Power Ranking the Top 25 European Football Clubs
Who are the best football sides in Europe? England, Spain, Italy and Germany have long provided some of the top clubs in the continent, but a recent surge of spending power, quality coaching and increased coverage have seen lesser-heralded leagues showcase their own talent.
Champions League winners, favourites for the title, big-spending moneybags clubs and the home-grown successes; it takes all kinds to make a great team and plenty of them find success by mixing and matching where possible.
Here are the top 25 clubs in Europe, in power ranking order.
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We kick off with Dutch Eredivisie reigning champions Ajax.
Under the guidance of Frank de Boer, Ajax will be hoping to make a bigger impact in the Champions League this season.
Jan Vertonghen has departed for Spurs but key players Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Siem de Jong remain, while Lorenzo Ebecilio could also be a huge player for them this season.
24. Spartak Moscow
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Spartak Moscow came second in the extremely competitive Russian Premier League during the extended and altered 2011-12 season.
They have started the new campaign in scintillating form, winning four out of their five games and scoring 10 times in the process.
Spartak will contest the Champions League this season if they make it through the playoff stage.
23. Dynamo Kyiv
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Staying in Eastern Europe, Ukranian outfit Dynamo Kyiv are next up.
The top two in Ukraine are far and away ahead of the rest of the league, with Kyiv finishing runners up in 2011-12. And in '10-11. And '09-10.
The capital side have a host of internationals at their disposal including talented attacking midfielders Andriy Yarmolenko and new signing Nico Kranjcar.
22. Borussia Moenchengladbach
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A bit of a surprise name, but Borussia Moenchengladbach could have a real impact both domestically and in the Europa League this season.
Marco Reus being sold to Borussia Dortmund has allowed significant strengthening of the squad, with Luuk de Jong, Granit Xhaka and Alvaro Dominguez all coming in, allied to the already-present members of the squad with international experience.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of the biggest young talents in the league.
Expect 'Gladbach to challenge for a Champions League place if the new signings click into gear early on.
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Galatasary roared to the 2011-12 Turkish league title by an impressive nine points last season, their first league title since 2008.
It was all the more remarkable for Gala having finishing a disappointing eighth place the season previous.
While the majority of the squad is made up of Turkish players, Galatasary have brought in the likes of Felipe Melo and Nordin Amrabat to supplement the likes of Johan Elmander and Milan Baros.
20. CSKA Moscow
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Though they finished an eventual third place in the Russian Premier League last season, CSKA have a wealth of talent at their disposal and are arguably a better side than their city rivals Spartak.
The likes of Alan Dzagoev, Seydou Doumbia and Keisuke Honda are all incredible talents, but it was the loss for a large portion of the season of goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev which cost CSKA a shot at the title last season.
With more competition in the league this season they'll hope for more consistency from the team.
Winners of the past two Liga Sagres, and six of the last seven titles, Porto are the current undisputed kings of Portuguese football.
Despite having lost a pair of talented young managers in Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas, Porto have kept continuity with style and identity, and so with success.
Porto will again be favourites for their domestic league this season and have a chance of going better than last season's Champions League group-stage exit.
18. Shakhtar Donetsk
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With Dynamo Kyiv as the perennial runners-up of the Ukrainian championship, Shakhtar Donetsk are the three-times-in-a-row holders of the title and the current top side in the country by some distance.
Shakhtar mix the best of the country's talent with an influx of South American brilliance, with a huge influence from Brazil.
Their current squad contains Fernandinho, Luis Adriano, Willian, Alan Patrick, Dentinho, Ilsinho, Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira from Brazil.
Eduardo, who plays his national football with Croatia, is also Brazilian-born.
17. Anzhi Makhachkala
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Massive spending Anzhi Makhachkala are into their first full season of looking for real success having bought the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Chris Samba, Lacina Traore and Mbark Boussoufa.
Anzhi players and staff live and train in Moscow, flying around three hours to reach Dagestan for their home games.
Buying players and paying them millions a season is one thing, but Anzhi only managed a fifth-place finish last term and earned a Europa League spot.
They will be expected to challenge for the title this term.
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Lille are the first French team in our list.
The exciting, young side of two or three years ago has been somewhat altered as bigger sides look to continually poach their stars, but they remain a potent force and will have a shot at the Champions League this season after their third-place finish landed them a playoff match.
Yohan Cabaye, Gervinho and Eden Hazard are three of those who have left for the Premier League, but signings this summer of Marvin Martin and Salomon Kalou will mean they continue to offer a big final third threat.
Djibril Sidibe could also be a class signing if he makes the step up from Troyes without trouble.
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Udinese have steadily built and improved their side over the past couple of seasons, finishing fourth in Serie A in 2011 and going one better to third in 2012.
Antonio di Natale, the captain and star forward, is a class act but at 34 can not be relied upon to play in every game and always be the match-winner, but Pablo Armero, Roberto Pereyra and Danilo head up an eclectic mix of South Americans which make the side an exciting one to watch.
Will have their hands full this season to make an impact in the Champions League and still remain competitive in Serie A.
14. AC Milan
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AC Milan fell just short in the chase for Serie A last season, ending up in second place and trailing Juventus by four points.
The sales of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not fill fans with confidence that things will change over the coming season, though a front line containing Robinho, Antonio Cassano, Alex Pato and Stephan El Shaawary can hardly be considered poor.
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The third best team in Spain, Valencia have ended as runners up to the big two for the past couple of seasons.
Despite being heavily in debt and having to offload star players summer after summer—Joaquin, David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba—they maintain their presence as one of the biggest clubs in the country and their spot in the Champions League.
Valencia have acquired a group of unwanted players from other top sides, their own youngsters made good and a mix of European and South American talent.
