Apr 20, 2009

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, April 20, 2009

A week that separated the men from the boys in European soccer. The four Champions League semifinalists are set. Do they represent the best four clubs in the world? Not by a longshot, though it is hard to argue that any of the four belong outside the Top 10. The UEFA Cup semifinalists are set as well. Did any of them crack the Top 10? You'll just have to read on to find out!

1 (1). FC Barcelona
By winning both games last week (we count two-legged match-ups such as Champions League elimination games as 180 minute games) Barca were able to stake their claim to the No. 1 spot. Granted, the second game, a 1-0 road win over Getafe, was a little close for comfort, with a 19th minute Messi goal the deciding factor. But style points count for little at this stage of the season. Barca maintain their six point lead over Real Madrid in the Liga BBVA with the victory. Seven rounds remain.
Next Up: A tough midweek game with third-placed Liga side Sevilla Wednesday at Nou Camp, followed by a trip to fourth-placed Valencia on Saturday. The first leg of the Champs League semifinal with Chelsea follows a week from tomorrow. Barca host that game.
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, beat Olympique Lyon in the Champions League round of 16, beat Bayern Munich in Champions League quarterfinal.

2 (2). Manchester United
Man United had no answers for Everton in yesterday's F.A. Cup semifinal, finally losing on penalty kicks after neither team managed to score in 120 minutes. But let's not forget Cristiano Ronaldo's heroics (click for YupeTube video) in the midweek victory at Porto. Certainly understandable that Red Devils would suffer a bit of a hangover after that one. Lest we forget they become the first team to win at Porto's Dragao this season (and first English team to pull the feat ever). It was a tremendous effort by Sir Alex' men, who would likely be the top club this week had they managed a better penalties display at Wembley (I mean Berbatov? Hello? Who taught him to take penalties, John Terry?)
Next Up: Host Pompey Wednesday and Spurs Saturday. The first leg of the Champions League semifinal with Arsenal is a week from Wednesday at Old Trafford. We don't expect Man U. to have much trouble with that one. But we've been wrong before.
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), beat Inter Milan in Champions League round of 16, lost at home to Liverpool (4-1, March 14), beat Porto in the Champions League quarterfinals.

3. (4). Chelsea
A massive week for Blues. Not only was there the Champions League victory over Liverpool (deemed all but inconceivable a few short weeks ago) but also the weekend win at Emirates to put them in the F.A. Cup final. There is now a very real chance of three pieces of silverware for Guus Hiddink's men.
Next Up: A warmup for the F.A. Cup final Wednesday at Stamford Bridge. Also visit West Ham Saturday. The Champions League semifinal with No. 1 Barca begins a week from tomorrow.
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), won at Aston Villa (1-0, Feb. 21), beat Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinal.

4 (3). Liverpool
It was not to be at Stamford Bridge, as Reds miracle comeback fizzled in the late going. They now turn their attention to the Premier League, where they are very much alive, trailing first-place Man U. by a single point (albeit with a game more played). But the top spot in this space is now out of the question.
Next Up: An enticing league match with Arsenal tomorrow at Anfield, followed by a visit to Hull City on Saturday.
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), beat Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16, won at Man United (4-1, March 14), lost to Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals..

5 (6). Inter Milan
Jose Mourinho's men drew 1-1 at Juventus Saturday, to all but wrap up their fourth consecutive scudetto. With six games remaining, the nerazurri have a 10-point lead over Juve and AC Milan.
Next Up: Host Sampdoria in the return leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal. Inter lost the first 3-0 so don't expect much. Also visit Napoli Sunday.
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), beat AC Milan (2-1, Feb. 15), tied AS Roma (3-3, March 1), lost to Manchester United in Champions League round of 16, tied at Juventus (1-1, April 18).

6 (5). Porto
It was not to be for the perennial Portuguese champs, who lost to Man United to exit the Champions League. Still, they played Red Devils much closer than anybody, ourselves included, had expected. Rebounded to win their weekend match with Academica de Coimbra (what is it with Latin teams being named after universities, particularly in South America? Anybody know?). Porto lead their nation's league by four points over Sporting Lisbon with five match days remaining.
Next Up: Visit Estrela Amadora in a cup tie Wednesday. Host Vitoria Setubal in league action Sunday.
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), beat Atletico Madrid over two legs in the Champions League round of 16.

7 (8). Arsenal
Had no problems with Villareal at midweek in the return leg of the Champions League quarterfinal, winning 3-0. It will be a different story in the semifinal with Chelsea, as we saw Sunday (Arse lost at home, 2-1).
Next Up: It doesn't get any easier, with a date with No. 4 Liverpool at Anfield tomorrow. Also host Middlesbrough Saturday.
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), beat AS Roma in the Champions League round of 16, beat Villareal in the Champions League semifinal.

8 (7). Real Madrid
Won at Recreativo Huelva, 1-0 to keep pace with No. 1 Barca, whom they trail by six points. Seven games remain in the Spanish league, including one between the two archrivals. So there is still everything left to play for.
Next Up: Host Getafe tomorrow and visit third-placed Sevilla on Sunday. The aforementioned Barca match is a week from Sunday at the Bernabeu.
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), tied Atletico Madrid at home (1-1, March 7), lost to Liverpool in Champions League round of 16.

