The first midweek league games of the season featured matchups with significant title implications in England — where first-place Tottenham and second-place Liverpool squared off — and Italy — where Napoli faced Inter Milan and Juventus took on Atalanta. All five major European leagues were in action between Tuesday and Thursday in addition to the weekend, meaning everyone played twice even though the Champions League and Europa League are on an extended break.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Everton (ENG), Roma (ITA), Southampton (ENG), Villarreal (ESP)
Dropped from rankings: None
25) Real Sociedad (ESP)
Last week: 20 (D 1-1 vs. Eibar, L 2-1 vs. Barcelona)
Sociedad managed to play six games between Nov. 26 and Dec. 13 without winning or losing a single one of them. Eibar doubled their number of shots and shots on goal but it was Sociedad who held a lead for 45 minutes before the visitors leveled the score. Their advantage lasted less than five minutes in the loss to Barcelona that snapped a 10-game unbeaten streak. The early cushion they built over the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla is quickly disappearing.
24) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 19 (L 2-1 vs. Hellas Verona, D 1-1 vs. Benevento Calcio)
Lazio’s loss and draw were concerning in two specific ways. First, the results left them ninth in Serie A from a points per game perspective and six points out of a Champions League spot. Second, they failed to generate more than 1.0 expected goals in either game while conceding 1.2 expected goals in the defeat and 1.4 in the draw. How they fare in their next two games against Napoli and AC Milan will go a long way in determining whether they can get back into the top four conversation.
23) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 24 (W 1-0 vs. PSG, D 2-2 vs. Brest)
Tinotenda Kadewere’s strike in the 35th minute was enough to hand PSG their fourth loss of the season and allowed Lyon to temporarily jump ahead of them in the table. The draw with Brest dropped them back down to third, two points out of first. Maxwel Cornet looked like he had won it with a goal in the 81st minute up a man but a penalty kick in stoppage time allowed the visitors to walk away with a point. Their lone loss came all the way back on Sept. 15.
22) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 25 (W 2-1 vs. Bordeaux, W 2-0 vs. Dijon)
Lille’s four goals came from four different players, headlined by Jonathan Bamba’s goal and assist against Bordeaux. Their well-balanced attack combined with PSG’s loss over the weekend mean it is Lille who hold the top spot in Ligue 1 after 15 games. The next week will be quite telling as they host PSG and travel to face fifth-place Montpellier in their last two games of the calendar year.
21) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 23 (W 1-0 vs. Getafe, W 3-0 vs. Ciudad de Lucena)
Julen Lopetegui’s team’s statline in their win over Getafe is rather remarkable: 75% possession, zero shots on goal and three points. Sevilla didn’t force David Soria into a single save yet got the win thanks to an own goal in the final 10 minutes of the game. The victory was their sixth in La Liga, tied for the third-most in the league. They then made easy work of their Copa del Rey opponents from the fourth tier, scoring three times in the first half.
20) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 21 (D 0-0 vs. Manchester City, W 3-2 vs. Sheffield United)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared United’s performance in the scoreless draw their best showing in the Manchester derby during his tenure. Though their offensive display dldn’t support that claim, their defensive effort certainly did. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford combined for three goals in 25 minutes to avoid becoming just the second Premier League team who failed to defeat the Blades this season. Only Liverpool and Tottenham are averaging more points per game in England’s top flight.
19) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 22 (W 3-0 vs. Fiorentina, D 1-1 vs. Juventus)
Atalanta were as dominant as the scoreline suggests against Fiorentina, nearly registering twice as many shots on goal (7) as the visitors had total shots (4). Their 2.6 expected goals were the team’s highest total since Oct. 31. Federico Chiesa and Remo Freuler exchanged marvelous goals in the showdown with Juventus, which also featured captain Papu Gómez’s first Serie A appearance since Oct. 28 amidst rumors he has asked to leave the club in the upcoming transfer window.
18) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 17 (W 3-0 vs. Brighton, L 2-0 vs. Everton)
James Maddison stole the show against the Seagulls, scoring his first Premier League goal since Sept. 27 and curling in a second to put the game out of reach. A win over Everton could have taken them to the top of the table, but a rare mistake from Kasper Schmeichel gave the Toffees the lead 21 minutes in. Jamie Vardy failed to capitalize on an excellent opportunity right after and the Foxes never really threatened the Everton goal again. They face fellow top four hopefuls Tottenham and Manchester United in their next two games.
17) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 16 (D 1-1 vs. Hertha Berlin, D 3-3 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt)
Gladbach remain winless in the month of December after taking a point from both of their league games last week. Breel Embolo’s 70th-minute strike brought them level in a game where they outshot Hertha 16-7. Three Frankfurt goals in 12 minutes midway through the first half erased Lars Stindl’s opener. Stindl came to the rescue though, converting a penalty kick in the 90th minute and scoring again five minutes into stoppage time to rescue a draw. They haven’t lost in the Bundesliga since Nov. 8 but also have only seven points from five league contests since then.
16) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 14 (L 5-1 vs. Stuttgart, W 2-1 vs. Werder Bremen)
The four unanswered second half goals conceded to Stuttgart signaled the end of Lucien Favre’s time in charge of the Black and Yellow with the team quickly falling out of the title race. They rebounded under interim manager Edin Terzić as captain Marco Reus pounced on the rebound from his saved penalty kick to take the lead for good in the 78th minute. The victory snapped a three-game winless streak in the Bundesliga.
15) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 15 (W 1-0 vs. Levante, W 2-1 vs. Real Sociedad)
The last time Barcelona won back-to-back league games was when they beat Villarreal and Osasuna by a combined score of 7-0 in their first two games of the season. That’s how poorly things have gone. Frenkie de Jong assisted on Lionel Messi’s winner against Levante and had the deciding strike in the victory over Sociedad, a positive sign for Ronald Koeman. A favorable stretch of games presents an opportunity to them to get back into the title race if they can take advantage.
14) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 18 (W 4-1 vs. Hoffenheim, W 4-0 vs. Kóln)
Leverkusen have scored at least three goals in all five of their games this month and are outscoring their opponents 18-3 since the calendar turned to December. Their last defeat came back on Oct. 29 and they are yet to lose in the Bundesliga. While it is still too early to declare them legitimate title contenders, their consistency cannot be ignored and a victory in the clash with Bayern on Dec. 19 would be a serious statement of intent.
13) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 13 (W 2-0 vs. Atlético Madrid, W 3-1 vs. Athletic Bilbao)
Casemiro headed home Toni Kroos’ corner kick 15 minutes in and Real Madrid kept up the pressure on the league leaders from there. Dani Carvajal’s shot from distance bounced off the post and then off goalkeeper Jan Oblak to secure all three points and add a level of intrigue to the La Liga title race. Bilbao went down a man in the 13th minute but managed to tie the game in the 52nd before Karim Benzema scored twice late on. The wins bring them level on points with Atléti, who have two games in hand.
12) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 9 (D 1-1 vs. Crystal Palace, L 2-1 vs. Liverpool)
Questions are always going to be asked of José Mourinho’s philosophy, especially when a nearly identical scene unfolds in consecutive games. Harry Kane put Spurs ahead midway through the first half but they allowed Crystal Palace to hang around, ultimately conceding in the 81st minute. Though they had their chances to beat Liverpool, allowing the reigning Premier League champions 76% of the possession and 11 shots on goal is asking for trouble. They are just not very dangerous going forward if they don’t take their chances on the counter, and that is typically not a way to win the Premier League.
11) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 12 (W 3-1 vs. Genoa, D 1-1 vs. Atalanta)
Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-of-4 from the penalty spot in his last two games with two conversions after Genoa had answered Paulo Dybala’s 57th minute opener with one of their own in the 61st. Ronaldo had a chance to make it 5-for-5 with the Atalanta game tied at 1 but had his attempt saved by Pierluigi Gollini. While the draw snapped a four-game winning streak, it put Juventus in a favorable position to go undefeated for a second straight month with Parma and Fiorentina still on the schedule in December.
10) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 7 (D 2-2 vs. Parma, D 2-2 vs. Genoa)
It appears the continued absence of Zlatan Ibrahimović is starting to take its toll. They needed stoppage time heroics from Theo Hernández to avoid defeat against Parma and had to come from behind twice to prevent 18th-place Genoa from getting their second win of the season. The two draws leave them one point clear of Inter Milan with games against Sassuolo and Lazio to close out 2020.
9) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 4 (L 1-0 vs. Everton, L 2-1 vs. Wolves)
Chelsea had lost twice all season heading into last weekend, one defeat coming to Liverpool in the Premier League and the other to Tottenham via shootout in the Carabao Cup. They doubled that total in four days. However, the game against Everton was an even contest decided by a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty kick and the Blues were beating Wolves until the 66th minute. Their zero wins over teams currently in the top half of the Premier League table make it difficult to dismiss these two losses as simply a poor run of form that happens from time to time though.
8) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 10 (W 2-0 vs. Werder Bremen, W 1-0 vs. Hoffenheim)
Leipzig picked up their first clean sheet since Nov. 7 in the victory over Werder Bremen and followed that up with another one against Hoffenheim. Their attack was much less effective in the second game, finishing with an expected goals total of 0.3. Yussuf Poulsen was able to find the back of the net, however, and extend Leipzig’s unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga to six games. They have won five of their last six contests with the other result being a draw against Bayern.
7) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 8 (W 2-1 vs. Sampdoria, L 1-0 vs. Inter Milan)
Hirving Lozano entered the Sampdoria game at halftime with Napoli trailing 1-0 and brought them level in eight minutes. He then set up Andrea Petagna’s goal, which turned out to be the game-winner. He was rewarded with a start against Inter and watched as another good performance was undone by a Lorenzo Insigne red card and Romelu Lukaku penalty kick within 60 seconds of each other. They fell to fourth in the Serie A table following the loss, five points back of league-leading AC Milan.
6) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 11 (W 3-1 vs. Cagliari, W 1-0 vs. Napoli)
All of a sudden, Inter have won five straight in Serie A and are the favorites to win the league according to FiveThirtyEight. Three goals after the 75th minute got them past Cagliari in a game where they had 11 shots on goal to the hosts’ three. Napoli outshot them 17-5 and were the better team on the day, but Romelu Lukaku netted his fifth goal in his last five games to steal all three points. It is finally coming together for Antonio Conte’s team.
5) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 6 (D 0-0 vs. Manchester United, D 1-1 vs. West Brom)
Pep Guardiola’s team wasted another opportunity to put some real pressure on Liverpool and Tottenham by sputtering to a goalless draw with their crosstown rivals. Chances were few and far between, which continues to be a theme of City’s season. Dropping points against the 19th-place Baggies compounded the frustrations further. The teams Guardiola is selecting are too good to struggle this mightily in attack. Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne were all on the field at the end of the West Brom game and they still couldn’t find a winner.
4) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 5 (L 2-0 vs. Real Madrid, W 3-0 vs. Cardassar)
Atléti’s seven-game league winning streak and 11-game unbeaten streak across all competitions came to an end at the hands of their crosstown rivals. However, they are still winning La Liga on goal difference and are averaging 0.36 more points per game than anyone else in the league. Ricard Sánchez contributed a goal and an assist in the Copa del Rey triumph over Cardassar, whose story of resilience after losing everything is worth reading.
3) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 3 (L 1-0 vs. Lyon, W 2-0 vs. Lorient)
PSG’s 0.3 expected goals in the loss to Lyon were far and away their lowest total of the season. Only one of their seven shots were on target while the visitors had five. The most contentious moment of the game came at the very end when Neymar was stretchered off in the 99th minute following a scissor tackle from Thiago Mendes that earned him a red card. Initial reports on the injury have been positive and Neymar is expected to be back in a matter of weeks. They can reclaim first place in Ligue 1 with a win over Lille on Dec. 20.
2) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 1 (D 1-1 vs. Union Berlin, W 2-1 vs. Wolfsburg)
Robert Lewandowski outscored Bayern’s opponents 3-2 and his teammates 3-0 to give him 15 goals in 11 Bundesliga games this season. They have conceded the first goal in each of their last six league matches and came back to win half of those contests. More than a third of the way through the campaign, the Bavarians are a point behind Leverkusen and ahead of Leipzig on goal differential. They are still the odds-on favorites to win the league, but every shaky performance makes everyone else believe just a little bit more.
1) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 2 (D 1-1 vs. Fulham, W 2-1 vs. Tottenham)
Liverpool were quite poor at Craven Cottage and didn’t deserve anything more than the point they came away with. Alisson’s return was dampened by the news that Diogo Jota will be out six-to-eight weeks with a knee injury. The defining moment of the week, though, was Roberto Firmino’s perfectly placed header in the final minute of regular time that gave the Reds the victory over first-place Spurs and sent Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table. It was also enough to reclaim the top spot in the top 25.
Photo by Ennoti / Flickr