Oct 5, 2008

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Oct. 6, 2008

Welcome to the last Top 25 before a two week break for international competition. It was a very interesting week, with several top 10 teams losing key matches. How would that affect matters? Let's take a look:

1. (Last week: 1). Chelsea
This one is still pretty easy. The undisputed No. 1 team (that we can tell, at least) stumbled a bit in their midweek Champions League game last week, playing a scoreless game at CFR Cluj. Blues did a lot better in their Premiership game yesterday, seeing off Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge by a 2-0 score. Chelsea is one of few unbeaten teams left in the Top 25 (or anywhere, really) and have not been scored on in five games.
Next Up: At Middlesbrough, Saturday, Oct. 18. Then Roma at home, followed by a top of the able clash with Liverpool on Oct. 26.
Against (past or present) Top 25 clubs: Tied Man U at home (1-1, Sept. 21)

2 (2). Real Madrid
Putting Real at #2 was a lot tougher than placing Chelsea first. Real did beat Zenit St. Petersburg in a tough Champions League match at midweek, but managed only a point against Espanyol Barcelona at home yesterday. Espanyol is good though, which ultimately settled this question.
Next Up: Two tough road matches against Atletico Madrid and Juventus.
Against Top 25: Won at Zenit St. Petersburg (2-1, Sept. 30), beat Valencia over two legs in Spanish Supercopa.

3 (5). Manchester United
Had no problem with either opponent last week, winning both games (at Aalborg in the CL and Blackburn in the EPL) by a combined 5-0 score. Red Devils are fighting their way up the Premiership table just like we predicted they would (and unlike poor Tottenham Hotspur, but that's a sensitive subject).
Next Up: Host West Bromwich Albion Saturday, Oct. 18, followed by Celtic the following Tuesday, also at home.
Against Top 25: Tied Villareal at home (0-0, Sept. 17), tied at Chelsea (1-1, Sept. 21), lost at Liverpool (2-1, Sept. 13), lost to Zenit St. Petersburg (2-1).

4 (7). Villareal.
Beat Celtic and Real Betis. Both games were harder than anticipated. Celtic put up a good fight and Betis actually led in the game.
Next Up: Visit Espanyol Oct. 19, then Aalborg, then Atletico Madrid.
Against Top 25: Tied Man U at Old Trafford (0-0, Sept. 18), beat Celtic at home (1-0, Sept. 29)

5 (8). FC Barcelona
Got a bit lucky in their first victory last week, against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. The second one was not as close. Barca saw off Atletico Madrid, who were supposed to be good, by 6-1. Ouch. We'll get to the impact on Atletico in a bit. But for now: Barca are back, mates.
Next Up: Visit Atletico Bilbao and FC Basel.
Against Top 25: Beat Atletico Madrid at home (6-1, Oct. 4), beat Sporting Lisbon at home (3-1, Sept. 16).

6 (4). Inter Milan
A home draw with Werder Bremen in Champions League action, then beat Bologna. Is it just us or are Inter losing their form?
Next Up: At Roma, Oct. 19.
Against Top 25: Lost to AC Milan (1-0, Sept. 28), won at Panathinaikos (2-0, Sept. 16)

7 (10). Liverpool
Had no problem PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League but the more interesting game was against Manchester City. The game definitely lived up to its billing as Man City took a 2-0 halftime lead. But Reds came roaring back and ended up winning a classic encounter. Only one of two unbeaten sides left in the Premiership (the other being Chelsea). So why aren't Liverpool higher up, especially than Man U, whom they beat onthe field? Inconsistency. Yes, they beat Man U and yes they looked good coming back against Man. City yesterday, but they did have to come back and separately struggled against the likes of Crew Alexandra, Stoke City and Standard Liege. But we're about to see if Reds are for real, because...
Next Up: Wigan at Anfield (Oct. 19) and a trip to Atletico Madrid (Oct. 22). Then it's off to Stamford Bridge. Don't be surprised if Reds look past Wigan, in other words...
Against Top 25: Beat Manchester United (2-1, Sept. 13), beat Olympique Marseille on the road (2-1, Sept. 16).

8 (9). Valencia
First saw off Martimo Funchal, 2-1 at home in the return leg of the UEFA Cup tie (Valencia had a 1-0 lead from the first leg so they didn't even need this result but the Top 25 has strange effects on teams' play, it appears), then beat Valladolid to keep pace with No. 4 Villareal at the top of the Spanish league table (Valencia have the edge for now on goal difference).
Next Up: Host Numancia, Oct. 19, then visit Recreativo Huelva the following Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Real Madrid over two legs in Spanish Supercup.

