With the European competitions one week away from the conclusion of the group stage, more clarity is being provided to the European soccer hierarchy. The penultimate matchday in the Champions League set the stage for a captivating finale. On the domestic front, traditional powers in England, Spain and Italy are still trying to find some sort of consistency.
The European soccer top 25 makes its return following a two-week hiatus.
Note: “Last week’s” rankings reflect the rankings of the Nov. 20 edition of the European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Arsenal (ENG), Lille (FRA), Roma (ITA), Sassuolo (ITA), West Ham (ENG)
Dropped from rankings: Arsenal (25)
25) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: Not ranked (W 3-0 vs. Stade Reims)
Last season’s Champions League quarterfinalists return to the top 25 after five victories in a six-game stretch that also included a draw against second-place Lille. Karl Toko Ekambi gave Lyon the lead 22 minutes in. By halftime, they were up a goal and a man. Their lone loss this season was on Sept. 15, making them one of three Ligue 1 teams who have not suffered multiple defeats in the league.
24) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 15 (L 2-0 vs. Hellas Verona, D 1-1 vs. Midtjylland)
The defeat was a much closer contest than the scoreline suggests as Atalanta generated 1.8 expected goals to Verona’s 1.7 and outshot the visitors 20-8. Nevertheless, Miguel Veloso’s penalty kick in the 62nd minute turned out to be the game-winner. Cristian Romero then got a late equalizer to avoid an embarrassing, cruel and hugely consequential loss to the reigning Danish champions. The draw was enough to enter their final Champions League group stage match in second place, needing a draw against Ajax to advance.
23) Ajax (NED)
Last week: 25 (W 5-0 vs. Emmen, L 1-0 vs. Liverpool)
The 5-0 league win was Ajax’s fourth straight outing in which they scored at least three goals and gave them an average of 4.75 over their last eight games. Unsurprisingly, the goals dried up against vastly superior competition in the form of Liverpool, with Curtis Jones capitalizing on André Onana’s misreading of a cross to take all three points. They are facing a “win-and-in” scenario in their Champions League group stage finale.
22) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 24 (D 0-0 vs. Hertha Berlin, W 3-2 vs. Nice)
Leverkusen fired off 16 shots against the visitors from the German capital, only one of which was on target. They controlled the game but failed to create quality chances and had to settle for a draw as a result. They got back to winning ways in the Europa League and were much more effective in attack, putting nine of their 18 shots on goal. Just three points separate Peter Bosz’s team and Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.
21) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 23 (W 1-0 vs. Huesca, L 4-0 vs. Chelsea)
Sevilla closed out a perfect November with their sixth one-goal victory in 14 games this season. The win brought them up to fifth in the La Liga table with games in hand on three of the four teams ahead of them. The only thing left to play for in the Champions League was first place in the group, so both teams took advantage of the rare opportunity to rest players. Unsurprisingly, Chelsea’s much deeper squad won out.
20) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 20 (L 3-1 vs. Udinese, D 1-1 vs. Borussia Dortmund)
The defeat to Udinese was their first since Oct. 17, concluding an eight-game unbeaten run that featured five victories dating back to the start of the Champions League. Lazio’s goal came via a Ciro Immobile penalty when they were trailing by three. Immobile converted from the penalty spot again to rescue a draw in Germany, keeping them on pace to get past the group stage of the Champions League for just the second time.
19) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 21 (W 3-2 vs. Southampton, L 3-1 vs. PSG)
Just another week in the life of Manchester United. They go down 2-0 to the Saints and fight back to win behind halftime substitute Edinson Cavani, who was involved in all three of the Red Devils’ goals. Marcus Rashford brought them level in the crucial Champions League clash with last season’s runners-up before a Marquinhos goal and Fred red card in 120 seconds sealed United’s fate. What happens next is anyone’s guess at this point.
18) Real Sociedad (ESP)
Last week: 18 (D 1-1 vs. Villarreal, D 2-2 vs. Rijeka)
Sociedad finally had a minor hiccup in La Liga, snapping a six-game winning streak. First half penalties by Gerard Moreno and Mikel Oyarzabal canceled each other out to share the spoils. Rijeka had not earned a point in the Europa League until the draw, Sociedad’s third in a row. Their time in Europe will likely come to a close if they fail to beat Napoli next week. As well as things are going domestically, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about their ability to keep performing at this level.
17) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 16 (L 2-1 vs. Fulham, L 1-0 vs. Zorya Luhansk)
It was an all-around dreadful showing by Brendan Rodgers team against Fulham, resulting in their second consecutive league defeat. The Europa League loss was much less significant in the grand scheme of things and marked the return of three crucial players in Ricardo Pereira, Çağlar Sӧyüncü and Wilfred Ndidi. The reinforcements could not have come at a better time with the Foxes trying to withstand the poor run of form and stay in the Premier League title race.
16) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 10 (L 2-1 vs. Alavés, L 2-0 vs. Shakhtar Donetsk)
Even at 34 years old, there is no disputing how important Sergio Ramos is to Real Madrid. Los Blancos have one win in four games since Ramos picked up an injury on international duty. However, it is obvious their problems are much more complicated than Ramos’ absence. They are averaging 1.70 points per game to Atléti’s 2.56 in La Liga and are in real danger of not getting out of their Champions League group. The next three games against Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Atléti are the defining stretch of their season.
15) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 19 (W 4-1 vs. Schalke, L 3-2 vs. Inter Milan)
Four different goalscorers saw Gladbach past the Bundesliga bottom-dwellers in comfortable fashion, giving them their first league victory in three games. They currently sit seventh in the table, three points out of a Champions League spot. It looked as though Alassane Pléa had single-handedly rescued a point against Inter only to have his third goal ruled out. They are still atop their Champions League group but the loss means the final matchday is going to be even more tense.
14) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 14 (D 1-1 vs. Benevento Calcio, W 3-0 vs. Dynamo Kyiv)
Juventus are yet to lose in Serie A but currently have more draws than wins, leaving them in fourth place and six points adrift of AC Milan. The comfortable dispatching of Dynamo Kyiv was noteworthy for the career benchmarks that were reached. Federico Chiesa scored his first goal in a Juventus shirt to put them ahead. The second came from Cristiano Ronaldo, the 750th of his career. Other than that, it was another disappointing week in Turin.
13) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 17 (W 2-1 vs. Arminia Bielefeld, W 4-3 vs. İstanbul Başakşehir)
With his goal in the win over Arminia Bielefeld, Angeliño has now scored more times in 15 games this season than he did in the previous 136 appearances of his career. Christopher Nkunku added a second to secure the victory and move back into second place in the Bundesliga. They jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Champions League newcomers, conceded twice to level the score and were bailed out by Alexander Sorloth’s stoppage time winner. Their rematch with Manchester United will be the game to watch in the Champions League next week.
12) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 12 (W 4-0 vs. Osasuna, W 3-0 vs. Ferencváros)
There’s only so much to take away from handling lesser opponents, but the ease with which Barcelona are doing it is noteworthy in the context of their difficulties this season. Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite found the back of the net in both games, continuing their recent run of good form. Wins over Dynamo Kyiv, Osasuna and the Hungarian champions aren’t enough to believe anything has really changed.
11) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 7 (L 2-1 vs. Köln, D 1-1 vs. Lazio)
The bad news came on multiple fronts for Lucian Favre’s team. After getting back to within a point of Bayern, they lose to previously winless Köln at home. Thorgan Hazard pulled one back for Dortmund with 16 minutes remaining but it was too little, too late. Erling Håland is out for the rest of 2020 with a muscle tear. Though they did qualify for the Champions League round of 16, Lazio’s late equalizer prevented them from clinching first place in the group. Any dreams of wrestling the Bundesliga title away from the Bavarians are quickly fading.
10) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 13 (D 0-0 vs. Chelsea, D 3-3 vs. LASK)
Neither José Mourinho or Frank Lampard appeared interested in taking any kind of unnecessary risk in an attempt to grab all three points. Spurs might have done so anyway were it not for the poor decision made by Giovani Lo Celso in the closing minutes. The point did move them to the top of the Premier League table on goal difference though. Two penalty kicks were only enough to manage another draw in the Europa League, which provides them a chance to top their group with a win on the final group stage matchday.
9) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 11 (W 3-0 vs. Sassuolo, W 3-2 vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach)
The back-to-back wins were Inter’s first since they opened their campaign with victories over Fiorentina and Benevento Calcio, which sums up how the season’s gone so far. Yet here they are in second place in Serie A with a legitimate chance of getting to the knockout stage of the Champions League. While the performance against Gladbach was not convincing enough to declare their struggles a thing of the past, a justifiable sense of optimism has returned.
8) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 6 (W 4-0 vs. Roma, D 1-1 vs. AZ Alkmaar)
Two Serie A clubs have more than five wins through their first nine league games: Napoli and the team one spot ahead of them in these rankings. Lorenzo Insigne netted the first goal and set up the second in a dominant performance to make it six victories in nine league contests. An early strike from Dries Mertens and a saved penalty kept them in first in what is easily the most competitive Europa League group to cap off what was ultimately another successful week.
7) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 9 (W 2-0 vs. Fiorentina, W 4-2 vs. Celtic)
AC Milan are managing just fine without Zlatan Ibrahimović, at least in the short term. Alessio Romagnoli opened the scoring against Fiorentina in the 17th minute on an assist from Franck Kessié, who went on to convert one penalty kick and missed another. The reeling Scottish champions struck twice in the first 14 minutes and were down 3-2 by the 50th. With Ibrahimović potentially available as soon as this weekend and a five-point cushion in Serie A, there has been no signs of this team slowing down any time soon.
6) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 4 (W 5-0 vs. Burnley, D 0-0 vs. Porto)
City’s win over Burnley marked the first time since their season opener on Sept. 21 they scored more than twice in a Premier League game. The only other time they’d produced multiple goals was the 5-2 loss to Leicester. Riyad Mahrez netted a hat trick in the victory, which moved the Cityzens to within six points of the top of the table with a game in hand. The draw with Porto also keeps them on track to win their Champions League group. Time will tell if the offensive outburst was a sign of progress or an aberration.
5) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 8 (W 1-0 vs. Valencia, D 1-1 vs. Bayern Munich)
A late own goal was enough to extend Diego Simeone’s team’s league winning streak to six games. Atléti are now just a point back of Sociedad, who have played two more games. João Félix looked like he was going to send them to the Champions League round of 16 but a Bayern penalty kick in the 86th minute means they still have work to do. It is getting close to the point where failing to win La Liga would be considered a massive disappointment.
4) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 5 (D 0-0 vs. Tottenham, W 4-0 vs. Sevilla)
Chelsea sandwiched six consecutive wins between goalless draws with fellow English heavyweights Manchester United and Tottenham. The sharing of points at Stamford Bridge certainly benefits Spurs more than the Blues, but it is starting to look like a three or four-way title race depending on whether Manchester City can become a factor. They secured first place in their Champions League group behind four goals from 34-year-old Olivier Giroud, who became the oldest player to produce a hat trick in the competition since 1965.
3) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 3 (D 2-2 vs. Bordeaux, W 3-1 vs. Manchester United)
As soon as PSG took a commanding lead in Ligue 1, a loss followed by the draw with Bordeaux leaves them two points ahead of four teams. The more pressing concern, however, is ensuring their Champions League run doesn’t come to a close in the group stage. Neymar’s brace led the way for a crucial win in the rematch with the Red Devils, creating a three-way tie in this season’s “Group of Death.” Thomas Tuchel will gladly take a few disappointing results in the league if it means staying alive in Europe.
2) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 2 (D 1-1 vs. Brighton, W 1-0 vs. Ajax)
The Reds were without their goalkeeper, right back, both center backs and two probable starters in midfield by the time they faced Ajax, so the dip in form following the demolition of Leicester can be forgiven. They could have easily won or lost the dramatic affair with Brighton, which ended in a draw due to a stoppage time penalty kick that canceled out Diogo Jota’s opener. They are still level on points with league leaders Tottenham and clinched first place in their Champions League group with the win over Ajax, which is remarkable considering everything they’ve endured so far.
1) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 1 (W 3-1 vs. Stuttgart, D 1-1 vs. Atlético Madrid)
Bayern fell behind for a third consecutive Bundesliga game but were ahead by halftime thanks to a goal and an assist from Kingsley Coman. Substitutes Diego Costa and Leroy Sané combined for the third goal in the 87th minute. With their place in the knockout stage of the Champions League secured, Hansi Flick left his key players at home for the trip to Madrid. The draw put an end of their record 15-game winning streak in the Champions League. No reason for concern in Bavaria though.
Photo by Анна Нэсси / Wikimedia Commons