Sep 22, 2008

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Sept. 22, 2008

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Top 25, the Soccer Source ranking committee was faced with arguably our toughest task yet: deciding this week's #1. The identity of the top club was of course cast into doubt after last week's #1 was outplayed and outcoached for large portions of yesterday's game, which came against a team that did not even field its best player. The 1-1 final spared Chelsea the ultimate ignonimy of losing their first game of the season--at home no doubt. But would the top club in the soccer world really let that happen? How would we decide?

1. (Last week: 1). Chelsea
Let the hating begin! Chelsea gets the nod again. Why? Primarily because despite yesterday's hiccup, Blues have yet to lose a game this season. Also, let's not forget the Man U match was not the only game Chelsea played last week; earlier they savagely undressed Girondins Bordeaux by a 4-0 tally. And dropping points to Man United, even without Cristiano, and even at home is simply not enough to be removed from this perch--especially with no other viable candidates emerging last week. Now if Kalou hadn't equalized 10 minutes from time we'd be singing a completely different tune. But he did. So we aren't.
Next Up: At Pompey in the League Cup, Wednesday. Then at Stoke on Saturday, followed by a trip to Roma beaters CFR Cluj in the Champions League.

2 (2). Inter Milan
Had no problem with either game last week, the first was at Panathinaikos in the Champions League opener and was won by Inter, 2-0. A visit to Turin (not Juventus) went over without a hitch as the nerrazurri won 3-1, which is like a blowout in the Italian league.
Next Up: Lecce at home Wednesday, followed by the Milan derby Sunday. Werder Bremen visits for matchday two in the Champions League next week.
Quality Win: Roma (Supercoppa)

3 (3). Juventus
Beat UEFA Champs Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champs League last Wednesday and won at Cagliari over the weekend. Both victories, as well as last week's were by 1-0 scores. Efficient, efficient.
Next Up: Catania in Serie A action (home) Wednesday, followed by a trip to Sampdoria Saturday. BATE Borisov visit next week for a UCL game.
Quality Win: Zenit St. Petersburg (1-0, Sept. 17).

4 (5). Real Madrid
Beat BATE Borisov in the Champs League as expected, though only by 2-0. Still a win is a win. Speaking of wins, Bernd Schuster's men also saw off Racing Santander on the road yesterday.
Next Up: Sporting Gijon at Bernabeu Wednesday, Real Betis in Seville, then a trip to Zenit St. Petersburg for a Champions League match.
Quality Win: Valencia (Aug. 24) in Spanish Supercup.

5 (4). Olympique Lyon
Came back to tie Fiorentina in the Champions League opener Wednesday. Then won at Le Havre to open up a four point lead in Ligue Un. L'OL are once again looking too strong for the French league. Maybe have them join Spain or Italy?
Next Up: Host Nancy Saturday. This isn't quite the same side that stretched Lyon nearly to their limit last year. This season, Nancy is 13th in the 20-team French league. Lyon visit Bayern Munich a week Tuesday in the Champions League.

6 (7). Manchester United
Despite yesterday's strong showing, the Red Devils have still been inconsistent. There was the loss to Liverpool a week ago and a scoreless draw at home to Villareal last week. Granted the Yellow Submarine have the look of a very strong side that could and should challenge for the Spanish league crown (and who knows, maybe for continental glory as well). But United's inability to beat them means they aren't quite ready for the top five. Yet.
Next Up: Host Middlesbrough in the League Cup, Wednesday, followed by Bolton, also at home, followed by a trip to Aalborg in the CL.

7 (10). FC Barcelona
Now that's more like it! Barcelona are clearly off the schneid. After beating Sporting Lisbon at Camp Nou, Barca beat up on Sporting Gijon (a team they have historically struggled with, especially on the road) by 6-1.
Next Up: Host Real Betis Wednesday, followed by the Barcelona derby (at Espanyol) Saturday. Then it's off to the Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

8 (6). Arsenal
Had no trouble with Bolton, Saturday. But also tied Dynamo Kiev in CL action earlier in the week. The Ukranian club is clearly resurgent, arguably playing their best soccer since a guy named Shevchenko was on their team. But we didn't think they were that good.
Next Up: Host Sheffield United in the League Cup tomorrow. Then Hull City visit Emirates, followed by Porto.

