Nov 26, 2007

The World's Top 25 Clubs, Nov. 26, 2007

And we're back. Last week we were faced with a dearth of games resulting in little movement over the week before. This week, most teams only played once (and incidentally, most on the list won) leading to only slight re-shuffling. Expect that to change, with a full slate of Champions League, UEFA Cup and domestic league action in Europe this week. But more on that later. Let's first take a look at the rankings:

1. (1) Inter Milan. Beat Atalante Bergamo, 2-1. Next up: Fenerbahce in the Champs League Tuesday followed by a trip to Florence for Sunday's Serie A game.

2. (2) Arsenal. Beat Wigan thanks to a late push. Next up: at Seville in Tuesday Champions League action, followed by a trip to Birmingham and Aston Villa on Saturday.

3. (5) FC Porto. Had no problems with Vitoria Setubal in the Superliga yesterday. But now things get very interesting: Play at Anfield Wednesday with Liverpool facing a must-win, followed by a trip to Benfica Saturday. Both Benfica and Porto are unbeaten in the Portuguese league. It will be a telling week, in other words...

4. (4) Real Madrid. Only managed a tie against Murcia. Play at Bremen in Wednesday Champions League action, followed by seventh-placed Racing Santander at the Bernabeu.

5. (6) Chelsea. Beat Derby 2-0 but with more problems than many, including myself, might have suspected. Travel to Rosenborg next for Wednesday Champions League game then host West Ham in Premiership Saturday.

6. (8) Barcelona. Beat Recreativo Huelva 3-0. Next up, a trip to streaking Olympique Lyon in Tuesday Champs League, followed by the Barcelona derby at Camp Nou Saturday night. Espanyol are currently fourth in the Spanish liga. It will be a telling week for Frank Rijkaard's men, in other words.

7. (3) Manchester United. Lost to Bolton on an early goal by Nicolas Anelka. Have looked suspect defensively. I don't know what Wes Brown is doing back there. Host Sporting Lisbon in a meaningless Champions League game Tuesday. Their next Premiership game isn't for a week from today (against the Fulham Americans at Old Trafford).

8. (9) Juventus. Saw off seventh-placed Palermo. Next up: a clash at AC Milan Saturday.

9. (10) Olympique Lyon. Beat fourth-placed Rennes Saturday. Host #6 Barcelona next in what looks to be the biggest game of the week. Will need a good result to keep pace with Rangers in the battle for a spot in the next round. Also host 10th placed Strasbourg Sunday.

10. (7) Villareal. Managed only a 1-1 draw against promoted side Almeria. A win could have moved them into first place in the Spanish liga for the first time ever. Are idle in the UEFA Cup, then travel to 15th-placed Valladolid Sunday.

11. (11) Bayern Munich. Beat Wolfsburg in Saturday Bundesliga action. Play at Sporting Braga in UEFA Cup Thursday, followed by an easy trip to Bielefeld Sunday.

12. (12) Werder Bremen. Won at Energie Cottbus Saturday. This week things get tougher: Host Real Madrid need to win if they want to have a chance of advancing, followed by Hamburg at home for Saturday Bundesliga action.

13. (13) Liverpool. Beat up on Newcastle, 3-0. Host FC Porto next, followed by Man U-beaters Bolton Sunday.

14. (14) Roma. Saw off Genoa, 1-0. Travel to Dynamo Kiev Tuesday, followed by Udinese at home Sunday.

15. (15) Sao Paulo. Came from 2-0 down at halftime to tie Rio de Janeiro's Botafogo in a meaningless Brazilian league game yesterday. The title is all wrapped up, but they play at Atletico Paranaense Sunday in league finale. I don't know what happens after that. Nothing until Libertadores qualifiers?

16. (16) Club America. Idle. Next game is a big one on Wednesday night: Host Arsenal de Sarandi in first leg the Copa Sudamericana finale.

17. (18) Olympiakos. Won their Greek League game Saturday. Play at Lazio in Wednesday Champs League, followed by another domestic league game Saturday.

18. (17) Lanus. Play fifth-placed Argentinos Juniors to a scoreless tie yesterday. A victory would have all but wrapped up the Apertura crown. Now they need to play a desperate Boca Juniors at the Bombonera Sunday, although there is hope Argentinos Juniors (now eliminated from contention for the league title) might trip up second-placed Tigre.

19. (20) Celtic Glasgow. Beat Aberdeen, 3-0. Host Shakhtar Donetsk in Champs League Wednesday, followed by Hearts at home in Saturday SPL action.

20. (19) Fiorentina. Managed only a draw at Reggina. Play at AEK Athens in UEFA Cup Thursday before hosting #1 Inter Sunday. Not an easy week by any stretch...

21. (22) Benfica Lisbon. Beat Academica de Coimbra, with Freddy Adu scoring a goal in stoppage time. Host AC Milan at midweek, followed by #3 FC Porto at home.

22. (-) AC Milan. This is not a concession to all the hate mail I have been receiving from Milan fans, but a reflection of their better form of late, including yesterday's 2-1 victory of Cagliari. Travel to Benfica for Champs League game Wednesday, followed by a huge game against Juventus at San Siro Saturday. If they win both they will prove they belong here. Actually a lot higher than this. We'll see...

23. (24) Hamburg SV. Had no trouble with Hansa Rostock. Host Stade Rennes in UEFA Cup Thursday, then travel to #12 Werder Bremen Saturday for the Nordderby.

24. (25) Rangers. Saw off Falkirk on Saturday. Travel to lame duck VfB Stuttgart for Champions League game Tuesday, followed by Kilmarnock at Ibrox Saturday.

25. (-) Santos Morelia. The Mexican side returns to the top 25 thanks to a clear victory in their Liguilla quarterfinals, where they saw off America-beaters Morelia with two solid victories. For more info on the Liguilla, read the primer I wrote a little while ago (it will be updated shortly). Santos appear to be clicking at the right time and look like the team to beat for the Apertura crown.

Dropping out: Dynamo Zagreb (21), Boca Juniors (23).
Also receiving consideration (in no particular order): Nancy, Chivas de Guadelajara, Ajax Amsterdam, Portsmouth, Manchester City, Udinese, Arsenal de Sarandi, AEK Athens, Rosenborg Trondheim, Galatasaray, Shakhtar Donetsk, Tigre. That's almost enough for a second 25. Don't tempt me...

Country representation: Italy (5), England (4), Spain and Germany (3), Mexico, Portugal and Scotland (2), Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece (1)

Some apparent inconsistencies to address here, such as the fact that Real didn't budge from their #4 slot after a tie, while Villareal dropped four slots with an identical result. Part of this was pure logistics: Nowhere to put Real without either punishing them too much or rewarding somebody (such as Chelsea) too much for a mediocre result (yeah a win is a win, but to have that much trouble with Derby is weak). Also, Villareal had more to gain from a win--a first-ever trip to the top of the table, as their game took place a full day after Real Madrid's. Failing to deal with pressure is not the hallmark of an elite team, especially one that is "only" playing in the UEFA Cup where they will presumably not be faced with the very best competition. How come Liverpool didn't move up for their resounding victory? Quality wins, of which Newcastle is not one. Nor are Energie Cottbus (Werder Bremen) or Wolfsburg (Bayern) but I couldn't penalize either team for winning games they should have won.

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