Feb 9, 2009

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Feb. 9, 2009

Call this the calm before the storm. Intracontinental action returns next week with some UEFA Cup and Copa Libertadores games before the UEFA Champions League puts a definite end to the winder doldrums. How have the world's best teams positioned themselves for this decisive stretch of the season? Let's take a look.

1 (1). FC Barcelona
Okay, so no real surprise here again. Barca had no real problems with either team they faced last week, Mallorca in the first stage of the Copa del Rey semis and Sporting Gijon in the Liga, winning the games 2-0 and 3-1, respectively. It has become an accepted fact that Pep Guardiola's side is not going to be challenged until European competition resumes the week after next. They visit Lyon in the first leg of the Champions League knockouts. That could be interesting. Or Barca could continue to dominate.
Next Up: Visit Real Betis Saturday, then play cross-town rivals Espanyol again. Barca struggled a bit with Espanyol in the Copa del Rey, so this could actually be interesting. Though again, probably not.
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), won at Villareal (2-1, Dec. 21), beat Atletico Madrid over two legs (5-2 aggregate) in the Copa del Rey.

2 (2). Manchester United
Man United have the heroics of an old hand to thank for their latest victory over West Ham United at Upton Park yesterday. The man in question? Ryan Giggs, who scored a heroic late goal to win it for United. Sir Alex' men maintain their two point lead atop the Premiership standings (with a game in hand over second-placed Liverpool).
Next Up: Visit Derby in an F.A. Cup tie Sunday.
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), beat Chelsea at home (3-0, Jan. 11).

3 (3). Inter Milan
Inter rebounded from an iffy week by beating Lecce on the road, 3-0. Their Serie A lead is seven points over Juventus.
Next Up: Visit Lecce. The Milan derby is on for Sunday. Then host Bologna a week from Saturday, then the CL grudgematch with Man United.
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), beat AS Roma in Coppa Italia (2-1, Jan. 21).

4 (6). Real Madrid
Real beat Racing Santander Saturday, 1-0, their seventh straight victory. They have a solid hold on second place in La Liga now, with third-placed Sevilla now nine points off. Unfortunately, it's 12 points between Real and first-placed Barca--a race that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be over. But keep your eyes on Real, who quietly may just be peaking at exactly the right time.
Next Up: Visit Sporting Gijon, Sunday. Then host Real Betis the following Saturday. Then Liverpool visit for the first leg of the CL round of 16.
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), beat Valencia at home (1-0, Dec. 20), beat Villareal at home (1-0, Jan. 4).

5 (4). Liverpool
Reds played one of the craziest (and most entertaining, though not best-played) games of the Premiership season Saturday at Pompey. Trailing by a goal 12 minutes from time, Rafa Benitez' side forced in the equalizer in the 85th minute, then got the winner in stoppage time. There was a fair amount of luck involved, of course, but the victory keeps Liverpool's Premiership hopes alive. Their FA Cup season, meanwhile, went up in smoke at Everton on Wednesday. Worse still, they lost Steven Gerrard for a crucial stretch of the season.
Next Up: Host Man City, Sunday.
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), tied at Arsenal (1-1, Dec. 21), beat Chelsea at home (2-0, Feb. 1).

6 (7). Juventus
Those looking for proof that Serie A is still corrupt and tilted in Juventus' favor had plenty to go by in the team's win at Catania Sunday. The referee let a blatant Juventus handball in their area go and in stoppage time Christian Poulsen stole the winner for the "old lady". Earlier in the week they also beat Napoli in the Coppa Italia.
Next Up: Host Sampdoria, Sunday. Then visit Palermo, then it's off to Stamford Bridge for the Champions League tie with Chelsea.
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)

7. (6) AC Milan
Had to come back to tie Reginna 1-1 on Saturday. At home, which is not very good. They drop a spot, to third place in Serie A--and here as well.
Next Up: The Milan derby, Sunday. Then visit Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup.
Against Top 25: Beat Inter Milan (1-0, Sept. 28), beat Lazio (4-1, Sept. 21), lost at Juventus (4-2, Dec. 14), tied at AS Roma (2-2, Jan. 11).

8 (9). Bayern Munich
Bayern were the only top three Bundesliga team to win their game last week, coming from behind to trounce Borussia Dortmund 3-1. Juergen Klinsmann's side move back into second place with the victory, only one point behind the leaders Hoffenheim.
Next Up: A massive game at third-placed Hertha Berlin on Saturday.
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).

