May 4, 2009

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, May 4, 2009

The question of who is the best club in Spain was clearly and emphatically answered Saturday in Barca's 6-2 (not a typo) beatdown of Real Madrid. Barring a miracle, FC Barcelona will now go on to claim their first Spanish liga title since 2006. The result gives Pep Guardiola's side the top spot in our ratings as well. For now. As we all know there is still the matter of the UEFA Champions League to decide. But we're definitely in late stages. Only three clubs can claim to have a spot at the No. 1 position by season's end.

1 (2). FC Barcelona
It was by no means a well-played game, but for about 35 minutes of the first half it sure was exciting. We are referring of course to Saturday's beat down of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (though if you make it "five minutes" instead of 35 you could supposedly be speaking about the midweek Champions League tie with Chelsea), a game that, for all intents and purposes wraps up the Spanish liga title in Barca's favor. All that remains before a (likely) epic showdown with Man U is the return leg against Chelsea.
Next Up: The aforementioned return leg at Stamford Bridge, Wednesday. Nothing else matters now.
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, won at Real Madrid (6-2, May 2).

2 (1). Manchester United
Man United give the No. 1 spot back to Barca by no fault of their own. Red Devils won both games they played last week, neither with much difficulty, against Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League semis and at Middlesbrough Saturday.
Next Up: Visit Arsenal Wednesday in the return leg of the Champions League semifinals. We don't expect Man U. to have much trouble with that one. But we've been wrong before. Also host Man City in the derby 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), 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. (3). Chelsea
Blues are ostensibly in a decent position going into the return leg of their Champions League semifinal with Barcelona. Unfortunately, we saw Saturday what Barca can do with a little space on the pitch. Unless Guus Hiddinck plans to bunker and play for penalties, Chelsea may not have much of a chance. Or, Barca's suspect defense (partly done in by injuries, partly by a yellow card ban) could give the game away. There's no real way of telling. That's why they play these games, after all.
Next Up: Host Barca in the return leg of their Champions League semifinal Wednesday (first leg: 0-0). Then another cracker, at Emirates (the stadium, not the country) Sunday. By that time Blues may just have the Premiership and FA Cups left to play for. We shall see.
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 (4). Liverpool
Reds had no problems with Newcastle, beating Alan Shearer's men 3-0 at Anfield.
Next Up: Three games remain in Liverpool's season: at West Ham Saturday, West Brom a week from Sunday and Spurs May 24. Needless to say they'll need to win all three to have a chance at their first ever Premiership glory. Even then it's a longshot.
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, tied Arsenal at home (4-4, April 22).

5 (5). Inter Milan
The nerazurri managed to rebound from the disastrous prior week by defeating Lazio 2-0. They maintain a seven point lead over AC Milan with four games remaining.
Next Up: Visit Chievo, Sunday. Their final games are (in order) against Siena, at Cagliari and versus Atalanta Bergamo. Only Cagliari are a top half of the table side. So we don't see Inter blowing this one.
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 (6). Arsenal
Arse were flattered by the 1-0 score at Old Trafford but it will be a monumental upset if they can somehow pull out the victory when the two teams meet at Emirates tomorrow. Why? Simple. No Arshavin. But Gunners are one or two veteran players away from being a real threat next season.
Next Up: Host Man United in the return leg of their Champions League matchup tomorrow. Host No. 3 Chelsea Sunday in a game that is of far greater importance to the visiting side.
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, tied at Liverpool (4-4, April 22).

7 (8). Porto
Won at Martimo Funchal to edge closer to another league title. With three games remaining and a six point lead over second-placed Sporting Lisbon, it's all but a fait accompli.
Next Up: More Liga Sagres action.
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.

8 (7). Real Madrid
It really wasn't pretty on Saturday. After a hot start, Real fell apart at the back and had no answers to Barca's prowess. A disappointing way to decide a disappointing year for los merengues.
Next Up: It doesn't matter anymore, but a tough pair of away games, at Valencia and Villareal over the next fortnight.
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, lost at home to Barcelona (6-2, May 2).

9 (9). Dynamo Kiev
The Ukrainian side suffered a setback in their quest to make the UEFA Cup final, managing just a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the semifinal with in-country rivals Shakhtar Donestks. This means Dynamo will likely need to win the return leg in Donetsk Thursday.
Next Up: The return leg of the UEFA Cup semifinal. They've all but wrapped up the Ukrainian Premier-Liga, with a 12-point lead four games from the finish.
Against Top 25: Tied Arsenal at home (1-1, Sept. 17), lost at Emirates (1-0, Nov .25).

10 (10). Juventus
Managed just a 2-2 draw at home against Lecce to drop four points behind third-placed AC Milan
Next Up: Have a chance to make things interesting when they visit AC Milan at San Siro. If they don't win they can pretty much forget about third place.
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).

11 (11). Shakhtar Donetsk
The other Ukrainian side in the top 25 got the better of the first one, playing a 1-1 draw at Dynamo Kiev in the first leg of their UEFA Cup semifinal. We'll wait for the return leg before we adjust any of these teams' positions.
Next Up: Host the return leg Thursday.
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.

12 (12) Olympique de Marseille
What was a five team race for Ligue Un glory has now effectively become a matter of just two teams. L'OM are one. Girondins Bordeaux are the other. L'OM managed just a 2-2 draw with Toulouse Saturday and are now level on points with les Girondins with four games remaining.
Next Up: Visit Nice Wednesday and host Lyon Sunday.
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.

13 (13). AZ Alkmaar
The newly-crowned Eredivisie champs...ah who cares. They're the champs, let's leave it at that.
Next Up: More Eredivisie action.

