Dec 15, 2008

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Dec. 15, 2008

Readers who have been following the Top 25 will know full well who graces the top of this week's list; the same team that was in this position last week and the week before. The team that beat its most hated rival on Saturday afternoon and who now has a commanding lead in the Spanish liga. Can anybody dethrone Barca? And what about the teams behind them? Only one way to find out: Read on!

1 (1). FC Barcelona
Pep Guardiola's boys lost a meaningless midweek match-up with Shakhtar Donetsk but shined against their archrivals, Real Madrid, on Saturday night. After Real managed to withstand a relentless onslaught that lasted 80 minutes (largely if not entirely due to the heroics of Ilker Casillas, who saved a penalty kick in one of the best saves you're likely to see, pretty much ever), Barca broke through on 83 minutes. They added a second in injury time as a coup de grace. Real didn't play badly, they were just outplayed. Every other club team in the world would have suffered the same fate. Barca now have an eight point lead in La Liga. It's not over yet but the Catelan club look very, very strong.
Next Up: Another huge game, this one at fourth-placed Villareal, Sunday.
Against Top 25 (when they were Top 25): Beat Atletico Madrid at home (6-1, Oct. 4), beat Sporting Lisbon at home (3-1, Sept. 16), beat Sporting Lisbon away (5-2, Nov. 26), beat Sevilla away (3-0, Nov. 29), beat Valencia at home (4-0, Dec. 6), beat Real Madrid at home (2-0, Dec. 13).

2 (
3). Inter Milan
Inter lost at Werder Bremen at midweek, which cost them first place in their group. That result could prove significant in the long term, as it sets Inter up for a potentially tough Round of 16 match-up (Bayern Munich, Man United, Liverpool, Panathinaikos or Porto). Over the short term, however, their domestic form propel them up a spot from last week after beating Chievo to maintain their six point lead in Serie A.
Next Up: At Siena, Saturday. Then Cagliari (it's pronounced "Calliardi". The "g" is silent) a week on.
Against Top 25: Lost to AC Milan (1-0, Sept. 28), won at Panathinaikos (2-0, Sept. 16), tied at Fiorentina (0-0, Oct. 29), beat Udinese (1-0, Nov. 9), beat Juventus (1-0, Nov. 22) .

3 (2). Liverpool
Reds won at Eindhoven in a meaningless Champions League game then inexplicably dropped two points against Hull City at Anfield Saturday. They still lead the Premiership by one point due to Chelsea not being able to beat inferior competition either. More on Chelsea later on.
Next Up: A massive game at Emirates (the stadium, not the country) Sunday. Reds host Bolton on Boxing Day.
Against Top 25: Beat Manchester United (2-1, Sept. 13), beat Olympique Marseille on the road (2-1, Sept. 16), tied Atletico Madrid (1-1 at Madrid, Oct. 22 and 1-1 at Anfield, Nov. 6), won at Chelsea (1-0, Oct. 26).

4 (5). Juventus
Claudio Ranieri's team played BATE Borisov to a scoreless tie at midweek, then beat third-placed Serie A side AC Milan in a massive game yesterday.
Next Up: Visit Atalanta di Bergamo, Sunday.
Against Top 25: Beat Zenit St. Petersburg at home (1-0, Sept. 17) and tied on the road (0-0, Nov. 25), tied at Fiorentina (1-1, Aug. 31), tied at BATE Borisov (2-2, Sept. 30), beat Real Madrid (2-1 at home, Oct. 22 and 2-0 at the Bernabeu, Nov. 5), lost at Inter Milan (1-0, Nov. 22), beat AC Milan at home (4-2, Dec. 14)

5 (4). Bayern Munich
Juergen Klinsmann's side won a big game at Lyon at midweek to clinch their Champions League group, then dropped two points at Stuttgart Saturday. It was the first time Bayern dropped points in six games (in any competition). Still, considering how the season started out, the Bavarian brass will be content where they stand heading into the six week winter break.
Next Up: Nothing until Jan. 27, when they face Stuttgart again, this time for a cu p tie. A big game at Hamburg takes place later that same week.
Against Top 25: Tied Olympique Lyon at home (1-1, Sept. 30), won at Steaua Bucharest (1-0, Sept. 17), beat Fiorentina at home (3-0, Oct. 22), tied at Fiorentina (1-1, Nov. 6), beat Hoffenheim (2-1, Dec. 5), beat Olympique Lyon on the road (3-2, Dec. 10).

