Home European Soccer Top 25 European Soccer Top 25: The European competitions return

European Soccer Top 25: The European competitions return

by Joshua Doering

The Champions League and Europa League finally returned after an extended break, adding another dimension to the rankings. A change at the top of the Serie A table was the most significant domestic development while soccer’s brightest young stars stole the show on the sport’s biggest stage.  

Here is this week’s European soccer top 25. 

Other teams in consideration: Bayer Leverkusen (GER), Monaco (FRA), Roma (ITA), Villarreal (ESP), West Ham (ENG)

Dropped from rankings: Bayer Leverkusen (25)

25) Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER) 

Last week: 23 (D 0-0 vs. Wolfsburg)

A fairly even contest with the Bundesliga’s second-best defensive team is nothing to worry about, especially when the last time Gladbach failed to score was their final Champions League group stage game against Real Madrid on Dec. 9. They get the unenviable task of attempting to slow down Manchester City in the round of 16 with the home leg taking place in Budapest on Feb. 24. 

24) Lyon (FRA) 

Last week: 19 (L 2-1 vs. Montpellier)

Lyon’s defeat was not for lack of trying. They fired off 24 shots and doubled the visitors’ expected goals total yet still came away empty-handed. Lucas Paquetá equalized in first half stoppage time, leaving them 45 minutes to find a winner. Instead, 18-year-old Sepe Elye Wahi came off the bench to snatch all three points for Montpellier. The loss dropped Lyon to third in Ligue 1, three points clear of fourth-place Monaco. 

23) Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)

Last week: Not ranked (W 2-0 vs. Köln)

Unbeaten in their last 10 Bundesliga games, Eintracht Frankfurt enter the top 25 in the midst of a four-game winning streak. André Silva continued his excellent campaign with his 18th league goal of the season in their most recent victory, the highest total of any Bundesliga player not named Robert Lewandowski. Ironically, the two strikers will square off on Feb. 20 when they host Bayern Munich. 

22) Lille (FRA) 

Last week: 18 (D 0-0 vs. Brest, L 2-1 vs. Ajax)

Though Lille recorded a fifth straight clean sheet in their clash with Brest, they dropped points for the first time in seven games and now find themselves just a point ahead of PSG in the Ligue 1 table. Tim Weah pounced on an ill-advised pass from Nicolás Tagliafico to break the deadlock with Ajax in the 72nd minute, but a highly controversial penalty served as a springboard for a late rally from the Dutch side. They will arrive at Johan Cruyff Arena as heavy underdogs. 

21) Ajax (NED)

Last week: 24 (W 2-0 vs. Heracles, W 2-1 vs. Lille)

Davy Klaassen opened the scoring 15 minutes into the Heracles game and Sébastien Haller provided additional security with a 79th-minute strike. They are now six points clear atop the Eredivisie table. Anything less than a victory would’ve been an unfair result against the Ligue 1 leaders yet it appeared as though they were going to walk away without a goal to show for their efforts. That all changed when Dušan Tadić slotted home a penalty in the 87th minute and Brian Brobbey added a second two minutes later. 

20) Wolfsburg (GER)

Last week: 21 (D 0-0 vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Wolfsburg’s five-game winning streak came to a close in a game where neither team posed much of a threat to the other’s goal. However, it did mark the sixth game in a row they kept a clean sheet. While Eintracht Frankfurt passed them in the Bundesliga table thanks to a marginally better goal difference, they hold the fourth and final Champions League spot and their next six league games are against teams in the bottom half of the table. 

19) Borussia Dortmund (GER) 

Last week: 22 (D 2-2 vs. Hoffenheim, W 3-2 vs. Sevilla)

Jadon Sancho’s third goal in four games gave Dortmund an early lead against Hoffenheim, which had turned into a deficit by the 51st minute. Erling Håland then came to the rescue with an 81st-minute strike to rescue a point. Inspired by a certain performance at the Camp Nou a day earlier, Håland assisted on Mahmoud Dahoud’s unstoppable missile and scored a brace of his own in the first half to put them on track for a berth in the Champions League quarterfinals. 

18) Chelsea (ENG)

Last week: 20 (W 2-0 vs. Newcastle)

The Blues are back in a Champions League spot following the shutout victory over the Magpies, their fifth in a row. Olivier Giroud came on in place of the injured Tammy Abraham in the 20th minute and opened his account for 2021 in less than 15 minutes. Timo Werner got his first Premier League goal since Nov. 7 10 minutes later to double the lead. Chelsea are yet to lose with Thomas Tuchel in charge. 

