The best matchup of the week was not much of a contest at all, with Manchester City running away from Liverpool in the second half. However, that was not the only game of note as Italy’s cup final is set while Spain’s entered the semifinal round and the FA Cup in England is now down to eight teams.
Here is this week’s European soccer top 25.
Other teams in consideration: Eintracht Frankfurt (GER), Everton (ENG), Monaco (FRA), Roma (ITA), Tottenham (ENG)
Dropped from rankings: Roma (23), Tottenham (25)
25) Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Last week: Not ranked (W 5-2 vs. Stuttgart)
Leverkusen snapped their three-game losing streak in emphatic fashion, putting five past a solid Stuttgart team. The first two came from Kerem Demirbay, whose last goal was back on Nov. 26. The visitors made it 2-1 five minutes into the second half, but Leon Bailey and Florian Wertz quickly replied with goals of their own to put the game out of reach. New signing Demari Gray contributed the fifth goal on his debut for the club.
24) Ajax (NED)
Last week: Not ranked (W 2-1 vs. PSV)
A snowstorm forced the postponement of Ajax’s Eredivisie game against Utrecht, leaving the KNVB Beker game with PSV as the only one on their schedule. Sébastien Haller continued his bright start to life in Holland with two goals in six minutes midway through the first half. They are unbeaten since losing three straight at the beginning of December and have a chance to prove themselves against stiffer opposition with their entrance into the Europa League.
23) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
Last week: 19 (L 2-1 vs. Köln)
Florian Neuhaus canceled out Elvis Rexhbecaj’s third-minute opener 13 minutes later, but the Wolfsburg loanee struck again in the 55th minute to hand Gladbach their first defeat of 2021. Though they’re only four points out of a Champions League spot, the loss came at the most inconvenient of times. They face four of the six teams ahead of them in the Bundesliga table and Manchester City twice in their next eight games.
22) Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Last week: 16 (L 2-1 vs. Freiburg)
Two goals in four minutes coming out of halftime from the hosts left Dortmund with plenty of work to do just to get a point. The deficit was too much to overcome, though Youssoufa Moukoko gave them hope with his second career goal in the 76th minute. Their inability to win a game in which they had a 1.5-0.2 edge in expected goals, a 16-6 advantage in shots and two-thirds of the possession sums up how things are going at the moment.
21) Wolfsburg (GER)
Last week: 24 (W 2-0 vs. Augsburg)
Five games, five clean sheets, nine goals and five wins for Wolfsburg, who have one defeat in their last 10 contests. Wout Weghorst found the back of the net for the sixth time in seven games and played the role of provider on Bote Baku’s goal. Following their meeting with Borussia Mönchengladbach on Feb. 14, they do not face a team in the top half of the Bundesliga table in any of their next six league games.
20) Chelsea (ENG)
Last week: 21 (W 2-1 vs. Sheffield United, W 1-0 vs. Barnsley)
A Jorginho penalty kick made the difference for the second game in a row, this one coming four minutes after Sheffield United had drawn level through an Antonio Rüdiger own goal. Chelsea’s four opponents in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel took over (Wolves, Burnley, Tottenham and the Blades) have combined for a total of 1.3 expected goals. They got by in the FA Cup thanks to a questionable goal and last-ditch defensive effort from Tammy Abraham.
Did Chelsea get away with one here? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/VZGflRY8jh
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 11, 2021
ABRAHAM SAVES KEPA 👏 pic.twitter.com/xqxhmNk2tW
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 11, 2021
19) Lyon (FRA)
Last week: 22 (W 3-0 vs. Strasbourg, W 5-1 vs. Ajaccio)
Lyon took full advantage of the red card shown to Strasbourg’s Adrien Thomasson in the 14th minute, scoring twice in the first half and cruising to a fourth straight win. Memphis Depay accounted for two of the three goals, bringing his total up to 13 for the season. They had just as easy a time with their Coupe de France opponents from the second tier. January signing Islam Slimani played a crucial role, scoring his first goal for the club and assisting on two more.
18) Lille (FRA)
Last week: 20 (W 2-0 vs. Nantes, W 1-0 vs. Dijon)
Jonathan David scored in the opening and closing 10 minutes of the Nantes game, giving him five goals in as many contests and Lille six victories in a row. The last opponent to produce more than 0.9 expected goals was Celtic in the final game of the Europa League group stage back on Dec. 10. Aguibou Camara impressed on his debut in the Coupe de France, netting the game’s only goal. They face Brest on Feb. 14 before welcoming Ajax for the first leg of their Europa League clash on Feb. 18.
