Home European Soccer Top 25 European Soccer Top 25: Atalanta keeps rising, Liverpool fall out of top three

European Soccer Top 25: Atalanta keeps rising, Liverpool fall out of top three

by Joshua Doering

This week’s meeting of bitter rivals in Italy resulted in a thrilling affair while the clash of managerial giants in England was defined almost as much by the players who left the game with injuries than the final score. Seven matchups between teams in last week’s top 25 means there was plenty of movement in this week’s rankings. 

Here is this week’s European soccer top 25. 

Other teams in consideration: Ajax (NED), Roma (ITA), Villarreal (ESP), West Ham (ENG), Wolfsburg (GER)

Dropped from rankings: None

25) Chelsea (ENG)

Last week: 22 (W 3-1 vs. Luton Town, D 0-0 vs. Wolves)

The FA Cup triumph against Luton Town was a fitting end to Frank Lampard’s time as manager in more ways than one. One academy graduate (Tammy Abraham) scored a hat trick and another (Mason Mount) captained the team. Timo Werner’s struggles continued with a saved penalty. Thomas Tuchel took charge prior to the Wolves game and was pleased with what he saw from his team. His decision to immediately scrap Lampard’s standard 4-3-3 and deploy Ben Chilwell and Callum Hudson-Odoi as wingbacks was an interesting experiment that produced generally positive results. 

24) Everton (ENG)

Last week: 24 (W 3-0 vs. Sheffield Wednesday, D 1-1 vs. Leicester City)

Everton made easy work of the Owls, getting two goals and two assists from Carlo Ancelotti’s preferred front three of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and James Rodríguez. Rodríguez struck again against the Foxes, bending a ball Kasper Schmeichel could do nothing about to send them into halftime with the lead. His moment of individual brilliance salvaged what was an otherwise underwhelming performance. They have one loss in their last eight league games dating back to the start of December.  

23) Lyon (FRA) 

Last week: 25 (W 5-0 vs. St. Etienne)

The demolition of St. Etienne was the first time this season Lyon put up more than four goals in a game. Tino Kadewere got it going in the 16th minute and finished off his brace in the 68th. Marcelo recorded a brace of his own in between Kadewere’s goals, finding the back of the net in minutes 36 and 59. The fifth and final goal came from St. Etienne’s Denis Bouanga. They are two points out of first in Ligue 1 and four points ahead of Monaco for the last Champions League place. 

22) Lille (FRA) 

Last week: 23 (W 1-0 vs. Stade Rennes)

Lille managed to manufacture 0.1 more expected goals than Rennes despite possessing the ball for only a third of the game. Jonathan David’s unassisted strike in the 16th minute proved to be decisive, giving them their fourth victory in five games and allowing them to keep pace with PSG, who own a vastly superior goal difference (+37 to Lille’s +21). They are the only Ligue 1 team with at least 13 wins and fewer than three losses. 

21) Lazio (ITA)

Last week: 20 (W 2-1 vs. Sassuolo, L 3-2 vs. Atalanta)

Goals from Sergej Milinković-Savić and Ciro Immobile allowed Lazio to overturn any early deficit against Sassuolo and keep themselves within three points of a Champions League spot. Opponents have only generated more than 0.9 expected goals in two of their five league games in 2021. They completed another comeback in the Coppa Italia before two unanswered goals sent Atalanta through and brought their five-game winning streak to an end. 

20) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)

Last week: 18 (L 1-0 vs. Wolfsburg)

There was not much between the two sides with Leverkusen holding an advantage in possession and shots while Wolfsburg won the expected goals battle by the slimmest of margins. Bote Baku’s strike in the 35th minute allowed the visitors to take all three points and draw level on points with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga table. They have conceded exactly one goal in each of their last five games, in which they have two wins, two defeats and a draw. 

19) Tottenham (ENG)

Last week: 16 (W 4-1 vs. Wycombe Wanderers, L 3-1 vs. Liverpool)

Wycombe gave Spurs all they could handle in the FA Cup, requiring a Gareth Bale goal in first half stoppage time for them to be level at the break. They didn’t find a second goal until the 86th minute but added two more in quick succession. Pierre Emile Højbjerg’s brilliant first goal in a Tottenham shirt brought them within one, though the Reds’ two-goal advantage was restored before long. While their poor defensive showing will certainly concern José Mourinho, Harry Kane’s exit due to injury is an even bigger worry. 

18) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER) 

Last week: 21 (W 4-2 vs. Borussia Dortmund)

Nico Elvedi fired Gladbach into the lead in the 11th minute and struck again to get them back on level terms before halftime. All three of his league goals this season have come in their past two games. Florian Neuhaus took over from there, setting up Ramy Bensebaini in the 49th minute and Marcus Thuram 29 minutes after that. They have not lost in 2021 and now sit just four points out of second place in the Bundesliga. 