17) Lazio (ITA)

Last week: 17 (L 3-1 vs. Inter Milan)

A hotly contested penalty put Lazio behind 22 minutes in and it didn’t get much better from there. Sergej Milinković-Savić’s free-kick goal during their brightest spell of the game made it 2-1 with just under half an hour still to go, but they were unable to keep up the pressure and went down without much of a fight. Bayern Munich is their opponent in the Champions League round of 16 starting on Feb. 23. 

16) Napoli (ITA) 

Last week: 15 (W 1-0 vs. Juventus, L 2-0 vs. Granada)

Lorenzo Insigne made up for his penalty miss in the Supercoppa Italiana against the reigning Serie A champions by converting from the spot to grab all three points from them in the first league meeting of the season. The goal was Insigne’s 100th in Napoli colors. Two Granada goals in three minutes midway through the first half put them in a hole they were unable to climb out of. Without an away goal to work with, only a three-goal victory in the second leg will send them through in the Europa League while avoiding extra time. 

15) Barcelona (ESP) 

Last week: 13 (W 5-1 vs. Alavés, L 4-1 vs. PSG)

Lionel Messi and Trincão both produced a brace in the thrashing of Alavés, which was a one-goal game until the 74th minute. Messi then proceeded to put the game out of reach with a goal and an assist in 120 seconds. Their limp showing against PSG should not come as a surprise considering their track record against elite opposition. In seven games against Sevilla, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and PSG, they have been outscored 14-5. The frustration was evident in the heated argument between Antoine Griezmann and Gerard Pique in the latter’s return to action. 

14) Real Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 16 (W 2-0 vs. Valencia)

Los Blancos kept the pressure on their La Liga-leading neighbors with their fourth victory in their last five games. Toni Kroos assisted on Karim Benzema’s 12th-minute opener and netted his first goal since Dec. 15 half an hour later to give Zinedine Zidane’s team a 2-0 lead at halftime. They play 18th-place Valladolid on Feb. 20 before entering a challenging five-game stretch featuring their Champions League matchup with Atalanta, the aforementioned Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad. 

13) Atalanta (ITA)  

Last week: 14 (W 1-0 vs. Cagliari)

Atalanta had their worst offensive display of the season in their victory over Cagliari, producing just 0.7 expected goals. They still more than doubled the hosts’ expected goals total, which allowed them to keep the game scoreless until Luis Muriel came off the bench to deliver the game’s lone goal in the final minute of normal time. They are sixth in the La Liga table heading into a crucial showdown with fifth-place Napoli on Feb. 21 and the first leg of their Champions League tie with Real Madrid on Feb. 24. 

12) Leicester City (ENG) 

Last week: 12 (W 3-1 vs. Liverpool, D 0-0 vs. Slavia Prague)

In what seemed like a matter of seconds, Leicester went from trailing 1-0 to winning 3-1 and securing a massive victory in the top four race in England. James Maddison fired home a free kick involving two VAR reviews, Jamie Vardy pounced on Alisson’s mishap and Harvey Barnes finished the Reds off. A scoreless draw in the away leg of their Europa League tie leaves the Foxes with a decent amount to do in the home leg against the in-form Czech side. 

11) Sevilla (ESP)

Last week: 11 (W 1-0 vs. Huesca, L 3-2 vs. Borussia Dortmund)

Munir’s second goal in three games was enough to hand Sevilla a ninth consecutive victory thanks to their seventh straight clean sheet. A fortuitous deflection put them ahead in the home leg of their Champions League tie in the seventh minute before they were overwhelmed by Dortmund’s counterattacking prowess. Trailing by two, substitute Luuk de Jong provided a glimmer of hope with an 84th-minute goal. While stranger things have happened, they have their work cut out for them at Signal Iduna Park. 

10) Manchester United (ENG) 

Last week: 9 (D 1-1 vs. West Brom, W 4-0 vs. Real Sociedad)

A Bruno Fernandes goal right before halftime prevented another embarrassing loss to a team in the relegation zone, though the draw left United with a single win in their last five Premier League games and their hopes of winning the league dangling by a thread. Fernandes was the key man in the Europa League as well, scoring their first two goals in the destruction of Real Sociedad to all but book their spot in the round of 16. 

9) Liverpool (ENG)

Last week: 10 (L 3-1 vs. Leicester City, W 2-0 vs. RB Leipzig)

The loss to Leicester was eerily reminiscent of Liverpool’s collapse against Manchester City six days earlier. Roberto Firmino provided the assist of the season to give the Reds the lead in a game they controlled for large portions. Then it all came apart in an eight-minute spell headlined by another horrific error from Alisson. They were the beneficiaries of two Leipzig mistakes that resulted in a much-needed victory and an ideal situation heading into the second leg at Anfield. 

