Dec 14, 2009

The world's top 25 soccer clubs, Dec. 14, 2009

You might call the week that was Separation Week in European soccer. The Champions League group stage completed play and with it the chances of certain clubs finishing in the top 10 by season's end (you know who you are, Juventus). Other teams are resurgent, having rescued their seasons from the brink (Bayern Munich). Then there are clubs that limp into the elimination round. such as Olympique Lyon. Finally there was a string of upsets in the Premiership and Serie A that needed to be taken into account. How would it all shake out? Read on and you'll see.

1. Barcelona
Last ranking: 1
Record (wins-losses-ties, in all competition; two-leg match-ups count as one): 18-1-5
Results of note: (chronological order) Beat Shakhtar Donetsk (at the time ranked 14th) in overtime in the UEFA SuperCup, Aug. 29, drew at then-No. 6 Inter Milan in Champions League group stage (0-0, Sept. 16), beat then-No. 14 Dynamo Kiev at home in Champions League group stage (2-0, Sept. 29), drew at then-No. 18 Valencia (0-0, Oct. 17), lost at home to then-No. 23 Rubin Kazan (2-1, Oct. 20), drew at then-No. 11 Rubin Kazan (0-0, Nov. 4), beat then-No. 2 Inter Milan (2-0, Nov. 24), beat then-No. 7 Real Madrid (1-0, Nov. 29), won at then-No. 15 Dynamo Kiev (2-1, Dec. 9).
Commentary/recent results: For a few minutes last Wednesday it looked as if Barca's world might come crashing down. They were tied with Dynamo Kiev 1-1 and one goal away from missing the next round of the Champions League. Then Lionel Messi converted a free kick to give Barcelona the win and Inter Milan kept up their end of the bargain, defeating Rubin Kazan to give the blaugrana first place in the group. Also benefited from a phantom penalty call to defeat Espanyol Barcelona in the derby Saturday. There should be no dispute on the question of the best club in the world.
Upcoming schedule: That's it for this year. Their next game is Jan. 3 against Villareal.

2. Girondins Bordeaux
Last ranking: 4
Record: 17-4-2
Results of note: A scoreless draw at then-No. 18 Olympique Marseille (Aug. 30), drew at then No. 5 Juventus (1-1, Sept. 15), beat then-No. 16 Bayern Munich at home (2-1, Oct. 21), won at then-No. 19 Bayern Munich (2-0, Nov. 3), beat then-No. 6 Juventus at home (2-0, Nov. 25), won at then-No. 21 Olympique Lyonnais (1-0, Dec. 13).
Commentary/recent results: These guys are the second-best team in the world? Right now, yes. Their overall record matches up against Chelsea's and Manchester United's and their schedule, while not quite Premiership tough, has not been easy by any means (their Champions League group was much harder than either English team's for example). But we'll admittedly have to wait until the next stage(s) of the Champions League to find out how good Bordeaux truly are. For now, with this much evidence at our disposal, we think second place stands up to scrutiny. Last week was another solid week for les girondins, who after winning a meaningless game over Maccabi Haifa put Ligue Un rivals Olympique Lyon to the sword. A late strike by Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh was the difference in the game. Their lead in Ligue Un is four points over second-placed Montpellier, whom they face Wednesday.
Upcoming schedule: The aformentioned game at Montpellier Wednesday. Host Lorient Saturday.

3. Chelsea
Last ranking: 2
Record: 18-4-3
Results of note: Beat then-No. 10 Porto in Champions League group stage (1-0, Sept. 15), beat then-No. 7 Liverpool at home in Premiership (2-0, Oct. 4), beat then-No. 4 Man United at home in Premiership (1-0, Nov. 8), won at then-No. 12 Porto (1-0, Nov. 25), won at then-No. 9 Arsenal (3-0, Nov. 29).
Commentary/recent results: A pair of draws for Carlo Ancelotti's men. The first, against Nicosia (it's in Cyprus, which is like some island in the Mediterranean or something) was meaningless. The second, at home to Everton, wasn't. Believe it or not Blues were able to expand their lead atop the Premiership standings (to three points) because Man U did even worse than they did last week.
Upcoming schedule: Host Pompey Wednesday. At West Ham Sunday.

