The underwhelming Liverpool/Manchester United clash in the Premier League and dramatic losses in cup competitions by both Barcelona and Real Madrid headlined the past week in the world of European soccer. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s struggles continued and three different teams could call themselves Premier League leaders at some point in the past four days.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Roma (ITA), Union Berlin (GER), Villarreal (ESP), Wolfsburg (GER)
Dropped from rankings: Roma (23)
25) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 22 (L 1-0 vs. Metz)
Lyon nearly held on for a point to keep their 16-game unbeaten streak alive but conceded in the final minute of normal time, losing for just the second time this season. They were outperformed in the expected goals category for the second straight game after having a higher or equal total in each of their first 18 games. The defeat dropped them down to third in the Ligue 1 table, two points behind both Lille and PSG.
24) Everton (ENG)
Last week: Not ranked
The Toffees’ trip to Villa Park was postponed due to the ongoing COVID issues within Aston Villa’s squad, meaning they did not play at all in this past week. While they are currently sixth in the Premier League table, they are fourth in points per game and have at least one game in hand on the five teams ahead of them. They host Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on Jan. 24 before welcoming Leicester City to Goodison Park on Jan. 27.
23) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 25 (W 2-1 vs. Stade Reims)
Arbër Zeneli sent the visitors into the locker room with a lead at halftime, putting Lille in danger of a second defeat in three games. Their Jonathans came to the rescue though, as one (Jonathan Bamba) brought them level three minutes into the second half and the other (Jonathan David) netted the winner in stoppage time. They’ll get another stiff test from fifth-place Stade Rennes in their next game on Jan. 24.
22) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 18 (W 1-0 vs. Fulham, L 2-0 vs. Leicester City)
Frank Lampard is probably on borrowed time following a narrow win over a relegation candidate playing with 10 men for half the game and an anemic showing at the King Power Stadium. Chelsea were inches away from earning a penalty that could’ve tied things up against the Foxes, but the foul was judged to be outside the box. Only two points ahead of Arsenal halfway through the season with little reason to believe the situation will improve quickly, change could be coming any minute at Stamford Bridge.
21) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 20 (D 2-2 vs. Stuttgart, W 1-0 vs. Werder Bremen)
Gladbach came moments away from following up their win over Bayern Munich with two more victories. Lars Stindl’s sixth converted penalty kick of the season and Denis Zakaria’s first goal of the campaign had them ahead of Stuttgart until the sixth minute of stoppage time. They rebounded from the disappointing draw with a win thanks to Nico Elvedi’s header in the 66th minute. They close out the month of January with games against two of the Bundesliga’s top six teams in Borussia Dortmund (Jan. 22) and Union Berlin (Jan. 30).
20) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 24 (W 3-0 vs. Roma, W 2-1 vs. Parma)
It was the usual suspects at the center of the dominant victory over Roma as Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto accounted for all three goals. Manuel Lazzari was the provider of two of them, helping Lazio move within three points of a Champions League spot. An own goal in the final minute of normal time allowed them to advance in the Coppa Italia following Valentin Mihăilă’s 83rd-minute equalizer for Parma.
19) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 21 (W 1-0 vs. Leganés [in extra time], W 2-1 vs. Alavés)
Julen Lopetegui’s team needed extra time to get past Leganés — who were relegated from La Liga at the end of last season — in the Copa del Rey. Substitute Lucas Ocampos finally found the back of the net in the 96th minute. Goals from Youssef En-Nesyri and Suso in the opening third of the game were enough to pick up all three points against Alavés, but it took a saved penalty in stoppage time to preserve the victory.
18) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: 19 (L 1-0 vs. Union Berlin, W 2-1 vs. Borussia Dortmund)
Leverkusen had been shut out just once in their last 15 games before the evenly-played contest against Union Berlin that was won by the hosts in the 88th minute. They deserved their halftime lead in the Dortmund game in large part to the brilliance of Moussa Diaby, who opened the scoring. Three teenagers took the field at some point for the visitors, none of whom impressed the way 17-year-old matchwinner Florian Wertz did for Leverkusen, netting his sixth goal of the campaign in the 80th minute.
17) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 13 (L 3-2 vs. Athletic Club [lost in extra time], W 2-0 vs. Cornellá [in extra time])
Barcelona were on track to secure some much-needed silverware until Jordi Alaba ducked on a free kick in the 90th minute, allowing Asier Villalibre to bring Athletic Club level for a second time. An eventful 30 minutes of extra time featured a world-class goal by Iñaki Williams and the first red card of Lionel Messi’s Barcelona career. Messi received a two-game suspension for his actions that the club is appealing. Goals from Ousmane Dembélé and Martin Braithwaite saw them through in the Copa del Rey.
16) Tottenham (ENG)
Last week: 17 (W 3-1 vs. Sheffield United)
Spurs avoided dropping points against a relegation candidate for a second game in a row thanks to first-half strikes from Serge Aurier and Harry Kane. David McGoldrick pulled one back for the Blades early in the second half before Tanguy Ndombele scored one of the goals of the season to restore their two-goal advantage. A win against Liverpool on Jan. 28 would put them right back into the thick of this strange Premier League title race.
15) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 16 (D 0-0 vs. Genoa, D 1-1 vs. Udinese)
Just like that, the goal-scoring prowess Atalanta had displayed since the calendar turned to 2021 disappeared. It is worth noting, however, their expected goals total in the two draws was 2.3 goals higher than their opponents. Genoa were the first team to shut them out since Hellas Verona did so on Nov. 28. Udinese went ahead in the opening 60 seconds, forcing Atalanta to equalize through Luis Muriel in the 44th minute.
14) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 12 (L 2-1 Alcoyano [lost in extra time])
No amount of squad rotation by Zinedine Zidane can excuse what happened in the Copa del Rey. Éder Miltão gave Los Blancos the lead right before halftime and everything was going fine. Then their opponents from the third tier scored on one of their five shots in the game, sending the contest to extra time. Alcoyano went down a man with 10 minutes remaining in extra time and still managed to find the back of the net before the game went to penalties. The loss wouldn’t be as embarrassing if Los Blancos weren’t struggling in La Liga and the Champions League (to a certain extent) as well.
13) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 14 (D 1-1 vs. Mainz, L 2-1 vs. Bayer Leverkusen)
The week was one of missed opportunities for Dortmund, starting with Marco Reus’ failure to convert a penalty kick three minutes after Thomas Meunier had tied the game against Mainz. Diaby got in behind their defense to put Leverkusen ahead in the 14th minute, forcing Edin Terzic’s team to come from behind again. Julian Brandt equalized against his former team in the 67th but they wasted two clear-cut chances in the immediate aftermath. Leverkusen made them pay with a decisive second goal from Wirtz.
12) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 15 (W 2-0 vs. Southampton, W 2-0 vs. Chelsea)
Leicester followed up a solid performance against the Saints with an even better one against Chelsea and briefly claimed the top spot in the Premier League table as a result. James Maddison got on the scoresheet in both games, giving him five goals and two assists in his last eight appearances. Harvey Barnes has four goals and an assist in his last six outings as well. A hot streak from Jamie Vardy — who is goalless in their perfect start to 2021 through four games — could make them a serious factor in the title race.
11) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 10 (W 6-0 vs. Fiorentina, L 2-0 vs. Juventus)
It takes something special for an assist to outshine a two-goal outing, but that is exactly what Lorenzo Insigne produced in Napoli’s thrashing of Fiorentina. His run that ultimately led to Hirving Lozano’s goal was arguably the best individual moment of brilliance so far this season. They had a chance to claim another piece of silverware at the expense of Juventus, who they defeated in penalties to win last season’s Coppa Italia. The Supercoppa Italiana didn’t go their way, though the game was closer than the final score indicates.
10) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 8 (L 2-0 vs. Inter Milan, W 2-0 vs. Napoli)
The uninspiring display in the defeat to Inter put added pressure on Andrea Pirlo heading into the Supercoppa Italiana. He delivered, winning his first trophy as a manager in a tense contest. Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juventus the lead with the 760th goal of his career, giving him the most officially recognized goals in history. Napoli’s Insigne missed a penalty kick that paved the way for Álavro Morata to seal the win in stoppage time.
9) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 11 (D 0-0 vs. Liverpool, W 2-1 vs. Fulham)
While a draw at Anfield is never a bad result, United let two points slip away by failing to capitalize on their opportunities in the second half. If a team deserved to win, it was the Red Devils. They once again fell behind on the road at Craven Cottage and once again rallied to come away with a victory. Paul Pogba scored his second spectacular game-winner in nine days, this one of an even higher caliber than his volley against Burnley.
8) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 9 (D 2-2 vs. Wolfsburg, W 1-0 vs. Union Berlin)
The numbers suggest Leipzig were unfortunate to draw with Wolfsburg as they held a 2.1-1.2 edge in expected goals. However, they needed a Willi Orban goal in the 54th minute to even come away with a point after going ahead in the game’s first 300 seconds. Emil Forsberg came off the bench to net his first goal in over a month and that was all Leipzig needed to halt their winless streak at two games. It’s difficult to see them mounting a real title challenge at this point.
7) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 7 (W 2-0 vs. Juventus)
In a team full of high-priced stars, it was 23-year-old Nicolò Barella who came up big in one of the most crucial games of Inter’s season. The Italian international registered his second assist in as many appearances on Arturo Vidal’s 12th-minute opener and netted his second goal of the campaign in the second half to halt their league winless streak at two. They are three points behind their crosstown rivals in the race for the Scudetto.
6) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 6 (W 2-0 vs. Cagliari)
The soccer world just wasn’t as interesting when Zlatan Ibrahimović was out recovering from his hamstring injury. He scored his first goal in nearly two months from the penalty spot in the seventh minute and added a second seven minutes after halftime, which was all Milan would need. After the win, he unofficially announced the signing of striker Mario Mandžukić, which was later confirmed by the club. Stefano Pioli will have some difficult decisions to make against Atalanta on Jan. 23 as Alexis Saelemaekers and Alessio Romagnoli are facing suspensions while Simon Kjaer left the game with an injury.
5) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 5 (W 1-0 vs. Angers)
PSG had Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Ángel Di Maria all in the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 24 but were without manager Mauricio Pochettino, who tested positive following their Trophée des Champions triumph. Layvin Kurzawa’s first goal of the season finally broke the deadlock in the 70th minute, moving them back to the top of the Ligue 1 table on goal difference with Lyon’s loss.
4) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 4 (W 2-1 vs. Eibar)
A penalty kick in the 12th minute gave Eibar an early advantage that was eventually erased by Luis Suárez, who scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season. The first was set up by Marcos Llorente in the 40th minute and the second was from the penalty spot in the 89th. Six straight wins in La Liga have given them a seven-point cushion over second-place Real Madrid with a game in hand.
3) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 1 (D 0-0 vs. Manchester United, L 1-0 vs. Burnley)
Liverpool actually won the expected goals battle and fired off twice as many shots as the Red Devils, but it was United who put more shots on goal and had the better scoring chances. Their 68-game unbeaten run at home came to an end at the hands of Burnley and an 83rd-minute Ashley Barnes penalty kick. The loss put them six points behind league-leading United, who they meet again — this time in the FA Cup — on Jan. 24 before facing Tottenham on the 28th.
2) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 3 (W 2-1 vs. Freiburg, W 1-0 vs. Augsburg)
Robert Lewandowski’s strike to give Bayern an early lead over Freiburg was his 21st in the Bundesliga, setting a league record for the most goals in the first half of a season. Nils Petersen equalized a minute after he came onto the field, necessitating Thomas Müller’s game-winner in the 74th minute. Lewandowski added to his record with a goal from the penalty spot in the Augsburg win to keep them four points clear of Leipzig at the halfway point of the season.
1) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 2 (W 4-0 vs. Crystal Palace, W 2-0 vs. Aston Villa)
The last time Manchester City gave up a goal was in their comprehensive 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Jan. 3, six games ago. They’ve outscored opponents 12-0 in the five games since and are now winners of nine in a row. Bernardo Silva’s goal to open the scoring against the Villans was a controversial one, but İlkay Gündoğan converted from 12 yards in the 90th minute to take away some of the drama. The victory made them the ninth different team to sit atop the Premier League this season, if only for a matter of hours.
Photo by Bernard Randall / Wikimedia Commons