6. (6). Chelsea
Beat Cluj (though not without difficulty) at mid-week to assure passage to the Round of 16 in the Champs League. Then were unable to beat West Ham yesterday, drawing the East London side 1-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Next Up: Visit Everton a week from today. Host West Brom on Boxing Day and go to Craven Cottage Sunday, Dec. 28.
Against Top 25 clubs: Tied Man U at home (1-1, Sept. 21), lost to Liverpool (1-0, Oct. 25), lost to Arsenal at home (2-1, Nov. 30).

7 (7). Manchester United
Sir Alex' men nearly blew first place in their Champions League group, but were able to come back and tie Danish minnows Aalborg at midweek. Then played another tie Saturday, at White Hart Lane. United sit third in the Prem, five points behind Chelsea and six behind Liverpool with a game in hand on both clubs.
Next Up: Face Gamba Osaka at the Club World Cup Thursday. Then Stoke City on Boxing Day.
Against Top 25: Lost to Zenit St. Petersburg (2-1), lost at Liverpool (2-1, Sept. 13), tied Villareal at home (0-0, Sept. 17) and away (0-0, Nov. 25), tied at Chelsea (1-1, Sept. 21), beat Celtic at home (3-0, Oct. 22) and tied at Celtic Park (1-1, Nov. 6), lost at Arsenal (2-1, Nov. 8).

8 (11). AS Roma
The giallorossi won both games last week, the first over Girondins Bordeaux to win the Champs League group, the second over Cagliari (it's pronounced "Calliardi". The "g" is silent) to move up to 10th in Serie A. After a horrific start to the season, Roma are (almost) back in the thick of things (in Serie A. In Europe they've always been fine).
Next Up: Host Bologna in a Coppa Italia match Wednesday then play at Catania Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost at home to Inter (4-0, Oct. 19), lost at Chelsea (1-0, Oct. 22), lost at Udinese (3-1, Oct. 26), lost at Juventus (2-0, Nov. 1), beat Chelsea (3-1, Nov. 4), beat Fiorentina (1-0, Nov. 29).

9. (8) AC Milan
The rossoneri lost a big game at No. 4 Juventus to slip to fourth in Serie A.
Next Up: Host Wolfsburg in a meaningless UEFA Cup game Wednesday, then host Lazio Sunday. AS Roma looms when Serie A returns to action Jan. 11.
Against Top 25: Beat Inter Milan (1-0, Sept. 28), beat Lazio (4-1, Sept. 21), lost at Juventus (4-2, Dec. 14).

10 (9). Arsenal
Gunners continue to not impress, losing their Champions League group stage finale at Porto to lose first place in their group, then drawing Middlesbrough 1-1 Saturday. They also slipped out of the Big Four for the first time.
Next Up: Host Liverpool Sunday, then visit Aston Villa (the club who replaced them at No. 4 in the Premiership) on Boxing Day. Interesting days ahead, then...
Against Top 25: Tied Dynamo Kiev away (1-1, Sept. 17) won at home (1-0, Nov. 25), beat Man United at home (2-1, Nov. 8), beat Chelsea away (2-1, Nov. 30).

11 (12). Atletico Madrid
The rojiblancos played Olympique Marseille to a scoreless draw in a meaningless game, then beat Real Betis (2-0) yesterday.
Next Up: At Espanyol Saturday. A game they better win because the two after that are no picnic: at Valencia (Jan. 4) and at home to Barca (Jan. 7).
Against Top 25: Lost at Barcelona (6-1, Oct. 4), lost to Real Madrid (2-1, Oct. 18), tied Liverpool (1-1, Oct. 23), tied Villareal (4-4, Oct. 26), tied at Liverpool (1-1, Nov. 5).

