Feb 26, 2010

Just how viable are the Soccer Source rankings?

This post grew out of an ongoing discussion on the BigSoccer sewing circle. The idea is to gauge exactly how accurate (or not) our Top 25 rankings are as an indicator of future results. We got into this a little bit with our initial prediction of the Champions League round of 16, but those rankings were stale by the time the actual games kicked off last week.

But now, with these matchups either halfway done (in the case of the Champions League) or decided (Europa League) we figured the time would be right to revisit the issue. That, and there is nothing to do at the dayjob today due to all the snow we're having in New York. Anyway, here goes:

Barcelona (No. 1 at last ranking) vs. Stuttgart (unranked)
The top team in our rankings had to struggle to get a 1-1 away draw against a team that has not even been on our radar as far as top clubs are concerned. While this is potentially troubling, can there really be any doubt Barca will trounce the German side at Camp Nou in the return leg? No, there cannot really. Besides, everybody in the world predicted Barca to advance so if we get this wrong we're hardly in the minority.

Inter Milan (2) vs. Chelsea (3)
Our rankings predicted a very tight matchup between two top teams and that is what it got. Inter took the first leg 2-1 at home. The advantage is to Chelsea in the return leg by virtue of the away goal, but this can still go either way--just like we had predicted.

Real Madrid (4) vs. Olympique Lyon (20)
According to our rankings, Real is clearly the superior club. Yet they lost the first leg at Lyon 1-0 and have their work cut out for them in the return leg. This would be a major upset in our book. But maybe our ranking of Real is inflated? After all this is a club whose biggest achievement was a 3-2 win at Valencia in December. We shall see.

Manchester United (5) vs. AC Milan (13)
We have Man U as the superior club so we aren't at all surprised by their 3-2 away win in the first leg. Sure, Milan could still come back but they will have to score at least twice at Old Trafford to do so.

Girondins Bordeaux (6) vs. Olympiakos (17)
The French club demonstrated their supriority in a 1-0 away win in the first leg. They're in the driver's seat to prove us right. Allez les Girondins!

Bayern Munich (7) vs. Fiorentina (unranked)
Bayern struggled to win 2-1 in the home leg, looking nothing like a team that is supposed to be the seventh-best in the world. Fiorentina, to our credit, are not complete strangers to the Top 25, having figured prominently earlier this season. But their run of recent form led us to drop them. If they can win the return leg and advance we'll obviously have to revisit that--not to mention Bayern's perch at 7.

Arsenal (8) vs. Porto (12)
The Soccer Source rankings give Arsenal the edge, though not by much. So we aren't at all surprised by Porto's 2-1 win in the first leg. Even if they are bounced at Emirates on March 9 we can still pat ourselves on the back for this. Unless of course it's a blowout...

AS Roma (9) vs. Panathinaikos
Um, okay we can pretend this didn't happen, right? Roma lost the return leg 3-2 at home, their first defeat in 20 games (we didn't count their first leg loss by the same score since it's part of the same matchup). Oops.

Sevilla (10) vs CSKA Moscow (unranked)
The Spanish side struggled to get a 1-1 away draw in the first leg of their Champions League matchup. That result is somewhat surprising considering Moscow hadn't played a competitive game in months. Less so considering it was played in an arctic climate that is to southern Spain what Vermont is to Miami.

Benfica Lisbon (11) vs. Hertha Berlin
No surprise here. Benfica blew out the German club 4-0 in the first leg and sauntered to a 1-1 draw in the second. They're through to the next round.

PSV Eindhoven (14) vs. Hamburg SV (unranked)
We had been singing PSV's praises all season, while Hamburg has been in and out of the Top 25 (mostly out). Yet the German club proved superiod in a narrow matchup, winning the return leg at home 1-0 after losing the first 3-2. At least PSV kept it close for us.

Rubin Kazan (18) vs. Hapoel Tel Aviv (unranked)
As expected, the Russian side advanced easily 3-0 on aggregate.

Fenerbahce Istanbul (21) vs. OSC Lille (unranked)
Lille have made a few appearances in the top 25 but by the time this Europa League matchup was played Fener had the advantage. Or so we thought. The French club won by scoring a late equalizer in the return leg.

RSC Anderlecht (22) vs. Athletic Bilbao
We were widely ridiculed for putting Anderlecht in our rankings. But who's ridiculous now? The Belgian side trounced the Basques 4-0 in the first leg of their Europa League matchup and coasted to a 1-1 away draw in the second. Most of the soccer world will call this an upset. Not us.

Olympique Marseille (23) vs. FC Copenhagen (unranked)
L'OM advanced easily as our rankings predicted, 6-2 on aggregate.

Shakhtar Donetsk (24) vs. Fulham (unranked)
Ooops. Roy Hodgson's side defeated the defending champs in their Europa League matchup. Oh well.

Liverpool (25) vs. Unirea Urziceni (unranked)
Reds advanced past the Romanian side without too much difficulty. Point for us.

Teams ranked 15 (Bayer Leverkusen), 16 (Valencia) and 19 (Dynamo Kiev) are not actively engaged in European competition.

4 wrong
5 accurate
4 pending with our prediction likely correct (visiting team won or drew)
1 pending with our prediction unlikely (home team lost or drew)
3 pending and too close to call

A look at the next round of the Europa League:
Note that victories in the first elimination round have not yet been factored into the ranking. That will take place in the next edition of the Top 25, Monday, March 1:

Benfica (11) vs. Olympique Marseille (23)
Rubin Kazan (18) vs. VfL Wolfsburg (unranked)
Anderlecht (22) vs. HSV (unranked)
Liverpool (25) vs. Lille (unranked)

Photo taken from AccuWeather.com without permission.

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