4. Manchester United
Last ranking: 3
Record: 17-5-2
Results of note: Beat then No. 4 Arsenal at home (2-1, Aug. 29), beat then-No. 13 Manchester City (4-3, Sept. 20), lost at then-No. 20 Liverpool (2-0, Oct. 25), lost at then-No. 1 Chelsea (1-0, Nov. 8)
Commentary/recent results: Red Devils had no problems defeating Wolfsburg in an all-but-meaningless Champions League match, then stumbled at home to Aston Villa, losing 1-0. They remain in second place in the Prem, now three points behind Chelsea.
Upcoming schedule: Host Wolves tomorrow. Visit Fulham Saturday.

5. Real Madrid
Last ranking: 7
Record: 14-4-3
Results of note: Lost at then-No. 9 Sevilla (2-1, Oct. 4). drew at then-No. 17 AC Milan (1-1, Nov. 3), lost at then-No. 3 Barcelona (1-0, Nov. 29), won at then-No. 12 Valencia (3-2, Dec. 12).
Commentary/recent results: The merengues won both their games last week; neither in particularly convincing fashion but they'll surely take it. The first, over Olympique Marseille, gave them first place in their Champions League group. The second, at Valencia, allows them to keep pace with Barcelona atop the Liga table. Five points separate the two rivals.
Upcoming schedule: Host Real Zaragossa Saturday. That's it until next year.

6. Inter Milan
Last ranking: 5
Record: 13-3-6
Results of note: Beat then-No. 10 AC Milan (4-0, Aug. 29), drew then-No. 2 Barcelona at home in Champions League group stage (0-0, Sept. 17), lost at Sampdoria (1-0, Sept. 26), drew then-No. 13 Dynamo Kiev at home (2-2, Oct. 20), beat then-No. 13. Dynamo Kiev on the road (2-1, Nov. 4), lost at then-No. 3 Barcelona (2-0, Nov. 24), lost at then-No. 11 Juventus (2-1, Dec. 5), beat then-No. 9 Rubin Kazan (2-0, Dec. 9).
Commentary/recent results: The nerazzurri completed their turnaround in the Champions League by defeating Rubin Kazan to qualify for the Round of 16. Yesterday they went ahead of Bergamo but settled for a 1-1 draw. However much like Chelsea this was enough for them to expand their lead atop the league table, in this instance to five points, because Juventus and AC Milan both lost games.
Upcoming schedule: Host Livorno in a Coppa Italia match Wednesday and Lazio Rome in Serie A Sunday.

7. Sevilla
Last ranking: 10
Record: 14-2-3
Results of note: Beat then No. 21 Unirea Urziceni in Champions League group stage at home (2-0, Sept. 16), won at then-No. 24 Glasgow Rangers in Champions League group stage (4-1, Sept. 30), defeated then-No. 1 Real Madrid at home (2-1, Oct. 4).
Commentary/recent results: Los palanganas reenter the top 10 after winning both games they played last week, at home over Glasgow Rangers and on the road at Sporting Gijon. The latter result moves them back into third place in the Spanish Liga, two points over Valencia (who lost to Real Madrid). It's nine points to first place Barcelona; four to second-placed Real Madrid. Is it too early to count these guys out of the title chase? No, though they did defeat Real Madrid a few months ago. But for now a top 10 spot is still in the offing, though we'll have to wait and see how they do in the next stage(s) of the Champions League. Their group was a joke.
Upcoming schedule: Host Getafe Saturday.

8. Arsenal
Last ranking: 11
Record: 14-5-2
Results of note: Lost at then-No. 5 Man United (2-1, Aug. 29), lost at then-No. 16 Man City (4-2, Sept. 12), beat then-No. 15 Olympiakos at home in Champions League group play (2-0, Sept. 29), beat then-No. 20 Liverpool at home in League Cup (2-1, Oct. 28), lost to then-No. 1 Chelsea at home in Premiership (3-0, Nov. 29).
Commentary/recent results: Gunners lost their Champions League match at Olympiakos 1-0 midweek, but it was meaningless for them and played mainly by scrubs so we won't hold it against them. Did well to beat Liverpool yesterday, reversing a 1-0 halftime deficit to win 2-1 and plunge Rafa Benitez' side further into their misery.
Upcoming schedule: At Burnley Wednesday. Host Hull City, Saturday. An intriguing match with Aston Villa is up a week from Saturday. That will be played at the Emirates (not the country).

