Jan 28, 2008

The World's Top 25 Soccer Clubs, Jan. 28, 2008

Things just got very interesting in the Top 25, with many top-ranked teams playing down to their competition or worse. Would it be enough to affect major changes? Let's take a look:

1. (2) Manchester United. It has come to this. Sir Alex' men become the fifth #1 team of record (the others were, in chronological order Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal and Inter) thanks to a win over a pesky Spurs side yesterday. This development should be no big surprise, as Red Devils have been very impressive lately, winning their last five games by a combined score of 14-1 and have a perfect record on the 2008 calendar. Will this be United's year? I wouldn't bet against it. Up next: Pompey visit Old Trafford Wednesday, followed by a return trip to White Hart Lane (in Premiership play this time) Saturday.

2. (1) Inter Milan. It was quite a run for Zlatan and the gang, who had held the top slot since Nov. 7. The nerazurri drop from their perch due to two ties in crucial games (at home to Juventus in the Coppa Italia and at Udinese in Serie A). All season, Inter has seemed nearly invincible. Now, in the matter of one week they appear to have been rendered vulnerable. The first game was a 2-2 game at home that could lead to its exit from the Coppa; the second cost it what may end up being two crucial points in the Serie A race (second-placed Roma won Saturday and are now only five points in arrears). Time will tell how crucial this week was; but if Inter don't win any hardware by season's end, this will probably have been the turning point. Up next: the return leg at Juventus Wednesday and Empoli at home Sunday.

3. (4) Real Madrid. Pulled out victory over Villareal yesterday to pad their lead in the Primera to nine points over second-placed Barcelona. Yes they're out of the Copa del Rey, but has the liga now been wrapped up? Perhaps. Their remaining league games against top competition are all at home: Espanyol (March 9), Valencia (March 23), Sevilla (March 30) and Barcelona (May 7). Next up: at Almeira Saturday.

4. (3) Arsenal. Exiting the league cup is certainly a forgivable offense on many levels, especially if it is to a resurgent side that has staked its season on success in the tournament, while you are showing up with reserves. Except, that's not exactly what happened, as Gunners showed up with A-listers at White Hart Lane last week (two of whom got into a little tiff, but that's another story for another day). And the loss was not by a close margin, but by a 5-1 score. And did I mention this was to the team's biggest rivals, whom they had not lost to in four years? Yes, Gunners rebounded Saturday against Newcastle, but the embarrassing loss to Spurs left its mark. Up next: Newcastle again tomorrow (this time in Premiership play) and a trip to Manchester City Saturday, followed by a brief two days off and another Premiership game versus Blackburn a week from today.

5. (5) Chelsea. Topped Everton in the return leg of a League Cup at midweek, then saw off Wigan in the FA Cup Saturday. Reading visit the Bridge Wednesday, before a potentially tough trip to Fratton Park.

6. (6) Roma. Played Sampdoria to a 1-1 tie in the first leg of Coppa match-up, then beat Palermo in Saturday's Serie A game to pull within five points of first-placed Inter. The home leg of the Sampdoria series is Wednesday, followed by a trip to Siena Sunday. A trio of potentially crucial games loom next month: at Juventus (Feb. 16), versus Fiorentina (Feb, 24) and at Inter in a midweek clash Wednesday Feb. 27. Of course if Roma lose the first two, the third might be the final nail in the coffin containing their hopes for a championship. But a lot can happen between now and then.

7. (7) Barcelona. Tied both games last week. The first, a scoreless tie at Villareal in the first leg of the Copa del Rey round potentially far less fatal than the second, at Bilbao yesterday, which now has Barca nine points behind league-leading Real. Despite the potentially fatal nature of that second result, Barca do not move down the rankings because the team right behind them (#8 Porto) lost yesterday. More on them in a bit. As for Barca, the return leg versus Villareal goes down Wednesday followed by Osasuna paying a visit to Camp Nou. A trip to Sevilla looms a week from Sunday.