8) Juventus (ITA) 

Last week: 6 (L 1-0 vs. Napoli, L 2-1 vs. Porto)

Giorgio Chiellini’s foul on Amir Rrahmani while defending a free kick inside the box turned out to be the defining moment of the Bianconeri’s trip to Naples. Juventus had the better chances on the night and won the expected goals battle but were unable to capitalize on them. Goals in the opening 120 seconds of both halves had Porto in position for a shocking upset in the Champions League until Federico Chiesa supplied them with a crucial away goal. Andrea Pirlo will be grateful knowing their situation heading into the second leg could’ve been much worse. 

7) RB Leipzig (GER) 

Last week: 8 (W 2-1 vs. Augsburg, L 2-0 vs. Liverpool)

Two goals late in the first half — one from the penalty spot and the other courtesy of Christopher Nkunku — put Leipzig firmly in control against Augsburg. Though they conceded a penalty in the second half, they ended the game as deserving winners with a 2.9-0.9 edge in expected goals. The home leg of their Champions League tie (which was actually played in Budapest) was a closer contest than the scoreline suggests. Liverpool turned two lapses in concentration into two goals and that was that. 

6) AC Milan (ITA) 

Last week: 5 (L 2-0 vs. Spezia Calcio, D 2-2 vs. Red Star Belgrade)

Milan picked an inconvenient time to have their worst offensive showing of the campaign and ceded control of Serie A to their bitter rivals as a result. The defeat — their first truly “bad” one of the season — was their third in five games. Up a man and a goal by the 77th minute, they allowed their Europa League opponents to equalize in stoppage time and make the second leg much more interesting. The Derby della Madonnina kicks off what will be a season-defining three-game stretch to end the month.  

5) Inter Milan (ITA)

Last week: 7 (W 3-1 vs. Lazio)

Inter were easily the biggest winners of the week, grabbing an impressive victory over an in-form Lazio team and moving to the top of Serie A thanks to Milan’s loss. Romelu Lukaku converted from the penalty spot to open the scoring and bagged another goal right before halftime. Three minutes after the visitors pulled a goal back, he set up Lautaro Martínez to ensure a drama-free end to the contest. A win in the top-of-the-table clash with their archrivals on Feb. 21 would put them in control of the race for the Scudetto. 

4) Atlético Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 3 (W 2-1 vs. Granada, D 1-1 vs. Levante)

Marcos Llorente found the back of the net and assisted on Ángel Correa’s decisive goal nine minutes after Granada drew level to get Atléti back to winning ways. It wouldn’t last long though, as Levante became the second team in three games to take points from them. Llorente scored again to tie the game in the 37th minute but a second goal never materialized. They get a rematch with Levante before the first leg of their Champions League tie with Chelsea in Bucharest on Feb. 23. 

3) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 

Last week: 4 (W 2-1 vs. Nice, W 4-1 vs. Barcelona)

Julian Draxler scored 22 minutes into his first start in Ligue 1 since Oct. 24 to put PSG ahead against Nice, but a goal from the visitors five minutes into the second half necessitated Moise Kean’s 76th-minute strike to take all three points. Kylian Mbappé put on a dazzling display in the thrashing of Barcelona, which featured four unanswered goals to all but secure their spot in the Champions League quarterfinals. 

2) Bayern Munich (GER)

Last week: 2 (D 3-3 vs. Arminia Bielefeld)

With snow pouring down in Munich, the Bavarians trailed 2-0 at halftime to the relegation candidates. Robert Lewandowski cut the deficit in half in the 48th minute. Bayern conceded again in the 49th. Corentin Tolisso’s first league goal of the season made it 3-2 and Alphonso Davies’ rocket brought them level. The draw brought their five-game winning streak to an end and left them five points ahead of Leipzig in the Bundesliga table. 

1) Manchester City (ENG)

Last week: 1 (W 3-0 vs. Tottenham, W 3-1 vs. Everton)

İlkay Gündoğan kept up his ridiculous goal scoring rate with a brace against Spurs, giving him eight goals in his last nine appearances and embarrassing Davinson Sánchez in the process. 

He exited the game with a groin strain that ruled him out for the trip to Goodison Park, leaving Pep Guardiola without Kevin De Bruyne (who came off the bench as he gets his fitness back) and the guy who’d carried the team in his absence. In came Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, who combined for two goals and an assist. Riyad Mahrez’s magnificent strike, set up by Silva, restored their lead for good following Richarlison’s first-half equalizer. 

Photo by Markos90 / Wikimedia Commons

You may also like

Leave a Comment