Home European Soccer Top 25 European Soccer Top 25: Inter Milan crack top three after derby win

European Soccer Top 25: Inter Milan crack top three after derby win

by Joshua Doering

The first legs of the Champions League round of 16 are now complete, meaning every team still alive in a European competition has faced at least one opponent from outside their domestic league between Feb. 16 and Feb. 24. On the domestic front, a pair of derbies stole the headlines as Everton finally defeated Liverpool and Inter Milan got the better of AC Milan.  

Here is this week’s European soccer top 25. 

Other teams in consideration: Everton (ENG), Monaco (FRA), Real Sociedad (ESP), Villarreal (ESP), West Ham (ENG)

Dropped from rankings: Borussia Mönchengladbach (25)

25) Roma (ITA)

Last week: Not ranked (D 0-0 vs. Benevento Calcio, W 3-1 vs. Sporting Braga)

While Roma kept their third consecutive clean sheet, the draw dropped them to fourth in Serie A. In their previous five games, the only team to stop them from scoring multiple times was Juventus. Edin Džeko found the back of the net in the first half to give them a 3-0 aggregate lead in the Europa League and they advanced by a convincing scoreline of 5-1 over the two legs. 

24) Lyon (FRA) 

Last week: 24 (W 3-2 vs. Brest)

Lyon were cruising behind the strength of three first-half goals until the hosts scored twice in the first 30 minutes of the second half, making the game’s final minutes more stressful than they should have been. The 3.9 expected goals they generated were tied for the second-highest total of the season. They moved back into second place in the Ligue 1 table, three points behind Lille and one point ahead of PSG. 

23) Lille (FRA) 

Last week: 22 (W 4-1 vs. Lorient, L 2-1 vs. Ajax)

Lorient scored a goal for both teams in three minutes midway through the first half and José Fonte netted his second goal of the season to give Lille the lead at halftime. Two more goals in the second half put the game out of reach and kept them atop the Ligue 1 table. Conceding first in the Europa League second leg meant they needed two unanswered goals to force extra time, but it was the Dutch side who got the third goal. 

22) Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)

Last week: 23 (W 2-1 vs. Bayern Munich)

Without the services of André Silva, the Bundesliga’s second-leading goal scorer, Frankfurt got first-half goals from Daichi Kamada and Amin Younes to take a 2-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Though Bayern finished with the higher expected goals total, Die Adler held their own defensively after conceding early in the second half. They undoubtedly earned the win and are well on their way to securing a spot in next year’s Champions League. 

21) Ajax (NED)

Last week: 21 (W 4-2 vs. Sparta Rotterdam, W 2-1 vs. Lille)

Ajax had poured in four goals before the visitors got on the scoreboard and ultimately netted a second in stoppage time. Sébastien Haller was responsible for the first two, giving him five goals and five assists in his first eight Eredivisie games. Davy Klassen built on their 2-1 advantage from the first leg in the Europa League with a 15th-minute goal and David Neres added another in the 88th to ensure they were going to the round of 16. 

20) Napoli (ITA) 

Last week: 16 (L 4-2 vs. Atalanta, W 2-1 vs. Granada)

The defeat was Napoli’s fourth in five games across three competitions and their second to Atalanta in that span. However, the larger concern was Victor Oshimen’s scary head injury that sent him to the hospital. The glimmer of hope created by Piotr Zielinski’s third-minute strike effectively disappeared when Granada got an away goal 22 minutes later and their participation in Europe came to an end with the 3-2 loss on aggregate. 

19) Wolfsburg (GER)

Last week: 20 (W 3-0 vs. Arminia Bielefeld)

Wolfsburg picked up their sixth win in seven games and have now gone a full month without allowing a goal. Renato Steffen opened the scoring in the 29th minute and completed his brace two minutes into the second half. The comfortable three-goal victory allowed them to jump back into third place in the Bundesliga on goal difference. They host Hertha Berlin on Feb. 27 before traveling to Leipzig for the DFB Pokal quarterfinals on March 3. 

18) Lazio (ITA)

Last week: 17 (W 1-0 vs. Sampdoria, L 4-1 vs. Bayern Munich)

Luis Alberto’s 24th-minute strike was enough to get past Sampdoria and left them a single point out of Serie A’s fourth and final Champions League spot. However, it is worth noting they are sixth in the table and own the league’s seventh-best goal difference. Francesco Acerbi’s own goal that began with a Lazio free kick in the attacking third sums up how the first leg against the reigning champions of Europe went.  

