Aug 28, 2009

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Aug. 28, 2009

That time again. The European soccer season is upon us and with it, Soccer Source's signature issue, the ranking of top soccer clubs the world over. It's been some time since our last edition of this list, an absence due in no small part to the busy "summer of soccer" involving the U.S. Men's National Team stateside (and in South Africa. And Mexico). Of course, at this (very) early stage of the season, much of this amounts to little more than speculation. Nobody can know for certain how teams will gel with their new signings--especially if there is a new coach at the helm (see Barcelona last season). Of course, that's also most of the fun (however, putting together this list is incredibly labor-intensive. For this reason we will be switching from a weekly schedule to a more sporadic, bi monthly or monthly one. This will also give you more time to savor these rankings when they are published).

1. Real Madrid
Last season: 8
Outlook: What was that about this being more about potential than anything else? Oh right. Real have the potential to beat anybody and everybody, even (especially) their hated rivals from Catalonia's capital city. Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema headline the list of (very) expensive additions Real made to their side this summer. The pressure will be on new coach Manuel Pellegrini to produce results and for good reason: Real President Florentino Perez dropped close to $350 million (not a typo, though maybe not precisely accurate due to currency rate conversion math). He shouldn't have much to worry about in the early going: Until an Oct. 4 visit to Sevilla, Real really shouldn't have any problems winning games, even (especially) in their Champions League group with AC Milan, Olympique Marseille and FC Zurich.
Bottom line: These things rarely go as scripted (Man City last year anybody?). Even with all the new stars, it will be rare for Real to gel as a unit right away and produce the kind of football everybody is expecting. Pellegrini may not be the right man for the task. Expect him to be shown the door at the first sign of trouble.
Upcoming schedule: It all kicks off tomorrow against Deportivo La Coruna at the Bernabeu. Other than the aforementioned visit to Seville, los merengues face a potentially troublesome trip to Villareal Sept. 29. Barca looms Nov. 29 at Camp Nou. The Champions League group stage campaign is highlighted by back-to-back dates with AC Milan (Oct. 21 at Bernabeu, Nov. 3 at San Siro).

2. Barcelona
Last season: 1
Outlook: Barca did not have much time to rest on their laurels from the Champions League final victory over Man United. No sooner had the ink dried on some of the gushing reports of world dominance that Real Madrid set about upstaging the blaugrana through a record-setting summer spending spree. But Barcelona was able to counter with some the acquisition of a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will make Barca's midfield even more compelling than it already was. Things certainly started off on the right track, with decisive two-legged victory over Atletic Bilbao in the Spanish Supercup.
Bottom line: Real have the best team on paper, but that does not always win championships. Barca could be right there when it's all over.
Upcoming schedule: The UEFA Supercup final with Shakhtar Donetsk later today before the domestic campaign kicks off for real Aug. 31 against Sporting Gijon. A trip to Inter Milan in the Champions League's second matchday is perhaps the highlight game of next month. Real come to town Nov. 29.

3. Chelsea
Last season: 3
Outlook: The team that came a few minutes from a second straight Champions League final showdown with Man United has been tipped by many as the team to beat in the Premier League this season. It's been a quiet offseason by Blues' standards. Sure, there was a bit of drama around John Terry, but the team really didn't suffer any major departures. It quietly (again, by its own standards) resigned Didier Drogba and dropped a few million quid on Daniel Sturridge (from Man City) and Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow) to strengthen its attack. Not that they'll need the help. Drogba looks to be in peak form and Ballack and Deco even found the net in the team's second game of the season (against Sunderland, but still). This might just be the year it all comes together for Blues.
Bottom line: Less is more. Chelsea made a few signings to strengthen its side at the perimeter while not allowing its nucleus to be impacted. With Man U losing its best player, this makes Blues the EPL team to beat in our book.
Upcoming schedule: More target practice with Burnley and Stoke the next two weeks. A Sept. 20 date with Spurs suddenly looks like it could be important for reasons other than just local bragging rights. Liverpool visit the Bridge Oct. 3. Man United come to town Nov. 17.