8. (9) Olympiakos. Beat Aris Saloniki in the Greek Super League yesterday. Play twice this week, at Apollon Kalamaria, whoever that is, and Panionios Athens.

9. (11) Fenerbahce. Beat first place Silvasspor Sunday to move up to second (Galatasaray took over the top spot). According to my records Fener do not play again until Feb. 10. Can that be? This team is also still alive in the Champions League, where they will face Sevilla in the first knockout round.

10. (12) Juventus. Tied Inter 2-2 at San Siro, which might as well be a victory considering it puts Juve in the driver's seat for advancement in their two-game Coppa Italiano series. Also beat Livorno yesterday. This is a tough team to figure out; do not face any European competition and every time they play a top Italian team it's to a tie (last week being the most recent example, though again that was as good as a victory). After the return leg versus Inter, face Cagliari at home Sunday. A tough trip to Udinese looms a week after that.

11. (13) Villareal. Another solid week for the Yellow Submarine, who trounced Valencia 3-0 at midweek before playing a scoreless game against mighty Barca yesterday. The return leg takes place Wednesday, followed by Mallorca on the weekend.

12. (8) FC Porto. Lost at Sporting Lisbon yesterday and saw their bwinLIGA lead shrink to seven points over Benfica and 10 over third-placed Sporting. Host some Portuguese minnow team Sunday (that's the nice thing about a league like the bwin, if you don't play Benfica or Sporting you get to relax). Speaking of Freddy Adu's employer, they don't visit the Dragon's lair until April 20. It may not matter by then.

13. (10) AC Milan. Lost makeup game at Atalanta di Bergamo then beat FC Genoa to move up to seventh in Serie A. Still have two games in hand, but it's a long road ahead, as the rossoneri are six points behind Udinese, 10 behind Fiorentina and 13 behind Juventus. Play at Reggina Wednesday followed by a very interesting match at Fiorentina Sunday. I hope that game is on Fox Soccer Channel? Can anybody confirm?

14. (14) Bayern Munich. Their lengthy period of idle-ness comes to a close this week with a German cup game against some minnow Wednesday. The Bundesliga returns this weekend with Hansa Rostock on the docket. A top-of-the-table cracker with Werder Bremen looms Feb. 10. Set your calendars for that one.

15. (16) Fiorentina. Lost Coppa game at Lazio but only by a 2-1 score that can easily be made up in the return leg Wednesday. Beat Empoli in their second game of the week. Travel to AC Milan Sunday for one of the most anticipated match-ups of the week.

16. (17) Olympique Lyonnais. Beat Lorient Wednesday and tied at St. Etienne yesterday in league games. Their lead over second-placed Bordeaux is up to four points (was three last week) as the Girondins lost their game yesterday. L'OL visits some French minnow in a cup game Sunday. Bordeaux visits March 8, potentially to settle matters in Ligue Un, though a lot can of course happen between now and then...

17. (19) Lanus. Have not played since they clinched the Apertura crown. Clausura season kicks off Feb. 10 with a tough game against Independiente (that tidbit comes courtesy of our friends at Hasta El Gol Siempre). Will play in the Copa Libertadores where they will face Ecuadorian side Olmedo in a play-in series with the first leg coming up Friday (the return follows Feb. 5). If they win, they're in to the group stage where they will face Estudiantes, Uruguay's Danubio and Deportivo Cuenca from Ecuador.

18. (15) Atletico Madrid. Lost both games last week, at Valencia in the Copa del Rey and Mallorca in the Primera. Can make up the one goal difference from the Valencia game Wednesday. Murcia visit Sunday.

19. (20) Sao Paulo. Tied both Torneo Paulista games, against Ituano and Corinthians, and now sit fourth in that competition with eight points. AA Ponte Preta, whom I cannot for one second pretend to have ever heard of, top the table and play Sao Paulo Saturday. The Brazilian champs also play fifth-placed Rio Claro Wednesday.

