top 25 rankings of college football (American football) teams that are released every week. There too, different teams from different leagues, each with its own particular qualities and strengths and styles of play, are matched against each other. Many of the teams never play each other (because there is, for reasons yet obscure, no playoff system in college football. But that's another story for another day). The college rankings are controversial but they're also seen as a necessary attempt to offer some kind of big picture view.

To reiterate, last season doesn't count. Neither does a club's legacy or if they happen to be the current holders of a particular trophy. Other things do, however: strength of schedule, for example, which is by definition determined by the strength of the league(s) the team is involved with. So Juventus Turin, while facing a tough domestic league, is not involved in any continental competitions this year and thus cannot be tested against many of the other teams on the list. The same goes for teams like Bayern Munich that are "only" in the UEFA cup but not the Champion's League. If a team defeats a quality opponent, the victory carries greater weight than if it beats up on some minnow. But if it loses to somebody from a clearly inferior league (such as, I don't know, the Premier League champs losing to a Championship side in a domestic cup competition, to name one completely random example) it is also penalized more than if, for example, it had lost at the Bernabeu by a last-minute fluke goal or on a referee's mistake.

Hopefully that clarifies things a bit. Now on to the list. This was done on Monday night. I will take another stab at this next week. Obviously there is going to be movement, probably even significant movement, based on the results of all the games played this week.

1. Real Madrid. A splendid force. In midseason form already. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

2. Bayern Munich. Also intimidating, though the Bundesliga is a bit easier than the Spanish liga and the Bavarian side have no Champions League schedule to worry about.

3. Arsenal. As a Spurs fan, I don't like them, but give them their due: they're atop the Premier League and unbeaten. Speaking of Spurs, we were the last team to score against the Gunners. On Sept. 15. Six games ago.

4. Barcelona. Don't seem to miss Jar Jar, whose days at Camp Nou may be numbered.

5. Inter Milan. Atop Italian league with no losses but defense is in bad shape with a tough CL matchup against #6 PSV Tuesday.

6. PSV Eindhoven. Made it this high by virtue of their undefeated record in domestic and Champions League alike.

7. Liverpool. Rafa Benitez' men are quietly unbeaten. Face Marseille at Anfield in CL action Wednesday.

8. Valencia. Sit atop a tough CL group and sit third in La Liga (ahead of Barcelona).

9. Schalke 04. Second in the Bundesliga with zero losses. Different story in the Champs League, however.

10. Manchester United. They lost to Coventry in the Carling Cup but have done well elsewhere.

11. FC Porto. Of all the Portugueses teams he picks them? In 11th place? Believe it. Unbeaten and untied in the Portuguesse league. Mighty Liverpool was the only team to score on them all of last month. Wednesday they travel to Besiktas for a CL matchup. We'll know more soon...

12. Villareal. Second in La Liga.

13. Sao Paolo. Eliminated Boca Juniors from the Copa Sudamericana last week and lead Brazilian league by 12 points. Yeah, I think they could beat the more illustrious European teams below.

14. Olympique Lyon. Back atop the French league after a tough start. Face Rangers at home in the Champions League Wednesday.

15. Juventus. Second in Serie A behind mighty Inter. Appear to have reclaimed their old status. With no European action this season it will be tough to move up far beyond this however.

16. Manchester City. Sven Goran Eriksson has these guys playing very well indeed. Third in the prem. No European action this year though.

17. Fiorentina. Without a loss and in third place in Serie A.

18. Celtic. Lead SPL on goal difference.

19. Rangers. You knew these two would be back-to-back, didn't you?

20. Ajax Amsterdam. The unbeaten Dutch juggernaut is still a force to be reckoned with...

21. Santos. The Mexican side are undoubtedly a bit of a surprise in this spot, but they are unbeaten in the Apertura (7-0-3). Led by former Mexican national team goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. As far as I can tell he's the only notable guy on their entire roster (but if somebody knows better please let me know)

22. AS Nancy. 6-1-1 and second in Ligue Un. I'll admit I don't recognize of the names on their roster, but I think they belong here. For now...

23. Club America. The Mexico City side make this list by virtue of their impressive 4-1 victory against Superliga champs Pachuca last week.

24. DC United. Appear to be clicking on all cylinders at exactly the right time. Even managed to beat might Chivas (of Guadelajara, not Los Angeles) last week. The return leg is Wednesday so stay tuned...

25. Independiente. 7-3-1 league record leads the Argentine Primera Division. Lost their last game at fifth-placed Banfield but their goalkeeper's last name is Assman (I swear, I'm not making this up).

OK so who's missing: AS Roma is an obvious omission. In case you didn't notice, I'm not a big fan of Italian football. Wait a second, did I just rank DC United above AS Roma? OK, so this list is perhaps not to be taken super-seriously. I did err on the side of diversity, because I wanted to get as many different countries in here. Look at it this way: the European region was penalized due to its depth, just like certain leagues are in college football (American football) rankings. That said, I still didn't include teams from Turkey or the Ukraine (two of them are in the CL) or Russia or a number of other places that may have been deserving. Like I said, this is an inexact science. Actually it's not a science at all. So don't be hatin'.

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