17) Barcelona (ESP) 

Last week: 15 (D 1-1 vs. Cadíz, W 3-0 vs. Elche)

Cadíz did absolutely nothing until Álex Fernández converted from the penalty spot in the 89th minute to cancel out Lionel Messi’s first-half penalty kick. Barcelona had 81% of the possession and a 19-2 advantage in non-penalty shots. Messi found the back of the net twice more in the win over Elche, the second of which was thanks to the slaloming run of Frenkie de Jong. A loss to Sevilla on Feb. 27 would drop them to fourth in the La Liga table.  

16) Borussia Dortmund (GER) 

Last week: 19 (W 4-0 vs. Schalke)

Erling Håland put on another dazzling display headlined by his scissor kick goal at the end of the first half to give Dortmund a 2-0 lead over their rivals. The first goal came from Jadon Sancho, who has six goals and four assists in 11 games since the start of the new year. A victory over Arminia Bielefeld would give them back-to-back league wins for just the second time since Halloween. 

15) Liverpool (ENG)

Last week: 9 (L 2-0 vs. Everton)

In 30 minutes, Liverpool were down a goal and had lost a fifth center back option to injury in captain Jordan Henderson, who was forced to leave at the half-hour mark. The result was their first Merseyside derby loss since 2010 and first defeat to the Toffees at Anfield since 1999. The return of Diogo Jota to training provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of a four-game losing streak in the Premier League. Having two of their next three games against teams currently in the relegation zone should help (in theory, at least) too.  

14) Atalanta (ITA)  

Last week: 14 (W 4-2 vs. Napoli, L 1-0 vs. Real Madrid)

Their meeting with Napoli came to life after a scoreless first half thanks to six goals in a 28-minute stretch. Luis Muriel set up Duván Zapata’s opener and netted one himself while Robin Gosens scored for both teams in 12 minutes. Their gameplan in the Champions League went out the window with Remo Freuler’s 17th-minute red card and they nearly prevented Los Blancos from grabbing an all-important away goal. The result could’ve been much worse considering the circumstances, so Gian Piero Gasperini can’t be too disappointed. 

13) Chelsea (ENG)

Last week: 18 (D 1-1 vs. Southampton, W 1-0 vs. Atlético Madrid)

The Blues had the better chances after falling behind at St. Mary’s Stadium in the 33rd minute and were left bemoaning their ability to only capture a point thanks to a Mason Mount penalty kick. They controlled proceedings in Bucharest as well and were underwhelming in the final third again. Olivier Giroud eventually came to the rescue with a sublime bicycle kick to end Atlético Madrid’s hopes of keeping a clean sheet. Mount and fellow midfielder Jorginho will miss the second leg due to yellow card accumulation.  

12) Leicester City (ENG) 

Last week: 12 (W 2-1 vs. Aston Villa, L 2-0 vs. Slavia Prague)

Harvey Barnes followed up his assist on James Maddison’s 19th-minute opener with a goal of his own four minutes later to give Leicester a 2-0 advantage over the Villans at halftime. That lead was cut in half three minutes into the second half but the Foxes managed to prevent an equalizer. Their toothless attack in the Slavia Prague game was due in part to the absence of Maddison, who injured his hip at Villa Park. Brendan Rodgers has reached the Europa League round of 32 five times with three different teams and failed to advance on all five occasions. 

11) Real Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 14 (W 1-0 vs. Valladolid, W 1-0 vs. Atalanta)

Two more clean sheets mean Real Madrid have gone four games without conceding a goal and outscored opponents 8-1 in the month of February. Casemiro collected his second goal of 2020 to claim a fourth straight league victory and move within three points of La Liga-leading Atlético Madrid. Playing up a man for 73 minutes, they were relatively uninspiring in attack against Atalanta but finally found a goal thanks to Ferland Mendy’s gorgeous strike in the 86th minute to enter the second leg as clear favorites. 

10) Sevilla (ESP)

Last week: 11 (W 2-0 vs. Osasuna)

Sevilla picked up right where they left off in La Liga after their disappointing showing in the Champions League, registering their eighth consecutive clean sheet against domestic opposition. Diego Carlos netted his first goal of the season to open the scoring in the 19th minute and Luuk de Jong added a second right after halftime. They face Barcelona in La Liga on Feb. 27 and in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on March 3. 

9) AC Milan (ITA) 

Last week: 6 (L 3-0 vs. Inter Milan, D 1-1 vs. Red Star Belgrade)

Having overachieved all season, the Rossoneri are finally coming back down to earth. The Milan derby might have gone differently had they capitalized on their energetic start to the second half, but that was their only dominant spell of the game. A Champions League spot — which would have been considered a smashing success four months ago — is still very much in play. Franck Kessié’s penalty kick was enough to secure a draw and advance in the Europa League on away goals. 