17) Borussia Dortmund (GER) 

Last week: 13 (L 4-2 vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Erling Håland and the aforementioned Elvedi put on quite a show, netting two goals apiece between minute 11 and minute 32. Jadon Sancho set up both of Håland’s, giving him three goals and four assists in his last six appearances. It was ultimately in vain though, as Gladbach’s two second-half goals handed Dortmund a second defeat in a row. The challenging five-game stretch that started so promisingly with two-goal victories over Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig ended with a draw against relegation candidate Mainz and the pair of losses.

16) Sevilla (ESP)

Last week: 19 (W 3-0 vs. Cadíz, W 3-0 vs. Valencia)

Sevilla were much more convincing in the second half of their current four-game winning streak than they were in the first half. Youssef En-Nesyri’s hat trick in the victory over Cadíz — his second in 2021 — tied him with Luis Suárez for the most goals in La Liga at 12. Luuk de Jong accounted for two of their three first-half goals against Valencia in the Copa del Rey as they cruised into the quarterfinals. They have won 11 of their last 14 games since suffering back-to-back defeats at the beginning of December. 

15) Barcelona (ESP) 

Last week: 17 (W 2-0 vs. Elche, W 2-1 vs. Rayo Vallecano)

Frenkie de Jong was the standout performer for Ronald Koeman’s team, netting the winner in both games and assisting on Riqui Puig’s first senior goal that sealed the victory over Elche. The Copa del Rey game was a stressful affair that saw the hosts from the second tier take the lead in the 63rd minute. Lionel Messi — back from his suspension — equalized six minutes later. De Jong’s 80th-minute strike saw them through to the quarterfinals of a tournament they will be favored to win with both Madrid clubs out of the picture. 

14) Real Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 14 (W 4-1 vs. Alavés)

Los Blancos bounced back from their shocking exit in the Copa del Rey in impressive fashion. Casemiro headed home Toni Kroos’ corner kick to put them ahead 15 minutes in and it was 3-0 by halftime. Eden Hazard assisted on the second and netted the third, his first direct involvement in a goal since Nov. 25. Karim Benzema scored his second goal of the game to end any hopes of a comeback after Joselu made it 3-1 with half an hour remaining. Their next five games are against teams in the bottom half of the La Liga table. 

13) Atalanta (ITA)  

Last week: 15 (W 3-0 vs. AC Milan, W 3-2 vs. Lazio)

Gian Piero Gasperini couldn’t have asked for a better response from his team following the two draws last week. They took down Serie A’s league leaders in rather emphatic fashion, holding a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal. Trailing 2-1 to Lazio in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals after the opening 34 minutes, they scored two unanswered goals, the second of which came after José Palomino’s red card. All six goals in the two games were produced by a different player, a testament to Atalanta’s depth in attack. 

12) RB Leipzig (GER) 

Last week: 8 (L 3-2 vs. Mainz)

Leipzig were leading on two separate occasions in the first half courtesy of Tyler Adams and then Marcel Hastenberg yet went into halftime on equal terms. Leandro Barreiro scored Mainz’s third goal of the day in the 50th minute and that was that. The win was Mainz’s second in 18 Bundesliga games, adding another level of embarrassment to a Leipzig team with one victory in their last four games. Things don’t get any easier with Bayer Leverkusen up next on Jan. 30. 

11) Napoli (ITA) 

Last week: 11 (L 3-1 vs. Hellas Verona, W 4-2 vs. Spezia Calcio)

Things were looking good when Napoli took the lead in less than 60 seconds against Hellas Verona through Hirving Lozano. Then the other 89 minutes took place, and their expected goals total was half of Verona’s by the end of the game. They were not about to let it happen again in the Coppa Italia, following up Kalidou Koulibaly’s fifth-minute goal with three more (exactly 10 minutes apart from each other) before halftime. One more victory puts them 90 minutes away from becoming the fifth club ever to repeat as Italian cup winners. 

10) Leicester City (ENG) 

Last week: 12 (W 3-1 vs. Brentford, D 1-1 vs. Everton)

Leicester’s two games followed a similar trajectory: Brentford and Everton’s goals came in the first half. All four of the Foxes’ came in the second. Youri Tielemans accounted for two of them, slotting home a penalty with Jamie Vardy sidelined to complete the Liecester comeback in the FA Cup and sneaking a shot past Jordan Pickford to grab a point at Goodison Park. They were clearly the better team on the day, putting the Toffees under pressure for almost the entire second half. 

