Feb 18, 2008

The World's Top 25 Soccer Clubs, Feb. 18, 2008

The return of continental play (Copa Libertadores and UEFA Cup) last week threw open a large portion of the Top 25. With Champions League games on the docket for this week, things are about to get even more interesting. But here is where we stand today:

1. (1) Inter Milan. The undisputed No. 1 team beat Livorno over the weekend. Now the Champions League resumes with a trip to Anfield tomorrow. Inter only have one loss this season (at Fenerbahce Istanbul, back on Sept. 19). Will Reds make it two? Uh, no. The nerazzuri also play at Sampdoria Sunday.

2. (5) Manchester United. Thoroughly destroyed Arsenal Saturday. Yes it was "only" FA Cup play, but Arsene Wenger showed up with his 'A' team. And yes, Arse still leads them by five points in the EPL standings, but Man. U have the better record in head-to-head games. There will be at least one more of these this year, April 12 at Old Trafford, potentially to decide the Premiership. This week, Sir Alex' men travel to Lyon for their UCL Round of 16 first leg, then play at Newcastle Saturday.

3. (2) Arsenal. Beat Blackburn a week ago, then got trounced by Man United in their FA Cup match. Now face AC Milan in the first leg of the Champions League knockouts at Emirates Wednesday. Then it's a trip to Birmingham City Saturday.

4. (3) Real Madrid. Lost at Real Betis Saturday. With Barca beating Zaragoza this immediately opens the Liga up. AS Roma is up tomorrow in the signature match-up of the Champions League Round of 16. The first game is at the Bernabeu. Real also host Getafe Sunday.

5. (4) Barcelona. Beat Zaragoza Saturday. The UCL resumes Wednesday with a trip to Celtic Park. Their first trip to Glasgow this season did not go so well. What will happen this time? Who knows? That's why they play the games! Also host Levante Sunday.

6. (10) FC Porto. Won at fifth-placed Maritimo Funchal Saturday. Tomorrow the first leg of their Champs league knockout round with Schalke goes down. Also host a bwinLIGA match Saturday.

7. (6) Roma. Lost to Juventus in one of Saturday's late games. Host #3 Real Madrid in UCL action Wednesday. Then it's Fiorentina Sunday before a game at Inter Feb. 27. So things don't get any easier for the gialorossi. But at least we'll know exactly how good (or not) they are...

8. (11) Juventus. Beat Roma Saturday to close the gap with the second placed Romans to a point. Wait, so they beat them in head-to-head competition, why is Roma still ranked higher? Simply put, Roma have had a much harder schedule than the bianconeri, who haven't (and won't) play any non-Italian teams this season. They're at Reggina Saturday.

9. (8) Chelsea. Beat Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup Saturday. Big deal but now things get interesting, with Olympiakos on the docket for Champions League knockouts. The first leg is tomorrow, in Greece. Also play at White Hart Lane in a League Cup (and London Derby League) match Sunday.

10. (9) Fenerbahce. The only team to defeat Inter Milan this season beat some Turkish minnow on Friday. Now Sevilla visits Wednesday for the first leg of the Champs League knockouts. Also host Bursaspor Saturday, then face Galatasaray (second-placed in the Turkcell Liga) in a cup game Feb. 27.

11. (7) AC Milan. Tied both games last week, to Livorno and at Palermo. Now the big test: a trip to the Emirates for the Champions League knockouts. Then host Palermo on the weekend.

12. (12) Olympiakos. Beat last-placed Ergotelis in Greek Super League encounter. This week #9 Chelsea visits for the first stage of the Champions League knockout round, followed by a trip to PAOK Saloniki. For our purposes, it's just the first one that counts.

13. (13) Bayern Munich. Managed only a tie at Aberdeen last Thursday in the first leg of their UEFA Cup match-up. It shouldn't matter, but you never know when Bayern could choke under the pressure. Their second game last week, a 3-0 victory at Hannover yesterday (hat trick by Luca Toni), was a lot better. We'll see what Bayern team shows up this week: the return leg against Aberdeen is Thursday, then third-placed Hamburg SV pay a visit on Sunday.

14. (17) PSV Eindhoven. Won both games last week, against Helsingborgs in the UEFA Cup Wednesday and at Willem II in the Eredivisie. Now it's the return leg against the Swedish side followed by De Graafschap Sunday.

15. (24) Werder Bremen. Had no problem with Sporting Braga in the first stage of the UEFA Cup Wednesday (a three-nil victory that essentially puts them through to the next round) and saw off Nurnberg without problems either. Kicker called the second one a Pflichtsieg. Gotta love the way you can create your own words in the German language (Pflicht = duty, Sieg = win). The return leg takes place at Braga Thursday followed by a trip to Eintracht Frankfurt.

(15) Olympique Lyonnais. Lost at Le Mans. Face #2 Man. United in Champs League elimination, then host Metz Saturday.