9. (8). Chelsea
Chelsea continue to stumble, playing Hull City to a scoreless draw Saturday. Their Premiership title hopes aren't gone yet, but they're circling the drain for sure. Blues are now fourth, two points behind Aston Villa.
Next Up: Visit Watford in the FA Cup Saturday.
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), lost at Man United (3-0, Jan. 11), lost at Liverpool (2-0, Feb. 1).

10 (10). Olympique Lyon
Won at Nice, 3-1. With second-placed Girondins Bordeaux losing to Marseille, Lyon expands their Ligue Un lead from one to four points. Some badly-needed breathing space in other words.
Next Up: Host Le Havre, Sunday.
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).

11 (11). Aston Villa
Martin O'Neill's side pulled a "Rovers sweep" last week, beating Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup and Blackburn Rovers in the Premiership. They take third place in the Prem with the latter victory.
Next Up: Visit Everton Sunday. The UEFA Cup returns the week after that, with CSKA Moscow playing the first leg at Villa Park, followed by a visit from Chelsea a week Saturday.
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)

12 (13). AS Roma
Convincingly beat Genoa, 3-0, taking fifth place from said club in the process.
Next Up: Visit Atalanta di Bergamo, 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), tied AC Milan at home (2-2, Jan. 11), lost at Inter (2-1, Jan. 21) in Coppa Italia.

13 (12). Arsenal
The good news Arshavin is coming. The bad news is Arsenal really needs him. Or somebody capable of controlling the midfield and contributing some decent ideas to their game. Gunners continue to drop off the pace in the Premiership, yesterday playing a scoreless game at White Hart Lane, of all paces.
Next Up: Host Cardiff in the replay of their FA Cup tie a week from today.
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), tied Liverpool at home (1-1, Dec. 21).

14 (14). Boca Juniors
After wrapping up the Torneo de Verano title last week, Argentina's Apertura champs picked right up where they left off in the Clausura curtain raiser, beating Gimnasia Y Esgrima Jujuy yesterday 2-1.
Next Up: Host Newell's Old Boys, who are the early Clausura leaders, after winning their opener 3-0. That's Sunday. Then it's the Copa Libertadores, where they host Deportivo Cuenca Wednesday, Feb. 18.
Against Top 25: Beat San Lorenzo (3-1, Dec. 20).

15 (16). FC Sao Paulo
The Brazilian champs (third year in a row) won both games in the Paulista league last week, against Bragantino and Botafogo, by identical 2-1 scores. They move up to third with the victories, one point behind second-placed Corinthians and two behind first-placed Palmeiras. Palmeiras has a perfect five wins from five games, by the way. But there's still plenty left to play for.
Next Up: Host Ponte Preta Wednesday and Corinthians Sunday. In the Copa Libertadores, Sao Paulo are in a group with Uruguay's Defensor Sporting, America de Cali of Colombia and Independiente Medellin, whom they meet in their first game, Wednesday Feb. 18.

16 (17). Panathinaikos
Easily beat third-placed PAOK Saloniki yesterday after a scoreless first leg of a cup tie at Panserraikos.
Next Up: At Iraklis Saloniki, Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Inter Milan at home (2-0, Sept. 16), beat Inter Milan (1-0 away on Nov. 25)

17 (15). Standard Liege
Won their Jupiler League game Friday, their fifth win and third clean sheet in a row. Have a two point lead in the standings, but second-placed Anderlecht has a game in hand. Even though Standard won their game last week we are moving them down because the teams immediately behind them posted more impressive victories. That's how things go when you play in the Belgian Jupiler League...
Next Up: Some other Belgian club, Saturday. Then things finally get interesting, with a trip to Sporting Braga in the UEFA Cup a week Wednesday, followed by the aforementioned Anderlecht.
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).

18 (-). Porto
Porto return to the Top 25 for the first time in a long time. Possibly even the first time this season. According to our calculations the defending Portuguese champions have not lost a game since Nov. 1, when they were defeated at home to Naval 1 de Maio. That includes a stretch of victories over Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev and Arsenal. So why haven't they been in the Top 25? For starters the victory against Arsenal was tainted, coming on the final match day of the CL group stage when everything was wrapped up. Their champions league group was one of the weakest on record and their domestic league is the weakest its been in a long time as well. Still, we have to admit this is overdue. Even though Porto only managed a 1-1 tie with Benfica Lisbon over the weekend.
Next Up: Two Portuguese league matches against teams we can't pretend to have ever heard of, followed by the first leg of their Champs League knockout tie with Atletico Madrid.
Against Top 25: Lost at Arsenal (4-0, Sept. 30), won at Sporting Lisbon (2-1, Oct. 5), lost at home to Dynamo Kiev (1-0, Oct. 21), won at Kiev (2-1, Nov. 5), beat Arsenal at home (2-0, Dec. 10).