9. AC Milan
Last ranking: 6
Record: 11-4-7
Results of note: Lost at then-No. 8 Inter Milan (4-0, Aug. 27), won at then-No. 16 Olympique Marseille (2-1, Sept. 15), won at then-No. 2 Real Madrid (3-2, Oct. 21), drew then-No. 5 Real Madrid at home (1-1, Nov. 3), drew against then-No. 22 Olympique Marseille (1-1, Nov. 25).
Commentary/recent results: The rossoneri had to rally for a 1-1 draw at lowly FC Zurich to advance out of their Champions League group. That was bad, but what happened yesterday was worse: A 2-0 home loss to Palermo that drops them five points behind crosstown rivals Inter in the scudetto chase. That loss was Milan's first since an ugly home defeat to FC Zurich back on Sept. 30.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Fiorentina Saturday.

10. Bayern Munich
Last ranking: 20
Record: 14-4-7
Results of note: Beat then-No. 11 VfL Wolfsburg at home (3-0, Aug. 28), lost at then-No. 22 Hamburg SV (1-0, Sept. 26), drew then-No. 5 Juventus at home in Champions League group stage (0-0, Sept. 30), lost at then-No. 17 Girondins Bordeaux (2-1, Oct. 21), lost at home to then-No. 7 Bordeaux (2-0, Nov. 3), tied then-No. 19 Bayer Leverkusen at home (1-1, Nov. 22), won at then-No. 8 Juventus (4-1, Dec. 8).
Commentary/recent results: A massive week for Bayern, who take a well deserved double digit leap in our rankings. The biggest game was obviously the midweek encounter at Turin's Olympic Stadium, where they amazingly won 4-1 to book advancement in the UEFA Champions League. They didn't rest on their laurels though, defeating Bochum 5-1 Saturday. If you're keeping score that's a 9-2 goal difference on the week. Not bad. They are now all the way up to third in the Bundesliga, just two points behind leaders Leverkusen. We were dangerously close to dropping Bayern from our rankings altogether a few weeks ago. Now? A top 10 spot may be theirs for a little while.
Upcoming schedule: Host Hertha Berlin Saturday. That should be tough. Not.

11. Porto
Last ranking: 14
Record: 14-4-1
Results of note: Lost at then-No. 3 Chelsea in Champions League group stage (1-0, Sept. 15), lost at home to then-No. 1 Chelsea (1-0, Nov. 25).
Commentary/recent results: The Dragoes had no problem in either game last week, winning 3-0 at Atletico Madrid in a meaningless Champions League encounter at midweek and defeating Vitoria Setubal yesterday. They move to within one point of Liga Sagres leaders Benfica and Sporting Braga with the victory
Upcoming schedule: Visit Benfica Sunday with a chance to take first place in Liga Sagres depending on what happens with Braga, who play at Pacos de Ferreira.

12. PSV Eindhoven
Last ranking: 13
Record: 18-0-5
Results of note: Drew at Twente (1-1, Aug. 9).
Commentary/recent results: Defeated defending Dutch champs AZ Alkmaar Saturday by 1-0. Though they remain unbeaten in all competition, PSV are only second in the Dutch Eredivisie, two points behind Twente.
Upcoming schedule:Close out the Europa League campaign at CFR Cluj Wednesday. PSV have wrapped up first place in the group so the game is meaningless. Visit Roda Kerkrade in Eredivisie action Sunday.

13. Olympiakos
Last ranking: 16
Record: 14-3-4
Results of note: Beat then-No. 17 AZ Alkmaar at home in Champions League group stage (1-0, Sept. 16), lost at then-No. 12 Arsenal in Champions League group stage (2-0, Sept. 29).
Commentary/recent results: Olympiakos defeated Arsenal at midweek to book their spot in the Champions League Round of 16, but we aren't giving them full credit for the victory because Arsenal showed up with scrubs. They also won their league match on the weekend to hold onto first place in the Greek Super League. Their lead over Panathinaikos remains one point.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Saloniki Sunday before taking a 16 day break. I thought Orthodox holidays were a week later? Whatever.

14. Rubin Kazan
Last Ranking: 9
Record: 20-6-8*
Results of note: In Champions League group stage lost at then-No. 20 Dynamo Kiev (3-1, Sept. 16), drew then-No. 6 Inter Milan at home (1-1, Oct. 6), won at then-No. 1 Barcelona (2-1, Oct. 20), drew then-No. 3 Barcelona at home (0-0, Nov. 3), drew then-No. 13 Dynamo Kiev at home (0-0, Nov. 24), lost at then-No. 5 Inter Milan (2-0, Dec 9).
Commentary/recent results: The Russian season is over. Kazan are champions. They'll play in the next round of the Europa League due to Dynamo Kiev losing their last Champions League group stage match at home to Barcelona.
Upcoming schedule: What starts first, the Russian league or the next stage of the Europa League? Anybody know?
*Russian league starts in the spring.

