Polls and rankings have a certain way of winding up the public in some unforeseen way, as the reader ultimately feels his or her own life experience is more accurate than the masses who voted or the individual who provides the ranking.
And I’m no different.
When I saw the Las Vegas-Review Journal’s annual "Best of Las Vegas" poll had the readers voting Criss Angel as Best Magician and Olive Garden the Best Italian Restaurant, it reaffirmed my belief that I live in a city of two million morons.
In a city with so many top-shelf Italian restaurants, both on the Las Vegas Strip and in the suburbs, Olive Garden gets the nod? Come come now. And everybody knows the best magicians are the topless dancers that can magically get a $20 bill to disappear out of your wallet by simply grinding on you for four minutes to the sounds of Prince’s “Erotic City.”
Anyway, back to Earth brother, we’re writing about soccer here. Most soccer rankings I read here and elsewhere are fairly accurate, but I thought I’d throw my two cents in and try and take a swim with the sharks that infest the comment section below each story on Bleacher Report.
Remember this is just my opinion and my story, and you are free to write your own story or create your own list or leave an intelligent or remark-of-snark below. Everybody has an opinion on something and these are my top 30 European Soccer teams as of this week.
The lone team on this list from the Scottish Premier League—the favorite league of bagpipers and the Loch Ness Monster—Celtic (24-3-4), is headed to the title after the defending SPL champion and the second-place Rangers were docked 10 points for entering financial administration.
CSKA Moscow (17-14-6) from the Russian Premier League squeezes onto the list after a 1-1 tie at FK Kuban last Saturday. CSKA Moscow has scored 66 goals and allowed 40 to date, and with 16 losses, is probably lucky to make my list over La Liga’s Malaga, who was upset at home, 2-0 to Real Betis on Saturday, and Villarreal.
Olympiakos represents the Greek Super League in this ranking and has an impressive 21-4-2 record with 62 goals scored to go with just 16 allowed in the league.
Third in the Ligue 1 table, Lille (15-11-4) has won 50 percent of its league matches and has outscored its French opponents by 23 goals (55-32) so far.
The third-place team in Bundesliga, FC Schalke has had another nice season (17-3-8) outscoring its league opponents by a healthy 26 goals (61-35) at this point in the year.
Winner of the Swiss Super League 14 times, FC Basel (16-7-2) is closing in on another league title. They are ahead by 14 points and have scored 54 goals while allowing just 22 to date.
The Russian Premier League leader, Zenit St. Petersburg (20-14-3) has outscored its league opponents by 40 goals (72-32), but is just 2-3-0 in its last five matches.
The only team with a losing record (9-11-10) in these rankings, Athletic Bilbao (44 goals scored, 42 goals allowed in La Liga), makes the No. 21 spot because of its impressive play in the Europa League and its 3-2 upset of Manchester United at Old Trafford—a place nobody usually wins but the Red Devils—and its spot in the Copa del Rey championship match against Barcelona on May 25 (ESPN Deportes, 3:00 pm ET/12:00 pm PT).
Athletic Bilbao also gets respect in my apartment for having to play league teams Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Malaga and Atletico Madrid twice every season—10 games any coach would hate to have on his schedule.
Paris St.-Germain (17-9-4) is tied with Montpellier atop France’s Ligue 1 with 60 points heading into play this weekend and has outscored opponents by 22 goals (54-32) to date.
The club spent a lot of money in the offseason but isn’t playing well enough now to be ranked any higher.
Battling aforementioned PSG for the Ligue 1 crown, Montpellier (18-6-5) has one more loss, but one more win and three less draws than their league foe, and has a plus-26 (53-27) goal differential.
Trailing Ajax by just one point (58-57) in a very tight four-team race in Eredivisie, AZ Alkmaar (17-6-5) is still alive in the UEFA Europa League (at Valencia Thursday), and is a force to be reckoned with right now. The Cheese Farmers have outscored their Dutch opponents by 29 goals (56-27) to date.
The current leaders of Eredivisie, Ajax (17-7-4) has won eight straight matches, outscoring opponents 27-5 in that span and registering an impressive four straight shutouts. Ajax has a mighty plus-43 goal differential (76-33) in league play and is still the team to beat.