19 (-) Palmeiras.
Not only do Palmeiras have five wins in five games in the Paulista tournament, they also eliminated Bolivian champion Real Potosi from the Libertadores tournament. This makes them seven for seven (seven games, seven wins) so far in '09. Deserving of a spot here, we think.
Next Up: Visit Mirasol in their next Paulista match, then host Paulista FC (yes there is also a team by this name) Sunday. Actually the first Paulista match might need to be moved or something because their Libertadores opener at LDU Quito is Wednesday. Quito, it should be noted, are the tournament's defending champions. Joining them in the group are Chile's Colo Colo and fellow Brazilian side Sport Club do Recife.

20 (19). Hoffenheim
Managed just a 1-1 tie at relegation-threatened Borussia Moenchengladbach. Their Bundesliga lead shrinks to a solitary point.
Next Up: Things don't get any easier, with fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen paying a visit, Friday.
Against Top 25: Beat Hamburg SV at home (3-0, Oct. 26), lost at Bayern Munich (2-1, Dec. 5).

21 (18). Sporting Lisbon
Lost at home to Sporting Braga. They're still third in Liga Sagres, but now four points behind top placed Porto. That's still close enough to make a run.
Next Up: Visit Belenenses Sunday. Then things get earnest with second-placed Benfica paying a visit and the first leg of their Champions League knockout rounder with Bayern Munich (at Lisbon) on Wednesday, Feb. 25.
Against Top 25: Lost to Barcelona (3-1 away, Sept. 19 and 5-2 home, Nov. 25).

22 (20). Chivas de Guadelajara
Managed just a tie with Necaxa, but continue to lead their Clausura group. But things are about to get very interesting.
Next Up: Visit Lanus in the first game of the Copa Libertadores group stage (the other teams in the group are Caracas of Venezuela and Everton of Chile). Then visit Santos Laguna, Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Internacional over two legs in the Copa Sudamericana quarterfinals.

23 (22). Sevilla
Won the first leg of the Copa del Rey at home against Atletico Bilbao, but the 2-1 margin of victory leaves no room for error in the return leg. Then lost the derby match to Real Betis. If they weren't still third in La Liga (by a solitary point over the killer Vs, Valencia and Villareal), we would have dropped Sevilla from the Top 25. As is, they manage to hang on by the skin of their teeth.
Next Up: Visit Espanyol Barcelona Sunday.
Against Top 25: Won at Atletico Madrid (1-0, Sept. 28), won at Real Madrid (4-3, Dec. 7), lost to Barcelona at home (3-0, Nov. 29), beat Villareal at home (1-0, Dec. 13), beat Valencia over two legs in the Copa del Rey.

24 (24). Villareal
Beat Numancia, 2-1 to move even on points with fourth-placed Valencia (who, incidentally, were dropped from this list after losing to Osasuna).
Next Up: Visit Racing Santander 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), lost to Barcelona at home (2-1, Dec. 21), lost at Real Madrid (1-0, Jan. 4), tied Valencia on the road (3-3, Jan. 10).

25 (-) Atletico Madrid.
One of our preseason favorites, Atletico hit a rough midseason stretch that cost Javier Aguirre his job (the same week that the rojiblancos were dropped from the Top 25. Coincidence? We think not). They rebounded last week, beating Recreativo Huelva by a 3-0 score. Huelva are 16th, so this isn't going to light the world on fire. Still, it's enough to get Atletico back where they belong, shortly ahead of their Champions League tie with No. 18 Porto.
Next Up: Host Getafe, Sunday. Then things get interesting, with a trip to third-placed Sevilla and the aforementioned first leg with Porto.
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), lost to Barcelona over two legs in the Copa del Rey (5-2 aggregate).

Dropping Out:
Hamburg SV (21), Valencia (23), Girondins Bordeaux (25)

Also receiving votes:
Olympiakos, Paris Saint Germain, AZ Alkmaar, San Lorenzo.

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