Dec 3, 2007

The World's Top 25 Soccer Clubs, Dec. 3, 2007

Lots and lots o' action this week, including top games in Italy and Germany, not to mention all the midweek Champions League and UEFA Cup action. One champion was crowned in Argentina, with a second perhaps to follow later this week. Let's get to it:

1. (1) Inter Milan. Beat Fenerbahce in the Champs League Tuesday and won impressively at Fiorentina on the weekend. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had two nifty assists in that one. I think the case could be made that the Swede of Bosniak-Croat descent is the best player in the world right now. But that's another topic for another day. Point is, these guys are good. Host Lazio on Wednesday and FC Turin Sunday.

2. (2) Arsenal. Meaningless games are exactly that: meaningless. So I'm not punishing Arse for losing their midweek Champions League game at Sevilla. Besides, Arsene Wenger's boys rebounded nicely in winning at tough Villa Park Saturday and continue to lead the Prem--now by five points, with a game in hand. Play two road games this week (Newcastle Wednesday, Middlesbrough Sunday), neither particularly challenging.

3. (5) Chelsea. Beat up on Rosenborg to clinch first place in their Champions League group, then saw off West Ham in Saturday's London derby. The Blues have moved into second place in the Premiership, albeit having played one game more than the first-, third- and fourth-placed teams. Face Sunderland at Stamford Bridge Saturday. That should be tough. Not.

4. (3) FC Porto. Suffered first loss of the season at Anfield last Wednesday but rebounded nicely with a 1-0 win at Benfica Lisbon. Both teams were unbeaten in the bwin liga going into the game. Thanks to the win Porto have a seven point lead on their second-placed rivals from the capital city. Appear to not play again until the UCL meets again Dec. 11, when they host Besiktas. Can that be right? Can only miss advancing out of their CL group if they lose that game and Marseille lose to or tie Liverpool. Could it happen? Yes. Will it? I don't think so. These guys have conceded only three goals at home all season and have only dropped points twice (against Belenensus and Liverpool, if you must know). They haven't lost at the Dragao since I don't even know when.

5. (4) Real Madrid. Lost at Bremen in Champions League action--that was not a meaningless game, a tie would have seen them through to the elimination round--before rebounding to beat seventh-placed Racing Santander at the Bernabeu. Travel to Bilbao Saturday night, followed by Lazio in their Group C finale Dec. 11. A point and they're through, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

6. (7) Manchester United. Played only once last week, an essentially meaningless victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League. Host the Fulham Americans at Old Trafford later today and Derby County Saturday. Not exactly the toughest week, in other words...

7. (6) Barcelona. Tied a meaningless UCL game at Lyon (Barca were already through to the next round) and then tied a more meaningful one against cross town rivals Espanyol Saturday. Lost Thierry Henry for a few weeks to boot. Face Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou Sunday. At least they don't have to worry about Europe anymore this year. A trip to Valencia looms Dec. 16.

8. (8) Juventus. Played a scoreless tie at AC Milan but could (and probably should) have won. Host Atalanta Bergamo Sunday.

9. (9) Olympique Lyon. Tied Barcelona before shellacking Strasbourg 5-0 in Ligue Un yesterday. Looking very good in L1, where they are number 1 by a wide margin (six points over AS Nancy, to be exact. Though Nancy has a game in hand). Things don't look so good in the Champs League, where they will need to win at Ibrox on Dec. 12. First travel to Caen (it's pronounced kawh--kind of) Saturday.

10. (13) Liverpool. Knocked FC Porto from the ranks of the unbeaten--to salvage their chances of advancing in the Champions League--before smacking around Bolton (4-0) yesterday. Champs league advancement is still a bit of a long-shot, however: must win at Marseille Dec. 11 to make that happen. First up: a trip to Reading Saturday.

11. (12) Werder Bremen. Won two huge home games, against Real Madrid and Hamburg SV. The latter game gave them first place for about 24 hours (until Bayern won their delayed game). The former gave them a chance to advance in the Champions League by their own hand, but they have to win at Olympiakos on the final match day. Next up: A trip to Hannover 96.

12. (14) Roma. Beat Dynamo Kiev (champs league) and Udinese (Serie A) at home yesterday. Host Cagliari in a makeup game Wednesday followed by Livorno Sunday.

13. (11) Bayern Munich. Managed just a tie at Sporting Braga in UEFA Cup play at midweek before getting past lackluster Arminia Bielefeld in Bundesliga action. Wait a tick, why are they behind Werder Bremen if they lead them in the Bundesliga standings? Easy: Werder has to put up with a Champions League schedule while Bayern face teams like Braga and Aris and Bolton (yes, Bolton) in the UEFA Cup. And they can't even beat all of them either--they also tied Bolton at home. Next up: Duisburg (another cupcake) at home Saturday.