What’s the absolute worst spot to be in European soccer? That’s right, the No. 3 team in La Liga, pretending you can win the league with perennial heavies Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Valencia (13-9-8) is making the most of it again this season and is still alive in UEFA Europa League play (hosting AZ Alkmaar Thursday). I can’t rank Valencia any higher though, due to its goals for/goals against total (46-37) and its mediocre record away from home (6-5-4, 19 goals scored, 18 goals allowed).
The fourth place team in Bundesliga, Borussia Monchengladbach (15-6-7) has outscored its German opponents by 19 goals (41-20) at this point in the season.
In a great race with Benfica (60 points) and FC Porto (59) in the Portuguese Liga, Braga (58) sits in third place now after having its 13-game win streak snapped at Benfica, 2-1, last weekend.
Braga (18-4-3) is led by the league’s leading scorer Lima (19 goals) and has outscored opponents by 32 goals (54-22) in one of the most underrated leagues on the continent.
The fourth-place team in the English Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur (17-7-7) has outscored its league opponents by 20 goals (56-36), and with Luka Modric, Harry Redknapp’s boys hope to hold off Chelsea for the EPL’s likely last remaining UEFA Champions League spot for next season despite their recent average play.
Benfica (18-5-2) is always a solid club and has outscored its Portuguese Liga opponents by a respectable 34 goals (56-22). It also snapped Braga’s 13-game win streak with a home win last weekend.
Benfica has been a great story in the UEFA Champions League and head to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea Wednesday (FSC, 2:45 pm ET/11:45 am PT), just one away-goal behind on aggregate in the quarterfinal round. If they should upset the Blues, a date with Barcelona would loom.
Everyone knows Chelsea has had an off-year (15-8-8) in the English Premier League. Yet, the Blues and Fernando Torres have been playing much better and can still save major face by advancing to the UEFA Champions League semifinals, where they would play Barcelona. In addition, they can still secure a spot in next year’s tourney if they can catch Tottenham in the EPL standings.
Behind some miraculous defensive play by Petr Cech, John Terry, David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea has outscored Premiership opponents by 17 goals (53-36) and is still alive for some FA Cup silverware.
Chelsea hosts Benfica Wednesday (FSC, 2:45 pm ET/11:45 am PT) in leg two of their quarterfinal UEFA Champions League series and lead 1-0 on aggregate on an away goal last week in Portugal.
Can Arsene Wenger get some love?
Seven months ago critics were calling for his head, but no team lost as much talent (Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Nicklas Bendtner, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas) as the Gunners have.
Currently in third in the English Premier League, Arsenal (31-18-4) has climbed the table and is in prime position for UEFA Champions League qualification for 2013. With the league’s likely player of the year, Robin van Persie, the Gunners have outscored opponents by 21 goals (62-41), but need to right the ship after losing at QPR last Saturday.
The current leaders the Portuguese Liga, FC Porto (18-6-1) cracks the top 10 with an incredible goals for/goals against (56-17) total. With James Rodriguez (12 goals) and Hulk (9), Porto possesses two of the league’s most deadly scorers and is always in the running for the league title.
The leaders of the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund (19-6-3) is slowly turning into one of the best teams on the continent, although its UEFA Champions League play was average at best.
Outscoring opponents (63 goals scored, 21 goals allowed) by a healthy 42-goal margin, Dortmund kept its unbeaten streak alive with a 4-4 tie versus VFB Stuttgart last Friday.
Manchester City (22-5-4) slips a couple notches due to its salvaged home-draw to Sunderland Saturday.
The Sky Blues, behind goalkeeper extraordinaire Joe Hart, have outscored English Premier League opponents by 50 goals (75-25) and are one of four unbeaten clubs at home (15-1-0) in my ranking.
With two of soccer’s biggest headcases in Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez on the roster, second-place Manchester City (71 points) needs to do everything right to catch crosstown rival Manchester United (76 points) in the league race with the season slowly winding down.
Juventus (16-14-0) at No. 6?
Yes. Any team that gets to this point in the season without a loss, deserves some love.