8) Manchester United (ENG) 

Last week: 10 (W 3-1 vs. Newcastle United, D 0-0 vs. Real Sociedad)

The Red Devils got their second Premier League win in six tries to keep hold of second place in the league table. Daniel James’ third goal in as many appearances wound up being the winner after Marcus Rashford gave them the lead in the 30th minute. Sociedad had a chance to make things somewhat interesting with a 13th-minute penalty kick, which they missed. United cruised to a 4-0 aggregate win and claimed their spot in Europa League round of 16 without any trouble. 

7) Juventus (ITA) 

Last week: 8 (W 3-0 vs. Crotone)

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half brace against the Serie A bottom-dwellers was notable for multiple reasons. For starters, he has now scored against every team currently in the Italian top flight. They were also his 17th and 18th league goals of the season, making him the top scorer in Serie A. Additionally, it marked the 14th consecutive season Ronaldo has scored at least 25 goals across all competitions. The win moved Juventus up to third in the Serie A table and kept them within striking distance of league-leading Inter Milan. 

6) RB Leipzig (GER) 

Last week: 8 (W 3-0 vs. Hertha Berlin)

Leipzig recorded their fourth shutout in their last six games to make the Bundesliga title race much more interesting. Marcel Sabitzer opened the scoring in the 28th minute and set up Willi Orbán’s 84th-minute strike to make it 3-0. Their second goal came from Nordi Mukiele courtesy of a Tyler Adams assist. They host Borussia Mönchengladbach to begin a tough seven-game stretch that ends with a visit from Bayern Munich on April 3. 

5) Atlético Madrid (ESP) 

Last week: 4 (L 2-0 vs. Levante, L 1-0 vs. Chelsea)

It appears the lengthy list of notable absentees has finally caught up to Diego Simeone’s team, though it should be noted Levante generated 0.8 fewer expected goals and got the second goal in stoppage time with Jan Oblak scrambling to get back in net after coming forward for a free kick. They were thoroughly outplayed by the Blues and did not demonstrate the same kind of defensive prowess that has been a defining feature of their past Champions League success. Something needs to change quickly with sixth-place Villarreal and Real Madrid up next. 

4) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 

Last week: 3 (L 2-0 vs. Monaco)

The Parisians may have had 74% of the possession and outshot Monaco 10-6, but they managed just one shot on goal to the visitors’ three and produced fewer expected goals. Monaco scored six minutes into both halves to snap PSG’s five-game winning streak and leave them four points behind Lille in the Ligue 1 table. They have taken 19 points from Mauricio Pochettino’s first nine league games, tying the worst start for a new manager since the QSI takeover in 2011.

3) Inter Milan (ITA)

Last week: 5 (W 3-0 vs. AC Milan)

Inter immediately took control of the game and never really looked back, beating their archrivals to give themselves a four-point cushion at the top of Serie A. Lautaro Martínez fired home Romelu Lukaku’s cross in the 5th minute and doubled their lead in the 57th following a flurry of Milan scoring chances. Lukaku sealed the win nine minutes later with a goal of his own. Without any other competitions to worry about, they will have nobody but themselves to blame if the Scudetto slips through their fingers. 

2) Bayern Munich (GER)

Last week: 2 (L 2-1 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, W 4-1 vs. Lazio)

Two Frankfurt goals in the first 31 minutes put Bayern in the familiar position of having to play from behind. Like he has many times before, Robert Lewandowksi scored in the 53rd minute to bring them within one and another comeback appeared to be in the cards. The equalizer never came though, resulting in their third league defeat of the season. Their place in the Champions League quarterfinals is more or less booked thanks to their sensational performance in the first leg. Jamal Musiala became the youngest player in club history to score in the Champions League while Lewandowski passed Raúl for third place on the competition’s all-time scoring list. 

1) Manchester City (ENG)

Last week: 1 (W 1-0 vs. Arsenal, W 2-0 vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Raheem Sterling put City up in less than 120 seconds at the Emirates and their rock solid defense took over from there for an 18th straight victory. It took a little while longer (minute 29) to get a breakthrough in Budapest but they are in position for a trip to the Champions League quarterfinals as expected. João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva played key roles in both goals, with Silva heading home Cancelo’s cross for the first and redirecting another Cancelo cross over to Gabriel Jesus for the second. 

Photo by Oleg Dubyna / Flickr

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