4. Arsenal
Last season: 7
Outlook:With Andrey Arsavin, Arse were a different team the second half of last season. Losing Kolo Toure hurts a bit, but there is enough experience and talent at the back (especially with the addition of Thomas Vermaelen) to make up for it. The return of Eduardo should make up for the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor however. Indeed, scoring goals does not appear to be a problem in the first few games of the season. Gunners have won all four games by a combined tally of 15-3.
Bottom line: Arsene Wenger's nucleus of Franco-Spanish gazelles is a year older and wiser--and better. We are expecting very good, perhaps even great things from Arse this season.
Upcoming schedule: An early season test at Old Trafford Saturday. At Man City next week. A potentially tricky visit to Standard Liege greets Gunners in the Champions League's first matchday, Sept. 16.

5. Manchester United
Last season: 2
Outlook: How many times did Cristiano Ronaldo save United's bacon last season? There was the Champs League quarterfinal in Porto, of course; a late season brace that proved to be the difference at Aston Villa when Man U. were reeling from back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Fulham; a match-winner over Blackburn in February...that's just off the top of our heads. For all of the talk of Sir Alex' managerial genius, it seems the individual exploits of CR7 were more what kept his team ahead of the rest of the world last season. Now he's gone. Who will replace him in United's midfield? We're sure Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov are up to the task of scoring goals, but who will service them? Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are ancient, Nani and Antonio Valencia unproven, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick injury-prone. Anderson? Ji-Sung Park? Darren Fletcher?
Bottom Line: The departure of Ronaldo leaves a giant hole in United's midfield. Unless Sir Alex is able to address it with a key acquisition at some point, it may turn out to be a long season for United. Last week's loss to Burnley certainly doesn't ease our concern.
Upcoming schedule: A trio of key games that could give us an idea just how good (or bad) United are: Arsenal home, resurgent Tottenham Hotspur away and the Manchester derby (it's pronounced dar-bee). A potentially tough trip to Besiktas Istanbul is on the docket for the first CL matchday. Luckily for Red Devils, they get the toughest game out of the way first.

6. Juventus
Last season: 10
Outlook: Yes, we consider Juventus the favorites for the scudetto and Italy's best hope at recapturing European glory. It's a glimmer at hope at best, considering the strengths of top clubs in Spain and England. Still, they play these games for a reason. Unlike their rivals in Milan, Juve did not lose any major pieces, while adding a pair of Brazilians (Diego from Werder Bremen and Felipe Melo from Fiorentina) to give it renewed vigor in the center of the pitch.
Bottom Line: Juve are still one star player away from the top five. Don't be surprised to see an "adjustment period" while Diego gets used to the tighter man marking of Serie A. Once he hits his stride, the bianconeri will be a force to be reckoned with.
Upcoming schedule: At Roma Sunday. Then Lazio. Then the Champions League season kicks off with Girondins Bordeaux.

7. Liverpool
Last season: 4
Outlook: Reds are coming off of one of their best Premiership seasons in recent memory. Stevie G and Co. hung around the top of the table all season before ultimately finishing second just four points behind their hated rivals. Losing Xabi Alonso will clearly hurt the team's chances this season, however.
Bottom Line: Prepare for another solid, if unspectacular top four finish from Rafa Benitez' men. They should be able to win their Champions League group (with Olympique Lyon, Fiorentina and Debreceni) with relative ease.
Upcoming schedule: Trotters this weekend, Burnley next. October dates with Chelsea and Man United.

8. Inter Milan
Last season: 5
Outlook: Inter got off to an inauspicious start to the 2009/2010 campaign, giving up a late goal to draw lowly Bari at the San Siro. A sign of things to come? Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito are nice players, but they don't begin to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world's very best. Inter made a few other acquisitions as well but nothing earth-shattering.
Bottom Line:Inter should compete for the Serie A crown but capturing a fourth straight scudetto looks more remote than ever. As for Europe...
Upcoming schedule: The Milan derby is on this weekend. Parma is up Sept. 13. The Champions League campaign kicks off in grand style when Barcelona visit Sept. 16. Luckily, Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev leave some room for error in the CL group stage.