9 (3). Juventus
Tied BATE Borisov, 2-2 then lost to Palermo at home. Not a very good week...
Next Up: At Napoli (Oct. 19), then host No. 2 Real Madrid. The plot thickens...
Against Top 25: Beat Zenit St. Petersburg (1-0, Sept. 17), tied at Fiorentina (1-1, Aug. 31), tied at BATE Borisov (2-2, Sept. 30).

10 (5). Olympique Lyon
Drew Bayern Munich 1-1 in Champions League play then inexplicably got beat 3-0 by Stade Rennes yesterday.
Next Up: Host Lille, Saturday Oct. 18 followed by a trip to Steaua Bucharest Oct. 21 for Matchday 3 in the CL.
Against Top 25: Tied Fiorentina at home (2-2, Sept. 17) and Bayern Munich on the road (1-1, Sept. 30).

11. (14) AC Milan
Had no problem FC Zurich in the return leg of their UEFA Cup tie, then played Cagliari to a scoreless draw yesterday. The latter game was on the road but Cagliari are dead last in Serie A.
Next Up: Host Sampdoria, Oct. 19, followed by a trip to Atalanta Bergamo, Oct. 26.
Against Top 25: Beat Inter Milan (1-0, Sept. 28), beat Lazio (4-1, Sept. 21).

12. (16) Sevilla
Saw off Red Bull Salzburg in the return leg of their UEFA Cup tie (Sevilla won the first leg, 2-0) then beat up on Atletic Bilbao 4-0. Besides being unbeaten in all competition this year, Sevilla have only given up four goals all season, three of which came in one game (a 4-3 victory over Sporting Gijon on Sept. 13--incidentally the last time anybody put one past starting goalkeeper Andres Palop).
Against Top 25: Won at Atletico Madrid (1-0, Sept. 28)

13 (11). Arsenal
Beat up on Porto by a 4-0 score in the Champions League, then continued their string of disappointing Premiership results by drawing Sunderland on Saturday.
Next Up: Host Everton, Oct. 18, followed by a trip to Fenerbahce for the Champions League.
Against Top 25: Tied Dynamo Kiev (1-1, Sept. 17)

14 (15). Atlante
Mexico's defending Apertura champs beat Puebla to maintain their six-point lead atop Group 1 in the Mexican league. Atlante is not in the Sudamericana so they won't be tested against other (non Mexican) teams this term. But they're clearly the team to beat in Mexico, which makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Next Up: Indoz Juarez, Oct. 12 and the two Guadelajara sides, Chivas (Oct. 19) and Tecos (Oct. 26).
Against Top 25: Beat Club San Luis (Aug. 31)

15 (12). Atletico Madrid
Beat Olympique Marseille at home on Wednesday, then went down (way down) to Barca. 6-1 was the final score of this one. Barca scored five (5) times in 25 minutes of the first half and this thing was over before it even started. Not the type of result you'd expect of somebody who is supposed to be a top 10 team. We'll have to see how Javier Aguirre's men rebound from this. They've showed a lot of promise and clearly have talent but let's see how they deal with some very real adversity.
Next Up: Things don't get any easier after the break. No. 2 Real Madrid (home, Oct. 19), No. 7 Liverpool (home, Oct. 22) and No. 4 Villareal (away, Oct. 26) are on the docket. That's three top 10 sides in a row. We'll have a solid idea of what Atletico are made of when that's done.
Against Top 25: Lost at Barcelona (6-1, Oct. 4),

16. (17) Dynamo Kiev
Played a scoreless game at Fenerbahce in the Champions League last Tuesday then won their domestic league game to maintain their hold on first place. Don't look now but this team has not given up a goal since William Gallas equalized in the 88th minute of the Matchday One tie on Sept. 17.
Next Up: Some Ukranian team on Oct. 18 then visit FC Porto, a team that is knocking on the door of the Top 25 but hasn't done enough to be let in (yet). If Dynamo lose this game we'll have to revisit their ranking, of course.
Against Top 25: Tied Arsenal (1-1, Sept. 17)

17 (13). Zenit St. Petersburg
Lost a tough game to Real Madrid, but rebounded to beat Vladivostok 8-1 in the Russian league, where they now sit fifth,
Next Up: Spartak something-or-other in a Russian league match on Oct. 18. Then it's do or die against BATE Borisov in the Champions League.
Against Top 25: Lost at Juventus (1-0, Sept. 17), lost to Real Madrid (2-1, Sept. 30)

18. (24) Palmeiras
Beat Ancash Huaraz to advance to the quarterfinals of the storied Copa Sudamericana. Also beat Atletico Mineiro 3-1 Saturday to maintain their slight hold (by goal difference) on the Campeonato Brasileiro.
Next Up: At Figuerinse, Thursday. Then host defending champs (and crosstown rivals) FC Sao Paolo on Sunday, Oct. 19, followed by the first leg of their Sudamericana quarterfinal match-up with Argentinos Juniors three days afterwards (the return leg is Nov. 5). In case you're wondering, the quarterfinals feature four Argentine teams, three Brazilian sides and one Mexican club.