15. Juventus
Last ranking: 8
Record: 11-8-5
Results of note: Drew then-No. 9 Girondins Bordeaux at home in Champions League group stage (1-1, Sept. 16), drew at then-No. 17 Bayern Munich in Champions League group stage (0-0, Sept. 30), lost at then-No. 11 Bordeaux (2-0, Nov. 25), beat then-No. 3 Inter Milan (2-1, Dec. 5), lost at home to then-No. 20 Bayern Munich (3-1, Dec. 8).
Commentary/recent results: Just when they were starting to look like a top 10 club again the bianconeri had an ugly week that throws into question whether they even belong in the top 25 at all. First came the home loss to Bayern to send them to the Europa League at the German club's expense. Then lost at Bari, 3-1. Amazingly, they are only six points out of first place in Serie A and one behind second-placed AC Milan.
Upcoming schedule: Host last-placed Catania, Sunday.

16. Valencia
Last ranking: 12
Record: 11-2-6
Results of note: Defeated then-No. 9 Sevilla at home (2-0, Aug. 30), drew then-No. 1 Barcelona at home (0-0, Oct. 17), lost at home to then-No. 7 Real Madrid (3-2, Dec. 12).
Commentary/recent results: Lost at home to Real Madrid.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Genoa in the Europa League Thursday needing a win to secure first place in the group. Then play at Deportivo La Coruna in their last match of the year Sunday.

17. Dynamo Kiev
Last ranking: 15
Record: 15-4-3
Results of note: Won home match against then-No. 22 Rubin Kazan in Champions League group stage (3-1, Sept. 16), lost at then-No. 2 Barcelona in Champions League group stage, drew at then-No. 4 Inter Milan (2-2, Oct. 20), lost at then-No. 22 Shakhtar Donetsk in domestic cup (2-0, Oct. 28), lost at home to then-No. 2 Inter Milan (2-1, Nov. 4), defeated then-No. 14 Shakhtar Donetsk (3-0, Nov. 21), drew at then-No. 8 Rubin Kazan (0-0, Nov. 24), lost at home to then-No. 1 Barcelona (2-1, Dec. 9).
Commentary/recent results: After losing a close one to Barcelona, Kiev rebounded to win their Ukrainian league match over the weekend to hold onto first place in the Premier-Liga. They are in all likelihood the best team to not have any European competition after new year's.
Upcoming schedule: Nothing until February.

18. Benfica Lisbon
Last ranking: 22
Record: 15-3-3
Results of note: Lost at then-No. 22 Sporting Braga (2-0, Oct. 31), trounced Everton 5-0 in Europa League (Oct. 22)
Commentary/recent results: Drew Olhanense 2-2 on Saturday. Luckily for them, second placed Sporting Braga managed just a scoreless draw in their game. The two sides remain even on points atop the Liga Sagres table.
Upcoming schedule: Host AEK Athens in a meaningless Europa League match Thursday. Then host Porto Sunday in a highly meaningful Liga Sagres encounter. Porto trail Benfica and Braga by just one point in the standings.

19. Manchester City
Last ranking: 17
Record: 10-1-8
Results of note: Beat then-No. 8 Arsenal at home (4-2, Sept. 12), lost to then-No. 4 Manchester United (4-3, Sept. 20), beat then-No. 10 Arsenal at home in Carling Cup (3-0, Dec. 2), beat then-No. 1 Chelsea at home in Premiership (1-0, Dec. 5).
Commentary/recent results: A week after their uber-impressive victory over Chelsea Citizens picked up with their habit of drawing inferior teams. They did so at Bolton Wanderers Saturday, 3-3.
Upcoming schedule: It's off to White Hart Lane for what will probably be another draw against Tottenham Hotspur. They trail fifth-placed Spurs by a point in the Premiership, albeit with a game in hand. Host Sunderland Saturday.

20. Bayer Leverkusen
Last ranking: 18
Record: 8-1-8
Results of note: Won at then-No. 15 VfL Wolfsburg (3-2, Sept. 12), drew at then-No. 14 Hamburg SV (0-0, Oct. 17), drew at then-No. 24 Bayern Munich (1-1, Nov. 22).
Commentary/recent results: Another draw for Leverkusen, this one against last-placed Hertha Berlin. Their Bundesliga lead is down to one point, with Schalke 04 (second) and Bayern Munich (third) charging hard.
Upcoming schedule: Host Borussia Moenchengladbach Saturday.