9. Sevilla
Last season: 24
Outlook: At first glance a bit of a shock seeing Sevilla this high, but it makes sense when you think about it. The palanganas finished third in La Liga last season and did not lose anybody of note to transfers. More importantly, they made some potentially intriguing acquisitions: Didier Zokora and former Spanish U-21 international Sergio Sanchez add depth to the defensive midfield and Real Madrid man Alvaro Negredo joins from Almeira, where he scored 19 goals last season. A favorable Champions League draw (VfB Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni and Glasgow Rangers) helps as well.
Bottom Line: With Real Madrid and Barcelona, Sevilla has no realistic chance at the Spanish title. Then again, neither does anybody else. European competition will tell us how good this club is. The CL quarterfinals should be a distinct possibility. Maybe more, depending on miscellaneous factors.
Upcoming schedule: A visit to Valencia makes the Liga curtain-raiser a tough one for Manuel Jimenez' men.

10. AC Milan
Last season: 22
Outlook: The rossoneri lost not just Kaka (to Real Madrid) but also Yoann Gourcuff (Girondins Bordeaux) and Paolo Maldini (retirement). So why are they this high? For one, Milan were the best club in Italy the second half of last season. Ronaldinho looks rejuvenated (and more importantly, trimmer than the last time we saw him). Pato is blossoming into a superstar. New coach Leonardo is a former Milan man who may just have the touch that is needed to return the club to Italian, if not world dominance.
Bottom Line: Milan should compete for the scudetto again and is a solid bet for the Champions League spots at season's end. But Europe could prove difficult. The rossoneri face a potentially tricky group with Olympique Marseille, Real Madrid and an intriguing (seriously) Zurich side.
Upcoming schedule: The Milan derby is on for tomorrow. A trip to Livorno a week hence. The CL campaign kicks off at Marseille on Sept. 15.

11. VfL Wolfsburg
Last season: 16
Outlook: The "Wolves" shocked many people in winning their first ever Bundesliga title last season. Are they worthy of a repeat performance? The North German side improved their lineup with the additions of Karim Ziani (from Marseille) and Obafemi Martins (Newcastle). So far, so good: Wolfsburg have started strong to the new season with three wins and one loss in all competition. The one loss came to Hamburg SV, a team that may just be the best one in Deutschland when all is said and done. More on HSV in a bit.
Bottom Line: Wolfsburg are strong, but Champions League campaigns have ways of messing up German squads not named Bayern Munich. The new acquisitions give Armin Veh's men some much needed depth. But the schedule could take its toll anyway. The Champions League group, with Besiktas Istanbul, CSKA Moscow and Man United could prove their undoing.
Upcoming schedule: It gets tough right away, with Bayern up this weekend and Leverkusen Sept. 12 before the Champions League campaign kicks off with Moscow. Then Schalke. Like we said, the schedule could prove their undoing.

12. Girondins Bordeaux
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: Last season's surprising French champions have started strongly to the new campaign, with three wins from three games. They lost one key defender from last year's squad (Senegalese international Souleymane Diara, who joined Marseille), replacing him with Mickael Ciani from Lorient. The acquisition of Yoann Gorcuff from Milan may just put Girondins on the map as a real power.
Bottom Line: The team to beat in France. That may not translate to European success however.
Upcoming schedule: The Ligue Un schedule gets serious with a visit to Marseille's Velodrome Sunday. With Juventus, Maccabi Haifa and Bayern Munich, les Girondins have a group of death on their hands in the Champions League.

13. Porto
Last season: 7
Outlook: Porto had another good run last season, winning their domestic league and very nearly ousting Man United from the Champions League. But they lost some of their best players, including the Argentine tandem of Lisandro Lopez and Lucho Gonzalez.
Bottom Line: Porto were unable to reload and face an uncertain future. Another top 10 finish looks unlikely.
Upcoming schedule: Naval 1 de Maio and Leixoes Matosinhos in Liga Sagres before the Champions League campaign kicks off Sept. 15 at Stamford Bridge.

14. Shakhtar Donetsk
Last season: 9
Outlook: Last year's UEFA Cup champions were upset in their Champions League qualifier last month and will have to settle with the Europa League. They've started strongly to the Ukrainian league, winning three games and drawing one. They appear to have lost just one key player from last year's run (Evgeniy Seleznev) but a €25 million move of Dmytro Chygrynskyy to Barca appears imminent.
Bottom Line: Not making the Champions League hurts. Can they repeat in the "consolidations tournament"?
Upcoming schedule: Barca in the UEFA Supercup later today.

