The merciless onslaught of games has slowed down for the first time in months, at least to a certain extent. There were still plenty of high-profile encounters though, with top-of-the-table clashes in Germany and France over the weekend. A promising youngster and all-time great both made history as well.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Roma (ITA), Sassuolo (ITA), Stade Rennes (FRA), Villarreal (ESP)
Dropped from rankings: Real Sociedad (25)
25) Everton (ENG)
Last week: Not ranked (W 2-1 vs. Arsenal, L 2-0 vs. Manchester United)
The Toffees reeled off consecutive victories over Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal, the last of which was a different kind of challenge because of how desperate the Gunners are for points right now. Yerry Mina’s second goal of the season on the stroke of halftime restored the Toffee’s advantage and ended up being the difference in the game. The numbers suggest they were lucky to keep United off the scoreboard as long as they did and fully deserved to be the ones knocked out of the Carabao Cup. They have quietly jumped back into the top four of the Premier League and are just one point out of second.
24) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 17 (L 2-1 vs. Hoffenheim, W 5-0 vs. Elversberg)
It all went downhill for Gladbach in the final 15 minutes against Hoffenheim after Lars Stindl converted from the penalty spot in the first half to give them the lead. They conceded in the 75th minute, had Marcus Thuram sent off in the 79th and conceded again in the 86th. The defeat ensures they finish the month of December winless in their four Bundesliga games, though three of them were draws. Two goals and an Elversberg red card in the first 31 minutes allowed them to advance in the DFB Pokal with ease.
23) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 24 (W 2-0 vs. Napoli, L 3-2 vs. AC Milan)
Ciro Immobile scored the first and set up the second in what was Napoli’s first victory since Dec. 5. He then made it 13 goals in 13 games when he found the back of the net to tie the game against the league leaders in the 59th minute. Immobile also missed a penalty, which was headed in by Luis Alberto for their first goal. They end the calendar year in eighth place, five points out of a Champions League spot.
22) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 21 (D 1-1 vs. Valladolid, W 1-0 vs. Valencia)
Lucas Ocampos’ 31st-minute penalty looked like it was going to be enough to get past relegation candidates Valladolid but Raúl García had other ideas, scoring in the 87th minute to steal a point. One goal was enough against Valencia with Suso’s strike in the final 10 minutes making the difference. The shutout was Sevilla’s third in their last four games dating back to Dec. 12.
21) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 22 (D 0-0 vs. PSG, W 3-2 vs. Montpellier)
Shutting out PSG is a significant accomplishment regardless of who is (or who is not) on the field. The draw allowed Lille to hold onto first place in Ligue 1 over the weekend and kept them one point ahead of the Parisians. They traded goals with Montpellier until Burak Yilmaz came off the bench to restore their lead for good in the 86th minute. Only PSG have conceded fewer goals in the league than Lille’s 12.
20) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 23 (W 4-1 vs. Nice, W 3-0 vs. Nantes)
The offensive outburst and solid defensive displays pushed Lyon’s unbeaten streak to 14 games and made up enough ground in terms of goal difference to claim the top spot in Ligue 1 at the holiday break, barely edging out Lille. Karl Tolo Ekambi, Memphis Depay and Tinotenda Kadewere — who combined to score five of the seven goals in the two wins — have accounted for 24 of the team’s 32 goals this season.
19) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 19 (W 4-1 vs. Roma, D 2-2 vs. Bologna)
Were it not for the second half collapse against Bologna, Atalanta would have a draw with Juventus and four wins in their last five games of 2020. Roma went ahead in the third minute before they erupted with four goals in the final 45 minutes. It was Atalanta who jumped out to the lead against Bologna thanks to Luis Muriel’s two goals in two minutes. Two second half goals from the hosts forced them to settle for a draw and kept them outside the top six in Serie A.
18) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 16 (L 2-1 vs. Union Berlin, W 2-0 vs. Eintracht Braunschweig)
Youssoufa Moukoko became the youngest goal scorer in Bundesliga history when he drew Dortmund level with Union Berlin three minutes after they went behind. The 16-year-old’s impressive performance was ultimately in vain though as they failed to win for the fourth time in five league contests. A stoppage time goal from Jadon Sancho sealed a victory in the DFB Pokal over 2. Bundesliga side Braunschweig.
17) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 20 (W 6-2 vs. Leeds United, W 2-0 vs. Everton)
The long-awaited resumption of the United/Leeds rivalry in the Premier League was not a contest at all. Scott McTominay scored twice in the first three minutes of the game and the Red Devils were up 4-0 by minute 37. McTominay and Bruno Fernandes both finished with two goals and an assist to their name. Edinson Cavani finally broke the deadlock in a tense Carabao Cup quarterfinal in the 88th minute with Anthony Martial adding a second goal deep into stoppage time. As strange as it may seem, they are in the best position to seriously push Liverpool at the moment.
16) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 18 (W 2-0 vs. Tottenham)
Though Brendan Rodgers only made three changes to his starting lineup, the team that showed up at White Hart Lane looked nothing like the one that lost at home to Everton four days before. A Jamie Vardy penalty kick and Toby Alderweireld own goal were more than enough to see off Spurs but it could’ve easily been 3-0 with James Maddison being ruled offside by the slimmest of margins. Just two points separate the Foxes in second and Spurs, who fell to sixth with the loss. Leicester have a chance to give themselves some breathing room when they host third-place Manchester United on Boxing Day.
15) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 15 (D 2-2 vs. Valencia, W 3-0 vs. Valladolid)
Lionel Messi tied Pele’s record for the most goals with a single club in the draw with Valencia and netted his 644th goal for Barcelona in the win over Valladolid, setting the all-time mark. Messi also set up Clément Lenglet’s opener via a recycled corner kick. It was his first league assist of the season and his first in any competition since Oct. 28. He averaged more goals (0.78) and assists (0.66) individually in La Liga in 2019-20 than he is averaging combined (0.59) in the 2020-21 campaign.
14) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 14 (L 2-1 vs. Bayern Munich)
Patrik Shick’s fabulous volley had Leverkusen dreaming of first place in the Bundesliga at the end of 2020 but it was not to be. They created very little other than Shick’s moment of brilliance, as evidenced by their 0.3 expected goals. Simply put, it is going to take more than that to beat the reigning Champions League winners. The loss marked the first time since Nov. 29 they failed to score at least three times.
13) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 12 (L 2-0 vs. Leicester City, W 3-1 vs. Stoke City)
Spurs’ poor start against the Foxes was compounded by Serge Aurier’s ill-advised challenge on Wesley Fofana inside the box at the end of the first half and there was not a noticeable improvement after halftime. They never looked likely to get one goal back, let alone two. Gareth Bale, Ben Davies and Harry Kane found the back of the net to send them to the semifinals of the Carabao Cup at Stoke’s expense. Their title hopes may be fading, but José Mourinho has them on the verge of lifting their first trophy since the 2007-08 season.
12) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 11 (W 4-0 vs. Parma, L 3-0 vs. Fiorentina)
The Bianconeri made easy work of Parma behind two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a goal and two assists from Álvaro Morata. The dominant performance made what happened next even more surprising. Fiorentina went up a goal in the 3rd minute and up a man in the 18th after Juan Cuadrado’s red card but Juventus were able to keep it 1-0 until the 76th minute and outshot the visitors 13-10. Their loss leaves AC Milan as the lone unbeaten team remaining in Serie A.
11) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 13 (W 3-1 vs. Eibar, W 2-0 vs. Granada)
Karim Benzema had a hand in four of Real Madrid’s five goals, giving him six goals and two assists in his last five appearances. The victories brought their winning streak up to six games, five of which have been by multiple goals. They are level on points with Atlético Madrid but are behind on goal difference and have played two more games. While Los Blancos haven’t been consistent enough to keep up with their crosstown rivals, their recent run of good form has solidified them as Atléti’s primary challengers.
10) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 7 (L 2-0 vs. Lazio, D 1-1 vs. Torino)
Talk about having rotten luck. Napoli have created at least 0.2 more expected goals than their opponent in each of their last three games and wound up getting outscored 4-1 in those contests. It took Lorenzo Insigne’s strike in stoppage time to avoid having what is now Serie A’s last-place team hand them a third defeat in a row. They are nine points out of first with a game in hand on the four teams ahead of them, so a serious run at the scudetto isn’t out of the question if their luck starts evening out.
9) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 9 (W 3-0 vs. West Ham)
The comfortable victory was a welcome sight for Frank Lampard coming off back-to-back defeats. Chelsea held the Hammers without a shot on goal while creating seven of their own, one more than the total number of shots West Ham managed. Thiago Silva put them ahead in the 10th minute and Tammy Abraham provided two more goals in a three-minute spell late on. The Blues could be without right back Reece James and left back Ben Chilwell against Arsenal on Boxing Day, but Lampard hopes the duo will be back in action at some point during the festive period.
8) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 8 (D 0-0 vs. Köln, W 3-0 vs. Augsburg)
Leipzig were reminded of how cruel a sport soccer can be in their draw with Köln. They dominated every meaningful statistical category — from a 19-4 advantage in shots and a 2.2-0.5 edge in expected goals to earning four times as many corners and completing 295 more passes — except the score line. The dropped points leave them behind Leverkusen on goal difference and two points back of Bayern. They coasted through their DFB Pokal game and announced the singing of superstar-in-the-making Dominik Szoboszlai from sister club Red Bull Salzburg, so it was certainly not all bad.
7) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 10 (W 2-1 vs. Sassuolo, W 3-2 vs. Lazio)
The few times this season AC Milan have been on the brink of surrendering the top spot in Serie A, they’ve responded in impressive fashion. Wins over two of the top eight teams in the current table ensure they will be the league leaders when the calendar turns to 2021. Hakan Çalhanoǧlu was immense in both games, scoring or assisting on four of their five goals. Theo Hernández got his second stoppage time goal in 11 days to defeat Lazio after surrendering a 2-0 lead.
6) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 6 (W 2-1 vs. Spezia Calcio, W 2-1 vs. Hellas Verona)
A pair of one-goal victories extended Inter’s winning streak in Serie A to seven games and their unbeaten streak across all competitions to eight games. Romelu Lukaku scored the winner in the first game and Milan Škriniar got the decider in the second. Their only blemish since Nov. 25 was the 0-0 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk that knocked them out of the Champions League. Midfielder Christian Eriksen is likely to leave the club in January after struggling to get settled in Milan.
5) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 5 (W 1-0 vs. Southampton, W 4-1 vs. Arsenal)
While the offense still hasn’t picked up for City, the Southampton game marked the fourth time in their last five Premier League contests they kept a clean sheet. Another positive sign is the resurgence of Raheem Sterling, who netted his third goal of the month after failing to score in his six appearances from Oct. 31 to Dec. 1. Gabriel Jesus fired them into the lead after less than 180 seconds into the Carabao Cup quarterfinal and Phil Foden took over from there, contributing a goal and an assist. They are now two victories away from winning the competition for a fourth straight season.
4) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 3 (D 0-0 vs. Lille, W 4-0 vs. Strasbourg)
Even a four-goal win was not enough to save Thomas Tuchel’s job following the draw with Lille that dropped them down to third in Ligue 1, though it’s worth noting three of the four tallies came in the final 15 minutes of the game. Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino — who played at PSG from 2001 to 2003 — is set to take over, according to reports. Also of note: The Parisians failed to win two games this month. Kylian Mbappé was taken out of the starting lineup for both of them.
3) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 4 (W 3-1 vs. Elche, W 2-0 vs. Real Sociedad)
There have been no lingering effects on Diego Simeone’s team from the loss to Real Madrid on Dec. 12. Luis Suárez recorded a brace in the victory over Elche, his first goals for the club since Nov. 7. They created even more distance between themselves and the rest of the title challengers by defeating Sociedad thanks to Mario Hermoso and Marcos Llorente. The only teams to score on them in their last 11 games are Elche, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
2) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 2 (W 2-1 vs. Bayer Leverkusen)
The victory over Leverkusen was emblematic of Bayern’s season so far. They fell behind just like they did in their previous six Bundesliga games, equalized through Robert Lewandowski right before halftime and created the better chances on the day. Still, it took until three minutes of stoppage time for Lewandowski to find the back of the net again and claim all three points. It wasn’t particularly pretty. It wasn’t convincing. Yet here they are winning the league once again because none of their closest competitors have been able to beat them.
1) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 1 (W 7-0 vs. Crystal Palace)
A magnificent performance that moved them four points clear at the top of the Premier League table was overshadowed by Mohamed Aboutika telling BeIN Sports that Mohamed Salah, his former teammate on the Egyptian national team, is “not happy” at the club. Salah was dropped to the bench for the Palace game in what appeared to be an effort to give him some rest rather than to punish him but came on in the second half and scored the Reds’ final two goals. The Salah situation is yet another obstacle for a team that has already faced so many this season.
Photo by Mehdi Bolourian / Wikimedia Commons