Apr 17, 2017

The Top 5 Soccer Clubs in the World

Just for fun, and because a top 25 is way too ambitious. And of course this could just be called "European clubs" since teams from other continents are some ways off of their quality. A note on methodology: This ranking is subjective and meant to capture (or intend to capture) the status on a seasonal basis. So this is not a ranking of form, but of the team's body of work throughout the season. Wherever possible, objective measures are weighed in the rankings: wins, losses, head-to-head, etc. Also weighing heavily is whether a team is still alive in continental competition, primarily the UEFA Champions League, now halfway through its quarterfinal fixtures. Oh yeah, for our purposes matches played over two legs count as one victory or loss. So let's get to it:

5. AS Monaco

Record in all competitions: 37 wins, 7 draws, 5 losses (76% winning percentage)
Notable victories: Tottenham Hotspur (twice), Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City
If their sweep of Spurs in the Champions League group stage didn't convince English fans of Monaco's quality, then the memorable victory over Man City certainly did the job. This is an exciting team with exciting players which rightfully deserves to be mentioned with Europe's elite. Everybody knows Kylian Mbappe's name by now, but the club from the principality have no fewer than five players who could become bonafide superstars (probably not at Monaco but that's another story). Leonardo Jardim's men started the season rather slowly, with a tough Champions League qualification victory against Fenerbahce Istanbul and draw at home against Guingamp. Yes exactly, Guingamp. It's been smooth sailing since. One of the season's five losses came against Bayer Leverkusen on the final day of their Champions League group stage after Monaco had already won the group (which realistically shouldn't be counted as a loss but we'll let it stand for purely technical reasons). One blemish is a recent loss to PSG in the French league cup finale. Les Monegasques have a three point lead over their Parisian rivals with five matchdays remaining, having not lost a Ligue Un match since December. They also carry a 3-2 lead into their CL quarter final return leg against a Borussia Dortmund team that has had (much) better seasons. If Monaco blow this they'll make us look like clueless a-holes. We don't like being made to look like clueless a-holes.

4. Bayern Munich
Record in all competitions: 30 wins, 6 draws, 4 losses (75% winning percentage)
Notable victories: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid (x2), RB Leipzig, Dortmund
Notable losses: Dortmund (away), Hoffenheim (away)
The German Rekordmeister (it means they've won more Bundesliga titles than anybody else. One of those compound German words that needs an entire sentence to be explained. Kind of like Schadenfreude) are alive in all competitions though kind of hanging by a thread in the Champions League thanks to a weak home loss to Real Madrid in the first leg of their quarterfinal match up. You get the sense the Germans were not properly tested yet this season before that game. Certainly not by an Arsenal in turmoil, whom they easily dispatched in the round of 16, and not by their Bundesliga competitors. How bad is the German top flight this year? RB Leipzig, a promoted team, are Bayern's closest competitors for the league title (another promoted club, SC Freiburg, are sixth). A club with the name TSG Hoffenheim sit third. That bad. In fact, you could make the point that it's a bit of a farce.

3. Barcelona
Record in all competitions: 32 wins, 6 draws, 5 losses (74% winning percentage)
Notable victories: That comeback win over Paris Saint Germain
Other notable results: Drew Real Madrid 1-1 at home in December
Barca trail their rivals from Spain's capital city by just three points in La Liga, while boasting a better goal difference (+61 to Real's +49), so everything to play for there. Recent losses at La Coruna and Malaga have been costly but the return leg against Real looms April 23. The blaugrana split their Champions League series with Manchester City, with a 4-0 beatdown at Camp Nou followed by a 3-1 loss at the Etihad. The Champions League group stage was otherwise forgettable, with easy victories over hopelessly overmatched Celtic and slightly less overmatched Borussia Moenchengladbach. Unforgettable on the other hand was that ridiculous comeback against PSG, though it may have masked some deeper flaws with the club. With Barca that is. PSG's flaws, a choke-artistry that can only be described as uniquely French, were readily apparent.

2. Real Madrid
Record in all competitions: 29 wins, 9 draws, 3 losses (71% winning percentage)
Notable achievements: Eliminated Napoli in CL Round of 16, drew Barcelona at Camp Nou, won 3-0 at Atletico Madrid
There are a couple of blemishes on Real's record: a loss to Celta Vigo over two legs in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals was certainly the major disappointment of the season so far, and their performance in a relatively weak Champions League group (finishing second behind Borussia Dortmund) also left a little bit to be desired. Other than that this club seems to have everything. While Cristiano Ronaldo certainly isn't getting any younger, with former Tottenham players like Gareth Bale and Luca Modric feeding him the ball that doesn't really matter all that much now, does it?

1. Juventus
Record in all competition: 34 wins, 4 draws, 4 losses (81% winning percentage)
Notable victories: At Sevilla in Champions League group stage, Roma
Notable losses: Inter, AC Milan, Genoa, Fiorentina (all away)
Masimiliano Allegri's men boast the best winning percentage of the clubs tracked here. Fresh off a 3-0 dismantling of Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, the old lady of Italian football is firing on all cylinders. Their eight point lead atop the Serie A standings should be safe with six matchdays remaining, though a visit to second-placed Roma looms on May 14. Speaking of safe, that three-goal cushion over Barca should be sufficient as well, since, well, Juventus are not Paris Saint Germain. Paulo Dybala is looking like the next Argentine superstar.

