An unforgettable year has come to a close with Europe’s major leagues approaching the halfway mark of their seasons. Only the Premier League and La Liga were in action this week as teams in Italy, Germany and France were given time to recharge and regroup.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Real Sociedad (ESP), Roma (ITA), Sassuolo (ITA), Stade Rennes (FRA)
Dropped from rankings: None
25) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 24
Gladbach will be happy to move on from a very forgettable December (other than their qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions League following a loss to Real Madrid) that saw them fall all the way to eighth in the Bundesliga. Marcus Thuram has four games remaining on his suspension for spitting on Stefan Posch in their loss to Hoffenheim on Dec. 19. They face Arminia Bielefeld on Jan. 2 before welcoming Bayern Munich on Jan. 8.
24) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 23
Any business Lazio might be interested in doing in the upcoming transfer window is complicated by the uncertain future of manager Simone Inzaghi. The 44-year-old’s contract expires in June and discussions about an extension have not been all that productive. If an agreement is not reached, it is logical to assume no major moves will be made until the summer. They are back in action on Jan. 3 when they host 18th-place Genoa.
23) Everton (ENG)
Last week: 25 (W 1-0 vs. Sheffield United)
It was by no means a convincing performance for the Toffees against the Premier League’s worst team, but Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 80th-minute strike was enough to secure a fourth straight league win. Their meeting with Manchester City was postponed after Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus tested positive for coronavirus. Carlo Ancelotti announced he expects Richarlison back for their game against West Ham on Jan. 1 and that James Rodríguez, Allan and Lucas Digne should return by the end of January.
22) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 21
New club president Olivier Letang enters his first transfer window at Lille in an advantageous position. They are in the thick of the Ligue 1 title race and have enough depth to withstand the loss of a player or two should Letang want an infusion of cash to help offset losses caused by the pandemic. Midfielder Renato Sanches is drawing the most attention at the moment thanks to a bounce back season at age 23.
21) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 20
Sitting in first place in Ligue 1 on goal difference and having a real chance to challenge PSG for the title, Lyon must decide whether to sell Memphis Depay now or let him become a free agent in the summer. They’ve been able to fend off previous approaches for midfielder Houssem Aouar and his long-term deal makes it unlikely they would be willing to part with him in January. They host RC Lens on Jan. 6.
20) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 19
It is going to be a busy transfer window for Atalanta, who have already signed right back Joakim Maehle and reportedly reached a pre-contract agreement with Shakhtar Donetsk’s Viktor Kovalenko. There is also the future of unsettled captain Papu Gómez to sort out. Sport Mediaset claim Inter Milan are the only team to have taken concrete steps toward acquiring Gómez, though everyone from PSG to FC Cincinnati in Major League Soccer have been linked to him.
19) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 22 (2-0 vs. Villarreal)
Lucas Ocampos was directly involved in both of Sevilla’s goals in their win over Villarreal, converting from 12 yards to open the scoring and setting up Youssef En-Nesyri for the second. They jumped over Villarreal and moved into fourth place with the victory. Only the Madrid teams are averaging more points per game than Sevilla in La Liga. Up next is a trip to face Real Betis on Jan. 2 with a chance to make it six victories in seven games.
18) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 18
Erling Håland could return to action as soon as Jan. 3 when Dortmund host Wolfsburg, who are directly ahead of them in the Bundesliga table. His return cannot come soon enough for a team with one win in their last five league contests. The game against Wolfsburg kicks off an incredibly difficult January that also features trips to Leipzig, Leverkusen and Borussia Mӧnchengladbach.
17) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 16 (D 2-2 vs. Manchester United, D 1-1 vs. Crystal Palace)
The Red Devils took the lead twice on Boxing Day and Leicester answered with a goal of their own less than 10 minutes later both times. Harvey Barnes canceled out Marcus Rashford’s opener and the 85th minute equalizer was declared an Axel Tuanzebe own goal. Brendan Rodgers sent out a heavily rotated side at Selhurst Park that generated 1.3 more expected goals than the hosts but let quality opportunities go to waste, including a missed penalty by Kelechi Iheanacho.
16) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 15 (D 1-1 vs. Eibar)
A Messiless Barcelona were a missed penalty away from a fourth win in five games, but it took a 67th-minute goal from Ousmane Dembélé in his first appearance since Dec. 5 to salvage a point. Messi indicated in a recent interview he will not be making a decision on his future until the season is over while doing little to ease concerns about him leaving the only club he’s ever known. CBS Sports’ Fabrizio Romano is also reporting Manchester City center back Eric Garcia will be coming to Camp Nou at some point in 2021. They are simultaneously in sixth place in La Liga and one point out of third, such is the log jam behind the two Madrid teams.
15) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 13 (D 1-1 vs. Wolves)
For the third time in four league games, Spurs scored a single goal in the first half and gave up a goal that cost them points after the 80th minute. Tanguy Ndombele found the back of the net in the opening 60 seconds and they willingly conceded possession from there. Romain Saiss broke through in the 86th minute to push Spurs’ winless streak in the Premier League to four games. They have been unable to get a second goal in all four of those games, which spells trouble for a José Mourinho-coached team.
14) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 14
The most significant development to come out of Leverkusen was The Daily Mail’s report that Leon Bailey has joined Unique Sports Management, increasing speculation about a move to the Premier League. Their game at Eintracht Frankfurt on Jan. 2 will be their first since losing in heartbreaking fashion to Bayern Munich on Dec. 19.
13) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 9 (L 3-1 vs. Arsenal, D 1-1 vs. Aston Villa)
Chelsea have taken a meager four points from their last five Premier League games and are currently tied for eighth in points per game, trailing Liverpool, Manchester United, Leicester City, Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City. Jorginho missed a penalty in stoppage time in the loss to the Gunners and their lead against Villa lasted 16 minutes. It doesn’t get any easier with the aforementioned Manchester City coming to Stamford Bridge on Jan. 3.
12) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 12
Juventus are allegedly on the verge of securing the services of two 19-year-olds: Genoa midfielder Nicolò Rovella and FC Dallas right back Bryan Reynolds. Rovella, who turned 19 on Dec. 4, has seven appearances in Serie A this season and would return to the club on loan. Reynolds made 14 starts for FC Dallas in 2020 and is drawing interest from multiple suitors, including fellow Italian side Roma. They return to action against Udinese on Jan. 3.
11) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 11 (D 1-1 vs. Elche)
A frustrating draw with a team fighting to avoid relegation is a rather fitting way for Real Madrid to close out 2020. Luka Modric scored his second goal in as many appearances to put Los Blancos ahead 20 minutes in. Fidel converted a penalty early in the second half and Elche were able to hold on from there. They are safely in second place in La Liga, two points back of Atlético Madrid, who have two games in hand.
10) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 17 (D 2-2 vs. Leicester City, W 1-0 vs. Wolves)
It was an eventful week for Rashford, who scored two of the Red Devils’ three goals but wasted two excellent opportunities that ultimately cost them two points against the Foxes. On another day, Rashford has a hat trick and United win 4-2. His deflected shot in the 93rd minute stole all three points in the second game, so it evened out in the end. They are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games and trail Liverpool by three points with a game in hand.
9) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 10
Most of the buzz around Napoli heading into the January transfer window revolve around a potential sale of Arkadiusz Milik and the possible arrival of Emerson Palmieri, Chelsea’s out-of-favor left back. Milik is out of contract at the end of the season and reportedly does not intend to resign, which means it is in Napoli’s best interest to get a deal done before he leaves for free in the summer. The successful appeal of their forfeit to Juventus last week means they are in the thick of the battle for the top four.
8) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 8
Leipzig enter the new year still fighting on all three fronts. They are two points back of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, into the round of 16 in the DFB Pokal and face Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16. With Dominik Szoboszlai arriving from Red Bull Salzburg, Leipzig are unlikely to make another major splash in the transfer market. The bigger priority will be holding onto captain Marcel Sabitzer and rising star Dayot Upamecano, who are attracting plenty of interest but are not expected to depart in this window.
7) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 7
Serie A’s league leaders received good news on the injury front as Simon Kjaer is back in training and could feature as early as their next game on Jan. 3. They have allowed eight goals in the six games the center back has missed. Zlatan Ibrahimović is reportedly hoping to make his return on Jan. 18, meaning he would miss the Rossoneri’s next four games. Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is the name most heavily connected with a potential January move to the San Siro.
6) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 6
Transfer speculation is rampant with the Nerazzurri one point behind AC Milan in Serie A. They have been linked with everyone from Parma’s Gervinho to Atalanta’s Gómez. FcInterNews.it has gone as far as claiming the 32-year-old has already agreed to a contract. Any major signings they make in the upcoming transfer window will most likely be dependent on finding a way to rid themselves of Christian Eriksen. Inter return to the field against Crotone on Jan. 3.
5) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 5 (W 2-0 vs. Newcastle)
İlkay Gündoğan and Ferran Torres both netted their second Premier League goal of the season to see City past the Magpies for a third consecutive win. Their training ground was reopened on Dec. 30 following its closure after a second round of positive COVID tests that led to the postponement of the Everton game. Through 13 league games, they are scoring 1.18 fewer goals per contest and conceding 0.06 fewer goals per game than last season. They are slated to face Chelsea on Jan. 3 and Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semifinals on Jan. 6.
4) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 4
Thomas Tuchel was officially relieved of his duties on Dec. 29, five days after initial reports of his firing surfaced on Dec. 24. Those same reports named Mauricio Pochettino as Tuchel’s successor, something that seems inevitable but hasn’t actually happened yet. The rumors are already flying though, suggesting the former Spurs boss is interested in reuniting with Tottenham’s Dele Alli and Inter’s Eriksen. They are one point back of Lyon and Lille in the Ligue 1 table.
3) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 3 (W 1-0 vs. Getafe)
Diego Simeone’s 500th game in charge of Atlético Madrid was a success thanks to Luis Suárez’s strike in the 20th minute. The victory closed out an impressive eight-game month for Los Rojiblancos, who only failed to beat the reigning La Liga champions and the Champions League winners. Atléti will be looking to add reinforcements to fill in for the recently departed Diego Costa and suspended Kieran Trippier when the transfer window opens.
2) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 1 (D 1-1 vs. West Brom, D 0-0 vs. Newcastle)
Back-to-back draws against teams in the bottom half of the table leave Liverpool with 13 fewer points than they had through 16 games last season. Semi Ajayi headed home a corner kick in the 82nd minute to make West Brom just the third team to earn a point at Anfield in 2020. Both goalkeepers came up big on multiple occasions in the Newcastle game to deny either team a victory. They end the year exactly where they started it: on top of the Premier League, albeit in much different circumstances.
1) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 2
Bayern cleaned up at the Globe Soccer Awards, winning Team of the Year, Manager of the Year (Hansi Flick) and Player of the Year (Robert Lewandowski). The award was Lewandowski’s third individual honor after being named the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and the Best FIFA Men’s Player of 2020. Their 2021 schedule begins when they host 17th-place Mainz — who have one win in 13 league contests — on Jan. 3.
Photo by Richard Bartz / Wikimedia Commons