17. (-) Fiorentina. La Viola make their return to the top 25 after winning the first leg of their UEFA Cup match-up at Rosenborg Trondheim and knocking off Catania in Serie A action yesterday. Rosenborg, if you'll recall, had a solid run in the Champions League group stage, so for Fiorentina to win there tells me something. The return leg is Thursday, then a tough trip to AS Roma.

18. (19) Lanus. Argentina's Apertura champs won their Copa Lib opener against Uruguayan champions Danubio, which prompted the Argentine commentators on Fox Sports Espanol to label them the best team in Latin America. They almost had me too, except then Atletico Huracan beat Lanus yesterday. Oh well. El Granate don't play any Copa Lib games next week (their next one is Feb. 26 against Estudiantes). Colon de Santa Fe visit Sunday.

19. (20) Panathinaikos. Played Glasgow Rangers to a scoreless tie at Ibrox last Wednesday. They play three times this week, today against some Greek minnow, Thursday against Rangers and Sunday against another Greek team I can't pretend to know anything about.

20. (14) Villareal. Lost their UEFA Cup match-up at Zenit St. Petersburg at midweek, then managed only a scoreless tie in a home date with Racing Santander yesterday. Up next: the return leg versus Zenit (Thursday) and a trip to Bilbao (Sunday).

21. (25) Chivas de Guadelajara. The only unbeaten team in the Mexican Clausura (four wins and two ties to lead their group) beat Santos Laguna at midweek, then played a scoreless tie at Tigres. Kick off their Copa Libertadores campaign against San Jose tomorrow. Host San Luis on the weekend.

22. (16) Arsenal de Sarandi. The Copa Sudamericana champs lost at Colon de Santa Fe Friday. Their first Copa Lib game is tomorrow against Paraguay's Libertad. Host Club Olimpo Saturday as well.

23. (18) Sao Paulo. Lost their first game of 2008, against Marilia in the Paulista yesterday. Have two more of those this week, against Paulista FC and Noroeste before things get serious with their first Copa Libertadores match, which is a week from Wednesday at Colombia's Atletico Nacional Medellin.

24. (22) Glasgow Rangers. Were not able to beat Panathinaikos at Ibrox Wednesday. Also won at Kilmarnock in SPL action yesterday. Travel to Athens for the return leg Thursday, then host Gretna Sunday.

25. (-) Celtic Glasgow. Saw off Hearts Saturday, 3-0. Celtic has won their last eight games dating back to a tie with Hibs on Dec. 22. Will the streak continue this week? Unlikely. Barca comes to town Wednesday. Celtic have been playing well but beating Barca will be a bit of a stretch nonetheless. Also travel to St. Mirren for weekend SPL action.

Dropping out: Club America (21), Atletico Madrid (23)

Also receiving consideration (in rough order of consideration received): Sevilla, Hamburg SV, Bordeaux, Benfica Lisbon, Everton, Galatasaray, Schalke 04, Boca Juniors, Ajax Amsterdam, Velez Sarsfield, Toluca.

This was one of the most challenging Top 25 lists in recent memory. Not only was there chaos at the top of the list (Man. U versus Arsenal, Real vs. Barca, Roma vs. Juve, etc.) but there were no fewer than a dozen teams to be considered for the final 40% of the table. I ultimately decided to include the two Glasgow teams, partly because they have been playing well and partly because Aberdeen's near upset of Bayern made me respect the SPL a bit more than I had been. HSV, Bordeaux, Everton and Benfica didn't make the cut because they haven't really proven me much against the top clubs (when in fact they even had a chance to prove themselves against such competition, which has not been often). Fiorentina, by contrast, while not booking any huge victories either, did manage a bunch of ties against some of the continent's elite (AC Milan, Roma, Juve, Villareal). But the toughest team to exclude from the list was undoubtedly Sevilla. Here is a team that is still alive in the Champions League, that just matched wits (and should have in fact beaten) Barcelona a week ago and Saturday beat a team (Espanol Barcelona) who had figured in the Top 25 for a long time this season (but they weren't in it when Sevilla beat them, which is what counts). I still feel the teams ranked 20-25 are better than Sevilla right now, though that is of course subject to change. Suffice it to say that if Sevilla beat Fenerbahce this week I won't be able to keep them off the list, regardless what happens in their other game (against Zaragoza Sunday).

But with competition for spots heating up, clubs like Arsenal de Sarandi and Sao Paolo are going to have to prove they belong. Fortunately, with the Copa Libertadores group stage heating up in earnest, they'll get their chance. So will a team like Schalke, which faces a solid top 10 side (Porto) in their Champions League Round of 16 series. And the Copa Lib competition should improve the exposure for other teams as well. So tighten your seatbelts, things are about to get pretty turbulent...


  1. Your words will be eaten. 2-1 Celtic, McGeady putting in a sweet cross in stoppage time to put the bhoys over the top.

  2. its funny, while part of me thinks inter will thrash liverpool i still have this nagging feeling that benitez will claim another scalp in europe. either that or he's out of a job. tough to write them off.

  3. That 'Celtic Glasgow' should be 'Glasgow Celtic' or even just 'Celtic'.

    Hopefully Man Utd will be in for a shocker on Saturday. One can dream...