15. AZ Alkmaar
Last season: 13
Outlook: Alkmaar came out of nowhere to capture the Eredivisie crown in impressive fashion last season. They've largely stood pat, though Dutch international defender Demy de Zeeuw departed for Ajax Amsterdam. A pair of Swedes, Rasmus Elm and Pontus Wernbloom, were signed to shore up the central midfield.
Bottom Line: The element of surprise is gone. We are about to find out just how good AZA really are. A Champions League group with Olympiakos, Standard Liege and Arsenal leaves them in a favorable position of advancement.
Upcoming schedule: Wilhelm II, The Hague, then Olympiakos.

16. Manchester City
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: Considering Citizens didn't qualify for any European competition, it is going to be tough to vindicate putting them this high--unless, of course they make a run at the Premiership's Big Four. City spent like drunken sailors again this summer, adding Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and now Julian Lescott. If they break the Big Four it will all be worth it.
Bottom Line: Mark Hughes' men face the dubious task of having to incorporate all the new signings while gaining quick momentum from a fast start. So far, so good. Two games, two wins, zero goals allowed. Too bad the opponents were Wolves and Blackburn.
Upcoming schedule: At Pompey Sunday before a first test at Old Trafford in a week's time. If they win both, look out.

17. Atletico Madrid
Last season: 18
Outlook: It was a volatile season for Atletico last year. A midseason slump cost Javier Aguirre his job, but the rojiblancos were one of few sides to defeat Barcelona in a game that mattered. Not much was done with the roster in the offseason; the team remains built around Maxi Rodriguez and Diego Forlan. Nothing wrong with that.
Bottom Line: Atletico could surprise some people. They have a realistic shot at third place in La Liga and should advance to the CL knock-out round (at the expense of Porto. Nikosia and Chelsea are the other teams in their group).
Upcoming schedule: Malaga Sunday. Racing Santander Sept. 13. Barca a week thereafter.

18. Olympique Marseille
Last season: 12
Outlook: L'OM spent over €40 million improving a squad that finished a close second to Bordeaux last year. Fernando Morientes (from Valencia), Lucho Gonzalez (Porto) and 23-year old Cameroon international St├ęphane M'Bia Etoundi (Rennes) head the list of big name acquisitions. Of course l'OM also lost Djibril Cisse, Karim Ziani and Lorik Kana, three starters. With two wins and a draw, Marseille have started strongly to the new season. But a Champions League group with AC Milan, Real Madrid and FC Zurich may be too much for them to handle.
Bottom Line: L'OM will be in the thick of the Ligue Un race again but we don't see how they can advance in the Champions League.
Upcoming schedule: A first clash with Girondins Bordeaux this weekend. Host AC Milan when the CL campaign kicks off Sept. 15.

19. Besiktas Istanbul
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: The Turkish champs added a few pieces to their "small market payroll" (at €95 million it's only the third highest in Turkey): Michael Fink joins from Eintracht Frankfurt, Matteo Ferrari from Genoa and a few Turkish players from other points. Like we said, nothing earth shattering.
Bottom Line: Galatasaray and Fenerbahce both reloaded in pretty substantial fashion, so the pressure is off Besiktas to repeat as champs. A tough Champions League group (with Man United, Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow) could see the Turks facing an early exit from European competition--and with it, from the ranks of this list.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Galatasaray Sept. 13. Man United come to town two days afterwards.

20. Hamburg SV
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: HSV spent nearly €25 million improving a side that was right in the thick of last year's Bundesliga race before fading down the stretch. That sum doesn't include Ze Roberto, who joins from Bayern Munich on a free transfer. The new players (Eljero Elia from Twente, David Rozenhal from Lazio and Markus Berg from Groningen are the other big names) should more than make up for the loss of Ivica Olic to Bayern. After a jittery pair of first games (needing overtime to defeat Fortuna Duesseldorf in a cup tie and a draw with newly-promoted Freiburg) HSV have turned it on, defeating Borussia Dortmund and defending champs Wolfsburg in decisive fashion.
Bottom Line: HSV will challenge for the Bundesliga title and make some noise in the Europa League. Count on that at a bare minimum.
Upcoming schedule: Cologne and Stuttgart at home. The Europa league campaign starts in there somewhere. Bayern Munich come to town Sept. 26.