12 (10). Villareal
The yellow submarine lost both games they played last week. The first at Celtic (2-0), cost them first place in their Champions League group (they still advance to the Round of 16, but their task will likely be far more difficult). The second, at Sevilla (1-0) cost them a few spots in La Liga.
Next Up: Host No. 1 Barcelona Sunday.
Against Top 25: Tied Man U twice (0-0 at Old Trafford, Sept. 18 and 0-0 at home Nov. 25), beat Celtic at home (1-0, Sept. 29), tied Atletico Madrid at home (4-4, Oct. 26), lost at Sevilla (1-0, Dec. 14).

13 (
13). Real Madrid
Lost at No. 1 Barca to drop all the way to sixth in La Liga. They did win a meaningless game at Zenit St. Petersburg (causing everybody to talk about what a great move it had been to fire Bernd Schuster. The Barca game put an end to that talk, at least temporarily). Like we said earlier, Real didn't play badly at Camp Nou, they just didn't have any answers for the best team on the planet. They're in pretty bad shape in La Liga and probably won't win the title for a third consecutive time. But they should still make the Champions League spots. The teams ahead of them (Valencia, Sevilla, Villareal and Atletico) are flawed. Look for the Royalists to leapfrog them before all is said and done. In the meantime you'll have to endure talk about how terrible they are. Don't believe it.
Next Up: Host Valencia Saturday. Villareal visit Bernabeu Jan. 4.
Against Top 25: Beat Zenit St. Petersburg twice (2-1 on the road, Sept. 30 and 3-0 at home, Dec. 9), beat Atletico Madrid (2-1, Oct. 18), lost to Juventus (2-1 on the road, Oct. 22 and 2-0 at home, Nov. 5), lost at Barca (2-0, Dec. 14).

14 (16). Aston Villa
Villa stood out by actually winning their weekend Premiership tie (while everybody else seemed to draw). The opponent, Bolton Wanderers, are no great shakes, but Martin O'Neill's men continue their march up the Premiership table with the victory. They're now fourth. Yes, fourth. Yes, Villa.
Next Up: A meaningless game at Hamburg before West Ham (at Upton Park) Saturday and Arsenal at home on Boxing Day.
Against Top 25: Tied Liverpool at home (0-0, Aug. 31), lost at Chelsea (2-0, Oct. 5), beat Arsenal away (2-0, Nov. 15) tied Man United at home (0-0, Nov. 22)

15 (15). Sporting Lisbon
Beat Basel in the Champions League finale. Considering the Swiss club were (by a substantial margin) the worst team in the CL this year, this doesn't earn them any points. Sporting are third in the Portuguese league, three points behind table toppers Benfica.
Next Up: Host Academica de Coimbra, Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Barcelona (3-1 away, Sept. 19 and 5-2 home, Nov. 25).

16 (18). Panathinaikos
The Greek club won both games they played last week, the first against Anorthosis Famagusta to win their Champions League group (pretty impressive considering the other teams were No. 2 Inter Milan and Werder Bremen). They then won their Super League (that's what they call the Greek league for some reason) game over the weekend. Panathinaikos sit third in Greece, three points behind surprising third placed side PAOK Saloniki and seven behind defending champions Olympiakos.
Next Up: Another Super League game Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Inter Milan at home (2-0, Sept. 16), beat Inter Milan (1-0 away on Nov. 25)

17 (14). Olympique Lyon
L'OL lost a big game against No. 5 Bayern Munich, though they still advance in the Champions League (how far is another matter. Lyon has had several teams this decade that could compete with just about anybody. This isn't one of them). Managed a scoreless draw in the "choc" with Olympique Marseille to hold their three point lead over said team in Ligue Un.
Next Up: Visit Caen Saturday, before the winter break ensues. Host Lorient when it returns Jan. 10.
Against Top 25: Tied Fiorentina at home (2-2, Sept. 17) and Bayern Munich on the road (1-1, Sept. 30), won at Fiorentina (2-1, Nov. 25), lost to Bayern at home (3-2, Dec. 10).