17) Lazio (ITA)
Last week: 18 (W 1-0 vs. Cagliari)
Ciro Immobile’s 19th goal of the season, set up by Sergej Milinković-Savić, was enough to earn Lazio a sixth straight win in Serie A. The victory brought them level on both points and goal difference with fourth-place Roma, placing themselves in the thick of the battle for the top four. Up next is a visit to second-place Inter Milan on Feb. 14.
16) Real Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 17 (W 2-1 vs. Huesca, W 2-0 vs. Getafe)
La Liga’s worst team looked as if they might hand Los Blancos another embarrassing loss when they went ahead three minutes into the second half. Rafael Varane thought otherwise, scoring his first goal in over a year and adding a second to give his short-handed team that had just four outfield players available as substitutes all three points. Second-half goals from Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy propelled them to a second win in a row, their first back-to-back victories since late December. Captain Sergio Ramos is expected to miss six weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
15) Napoli (ITA)
Last week: 11 (L 2-1 vs. Genoa, L 3-1 vs. Atalanta)
Two first-half goals from 37-year-old Goran Pandev resulted in Napoli’s second defeat in their last three league games. Matteo Polatino gave them hope with 11 minutes remaining but the equalizer never came. All they needed in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals was to avoid a loss or scoreless draw, which became much more difficult when they conceded two goals in the first half again. While Hirving Lozano’s 53rd-minute goal gave them plenty of time to complete the comeback, it was Atalanta who got the crucial fourth goal, denying Napoli a chance to defend their Coppa Italia title.
14) Atalanta (ITA)
Last week: 15 (D 3-3 vs. Torino, W 3-1 vs. Napoli)
By the 21st minute, Atalanta were up 3-0 on the visiting relegation candidates. By halftime, it was 3-2. They held out defensively until the 84th minute when Torino found a deserved equalizer. Goals from Duván Zapata and Matteo Pessina in the opening 16 minutes gave them control of their Coppa Italia semifinals tie, which Pessina would seal with his second goal of the night in the 78th minute.
13) Barcelona (ESP)
Last week: 13 (W 3-2 vs. Real Betis, L 2-0 vs. Sevilla)
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Barcelona got a goal from Lionel Messi and a Betis own goal in a 10-minute stretch to take the lead. Betis equalized seven minutes later, setting the stage for Trincão’s winner in the 87th minute, his first goal for the club. Their chances of winning a trophy this season took a significant blow with the shutout loss in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals that included a contentious VAR ruling that denied them a penalty. They will need to win the second leg by at least three goals to advance to the final.
12) Leicester City (ENG)
Last week: 12 (D 0-0 vs. Wolves, W 1-0 vs. Brighton)
The hosts’ 1.9-0.7 advantage in expected goals suggests Leicester were fortunate to come away from Molineux with a point, and the eye test backs that assessment up. Jamie Vardy’s return was the most notable part of the contest from the Foxes’ perspective, who posed little threat in front of goal. Kelechi Iheanacho was the hero in the FA Cup, heading home Youri Tielemans’ cross in the game’s final seconds to avoid extra time.
11) Sevilla (ESP)
Last week: 14 (W 3-0 vs. Getafe, W 2-0 vs. Barcelona)
Three late goals while playing up a man gave Julen Lopetegui’s team an eighth successive victory and sixth straight shutout. Jules Koundé’s astonishing solo effort put Sevilla ahead 25 minutes into the home leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals and longtime Barcelona man Ivan Rakatić doubled their advantage against his former club in the 85th minute. The Champions League knockout round could not be starting at a better time for one of the most in-form teams in the world.
10) Liverpool (ENG)
Last week: 6 (L 4-1 vs. Manchester City)
When Mo Salah converted from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute, there was no telling how the final scheduled meeting of the season between England’s two preeminent powers would end. Two horrendous mistakes from Alisson and a lovely bit of skill from Phil Foden later, it was 4-1. Only one point ahead of fifth-place Chelsea and sixth-place West Ham and with a trip to Leicester and a Merseyside Derby plus a Champions League game in the next eight days, things may very well get worse before they get better for the Reds.
9) Manchester United (ENG)
Last week: 9 (D 3-3 vs. Everton, W 1-0 vs. West Ham [won in extra time])
The Red Devils’ meeting with the Toffees followed the opposite trajectory of most of their games this season. Outstanding goals from Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes had them up 2-0 at halftime. Everton scored twice in the first seven minutes of the second half, gifted United a third and drew level again with the last kick of the game. They had a happier ending in the FA Cup, where Scott McTominay’s third goal in as many games sent them through to the quarterfinals. It was McTominay’s seventh goal of the campaign, giving him as many in 2020-21 as he had in his career prior to this season.