9 (9). Juventus
Juve didn't manage to get the win they needed against Inter on Saturday, and are now stuck playing for second place in Serie A (they're tied with AC Milan on points; the rossoneri have the edge on goal difference). They also have the Coppa Italia to play for...
Next Up: Host Lazio in the return leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals (Juve lost the first game 2-1). Visit Reggina Calcio 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), lost to Chelsea in Champions League round of 16, tied Inter Milan at home (1-1, April 18).

10 (11). Dynamo Kiev
Had no problems with Paris Saint-Germain in the return leg of the UEFA Cup quarterfinal, trouncing PSG 3-0 at Valeri Lobanovski Stadion. Had they won their second game of the week we might have been tempted to move them up even further (actually we're tempted to do so anyway, just lack justification for it) but it was not to be, as a club by the name of Krivbas Krivoj Rog (at least we think that's what their name is) beat Dynamo 2-1 yesterday. But our heroes still have a 12-point lead in the Ukranian Premier-Liga.
Next Up: Things are about to get very interesting, as Dynamo are matched with fellow Ukranian side Shakhtar Donetsk (more on them in a bit) in the UEFA Cup semis. The first leg is at Donetsk Wednesday.
Against Top 25: Tied Arsenal at home (1-1, Sept. 17), lost at Emirates (1-0, Nov .25).

11 (10). Bayern Munich
As expected, Bayern were not even able to make things interesting against No. 1 Barcelona. They were able to win at Arminia Bielefeld Saturday to keep pace with Wolfsburg at the top of the Bundesliga table. Three points separate the two sides with six match days remaining.
Next Up: Host fifth-placed Schalke 04 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), beat Sporting Lisbon in first leg of Champions League round of 16 (5-0).

12 (15). Shakhtar Donetsk
With their victory over Olympique Marseille in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals and subsequent derby win at Metalurg, Shakhtar take a well-deserved three spot leap in the Top 25 standings. What's that? You don't agree with the "well-deserved" bit? That's fine, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, even if it's wrong. Shakhtar are for real. The fact that they don't even lead their domestic league speaks to its strengths. This is a team that played No. 1 Barca to the letter in a Champions League encounter back in October (and actually won the second game at Nou Camp, though we don't count that because neither club had anything left to play for at that point). Granted, Shakhtar were also able to take advantage of some unfortunate slip-ups of the teams immediately ahead of them in last week's Top 25. More on them below.
Next Up: Host the first leg of the UEFA Cup semis against No. 10 Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Barcelona at home (2-1, Oct. 1), beat CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Cup Round of 16, beat Olympique Marseille in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals.

13 (12) Olympique Marseille
L'OM exited the UEFA Cup at the hands of No. 12 Shakhtar Donetsk but came from behind to beat Lorient yesterday to hang on to first place in Ligue Un. They now have a two point lead over Girondins Bordeaux. Bordeaux? What happened to Lyon? Uh, hang on, we'll get to that.
Next Up: Visit Lille Sunday. A date with Lyon looms May 16.
Against Top 25: Lost at Liverpool (2-1, Sept. 16), lost at Atletico Madrid (2-1, Oct. 1), lost to Liverpool at home (1-0, Nov. 26), tied Atletico Madrid at home (1-1, Dec. 1), tied at Olympique Lyon (0-0, Dec. 14), won at Girondins Bordeaux (1-0, Feb. 8), won at Paris Saint Germain (3-1, March 15), lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals.

14 (13). Olympique Lyon
Suddenly, Lyon is in freefall. The perennial French champs gave up first place last week and yesterday suffered another defeat, this time to Girondins Bordeaux. L'OL drop to third with the loss. But there's still everything left to play for. Six match days remain and four points separate third place from first. Paris Saint Germain (five points behind the leaders) and perhaps even Toulouse (eight points behind l'OM) still need to be reckoned with as well.
Next Up: Speaking of the devil, PSG pay Lyon a visit Friday evening. Fasten your seatbelts!
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), lost to Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16.

15 (17). Hamburg SV
Martin Jol's side beat Hannover 96 by 2-1 yesterday to keep pace with Bayern Munich (whom they are tied with on points for second place) and first-placed Wolfsburg. Oh yeah, they also advanced to the UEFA Cup semifinals where they will meet Werder Bremen.
Next Up: Host Werder Bremen in the DfB Pokal Wednesday. Then visit Borussia Dortmund Saturday.
Against Top 25: Tied at Bayern Munich (2-2, Aug. 15), beat Bayern at home (1-0, Jan. 30).