14. (17) Olympiakos. Won at Lazio in a tight Champions League group and can go through to the elimination round if they tie Werder Bremen at home on Dec. 11. They've only twice this season, once at the Bernabeu and once in the Greek Super League. I'm impressed. Won on the road at Atromitos something (sixth-placed Super League team so not a complete minnow) yesterday. Play another obscure Greek team in that country's cup competition Wednesday followed by Levadiakos at home Saturday.

15. (18) Lanus. Clinched Apertura crown yesterday, which is their first league title ever if I'm not mistaken. Season's over but the Argentine champs are deserving of this spot.

16. (15) Sao Paulo. The Brazilian champs lost their meaningless season finale at Atletico Paranaense yesterday. I don't know what happens next. Libertadores qualifiers?

17. (10) Villareal. Lost at 15th-placed Valladolid yesterday, which is pathetic. Still third in the liga. Face Elfsborg (it's an actual place--somewhere in Scandinavia, I presume--and not out of a Tolkien novel like it sounds) Wednesday in the UEFA Cup before 19th placed Betis visit Sunday.

18. (19) Celtic Glasgow. Beat Shakhtar Donetsk in Champs League, all but assuring passage to the Round of 16 (they would have to lose to Milan and have Shakhtar beat Benfica for this to happen. Okay, maybe not "all but assured" but still things look pretty good). Then managed only a 1-1 tie to Hearts at home Saturday. For some reason this UCL group will conclude play tomorrow. Don't know what that's about but Celtic face St. Mirren Saturday as well.

19. (-) Arsenal de Sarandi. After ruining Boca Juniors' slim title hopes last weekend, they beat Club America at the Azteca in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final. Are now 90 minutes away from the biggest triumph in club history. That game is Wednesday night. I don't know why Arsenal did so horribly in the Argentine league this year (16th of 20 teams) but reckon they'll be a force during the Clausura. Also face Independiente Sunday before concluding the Apertura with a rescheduled game at Gimnasia La Plata Dec. 12.

(16) Club America. Lost at home to Arsenal de Sarandi in first leg the Copa Sudamericana finale. Looked horrible defensively. Can make it all back in Buenos Aires Wednesday, but that will be a decidedly tough task. Season over after that.

21. (22) AC Milan. Big win at Benfica to advance to the Champs League at midweek, followed by another disappointing home performance Saturday. This must be a mistake but it looks like they are playing three games this week: At home to Celtic tomorrow, the rescheduled Atalanta game Wednesday and Reggina on Sunday. I suppose they can rest everybody for the Celtic game, although I'm not sure that will sit very well with a certain Ukrainian side...

22. (-) Atletico Madrid. The rojiblancos make their debut on the Top 25 thanks to a string of impressive results (6-2-2 in their last 10 games going back to their 3-0 loss at Camp Nou Oct. 7. The other loss was to Villareal, a forgivable offense at the time). Last week, they made quick work of Aberdeen and Betis in the UEFA Cup and Liga, respectively. Travel to Denmark to face FC Copenhagen Wednesday then host Getafe. If they win in Copenhagen they're all but assured passage to the Round of 32. Sit fourth in La Liga, which is good enough for a Champions League qualifier next year.

23. (-) Atlante. The Cancun side are another first-timer on the list this week, thanks to their passage into the final of the Mexican Apertura championship, which will be played over two legs this week. To get there, Atlante beat Chivas in a home-and-away series (advancing thanks to being the higher seed in the draw. I kind of like that system and think MLS should adopt it. Are you reading this, Mr. Garber?). In the final, Atlante will face Mexico City's UNAM Pumas--who surprisingly knocked off top-seeded Santos--with the first leg at the Estadio Olimpico in D.F. Thursday night. The return leg will take place at Atlante's home grounds Sunday night.

24. (23) Hamburg SV. Had no trouble with Stade Rennes in UEFA Cup, but Bremen was too much. HSV went down 2-1 in the Nordderby. Face a tough trip to Dynamo Zagreb Wednesday, followed by a less tough home game against Energie Cottbus.

25. (-) PSV Eindhoven. Dutch side return to the list for the first time in a month (they were as high as sixth in the inaugural version of the list) thanks to victories at Moscow and to De Graafschap, with the former keeping Champions League hopes alive. Looking good in the Eredivisie, with a two point lead over Ajax Amsterdam. Speaking of Ajax, PSV travel to Amsterdam's ArenA a week from Sunday. First face a more obscure Dutch club Friday before Milan visits Dec. 12--a must win situation for PSV if they want to advance.

Dropping out: Fiorentina (20), Benfica (21), Rangers (24), Santos Morelia (25).
Also receiving consideration (in no particular order): UNAM Pumas, Nancy, Ajax Amsterdam, AEK Athens, FC Basle, Dynamo Zagreb, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray.

1 comment:

  1. dont quite agree with the order but the list is pretty good.