9 (11). Villareal.
After the scoreless draw at Old Trafford at No. 7 Man United, the Yellow Submarine needed to beat CD Numancia on the road to make their first ever Top 10 appearance. Mission accomplished. The team came back to win the game after being down 1-0 at halftime.
Next Up: Racing Santander Wednesday (home), Sporting Gijon (away) and Celtic (home).

10 (12). Atletico Madrid
Beat up on PSV Eindhoven in Matchday 1 of the Champions League, then smacked around Recreativo Huelva by a 4-0 score yesterday.
Next Up: At Getafe, Wednesday, followed by Sevilla and Olympique Marseille at home on Sunday and Wednesday next week, respectively.
Quality win: Schalke in UCL qualifier over two legs.

11 (8). Liverpool
Got lucky in their Champions League match at Olympique Marseille and then were unable to get past a scoreless draw with Stoke. Like we said, Reds are very inconsistent.
Next Up: Crew Alexandra (hey shouldn't that be Crew Alexander if it's a mens team?) in the League Cup, followed by the Merseyside derby, followed by PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League.
Quality Win: Manchester United, Sept. 13

12 (16). Valencia
Won both games last week by 1-0 margins: against Martimo Funchal (whoever that is) in the UEFA Cup and Osasuna in the Spanish league. Oh yeah, Valencia are now in first place in La Liga.
Next Up: At Malaga Thursday, followed by Deportivo La Coruna Sunday and the return leg against Martimo Funchal. Both of the latter games are at home.

13 (9). Bayern Munich
Yes Reds fans, we know. Bayern should be punished more for losing 5-2 at home than Liverpool was for drawing Stoke City 0-0. The only reason we aren't dropping Bayern further back is because none of the teams in the second half of the table really managed to step up. So Bayern can't be that bad, can they? Granted the loss at home to Werder Bremen (that 5-2 beatdown we just referred to) was ugly, but Jurgen Klinsmann's men looked halfway decent in the midweek victory at Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League. Still, a top 10 side this ain't.
Next Up: Host Nuernberg in the DFB Pokal (German cup tie) Wednesday, followed by a trip to Hannover 96. No. 5 Olympique Lyon looms a week from tomorrow in the next stage of their Champions League saga. That game will be home for Bayern. A decent chance to make amends, in other words.

14 (17). Fiorentina
Blew a 2-0 lead at No. 5 Olympique Lyon before eventually escaping with a tie at midweek. Beat Bologna at home yesterday.
Next Up: At Lazio Wednesday, which should be tough seeing as the Roman side sit third in Serie A. Saturday it's Genoa followed by Steaua Bucharest in Champions League action next week.

15 (19.) Sporting Lisbon
Lost at No. 7 FC Barcelona in the Champions League but won their Portuguese league match over the weekend. With nine points from three games they now have a three-point lead in said league.
Next Up: At Benfica Saturday. FC Basel visits a week from Wednesday for a Champions League game that is quickly shaping up as "must win". Then FC Porto visit next weekend. A tough round of games, in other words.

16 (13). AS Roma
After Roma lost to CFR Cluj at home in last week's Champions League match-up, they were not only widely ridiculed by Soccer Source--we also pledged to remove them from the next iteration of the Top 25. That was before we did a tiny bit of research on Cluj and discovered they were the defending Romanian league and cup winners. So with apologies to Cluj fans everywhere, we are keeping Roma on the list. (Full disclosure: the fact that nearly every other possible candidate for a Top 25 spot performed poorly at least once last week did factor into the equation).
Next Up: At Genoa Wednesday, then at home to Atalanta Bergamo, followed by a trip to Girondins Bordeaux for Matchday 2 of the Champs league.