14 (16). VfL Wolfsburg
The "wolves" won decisively over Hoffenheim (whom you haven't heard from for good reason; they've been awful since the winter break and now are a distant ninth in the Bundesliga) by 4-0. Still a way to go before their first ever (we think) Bundesliga title but we're moving them up just in case.
Next Up: A tough one, at fourth-placed Stuttgart Saturday.
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)

15 (15). Sao Paulo Futebol Clube
Idle but learned their opponent in the Copa Libertadores Round of 16: Chivas de Guadelajara. The first leg is Thursday, presumably in Mexico, though there is some question due to the H1M1 virus, otherwise known as the Swine Flu.
Next Up: After Thursday's game, wherever it's played, visit Fluminense Sunday for the curtain raiser of the Campeonato Brasileiro season.

16 (17). Bayern Munich
The Jupp Heynckes era is off to a good start, after Bayern defeated Borussia Moenchengladbach to move back into second place in the Bundesliga. They remain three points behind Wolfsburg with four games remaining.
Next Up: Visit Energie Cottbus 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).

17 (14). Olympique Lyon
The perennial French champs suffered another major setback when they lost at Valenciennes Saturday. They now trail Olympique Marseille by seven points with four games remaining.
Next Up: They get their shot at Marseille Sunday but it may be too late for another title, even if they do win.
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.

18 (-). Corinthians
Time to give Ronaldo and his mates their due. While they are tragically not in the Copa Libertadores the Sao Paulo side won the Paulista championship through an aggregate victory over Santos that ended in penalties yesterday. The Paulista state championship is arguably the second-biggest title in Brazil after the Brazileiro. Corinthians have a solid record against quality competition as well. So why aren't they higher-placed than Sao Paulo? No continental action to deal with, simple.
Next Up: Host Atletico Paranaense in a cup tie Thursday. Host Internacional in the first round of the Campeonato Sunday.
Against Top 25: Tied at Sao Paulo (1-1, Feb. 15), beat Sao Paulo over two legs in the Paulista semifinals.

19 (20). Hamburg SV
Martin Jol's side won the first leg of the UEFA Cup semifinal at Werder Bremen 1-0 but suffered a setback in the Bundesliga title chase, playing Hertha Berlin to a 1-1 draw at home.
Next Up: Werder Bremen again, twice. At home in the return leg of the UEFA Cup semis and on the road in Bundesliga action.
Against Top 25: Tied at Bayern Munich (2-2, Aug. 15), beat Bayern at home (1-0, Jan. 30), lost at home to Werder Bremen in German cup semis (penalties, April 22).

20 (21). Atletico Madrid
Won at Real Betis yesterday to move up to fifth in La Liga, just one point behind fourth-placed Valencia.
Next Up: Host Espanyol Sunday. Then the aforementioned Valencia, at home on Sunday, May 17.
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).

21 (18). Werder Bremen
Lost the first leg of the UEFA Cup semifinal with Hamburg SV less than a week after beating Martin Jol's side in a penalty shoot-out to reach the German cup final.
Next Up: The return leg at Hamburg Thursday. Then host HSV again, this time for a league match. If you're keeping score, that's four games in a row with their north-German rivals.
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), beat Hamburg SV in German cup semis (penalties, April 22).

22 (22). Panathinaikos
Appear to have been idle.
Next Up: Play at PAOK Saloniki in the first matchday of the mini-tournament to decide finishers 2-6 in the Greek Super League.
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.

23 (24). AC Milan
A week after returniing to the top 25, the rossoneri cemented their position and second place in Serie A with it. By beating Catania 2-0, Milan have five straight victories and an eight game unbeaten run. Their goal differential in the past five games is 13-1. If any of those had come against quality competition we might be tempted to say AC Milan are one of the hottest teams in the world right now. But they haven't, so we won't.
Next Up: Host third-placed Juventus Sunday.
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), lost to Inter Milan (2-1, Feb. 15), lost to Werder Bremen over two legs in the UEFA Cup round of 32.

24 (23) Chivas de Guadelajara
Tied at Everton of Chile (not Liverpool) to secure advancement to the Libertadores Round of 16, where they will face No. 15 Sao Paulo. The first game is Thursday. Needless to say if Chivas win this round they will be in the Top 20. Also played a scoreless draw against Puebla yesterday. That drops them to third place in their Clausura group with one match day remaining. The top two qualify for the playoffs though the best third-placed teams can enter through some kind of backdoor tournament, the liguilla.
Next Up: The aforementioned first leg with Sao Paulo followed by the final Clausura regular season game at Indios Sunday. Not sure if they'll allow fans for that one.
Against Top 25: Lost to Internacional over two legs in the Copa Sudamericana quarterfinals.

25 (-). Sevilla
Return to the top 25 after a three week absence (or whenever
April 13 was). Their 2-0 victory at Villareal (last week's No. 19 team) did the trick. Keep in mind this club is third in Spain, so that has to count for something, disappointing European campaign aside. Or maybe Spain is just a "big two" league?
Next Up: Host Mallorca Saturday. Manolo Jimenez side then face Osasuna, Deportivo la Coruna and Numancia in their last three games. Only Deportivo are at all decent (they sit seventh). Osasuna are fighting for relegation. Numancia are dead last. So yeah, chances are good los palanganas will finish third and qualify automatically for next season's Champions League. Whether they go anywhere is an entirely different question of course.
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, won at Villareal (2-0, May 2).

Dropping Out:
Villareal (19), Universitario Lima (25)

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