16 (21) VfL Wolfsburg
The "Wolves" beat Bayer Leverkusen at home Saturday and remain in first place in the Bundesliga.
Next Up: Visit Energie Cottbus Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost at Bayern Munich (4-2, Oct. 25), drew AC Milan (2-2, Dec. 17), won at HSV (3-1, March 1), beat Bayern Munich (5-1, April 4)

17 (14). Sao Paulo Futebol Clube
It was a rough week for the Brazilian champs, who lost their first Copa Libertadores game of the current campaign at Independiente Medellin at midweek before losing to Corinthians in the semifinals of the Paulista league yesterday. Actually the Copa Lib game is not so painful because they were assured advancement out of their group even before. Still...
Next Up: The final Copa Lib group stage fixture, against America de Cali, is on for Thursday. Not sure when the regular Brazilian championship starts. It must be soon.

18 (18). AZ Alkmaar
Lost at home to Vitesse Arnheim, 2-1, but it doesn't matter. With three match days remaining and an 11 point lead they are (we think?) the Eredivisie champs.
Next Up: More Eredivisie action. They aren't eligible for anything else and haven't been all season. Sadly we may not know how good this team is until the Champions League campaign starts anew this summer.

19 (19). Atletico Madrid
Beat Numancia 3-0 to remain within striking distance (three points) of the Champions League spots and fourth place.
Next Up: Visit Racing Santander Thursday. Host Sporting Gijon Sunday.
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), beat Barca at home (4-3, March 1), tied at Real Madrid (1-1, March 7), lost to Porto in Champions League quarterfinal, beat Villareal at home (3-2, March 15).

20 (16). Villareal
After coming up well short against Arsenal at midweek, the yellow submarine had to settle for a goalless draw with Valladolid yesterday. They drop to sixth place in La Liga with the result.
Next Up: Host Recreativo Huelva Thursday. Visit Getafe 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), beat Panathinaikos over two legs in the Champions League round of 16, lost at Atletico Madrid (3-2, March 15).

21 (20). Werder Bremen
After getting past Udinese to advance to the UEFA Cup semis (where they will face Hamburg SV in a "Nordderby"), Werder lost at Hertha Berlin over the weekend. They're in bad shape domestically. We're embarrassed to say how bad. But hey, what about the UEFA Cup?
Next Up: Face HSV in a cup tie (I think it's the semifinals?) Wednesday. Then Bochum Saturday, then HSV again a week from Thursday, this time for the UEFA Cup.
Against Top 25: Won at Bayern Munich (5-2, Sept. 20), tied at Inter Milan (1-1, Oct. 1), beat Inter Milan (2-1, Dec. 9), beat AC Milan over two legs in the UEFA Cup round of 32, tied Bayern Munich at home (0-0, March 1).

22 (24) Chivas de Guadelajara
It was a massive week for Chivas. While they didn't exactly get the result they wanted in their midweek Copa Lib match (scoreless tie with Lanus) it is enough to put them into second place in their group, which would carry a place in the elimination round. One game remains with one point separating Chivas from third-placed Everton CD. More importantly was their domestic league match, a 1-0 triumph over archrivals Club America that moves them into second place in their Clausura group (the top two teams qualify for the playoffs).
Next Up: Visit UNAM Pumas in domestic action Sunday. Play at the aforementioned Everton CD (they're from Chile by the way) a week from Wednesday needing a draw to advance.
Against Top 25: Lost to Internacional over two legs in the Copa Sudamericana quarterfinals.

23 (23). Panathinaikos
Idle, presumably because of Orthodox Easter.
Next Up: Host OFI Heraklion, Sunday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Inter Milan at home (2-0, Sept. 16), beat Inter Milan (1-0 away on Nov. 25), lost to Villareal in Champions League round of 16.

24 (-). Everton
Yes, we're biting the bullet and giving Everton their first-ever (we think?) Top 25 spot. The catalyst was obviously yesterday's victory over Man United on penalties. Having an American goalkeeper helps their cause as well (we never said this was purely objective). Everton have had a solid season, particularly in the F.A. Cup where they previously caused Liverpool's exit (see below). Their European campaign was a disappointment, losing the UEFA Cup first rounder to Standard Liege.
Next Up: Visit Chelsea in a Premiership game Wednesday. Host Man City Saturday.
Against Top 25: Lost to Liverpool at home (2-0, Sept. 27), lost at Arsenal (3-1, Oct. 18), tied Man U. at home (1-1, Oct. 25), tied Chelsea at home (0-0, Dec. 22), tied Liverpool at Anfield (1-1, Jan. 19), tied at Emirates (1-1, Jan. 28), lost at Man U. (1-0, Jan. 31), beat Liverpool in F.A. Cup (on penalties in replay match Feb. 4), beat Man U. on penalties in F.A. Cup semifinals (April 19).

25 (25). Universitario de Deportes
The Peruvian side had their weekend game with Deportes San Martin postponed. Not sure why. They are in a good position to advance to the Libertadores elimination round, sitting second in their group with eight points after five games and a three point lead over third-placed San Luis. One matchday remains.
Next Up: Host CNI, whoever that is, in a league match Sunday. We should mention Universitario sit third in their domestic league but it's early days (nine of 30 match days are in the books). The final Libertadores group match is April 29 at Argentina's San Lorenzo. Win or draw and they're in the elimination round.
Against Top 25: Beat Libertad in Copa Libertadores group play (2-1, April 8).

Dropping Out:
Sevilla (22)

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