17 (23). Atlante
The defending Apertura champions won at Club America yesterday but their healthy jump in the standings is more due to the fact that every team between ahead of them lost games last week.
Next Up: Another Mexico City side, UNAM Pumas, at home Sunday. This game has serious playoff implications as the two clubs are 1-2 in their Apertura group.

18 (15). Zenit St. Petersburg
After losing a close game to No. 3 Juventus, Zenit were soundly defeated by Spartak Moscow at home. Sucks for them, but Spartak is strong in Russia, having not lost in nine games.
Next Up: Another Moscow club (Lokomotive Moscow) before Real Madrid pay a visit Tuesday, Sept. 30.

19 (18). Olympique Marseille
After the unlucky Champs League loss to No. 11 Liverpool, l'OM played a scoreless tie with Monaco at home. Still, unbeaten in the French league. But Lyon are slipping away...
Next Up: At Sochaux in the French cup, followed by Le Mans in league action and No. 10 Atletico Madrid in the CL next week. All three games are away. We have a funny feeling Marseille will not live to see the next 25. But we've been wrong before. Even with the funny feelings.

20. Dynamo Kiev (-)
The Ukrainian side make their first appearance in the Top 25 (at least as far as we could tell. Please let us know if you know differently). The 1-1 game with No. 8 Arsenal obviously had a lot to do with it, but the team has only lost once in 14 games this season. That includes a tough CL qualifier against Spartak Moscow (who beat No. 18 Zenit St. Petersburg over the weekend). Dynamo is second in the Ukrainian league. They face Fenerbahce on the road next week.

21. Celtic (-)
The Bhoys make their first appearance on the Top 25 since they were 23 in the preseason edition of the rankings. And why not? While currently second in the SPL, Celtic did something their hated rivals could not pull off this year: qualify for the Champions League. Yes, they underachieved in last week's scoreless draw to Aalborg and yes Rangers beat them in the first of this year's Old Firm games. Still, we think Celtic belong.
Next Up: Host Livingstone Tuesday, Aberdeen Sunday, then it's off to Villareal in what could be a crucial Champions League game (depending on how badly Man U beat Aalborg in the other match).

22 (22) Steaua Bucharest
The Romanian side lost to No. 13 Bayern Munich at home but rebounded nicely to win their domestic league game and are first in the Romanian league after eight rounds of play.
Quality Win: Galatasaray over two legs in CL qualification.

23 (25). Shakhtar Donetsk
The Ukrainian club had little difficulties at FC Basel in their Champs League opener last week but played a scoreless tie at Arsenal Kiev (I'm not making this up. That's the name of the team).
Next Up: Some local team this weekend, then No. 7 Barca pay a visit next week.

24. Palmeiras (-)

The Sao Paolo side's debut was made possibly after Boca Juniors lost at home to Tigre and opened up the required CONMEBOL spot. The ranking committee passed on the first-placed team in the Brazilian league, Gremio Porto Allegre, because it previously failed to qualify for the Copa Sudamericana. That and Palmeiras scored a pair of impressive victories last week, both over Vasco Da Gama. The first was the second leg Sudamericana match, which they won 3-0 to negate a 3-1 loss in the first leg.
Next Up: More Sudamericana action. A trip to Sport Ancash Huaraz, whoever that is, Thursday (the return leg is next week already). Also a Brazlian league game Sunday.
p.s. Palmeiras are only one point behind Gremio in the Brazilian league standings.

25 (21). Panathinaikos
After a loss against No. 2 Inter Milan last week, the Greek club rebounded with a victory at Saloniki over the weekend to keep pace with the leaders (Olympiakos).
Next Up: At surprise Champions League qualifier Anorthosis Famagusta, who even more surprisingly tied their first CL game with Werder Bremen.

Dropping Out:
PSV Eindhoven (14), AS Roma (13), Boca Juniors (20), Hamburg SV (24),

Also receiving consideration:
Schalke 04, Cruz Azul, Santos Laguna, Aston Villa, Besiktas Istanbul, CA San Lorenzo

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