21. Shakhtar Donetsk
Last ranking: 19
Record: 17-3-4
Results of note: Lost UEFA Supercup to then-No. 2 Barcelona (1-0 in overtime, Aug. 28), beat then-No. 10 Dynamo Kiev at home in domestic cup match (2-0, Oct. 28), lost at then No. 16 Dynamo Kiev (3-0, Nov. 21).
Commentary/recent results: Won both Ukrainian league matches to pull within two points of league leaders Dynamo Kiev.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Partizan Belgrade in a meaningless Europa League encounter Wednesday (they've wrapped up first place in the group). Then the long, cold Ukrainian winter. Play resumes Feb. 27.

22. Aston Villa
Last ranking: -
Record: 10-3-5
Results of note: Won at then-No. 7 Liverpool (3-1, Aug. 24), beat then-No. 3 Chelsea at home (2-1, Oct. 17), drew then-No. 10 Manchester City at home (1-1, Oct. 5), won at then-No. 3 Manchester United (1-0, Dec. 12).
Commentary/recent results: So fourth place in the Premiership has got to count for something, right? Right, if you pull off quality victories. Anybody can be fourth while beating up on the Wigans and Burnleys of the world. Heck, even Spurs could pull that off! Oh wait, they did pull that off for a little while. Anyway, the catalyst for putting Villa here is their impressive 1-0 victory at Old Trafford Saturday, their third in a row. Martin O'Neill's men haven't lost since a 2-1 decision at West Ham Nov. 4. Third-placed Arsenal have just two points on Villains, though also a game in hand.
Upcoming schedule: Visit Sunderland Tuesday. Host Stoke City Saturday. A date with third-placed Arsenal is on the docket Dec. 27. Remember last year when Villa were ahead of Arsenal for a few weeks and everybody said they'd make the Champions League and stuff? Maybe that will happen again. Maybe this time Villains will stick, or at least manage a fourth placed finish. Or at least make it to Europe.

23. Fenerbahce Istanbul
Last ranking: -
Record: 14-5-1
Results of note: Beat Galatasaray (3-1, Oct. 25), beat then-No. 20 Twente (Dec. 2, 1-0).
Commentary/recent results: Fener defeated some club by the name of MKE Ankarag├╝c├╝. Don't ask me how to pronounce that. They are tied for first place in the Turkcell Super League, holding the edge on Kayserispor on goal difference. Galatasaray are just a point behind, with Bursaspor and Besiktas a point behind that. Looks like it's going to be a tight race in Turkey.
Upcoming schedule: Host Sheriff Tiraspol in a meaningless Europa League match Thursday (Fener have the group wrapped up). Also host Trabzonspor Sunday.

24. RSC Anderlecht
Last ranking: 25
Record: 16-5-4
Results of note: Lost Champions League qualifier against Olympique Lyon, drew Ajax Amsterdam at home in Europa League group stage (1-1, Oct. 1)
Commentary/recent results: Won at Westerlo Friday to increase their lead in the Belgian Jupiler league to seven points over FC Bruges.
Upcoming schedule: Host Ajax Amsterdam a Thursday in a match that is unfortunately meaningless in their Europa League group. Also host Bruges Sunday.

25.OSC Lille
Last ranking: -
Record: 10-7-5
Results of note: Beat then-No. 7 Girondins Bordeaux at home (2-0, Nov. 8), lost at then-No. 14 Valencia (3-1, Dec. 2), beat then-No. 18 Olympique Lyon (4-3, Dec. 6).
Commentary/recent results: Go ahead and laugh. L'OSC are third in France with several quality victories to their name. They stand to qualify for the next stage of the Europa League from a tough group. What's even more impressive is they started the season with just one point from their first four games (that lessens the load of seven losses on the year). Last week they won both Ligue Un matches by a combined 8-0 score (a pair of 4-0 decisions over St. Etienne and Monaco).
Upcoming schedule: Host Slavia Prague in a vital Europa League match (win and they're through to the next round) and Le Mans Sunday.

Dropping Out:
Olympique Lyonnais (21) after losing to Bordeaux, Werder Bremen (22) after losing at home to Schalke 04, LDU Quito (24) because I'm sick of having to defend them every week and because, seriously, they aren't the 25th best club in the world.

Also receiving consideration (in rough order of consideration received):
CSKA Moscow, Fiorentina, AS Roma, FK Copenhagen, Schalke 04.

Photo taken from without permission.

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