Domestic leagues are back in full swing as Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga returned to action this week after a break for the holidays. The top three teams in last week’s rankings all trailed at halftime in a game and only one of them came back to win.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Everton (ENG), Marseille (FRA), Sassuolo (ITA), Southampton (ENG)
Dropped from rankings: Everton (23)
25) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 22 (L 2-1 vs. Angers)
Lille’s original game plan went out the window when Romain Thomas found the back of the net in the fifth minute and again in the 10th. They spent the next 80 minutes chasing the game and put themselves in a decent position with Burak Yilmaz’s goal heading into halftime. That was all they would get, though, leaving them in the third and final Champions League spot due to PSG’s superior goal difference.
24) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 24 (D 1-1 vs. Genoa, W 2-1 vs. Fiorentina)
Both games started the same way, with Lazio taking the lead in the opening 15 minutes. The difference was what happened next. Mattia Destro equalized for Genoa while Ciro Immobile scored for a fifth successive game to double their advantage against Fiorentina. Immobile’s goal came in handy, as the hosts were awarded a penalty in the dying embers of the game. Things don’t get much easier with three of Serie A’s top seven teams on the schedule this month.
23) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 25 (W 1-0 vs. Arminia Bielefeld)
Gladbach began 2021 on a much more positive note than the one 2020 ended on, getting their first league win in five tries. They held the Bundesliga newcomers to a season-best 0.2 expected goals and did not allow a single shot on target. Breel Embolo’s strike in the 58th minute wound up being the difference. They get their opportunity to face Bayern Munich on their home field on Jan. 8.
22) Roma (ITA)
Last week: Not ranked (W 1-0 vs. Sampdoria, W 3-1 vs. Crotone)
Two wins in the span of four days gave Roma five victories in their last six games. Edin Džeko scored for a third game in a row to take all three points against Sampdoria. Borja Mayoral took center stage in the second victory, firing them ahead eight minutes into the game and adding a second 21 minutes later. Henrikh Mkhitaryan completed the three-goal first half by converting from the penalty spot. They begin a challenging six-game stretch that includes a trip to Juventus by hosting Inter Milan on Jan. 10.
21) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 19 (D 1-1 vs. Real Betis, W 2-0 vs. Linares Deportivo)
Sevilla were lucky to come away with a point in the Real Betis game, conceding two penalties after Suso gave them the lead three minutes into the second half. Betis converted one and missed the other, allowing Julen Lopetegui’s team to share the spoils while producing 2.0 fewer expected goals. Goals on either side of halftime allowed them to advance in the Copa del Rey without any difficulty. They welcome fourth-place Real Sociedad to Seville on Jan. 9 before visiting league leaders Atlético Madrid on Jan. 12.
20) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 21 (W 3-2 vs. RC Lens)
Lyon were able to capitalize on the slip-ups from their two primary title challengers thanks to three goals between the 39th and 52nd minutes. Two came courtesy of Memphis Depay, the second of which was a penalty to extend the lead to 3-0. Lens made it 3-2 in the 89th minute but it was too little, too late. They hold a three-point lead on PSG and Lille as they prepare for their clash with fourth-place Stade Rennes on Jan. 9.
19) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 14 (L 2-1 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt)
Nadiem Amiri fired Leverkusen ahead in the ninth minute, giving him a goal and six assists in his last seven appearances. Frankfurt created the better chances from there and finished with four shots on goal to Leverkusen’s two. Karim Bellarabi left a game with an injury that was later diagnosed as a broken hand and will miss up to four weeks. The loss was their second in a row following a 12-game unbeaten run to start the Bundesliga season.
18) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 20 (W 5-1 vs. Sassuolo, W 3-0 vs. Parma)
It was the Duván Zapata and Luis Muriel show for Atalanta, who reminded everyone in Italy how potent they can be in attack. The two forwards accounted for five of their eight goals and Zapata also had an assist against Sassuolo. In their four games since drawing with Juventus on Dec. 16, Atalanta are outscoring opponents 14-4 and have netted at least three goals in four of their last six contests.
17) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 13 (L 3-1 vs. Manchester City)
The problems continue to mount for Frank Lampard’s team, who got ripped apart by the visitors in the first half and gave up three goals in a 17-minute span. Edouard Mendy has been suspect in net, N’Golo Kanté’s poor decision-making gifted City their third goal and Timo Werner hasn’t scored since Nov. 7. The good news is that they are still just seven points out of first despite losing four of their last six league games.
16) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 18 (W 2-0 vs. Wolfsburg)
Not only was the victory just Dortmund’s second in their last six Bundesliga games, it also propelled them back into the top four. The other notable development was the return of Erling Håland, who was sidelined for the entire month of December. Manuel Akanji broke the deadlock in the 66th minute and Jadon Sancho secured all three points with a goal in stoppage time, making up for his bad miss earlier on. Up next in their difficult stretch of games is RB Leipzig.
15) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 17 (W 2-1 vs. Newcastle United)
Brendan Rodgers got the response he wanted from his team following the disappointing draw with Crystal Palace. James Maddison continued his run of good form, netting his fourth league goal of the campaign. Youri Tielemans got on the scoresheet for the first time since Nov. 2 to provide insurance Leicester would end up needing. No team has more wins in the Premier League than the Foxes’ 10 and they sit one point out of first.
14) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 16 (W 1-0 vs. Huesca, W 3-2 vs. Athletic Club)
Lionel Messi made his presence felt upon his return, assisting on Frenkie de Jong’s strike that gave Barcelona a well-earned three points in their first game of 2021. He had even more of an impact against Athletic, capping off their comeback with a brace. Pedri canceled out Iñaki Williams’ goal less than 15 minutes into the game and Barcelona were fairly comfortable the rest of the way. They are up to third in the La Liga table, five points behind second-place Real Madrid.
13) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 15 (W 3-0 vs. Leeds United, W 2-0 vs. Brentford)
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min did what they always do, each scoring in the first half and contributing an assist in the win over Leeds. The victory snapped a four-game winless streak in the Premier League that primarily came about because of Spurs’ inability to get a second goal like they did against Leeds. They did the same thing in the Carabao Cup semifinal with Son adding an insurance goal in the 70th minute. Tottenham supporters will have to wait until April 25 to see if José Mourinho can deliver the trophy they so desperately crave.
12) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 10 (W 2-1 vs. Aston Villa, L 2-0 vs. Manchester City)
There was not much happening in the Aston Villa game until Anthony Martial snuck Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross past Emiliano Martínez right before halftime. Three minutes after Bertrand Traoré brought Villa level, Bruno Fernandes converted his seventh penalty kick of the season to put United ahead for good. The Portugese international couldn’t bail them out against their crosstown rivals, who ended their Carabao Cup run with two goals in the second half. A win or draw in their next Premier League game on Jan. 12 — when Edinson Cavani will return from his suspension — would put them at the top of the table heading into their visit to Anfield on the 17th.
11) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 9 (W 4-1 vs. Cagliari, L 2-1 vs. Spezia Calcio)
Piotr Zielinski’s second goal of the game and a Cagliari red card midway through the second half turned a close contest against Cagliari into a blowout. The numbers from the second game are hard to comprehend. On one side there is Napoli: 29 shots (10 on target), 10 corner kicks, one goal. On the other is Spezia Calcio: nine shots (three on target), two corner kicks, one red card, two goals. Napoli took the lead through substitute Andrea Petagna in the 58th minute only to concede a penalty in the 68th. Tommaso Pobega slotted home the winner with nine minutes remaining, four minutes after teammate Ardian Ismajli was sent off. They have taken four points from their last five games in Serie A.
10) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 11 (W 2-0 vs. Celta Vigo)
Lucas Vázquez and Marco Asensio doubled their combined total of goals and assists this season by setting up each other. Vázquez opened the scoring in the sixth minute and Asensio netted his first goal of the campaign in the 53rd. Real Madrid have now scored multiple goals in six of their last seven games and have conceded just three times in that span. They rank second in La Liga in points, points per game, and goal difference, and are tied for first with Barcelona in goals scored with 30.
9) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 12 (W 4-1 vs. Udinese, W 3-1 vs. AC Milan)
Cristiano Ronaldo was directly involved in Juventus’ first three goals of 2021 but it was Federico Chiesa who stole the headlines with the winner in game one and a brace in game two. The 23-year-old would’ve had a hat trick against AC Milan were it not for the woodwork. They survived some shaky moments early to take a deserved lead in the 18th minute, which Chiesa restored for good in the 62nd. The fact neither side was at full strength does not make the victory any less significant.
8) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 6 (W 6-2 vs. Crotone, L 2-1 vs. Sampdoria)
Everything that seemed to go right in the four-goal second half against Crotone seemed to go wrong in the loss to Sampdoria. They recorded more than twice as many shots and shots on goal as the hosts yet came up empty. Alexis Sánchez missed his penalty and Antonio Candreva converted his 12 minutes later. Stefan de Vrij pulled one back midway through the second half but that was all Inter could manage. Their next two Serie A games are against Roma and Juventus, the two teams directly behind them in the table.
7) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 8 (W 1-0 vs. Stuttgart)
Leipzig were much more impressive than the scoreline indicates, producing 3.2 expected goals to Stuttgart’s 1.1. Emil Forsberg’s missed penalty midway through the first half kept the game scoreless until Dani Olmo found the back of the net in the 67th minute. The 3.2 expected goals tied Leipzig’s season high. They take an eight-game unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga into their clash with Borussia Dortmund on Jan. 9.
6) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 7 (W 2-0 vs. Benevento Calcio, L 3-1 vs. Juventus)
Serie A’s league leaders survived a 33rd-minute red card and a missed penalty by the hosts to secure their 11 league victory of the season. Their 27-game unbeaten run in Serie A dating back to last season finally came to an end at the hands of the nine-time defending champions under former Milan player Andrea Pirlo. Davide Calabria, getting a rare start in the midfield, equalized heading into halftime before Juventus struck twice in the final 45 minutes. They still hold a one-point lead over crosstown rivals Inter and are four points clear of third-place Roma.
5) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 4 (D 1-1 vs. St. Etienne)
Mauricio Pochettino’s time at the Parc des Princes did not get off to the best of starts. Moise Kean answered Romain Hamouma’s opener in less than 240 seconds but that was all the Parisians would get. The draw leaves them three points behind league-leading Lyon. PSG’s four Ligue 1 losses are more than Lyon and third-place Lille have combined, even with Lille’s defeat. Pochettino has his work cut out for him, starting with deciding what he wants to do in the transfer market now that the window’s open.
4) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 3 (W 2-1 vs. Alavés, L 1-0 vs. Cornellá)
Atléti were up a goal and a man 63 minutes in against Alavés, who managed to tie the game in the 84th minute thanks to a Felipe own goal. Luis Suárez came to the rescue in the final minute of normal time to reclaim first place in La Liga even though they’ve played two fewer games than Real Madrid. Then came their shocking Copa del Rey exit at the hands of third-tier Cornellá. Diego Simeone fielded a respectable team but lost José Giménez to an ankle injury and Ricard Sánchez to a red card. Not one of their 15 shots hit the target.
3) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 5 (W 3-1 vs. Chelsea, W 2-0 vs. Manchester United)
Despite the notable absences due to COVID, this week was the closest City have looked all season to the team that won back-to-back Premier League titles before Liverpool dethroned them last season. İlkay Gündoğan scored for the third time in four games and Kevin De Bruyne netted his first goal from open play in the beatdown of Chelsea. Unlikely heroes emerged against the Red Devils as John Stones and Fernandinho both opened their accounts for the 2020-21 campaign to get them into the Carabao Cup final for the fourth year in a row.
2) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 2 (L 1-0 vs. Southampton)
Liverpool’s performance against Southampton can be summed up by one stat: Danny Ings had two shots on goal, more than Jürgen Klopp’s team or the rest of Ings’ team managed. His clever chip in the second minute was the difference against his former team. Fabinho and Jordan Henderson’s deployment as emergency center backs contributed to the unusually shaky performance that even Thiago’s return to the starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 17 couldn’t prevent. They face Aston Villa in the FA Cup before their top-of-the-table clash with Manchester United.
1) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 1 (W 5-2 vs. Mainz)
Bayern started 2021 the same way they ended 2020, producing a come-from-behind win. Mainz took a 2-0 lead into halftime that was gone 10 minutes into the second half. Niklas Süle made it 3-2 in the 70th minute before Robert Lewandowski capped off the emphatic comeback with his 18th and 19th Bundesliga goals of the season. This was the 10th time Bayern have scored five goals in the second half of a game since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Photo by Terry Kearney / Flickr