The race for safety and European places continues into the second full week of February. Midweek Premier League games have been played, albeit with some postponements due to weather, along with some important cup matches in Spain and Germany.
On Tuesday, Chelsea struggled for the second time this season with West Brom, only escaping with a point, and leaving the door open for Arsenal to regain control at the top of the league. Unfortunately for the Gunners, they were forced to settle for 0-0 draw with the disappointment of the year, Manchester United.
El Clásico is set for the Copa del Rey final, with both Barcelona and Real Madrid advancing rather comfortably. Both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund advanced in the DFB Pokal, while the 2nd-place team in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen, was upset by Kaiserslautern. With that, here are my current top 10 teams in this week’s European football power rankings.
Just Missed: Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool
Currently sitting 9 points out of first in Serie A, Roma were unceremoniously dumped out of the Coppa Italia by Napoli on Wednesday. Going into the match with a one goal advantage, Napoli, who were being cheered on by the legendary Diego Maradona, proceeded to drop three goals, including two in three minutes, on the top ranked defense in Serie A to win the tie 5-3 on aggregate. Roma now have to hope that this poor performance doesn’t carry over to the league, as they face 12th-place Sampdoria on Sunday.
Arsenal squandered their chance to return to the top of the Premier League on Wednesday, drawing 0-0 with struggling Manchester United at the Emirates. Despite winning the possession battle and having 11 more attempts than the Red Devils, Arsenal failed to score in a match where defenses and goalkeepers reigned. In fact, Arsenal would have dropped all three points if not for a wonderful save from Premier League clean sheet leader Wojciech Szczesny in the 79th minute against former Gunner Robin Van Persie. Arsenal now have to prepare for two important matches in a row; they face an on-fire Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday, and follow that up with a visit from Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday.
8. Atletico Madrid
What many assumed would be a tightly contested Madrid Derby in the Copa del Rey Semifinals turned out to be far from such, as Atletico were defeated 3-0 and 2-0 by Real. Sandwiched in between those two losses was an embarrassing 2-0 loss at the hands of Almeria, a loss which snapped an undefeated league run which had lasted since October. The loss also dropped Atletico from 1st to 3rd on the La Liga table, although they are still level on points with Real and Barcelona. They will hope to recover on Saturday when they face relegation-threatened Valladolid, giving them momentum into Wednesday’s Champions League clash with AC Milan.
7. Manchester City
Don’t be surprised if you see Manchester City much closer to the top of this list next week. The Citizens are as in form as anybody right now, barring their minor slip up against Norwich last week. With Chelsea, whom they lost 1-0 to 10 days ago, in the FA Cup on Sunday and Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday, City have a chance to prove that they are the real deal, and could work their way into my top 5 if they perform well. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see their warm-up match and preview of the Capital One Cup Final against Sunderland on Wednesday due to “unsafe conditions” in Manchester.
6. Paris St.-Germain
PSG have the potential, and certainly the talent, to be top of this list by year’s end. The reason I say year’s end is because, in my opinion, they need to win the Champions League to prove once and for all that they are truly one of Europe’s elite. To do this, they need to beat the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern. They can’t earn this status through league play because, let’s face it, Ligue 1 is pretty weak; their closest competitors are a Monaco team which is basically a Ligue 2 side plus 3 world class players. Look for them to show their intentions against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday; there could be some very crooked numbers on the board after all is said and done.
Last Sunday, Juventus became the most recent victims of a resilient Hellas Verona side. Despite controlling 69% of the possession and scoring two goals in the first 22 minutes, Juve were pegged back for two goals in the second half, including one in the 90th minute. The points they lost were only the 9th they had dropped all season, and they are well on their way to a third straight Scudetto. Juve face the other Verona side, 17th-place Chievo, on Sunday, and return to European action, although not in the Champions League, against Trabzonspor on Thursday.
Barcelona have certainly not been as dominant this season as they have in the past. While they have been strong up front, as usual, their defense has been particularly weak at times this year. This all comes back around to their offense. When you control possession as much as Barcelona does, your defenders tend to sneak forward, leaving big gaps in the back that teams like Real and Atletico will punish. Nonetheless, Barcelona sit top on the top of La Liga (on goal difference), but face a very difficult test on Tuesday, as they travel to the Etihad to face Manchester City in the Champions League.
Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with West Brom was a huge disappointment for Chelsea, but it wasn’t the first time this season they had struggled with low-table opposition. In their first meeting with West Brom, a debatable, to say the least, 90th minute penalty helped them escape with a point. They have also drawn West Ham at home and lost to Stoke City. If Chelsea want to win the league, these are games they need to win, and they will have plenty of these games down the stretch; they will only face three non-relegation-threatened teams the rest of the year. Right now, though, there main focus needs to be their FA Cup tie with Man City on Sunday. A win there could generate a lot of momentum for the rest of the season.
2. Bayern Munich
So much can be said about Bayern this year. Only nine goals allowed in the Bundesliga, no points dropped since October 5th, 4 points dropped all year, only one competitive loss, the list goes on. With the Bundesliga all but settled, this means Bayern can focus all their energy on the Champions League. Bayern certainly look like favorites to repeat this year, but Arsenal have something to prove, and they have a chance on Wednesday. Bayern need to be careful, because one slip could mean major disappointment for them and elation for the Gunners.
1. Real Madrid
Unlike the team above them, not much needs to be said about Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo has 22 league goals, they completely embarrassed Madrid rivals Atletico over two Copa del Rey semifinal legs, winning 5-0 on aggregate and setting up a Clásico final, and now hope to continue their 13 game unbeaten league run. With the Ballon d’Or in toe, Ronaldo and company will now head to 12th-place Getafe on Sunday hoping to extend the streak, which has lasted since October 26th. Real have two weeks before they return to Champions League action and head to Germany to face a Schalke side that need not be overlooked.