Brazilian forward Jonas, Argentine midfielders Ever Banega and Fernando Gago and Spanish international Roberto Soldado form a key part of the squad when fit.
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Schalke will play Champions League football again this season after finishing third in the Bundesliga last term.
They have lost talismanic forward Raul this summer, along with a number of other players such as Levan Kenia, Tim Hoogland (loan), Mario Gavranovic and Hans Sarpei, but three fine additions including Tranquillo Barnetta and Chinedu Obasi should help improve the overall squad quality.
Schalke will have a battle to equal last season's finish but are a fine footballing outfit.
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Arsenal have seen a complete re-alignment of their forward line after losing captain and star striker Robin van Persie and purchasing Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski.
How they eventually cope without the Dutchman's goals remains to be seen, but they arguably have a better array of on-the-ball talent now compared to last season.
Arsenal ended third last season after a poor start in the Premier League and will be hoping to challenge even higher this term.
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Reigning Serie A winners Juventus will be the favourites to retain their title this season but will have to do it without the influence of their manager Antonio Conte, who has been handed a 10-month suspension.
Juve won the league by four points without losing a single match, though they were held to a draw 15 times, the joint-most with any side in the league along with Catania.
Felipe Melo and Milos Krasic have left the club this summer, with Sebastian Giovinco returning to Turin, along with Martin Caceres and Kwadwo Asamoah joining.
9. Zenit St. Petersburg
Winners of the Russian Premier League in three of the last five seasons, Zenit St. Petersburg are big hitters at home.
They are also one of several Eastern European sides desperately trying to make it big in the Champions League, with Zenit reaching the knockout stages last season.
Their home form is notoriously formidable and star players Aleksandr Anyukov and Igor Denisov make up key parts of the Russian national side.
Goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev is also a top player, rivalling CSKA stopper Akinfeev for the best in the country.
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Odd though it might seem to rank the current Champions of Europe any lower than No. 1, it is clear to see that Chelsea are far from the best side on the continent.
Not that that in itself is remarkable; none of Porto, AC Milan or Liverpool were the best side in the past decade alone when they won the title.
Chelsea do however possess an extraordinary range of attacking talents with Oscar, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin having been added this summer to the likes of Ramires, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata.
Defensive issues remain for the Blues, who despite winning two cups last season finished a relatively lowly sixth place in the Premier League.
They will expect far better this time around under Roberto di Matteo.
7. Manchester United
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One of the favourites for success at home and abroad season after season, Manchester United have neither the most technically gifted squad nor the best individuals in every position, but have that indefinable quality which defines a real winning team.
Mental strength, refusal to accept defeat and a history of winning in adversity make them one of the best on the continent.
Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie are two excellent signings, though it remains to be seen if their central midfield in particular is good enough to compete for the very biggest honours.
Doubts also linger over the fitness of key defenders.
6. Borussia Dortmund
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Double winners in Germany last year, Borussia Dortmund broke the stranglehold of Bayern Munich on the domestic game by winning the last two titles.
Hugely talented footballers, a young and hungry squad and one of the finest modern managers in Jurgen Klopp have transformed the fortunes of the club, who finished fifth in 2009-10, 13 points off the winners.
Marco Reus is the biggest signing they have made this summer, with Lucas Barrios and Shinji Kagawa two notable sales.
They will again be a terrific team to watch with their attacking emphasis on the game, but will also face renewed competition at home and in Europe. Finishing bottom of their group in last season's Champions League was something of a reality check and will not help their coefficient rating.
5. Manchester City
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Last season's Premier League winners Manchester City have strengthened again this summer with the acquisition of Jack Rodwell, but nowhere near the scale of previous summers.
They will first and foremost be concerned with maintaining their supremacy at the top of English football, but a third place finish in their Champions League group last season will also be a key objective to improve upon.
A strike force quartet of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli is arguably the best collection in Europe.
4. Bayern Munich
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Despite having finished second to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season and losing to them in the cup final, they have perhaps strengthened their squad during the summer so impressively that they could be seen as a better group than the reigning Champions once more.
It remains to be seen, of course, if that actually translates to success on the field again.
Not only did they finish second in both domestic competitions, they also lost the Champions League final to Chelsea last season.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Mario Mandzukic could prove huge additions to the squad, while Emre Can could also be a massive hit when he gets a chance in the first team.
3. Paris St Germain
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PSG have splashed the cash on a grand scale in the past two seasons, with Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi joining the ranks containing Salvatore Sirigu, Jeremy Menez and Momo Sissoko this summer.
Two draws in their first two games in Ligue 1 this season have provided an inauspicious start, but Zlatan's double-goal haul in the first match proves they have a lot more to look forward to this season.
They will absolutely be expecting to win the French title this season after losing out to Montpellier last year by three points, and Champions League progress will also be expected.
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Everything-winning Barcelona have seen legendary manager Pep Guardiola depart this summer and Tito Vilanova step up in his place.
A 5-1 drubbing of Real Sociedad on the opening day bodes well for the coming campaign.
Quality additions in Alex Song and Jordi Alba make it one of the most impressive squads around, which already boasted a huge part of Spain's all-conquering side.
Barcelona reached the semifinals of the Champions League, won the Copa del Rey and finished second in La Liga last season.
Going one better will mean beating the best football team on the continent—no mean feat, but an achievable one for the best footballing side.
1. Real Madrid
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Reigning Spanish champions Real Madrid will be going all-out to both retain their title and pick up a long-overdue Champions League trophy this term.
Real have a hugely talented squad, have a winning mentality and a manager who fuses the two together and builds a wall around his club like no other: Jose Mourinho.
Madrid will face massive competition from Barcelona in all three tournaments they compete in, but have the quality and strength to win all three if luck falls their way.