19. (18) Celtic
Lost to No. 4 Villareal, which is a forgiveable offense this year. Won their SPL game against Hamilton.
Next Up: Visit Inverness Oct. 18 then a trip to Old Trafford in what may be a must-win if Celtic are going to see any European action after new year's.
Against Top 25: Lost at Villareal (1-0, Sept. 30)

20 (20). Fiorentina
La Viola played Steaua Bucharest to a 0-0 draw in midweek Champions League action then won at Chievo in weekend Serie A action.
Next Up: Host Reggina on Oct. 19, then visit Bayern Munich two days afterwards for CL action.
Against Top 25: Tied Steaua Bucharest at home (0-0, Sept. 30), lost at Lazio (3-0, Sept. 24), tied at Lyon (2-2, Sept. 17), tied Juventus at home (1-1, Aug. 31).

21. CFR Cluj (-)

We made fun of Cluj a good deal when we first heard of them. Shame on us! The Romanian side have been one of the biggest surprises of this season, holding their own (and beating) against some of the very best teams on the continent. This week, they tied No. 1 Chelsea. They previously beat AS Roma--in Rome. Granted Roma has since (actually just this week) dropped out of the Top 25, but Cluj clearly showed they belong.
Next Up: Romanian table-toppers Dinamo Bucharest, Oct. 18 and a trip to Bordeaux for the next CL match, Oct. 22.
Against Top 25: Tied Chelsea (0-0, Sept. 29), beat AS Roma (2-1, Sept. 17).

22. (23) Lazio
Beat Atalanta di Bergamo in the Italian Cup Wednesday, then managed only a tie against Lecce Saturday.
Next Up: At Bologna, Oct. 19 and Napoli at home, Oct. 26.
Against Top 25: Beat Fiorentina (3-0, Sept. 24), lost at AC Milan (4-1, Sept. 21).

23 (19). Bayern Munich
Bayern's clearly in trouble. They played well against Lyon but only got a point for their efforts, then seemed to regress over the weekend when they tied Bochum 3-3 after leading 3-1 in the second half. This is a team that is giving up nearly two goals a game in the Bundesliga. How did that happen? Two words: Oliver Kahn. Besides beiing a stellar goalkeeper, we're sure the former German No. 1 also played an enormous part in keeping Bayern's defense organized.
Next Up: At Karlsruhe (it's pronounced Karls-rooh) on Saturday, Oct. 18. Then host No. 20 Fiorentina and Wolfsburg.
Against Top 25: Tied Olympique Lyon (1-1, Sept. 30), won at Steaua Bucharest (1-0, Sept. 17)

24 (25) Steaua Bucharest
Tied No. 20. Fiorentina and their Romanian league opponents last week.
Next Up: Some Romanian team Oct. 19 followed by No. 10 Olympique Lyon, Oct. 22.
Against Top 25: Tied Fiorentina (0-0, Sept. 30), lost at home to Bayern Munich (1-0, Sept 17), beat Galatasaray over two legs in CL qualifier.

25 (-) BATE Borisov
The Belarusian (or is it Belarussian?) side make their debut in the Top 25. We'll admit to not knowing (or particularly) caring much about Belarusian soccer at the start of the season. But Borisov have clearly held their own in the Champions League, having tied No. 9 Juventus 2-2 just last week. What's also impressive is that the defending Belarusian champs have yet to lose in their domestic league this season--a span of 24 games, as Belarus seems to follow the Russio-Scandinavian-U.S. model of starting the season in the spring. Yeah, it's still the Belarusian league. Still, Borisov gets the nod. For now.
Next Up: Their next CL game is at No. 17 Zenit St. Petersburg. We'll know more from that as Zenit have their backs to the wall if they're to finish third in this group, much less advance to the quarterfinals.
Against Top 25: Tied Juventus at home (2-2, Sept. 30), lost at Real Madrid (2-0).

Dropping Out:
Sporting Lisbon (21), AS Roma (22)

Also receiving consideration:
Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Udinese, CA San Lorenzo, Hamburg SV

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