18 (17). FC Sao Paulo
The Brazilian champs (third year in a row) were idle last week and will remain so for the forseeable future.
Next Up: When does Libertadores start, anybody know?

19 (19). Standard Liege
The Belgian champs beat fellow UEFA Cup participants Bruges 4-1 to leapfrog said team for second place in the Jupiler League.
Next Up: A meaningless game at Stuttgart, Thursday. Host fifth-placed Gent Sunday in the last game of the year.
Against Top 25: Lost to Liverpool in Champions League qualifiers (1-0 in aggregate on an overtime goal in the second leg), beat Sevilla at home (2-0, Nov. 6).

20 (22). Sevilla
Beat Villareal, 1-0, Saturday. A nice win over quality competition that moves Manuel Jimenez' side into third place in La Liga.
Next Up: Visit Sampdoria (it's pronounced "Samdoria". The "p" is silent) Thursday. Lose and they could miss the next round (if Stuttgart beat Liege in the other game in the group)
Against Top 25: Won at Atletico Madrid (1-0, Sept. 28), won at Real Madrid (4-3, Dec. 7), beat Villareal at home (1-0, Dec. 13).

21 (20). Internacional
The Porto Allegre side beat Estudiantes 2-1 over two legs to take the Copa Sudamericana (not last week but the week before). That will assure them a spot in the Top 25 for a little while (see Arsenal de Sarandi from last year, specifically here and here).
Against Top 25: Beat Boca Juniors and Chivas de Guadelajara over two legs in the Copa Sudamericana quarter- and semi-finals respectively.

22 (-). CA San Lorenzo
The Buenos Aires side, whose full name is Club Atl├ętico San Lorenzo de Almagro, make their first-ever appearance in the Top 25 this week. Why? Not because they won the Apertura title (as previously--and it turns out, erroneously, reported) but because El Ciclon (ironically this year is the club's 100 year anniversary) became the third team to qualify for the championship Liguilla with a gutsy 1-0 victory at Argentinos Juniors last night. The other teams are Boca Juniors and Tigre. Hasta el Gol siempre has more on the three team playoff.

23 (-). Valencia
Beat Espanyol Barcelona to move into second place in La Liga. We just can't get excited at Valencia's prospects though, given their record against quality competition (see below) .
Next Up: Visit St. Etienne in UEFA Cup group play Wednesday (they're all but through to the next round though a point would assure this), then visit No. 13 Real Madrid Saturday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Real Madrid over two legs in Spanish Supercup, tied at Sevilla (0-0, Nov. 22), lost at Barcelona (4-0, Dec. 6).

24 (-). Deportivo Toluca
The Diablos Rojos make their debut appearance on the Top 25 after vanquishing Mexico City side Cruz Azul over two legs in the Apertura championship finale. They almost blew it though, after taking the first leg (at Mexico City) 2-0, Cruz Azul promptly returned the favor yesterday. Jose Manuel de la Torre's men ultimately took it in penalty kicks. (Speaking of de la Torre, you may be hearing more about him soon, at least if you're in Spain which has had successful Mexican coaches before. He's just 43 and previously won a championship with Chivas).

25 (25). Hoffenheim
The surprise team of the German (if not entire European) season held on to the Top 25 by coming back to tie Schalke 04 and clinch the unofficial title of "Wintermeister" (winter champion. Sometimes they also use "Herbstmeister"--fall champion) in the Bundesliga. An amazing turn for the promoted side, who will be bolstered with the addition of Timo Hildebrand in the January transfer window.
Next Up: Face Cottbus when the Bundesliga returns, Jan. 31.
Against Top 25: Beat Hamburg SV at home (3-0, Oct. 26), lost at Bayern Munich (2-1, Dec. 5).

Dropping Out:
Cruz Azul (22), Zenit St. Petersburg (24).

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