Trailing AC Milan by two points (64-62) in Italy’s Serie A, Juventus has allowed only 17 goals in 30 matches while scoring 49 of its own. In addition, it showed its consistency with a 3-0 clean sheet over Napoli last weekend at home.
But 14 draws? Bettors worldwide should take note of that fact with the healthy return a draw wager pays.
AC Milan lost to Barcelona at Camp Nou on Tuesday, eliminating them from the UEFA Champions League. Yet, in Serie A, its 19-7-4 record and 60 goals-for and 24 goals-against is very strong.
A 1-1 draw versus Catania and the Barcelona loss keeps AC Milan out of my No. 4 spot. Without Thiago Silva and Pato, a No. 5 ranking is still very impressive considering the competition.
Finally getting healthy, Manchester United (24-3-3) is back where it thinks it should always be—atop the English Premier League.
The Red Devils are again dominant at Old Trafford, outscoring league opponents by 49 goals (76-27) and have slowly but surely regained the form we all expect.
Maybe the only team in Europe, along with AC Milan and Manchester United, that thinks it can hang with La Liga’s duopoly, Bayern Munich (19-3-6) is still looking up at Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga table.
But with a gaudy 67 goals-for and 18 goals-against statistic and another shutout win over Marseille on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich is a no-brainer for me in the No. 3 spot.
And its reward in the UEFA semifinals, to be played April 17-18 and April 24-25? A likely date with Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid. Well, it’s better than not advancing and if anyone can hang with the big two, it’s Bayern Munich.
Real Madrid leads La Liga with a 25-3-2 record and is the only team in Europe with 100 goals, thanks to a roster that could be split in two and still have two of the world’s top 10 clubs.
Los Blancos and goalkeeper Iker Casillas have only allowed 27 goals and face Cypress’ Apoel Nicosia Wednesday (FSN, 2:45 pm ET/11:45 am PT) in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals where it enjoys a 3-0 road goal aggregate lead.
Why not on top?
Until Real Madrid can crack the code that is Barcelona—it lost to them at home in December (3-1) and in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals (2-1) in January—the No. 2 spot will have just have to be called home.
Now a UEFA Champions League championship game win over the Blaugrana? It would then be obvious which club would be the planet’s best. And when it comes to the club with the best-looking girlfriends, then Real Madrid is No. 1 hands down...
The top spot goes to Barcelona, a team that may reach the UEFA Champions League final for a fourth time in the last five years, a feat no other soccer club has achieved.
With players like Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the Catalans are must-see TV. With a 3-1 win over AC Milan at Camp Nou on Tuesday, Barcelona has a date with the Chelsea-Benfica winner in the semis.
In La Liga, trailing rival Real Madrid by six points (78-72), Barcelona is 22-6-2 and has outscored its Spanish opponents by 64 goals (86-22). Only Olympiakos (16), Juventus (17), Porto (17), Bayern Munich (18), Borussia Monchengladbach (20), Celtic (20) and Borussia Dortmund (21) have allowed less goals than the Victor Valdes led Blaugrana.
Also impressive is Barca’s unbeaten home record (14-1-0). It's the only European club besides the Eredivisie's AZ Alkmaar, Serie A’s Juventus and the English Premier League’s Manchester City which can lay that claim to fame.
And until the defending UEFA Champions League kings are knocked off their pedestal, the throne has to be all theirs...
So there you have it. Make of it what you will. And my sincere apologies to near-misses like Malaga and Villarreal (La Liga), Sporting Lisbon (Portuguese Liga), Marseille (Ligue 1), Rangers (Scottish Premier League) and Newcastle United (English Premier League) all clubs I respect but just couldn’t find a spot for here in my initial top 30 ranking.
The seasons aren’t over and we still have a lot more soccer to be played this last two months, so don’t give up on your team and enjoy what promises to be some exciting matches from here on in.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinStott11
Kevin Stott has written sports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s View Newspapers and Gaming Today in Las Vegas and Suburban Life Newspapers and Press Publications in Chicago, bleeds Chelsea blue and should not be confused with the soccer referee of the same name.