9) Manchester United (ENG) 

Last week: 9 (W 3-2 vs. Liverpool, L 2-1 vs. Sheffield United)

United’s clash with Liverpool in the FA Cup was a much more entertaining affair than their meeting in the Premier League. In both halves, the opening goal was answered by the opposing team within 10 minutes. That set the stage for Bruno Fernandes’ excellent game-winning free kick in the 78th minute. The euphoria wouldn’t last long though. Harry Maguire canceled out Kean Bryan’s strike to get United back in the game against the Blades and it felt like another rally was coming until Oliver Burke’s deflected shot wound up in the back of the net. Sheffield United has scored multiple times in a Premier League game twice this season. Manchester United was the opponent on both occasions. 

8) Juventus (ITA) 

Last week: 10 (W 2-0 vs. Bologna, W 4-0 vs. SPAL)

Two games, two victories and two shutouts for the Bianconeri. Both goals in game one came from the midfield, the first courtesy of Arthur and the second off the head of Weston McKennie. The win leaves them seven points behind Serie A leaders AC Milan with a game in hand. The better chance for silverware, though, is in the Coppa Italia, where a favorable draw allowed Andrea Pirlo to make nine changes and still reach the semifinals without any stress. 

7) AC Milan (ITA) 

Last week: 6 (L 3-0 vs. Atalanta, L 2-1 vs. Inter)

The defeat to Atalanta marked the third time in five Serie A games Milan were outperformed by their opponent in the expected goals category but only the second time they failed to win in that stretch. New loan signing Fikayo Tomori was thrust into a chaotic Milan derby in place of the injured Simon Kjaer while fellow loanee Souahilo Meïté set up Ibrahomović’s opening goal, who then proceeded got a second yellow for a needless tackle on Aleksandar Kolarov. The loss to their crosstown rivals was their fifth in the last six meetings. 

6) Inter Milan (ITA)

Last week: 7 (D 0-0 vs. Udinese, W 2-1 vs. AC Milan)

Inter had produced at least 2.0 expected goals in each of their previous five Serie A contests heading into the Udinese game but generated just 0.8 in the draw, their second-lowest total of the season. The second Derby della Madonnina of the season absolutely delivered with Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahomović getting into a verbal altercation and matching each other on the scoresheet. A splendid free kick from Christian Eriksen seven minutes into added time sent them through to the Coppa Italia semifinals. 

5) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 

Last week: 5 (W 4-0 vs. Montpellier)

Montpellier goalkeeper Jonas Omlin received a red card in the 19th minute, effectively ending any hopes of an upset. Kylian Mbappé got PSG on the board 15 minutes later and capped off a stretch of three goals in four minutes in the second half. Keylor Navas left the game at halftime as a precautionary measure after picking up an injury during warm-ups. The clean sheet was their sixth in their last seven games. 

4) Liverpool (ENG)

Last week: 3 (L 3-2 vs. Manchester United, W 3-1 vs. Tottenham)

Liverpool finally looked like themselves after being shut out in four consecutive Premier League games. If not for Rhys Williams’ challenges in central defense, Mo Salah’s brace would probably have been enough to knock the Red Devils out of the FA Cup. Sadio Mané and Trent Alexander-Arnold finished with a goal and an assist apiece in the victory over Spurs, their first win against anyone other than Aston Villa’s youth team since their 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace back on Dec. 19. Joel Matip’s return from injury lasted 135 minutes, leaving Jürgen Klopp without an experienced center back again. 

3) Atlético Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 4 (W 3-1 vs. Valencia)

Atléti fell behind for the second game in a row when Uroš Račić put the visitors ahead in the 11th minute. João Félix ensured the lead didn’t last for long though, bringing them level in the 23rd minute with his first league goal since Nov. 7. Luis Suárez and Ángel Correa scored in the second half to complete the comeback. They have outscored opponents 7-2 in their three games following the shocking loss in the Copa del Rey on Jan. 6. 

2) Bayern Munich (GER)

Last week: 2 (W 4-0 vs. Schalke)

Two goals in the final three minutes of normal time made the scoreline worse than it could’ve been, but Bayern’s 3.1 expected goals and 31 shots suggest it was a fair result in the end. David Alaba — who is set to leave as a free agent at the end of the season — netted his second goal of the campaign. Bayern outscored Schalke 12-0 in their two league meetings season and hold a seven-point lead over second-place Leipzig in the Bundesliga table. 

1) Manchester City (ENG)

Last week: 1 (W 3-1 vs. Cheltenham Town, W 5-0 vs. West Brom)

League Two side Cheltenham Town gave the Cityzens a real scare in the FA Cup, taking the lead in the 59th minute. It stayed that way until City scored in the 81st (Phil Foden), 84th (Gabriel Jesus) and 94th (Ferran Torres) minutes. Foden made the 100th appearance of his career in the demolition of the Baggies. It’s easy to forget both Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero — arguably City’s best two players — are currently unavailable.

Photo by crommelincklars / Flickr

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