Jul 13, 2014

Germany 2014 = Spain 2008

In 2008, Spain triumphed at the European championships with a core of players, nearly all of them from domestic clubs, who were rounding into their prime. Spain were widely viewed as the best team at Euro 2008 and won the tournament with a clean slate, sweeping their three group stage matches before advancing through the elimination round with minimal difficulty. It was the start of a golden era in Spanish soccer, as la roja went on to win the World Cup in 2010 and another euro championship, in 2012, with the same core of players.

Now in 2014, Germany have triumphed at the World Cup, winning with a core of players, nearly all of them from domestic clubs, who are rounding into their prime. Few would argue that Germany were not the best team at this tournament. Yes, Argentina certainly had their chances tonight (then again, so did Germany) but in the end it was Joachim Loew's side, specifically one Mario Goetze, who capitalized on theirs. In the end the better team triumphed by a 1-0 margin, much like it did in Vienna six years ago.

Now, like then, we can expect the winning national team to dominate competition for at least the next two major tournaments. Except, this German team may even be better than Spain was in 2008, as these German players are more battle-tested, despite their relative youth. The core of the team, including its coach, saw semifinal action in 2010 and 2012, and a few (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose) even figured in the 2008 squad (bad example on Klose, as he has figured in every German national side since what, 1966?). Spain, by contrast, kind of came out of nowhere in 2008. At the time the story was still about how Spain produced terrific club sides but couldn't translate this to success on the national team level (sound familiar, England fans? Different situation though, as England still doesn't have any future as a national team. Sorry folks). Spain didn't make it past the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup and didn't even make it out of the group stage at the euro 2004 tournament. This after generations of futility. We shouldn't have to remind you about German "muscle memory" when it comes to success in international soccer tournaments.

Looking at the roster of German players you have a roster with few weaknesses, the main spine of which will be in place for at least the next World Cup cycle. On defense, only the 30-year old Lahm will need to be replaced: Manuel Neuer is 28, Benedikt Hoewedes 26 and Matt Hummels 25. Bastian Schweinsteiger, aged 29, is the only midfielder one can expect to be cycled out by 2018. Don't forget 25-year old Marco Reus, arguably one of the most talented members of this generation of German players, missed the entire tournament with an injury. Then you've got guys like Julian Draxler (not yet 21), Matthias Ginter (20) and Erik Durm (22), who made the team for Brazil but didn't play much or at all. Among forwards, Miroslav Klose will likely not play much longer for the national team beyond perhaps a well-deserved sendoff game, but if anybody can fill his shoes it is Goetze, whose class was on full display in the winning goal. Andre Schuerrle is top-notch as well, as Chelsea fans can attest. And of course don't forget that Thomas Mueller, who turns 25 in September, led German goalscorers in Brazil and has a legitimate shot at breaking Klose's record of 16 World Cup goals if he stays healthy. Just in case the Germans needed additional help, there are forwards like Kevin Volland, who turns 22 this year and scored 11 goals for Hoffenheim last season, or Philipp Hofmann, a 21-year old in the employ of FC Kaiserslautern who stands 6'5 and scored 13 goals in 26 appearances for German youth national teams, according to his Wikipedia page. While we're on the topic of budding German stars, it bears noting that Liverpool just signed 20-year old Emre Can, a midfield product of Bayern Munich's youth sides who started for Bayer Leverkusen last season. And we'd be remiss not to mention Leon Goretzka, the 19-year old Schalke midfielder, who has already been capped at the senior level and is said to model his game after Toni Kroos.

Of course a lot can still go wrong to derail the German machine on its path to generational dominance. The last time Germany won a World Cup, in 1990, no less a figure than Franz Beckenbauer predicted they would be unbeatable for a decade. We all know how that turned out (Spoiler alert! Germany were hardly unbeatable and in fact succumbed in the quarterfinals at the next two World Cups, though they did win the Euro 96). Still, it would take a brave man to bet against Germany, at the very least in the euro 2016 tournament in France. The only European team that was at all impressive this World Cup, the Netherlands, rely on two players (Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder) already in the tail end of their careers. The others looked weak or worse. It's hard to see how Germany will have any serious European competition by 2016. After that it's just as questionable if anybody will emerge on the world stage: Brazil has been plunged into an existential crisis that will take at least a few cycles to recover from. Argentina will have to rebuild around somebody other than Lionel Messi, who anyway isn't all that great as we now know. Maybe Colombia can mount a challenge? Maybe Italy or France or Spain will be able to reload? Or maybe the challenger will come from somewhere else, entirely unexpected. The point is this: the top of the world soccer pyramid is now firmly occupied by the German national team. It will take a lot to wrest it away from them.