(18) Espanyol Barcelona. Another bad week for the Periquitos, who lost to Real Betis at home yesterday. Face Getafe Sunday.

21. (21) Arsenal de Sarandi. The Copa Sudamericana champs will face Venezuelan side Mineros de Guyana in a home-and-home play-in for the Copa Libertadores with the first leg taking place tomorrow! Is it on TV in the U.S.? Anybody know? Assuming they advance from that (how could they not? Well, strange things happen in the Copa Lib) they will be in Group 8 with Fluminense, Paraguay's Libertad and Liga de Quito (even I know that's Ecuador).

22. (-) Boca Juniors. The boys from the Bombonera make their return to the list after an impressive superclasico victory in the Torneo de Verano Saturday. I know the torneo is just a preseason scrimmage, but this game was hard-fought (I caught the first half on Fox Soccer Channel). The two sides meet again Saturday in the Copa Revancha. Is that still part of the Torneo de Verano?

23. (-) PSV Eindhoven. Return to the Top 25 after a long absence (Dec. 3, if you care about these things) by virtue of winning both Eredivisie games they played last week. Lead the Dutch league by five points over Ajax Amsterdam, whom they face at the ArenA Wednesday. Also travel to AZ Alkmaar on Sunday.

24. (-) AEK Athens. The Greek Super League table-toppers won both games last week. Face intercity rivals Panionios Wednesday and Larisa Sunday. I figure if Olympiakos are as high as they are in the Top 25, then the team that is one point better than them in their domestic league should be here as well. AEK are still alive in the UEFA Cup as well, where they face Getafe in the first knockout round.

25. (-) Atlante. Mexico's Apertura champs make their return to the list after an impressive victory over UNAM Pumas at Mexico City's Estadio Olympico yesterday (a rematch of the finals from last year). The Cancun side now lead their group with four points from two games (they tied Chiapas back on Jan. 19). Face Tecos Saturday.

Dropping out: Everton (22), Liverpool (23), Club America (24), Werder Bremen (25).

Also receiving consideration (in rough order of consideration received): Galatasaray, Rangers, Ajax, Independiente, Udinese, Celtic.

We are entering a crucial stretch of the European calendar, especially in Italy and England. Leagues in Spain and Portugal appear settled but can of course become undone with an upset or two and/or injuries to key players. Teams will be looking to hit their peak form for the spring when UEFA and Champions League play returns. In Latin America, Copa Libertadores qualifiers are about to kick off, as is the Clausura season in Argentina. So more is about to be revealed. Stay tuned...


  1. Where do the LA Galaxy come in on this list? What about any MLS teams?

  2. MLS teams have just as much a chance of making the list as anybody else but have historically not featured very significantly (to put it mildly. I think DC United was "receiving consideration" at one point last season). Reason for this is that MLS clubs have not been tested very much against international competition (and not at all since I've been keeping the list...at least not in competitive matches). Having said that, I would certainly expect DC United to make a run this year, thanks in no small part to their activity on the international (Latin) transfer market. As for the Galaxy, they need to win some games in the league first.

  3. Apollon Kalamaria are relegation fodder as things stand; I'd say they ought to be easy prey for Olympiakos, but the last time I thought something like that, Oly drew 3-3 with Ergotelis, who were already doing horribly and are now dead last in the league. (If anyone's wondering, Kalamaria is a suburb of Salonica, making Apollon near neighbors of PAOK and Aris.)

  4. Manchester United #1? With the wide open midfield? interesting, I put MAN U @ #10;

    I agree with most. Not so much about Athens, I don't think they belong up here with the big boys, decent side but they lack the quality that this list has.

    TJ, MLS? no-no-no. MLS is absolute crap compared to these guys. Becks came here off the bench at a weakened Real team, played hurt, uninspired, and was still by FAR the best player in the league.