8) RB Leipzig (GER)
Last week: 10 (W 3-0 vs. Schalke)
Leipzig have followed up their unexpected loss to Mainz with three successive shutouts, the latest of which came at the expense of the Bundesliga’s bottom-dwellers. They generated 2.1 expected goals to Schalke’s 0.2, which was Leipzig’s best defensive performance from an expected goals standpoint outside of the previous meeting between these two teams. Defenders Nordi Mukiele and Willi Orban both got on the scoresheet while Angeliño contributed two assists.
7) Inter Milan (ITA)
Last week: 7 (W 2-0 vs. Fiorentina, D 0-0 vs. Juventus)
Inter controlled proceedings in their win over Fiorentina, winning the expected goals battle by 1.8 and recording a fourth straight shutout in Serie A. Nicolo Barella broke the deadlock in the 31st minute and Ivan Perišić netted his first goal in over three months to secure all three points. They showed plenty of initiative trying to overturn the 2-1 deficit from the home leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals and got an outstanding performance from Samir Handanović in net, but failed to create any clear-cut scoring chances.
6) Juventus (ITA)
Last week: 8 (W 2-0 vs. Roma, D 0-0 vs. Inter Milan)
Despite recording a season-worst 0.2 expected goals, some world-class precision from Cristiano Ronaldo was all that was needed to grab a fifth win in a row. A Roma own goal midway through the second half put a damper on any hopes of a late rally from the visitors. Andrea Pirlo made seven changes to his starting lineup for the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals and had to be quite pleased with the result. The Bianconeri executed their gameplan to perfection and are in the final for the sixth time in seven seasons.
5) AC Milan (ITA)
Last week: 5 (W 4-0 vs. Crotone)
Unsurprisingly, it was Zlatan Ibrahimović who opened the scoring with the 500th club goal of his illustrious career in the 30th minute. He struck again in the 64th minute to bring his total in Serie A to 14. Soon after, Ante Rebić scored twice in two minutes to put the game firmly out of reach. The victory marked the first time in 2021 Stefano Pioli’s team found the back of the net more than twice in a game.
4) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Last week: 4 (W 2-0 vs. Marseille, W 1-0 vs. Caen)
Kylian Mbappé netted his fourth goal in five games to put PSG ahead less than 10 minutes in against a Marseille team in disarray. Mauro Icardi doubled their lead 15 minutes later and they saw out the game easily despite being out-possessed for the first time since Nov. 24. Their victory in the Coupe de France featured the debut of 17-year-old prodigy Xavi Simons and an adductor injury to Neymar that will sideline him through at least next week’s first leg against Barcelona.
3) Atlético Madrid (ESP)
Last week: 3 (D 2-2 vs. Celta Vigo)
An 89th-minute equalizer from the visitors brought Atléti’s eight-game winning streak in La Liga to an end. Luis Suárez scored on either side of halftime to turn an early deficit into a lead by the 50th minute but it would not hold up. The brace gave him 16 goals in 17 league games, surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo for the best start with a new club in La Liga this century. The draw leaves them five points clear of Real Madrid with two games in hand.
2) Bayern Munich (GER)
Last week: 2 (W 1-0 vs. Hertha Berlin)*
Hansi Flick’s team generated at least 2.0 expected goals for the fifth game in a row and maintained their seven-point cushion over second-place Leipzig. Kingsley Coman’s first goal since November ensured a rare saved penalty from Robert Lewandowski did not come back to haunt them. Five of their last eight victories have come by a single goal and the other three were by at least three goals. They also went to Qatar and won the Club World Cup, defeating Liga MX side Tigres in the final.
*Note: Only games in European competitions are factored into the top 25, meaning Bayern’s wins in the Club World Cup were not included.
1) Manchester City (ENG)
Last week: 1 (W 4-1 vs. Liverpool, W 3-1 vs. Swansea City)
The Cityzens missed yet another penalty against the reigning Premier League champions but İlkay Gündoğan made up for his first-half mishap with a second-half brace. All of his team-high nine league goals have come in the last two months. The unenviable task of preventing City from getting a record-setting 15 consecutive win fell to promotion hopefuls Swansea, who were down three by the 50th minute in the FA Cup fifth round. A reeling Tottenham are the next team who will attempt to slow down Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut.
Photo by Robert Cutts / Flickr