21. Olympique Lyonnais
Last season: 17
Outlook: L'OL were finally, finally dethroned in Ligue Un last season. They had a decent Champions League campaign, losing to eventual winners Barca in the Round of 16. They've reloaded for 2009/10, raiding FC Porto for Lisandro Lopez and Aly Cisokho among other notable moves (the €72.5 million spent on new players has got to be a club record). A favorable CL draw (Liverpool, Fiorentina, Debreceni) give Claude Puel's men a good shot at the elimination round.
Bottom Line: L'OL want their title back. But Bordeaux and Marseille present formidable challenges. The Ligue Un race will be one to watch this season.
Upcoming schedule: Nancy, Lorient, before the CL campaign kicks off with a visit from Fiorentina Sept. 16.

22. Dynamo Kiev
Last season: 11
Outlook: Dynamo had a solid run last season, winning the Ukrainian Premier-Liga and making all the way to the UEFA Cup semis where they lost to eventual winner Shakhtar Donetsk. They started strongly to the domestic campaign this season, with four wins and one draw from their first five games. They did lose a few key players, most notably Guinean striker Ismael Bangoura, who joined Stade Rennes on an €11 million transfer but spent the money on shoring up their side with three acquisitions (two from Brazil).
Bottom Line: Having been drawn into a group with Inter Milan and Barcelona, Dynamo have no virtually no shot at advancing to the elimination round. But another Europa League run is a strong possibility. The fourth team in the group is Russia's Rubin Kazan.
Upcoming schedule: Metalurg Donetsk, Monday.

23. Glasgow Rangers
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: Yes we're going there. Or here, whatever. After Celtic let us down last season, we're throwing in our lot with Rangers this year. Walter Smith's men got younger and quicker this offseason (not just because of Barry Ferguson's departure). Full disclosure: We're partial to the fact that they have two Yanks (Maurice Edu and DaMarcus Beasley) in their squad, though neither has done much thus far.
Bottom Line: Rangers should repeat as SPL champs. They have a shot at advancing in the Champions League as well, having been drawn into quite possibly the easiest group of them all (Sevilla, VfB Stuttgart, Unirea Uriziceni).
Upcoming schedule: Hamilton, then Motherwell, before the CL campaign kicks off at Stuttgart. That first game will be an important test to see if Rangers do indeed have a chance at advancing.

24. Estudiantes
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: Winners of the 2009 Copa Libertadores after finishing a disappointing sixth in the Clausura tournament. Won their first Apertura match, at Arsenal Sarandi. We realize there may be better teams in Europe, but our bylaws dictate at least one club from CONMEBOL, UEFA and CONCACAF be represented in this list for it to be a true world ranking.
Bottom Line: We'll have to see how they do at the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup this December.
Upcoming schedule: Assuming the Argentine league picks up again, they face La Plata and San Lorenzo.

25. Club America
Last season: Unranked
Outlook: The Mexico City side played well in this summer's World Football Challenge money-maker friendly tour of U.S. stadia, losing on penalty kicks to Inter and defeating AC Milan 2-0 before succumbing to Chelsea 2-0. In games that matter they've done well also, with 10 points from five Apertura league games, including wins in the last three.
Bottom Line: With Mexican clubs out of the Copa Sudamericana, we unfortunately have no way of judging them against other teams in the hemisphere. The Mexican league is still a solid show though.
Upcoming schedule: Host Toluca Sunday. At Tigres, Sept. 6. Host Tecos Sept. 13.

3 comments:

  1. I'm not a bayern fan - but where's Bayern Munich on the list? Just added Robben - not bad.

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  2. Bayern are crap right now. They haven't managed a win yet in three Bundesliga games. Robben will help but we've got to see some results on the pitch before they are included here.

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  3. Top 10 Clubs List-
    1-Barcelona
    2-Manchester United
    3-Chelsea
    4-R.Madrid
    5-Arsenal
    6-InterMilan
    7-Liver-Pool
    8-B/Munich
    9-Ac.Milan
    10-Juventus

    ReplyDelete