UEFA Champions League: Power Ranking Each Team's Odds of Winning the 2013 Title
With the stage firmly set and teams ready to get underway, the Champions League makes its official return to our television sets this week.
Eight months from now, we’ll be on the brink of finding out who is going to be crowned 2012-13’s Kings of Europe, but there’s a long and testing struggle between now and then.
Taking all matters into account, we’ll consider just who is and isn’t likely to follow in the footsteps of so many footballing greats before them by claiming Europe’s ultimate club prize.
Each of the 32 participants will be ranked in accordance with their chances of winning the entire tournament.
Will Real Madrid add to their monumental tally of European victories? Can Chelsea become the first side to win two Champions League crowns in successive years? Or, could an inconspicuous underdog emerge from the shadows this time around?
Keep reading to find out.
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32. FC Nordsjaelland
In what will be their first foray into the Champions League or its earlier equivalent, the European Cup, FC Nordsjaelland are, I'm afraid, set for a fall.
The Danish outfit will undoubtedly receive support for their underdog status, but support can only get you so far in a competition that celebrates the most talented teams in the world.
Kasper Hjulmand's side have been drawn against two fellow league champions in the forms of Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus, while current title-holders, Chelsea, are also a formidable opponent.
It would seem as if Group E will certainly be contested between the other three sides, I'm afraid, and "The Wild Tigers" will most likely exit without so much as a whimper.
31. CFR Cluj
While they may have been crowned champions of Romania once again last season, 2012-13 doesn't promise a lot for CFR Cluj on their return to the Champions League.
This will be the third time that the Railwaymen have competed amongst the European elite.
In fairness, Group H is one of the less complex pools any side could have hoped for, given the other teams residing there.
Manchester United will be back with a vengeance to learn from last season's mistakes, so it would seem a battle for second spot will commence between Cluj, Galatasaray and Braga.
However, a trip to the fierce climates of Turkey is never an easy one and Braga have a very talented squad. The demands of a multi-platformed campaign will simply ask too much of Cluj, and they're unlikely to have a response.
30. BATE Borisov
The youngest manager to ever lead a side into the competition's final group stage, Viktor Goncharenko's squad have a mountain to climb and then some in this tournament.
BATE Borisov usually play their home matches in the City Stadium in Borisov, but will once again utilize the Dynamo Minsk Stadium for their European trials.
Bayern Munich are definite favourites to come out on top of Group F, but both Lille and Valencia will have something to say about that.
The French and Spanish opposition may not be world-beaters in their own regard, but will prove more than strong enough for BATE, meaning a finish anywhere apart from dead-last would look unlikely.
With fierce rivals Rangers now several leagues below them, many were predicting that a Scottish Premier League win in 2012-13 was all but wrapped up for Neil Lennon's Celtic.
However, the Hoops have been lacklustre in their opening encounters and currently find themselves sitting in mid-table.
Supporters of the club will be hoping that's all because Lennon was saving his assets for European competition, but something tells me that just isn't the case.
The Scottish representatives are taking part in their first Champions League group stage since 2008-09, but it's likely to be an unsavoury return considering the level of opposition in Group G.
Barcelona and Benfica are both seasoned in the harsh nature of European football and a trip to Spartak Moscow won't be easy for any side, making Celtic's existence a short one.
28. Dinamo Zagreb
Last season's Champions League saw Dinamo Zagreb fail to claim even one point in the competition, showing that while the side are strong in terms of youth production, they aren't yet ready to face Europe's elite.
The 2012-13 campaign is likely to tell a similar story, and it's probable that Porto, PSG and Dynamo Kiev will ultimately prove too much for the Croats.
Ante Čačić has done magnificently to build such a side based mainly on the club's own academy, but this squad is bound to come up short against the competition in Group A.
A year after being linked with a move to the Italian giants, Lucas Biglia will captain his Anderlecht side against Milan on the opening day of this season's Champions League.
However, the Argentine is likely to wish that a transfer had been completed as the likes of the Rossoneri, Malaga and Zenit St. Petersburg overcome them from all angles.
The Belgian champions are a formidable force in their native division, but despite having good squad depth, will find the going too tough in Group C.
John van den Brom's men will be relying on an unseeded qualification spot, and even that's a massively long shot.
By no means does the low ranking Ajax are faced with reflect on their overall talents, but simply on their odds of even getting past the group stage.
The Dutch outfit are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the same pool as Real Madrid for the third year in a row and will have to contend with two other league champions in Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.
Trips to the Santiago Bernabéu, Etihad Stadium and Westfalenstadion will all be incredibly difficult tests for the Eredivisie giants, and should prove too difficult.
The Godenzonen are surefire underdogs for Group D, and if you can't get into the Round of 16, then you can't win the tournament.
Sitting atop their perch of the Greek top flight, Olympiacos will face Arsenal in the Champions League group stage for the third time in four years this season.
Leonardo Jardim's side will seek to imitate the form of 2009-12 when they moved into the Round of 16, when their group was considerably easier.
This time, Greece's champions will face off against Montpellier, Schalke 04 as well as the Gunners, making for an altogether new challenge.
Olympiacos lost top scorer Kevin Mirallas to Everton over the summer, and while they might maintain their dominance in Greece, the European elite are a different standard entirely. A standard above their own, at that.
24. Spartak Moscow
With Celtic looking like the only winnable fixture of the three, Spartak Moscow will find themselves outgunned when they get their Champions League tournament underway.
A Russian side has never won the European Cup or Champions League, a record which doesn't look likely to change if Spartak Moscow were to be the nation's best hope.
Barcelona would seem destined to come out on top of Group G, while Benfica are no small enemy in Europe, having made good progress in last season's competition.
A trip to Glasgow will see Aiden McGeady return to former club Celtic in November, but any glory could well be short-lived, as the Scottish champions are bound to be the group's whipping boys.
23. Dynamo Kiev
With PSG and Porto likely to pose stiff competition in Group A, one of Ukraine's giants look set to just about miss out on qualification to the Round of 16.
Yuri Syomin's side will be a stern test to beat at the Olimpiysky National Sports Complex but should come up short against their French and Portuguese opposition.
The club made some good acquisitions over the summer such as Niko Kranjcar, Taye Taiwo and Miguel Veloso, but even those arrivals won't be enough to save Dynamo's cause.
Like Dinamo Zagreb do in Croatia, Yuri Syomin's side rely largely on the talents of their native Ukraine to fill their ranks. While that's no small source of players, the pool just won't be strong enough.
After a strong transfer window, Fatih Terim's side are actually in a decent position heading into their return to the Champions League.
The Turkish outfit acquired the likes of Burak Yilmaz, Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in a summer full of expenditure, but may still come up short on the grandest stage of all.
Manchester United will be a fierce creature to face following last season's early exit, and Braga have very good, recent experience playing in Europe and were runners-up in the Europa League just two seasons ago.
Add to that the low-lying figure of CFR Cluj, and Gala look ready to miss out on Round of 16 qualification by fine margins.
And here is the outfit that the Turks may lose out to.
Braga are making just their second surge into the Champions League, and even if they do scrape into the Round of 16 behind Manchester United, it's unlikely that they'll go far against a seeded team.
The Portuguese club came third in last season's Liga Primeira, meaning they're still some distance from being their nation's best.
The Archbishops haven't got off to the best start possible in the league this season, and if that's anything to go by, their European campaign may transpire in a similar fashion.
20. Shakhtar Donetsk
Reigning Ukrainian champion, 2008-09 Europa League winners, all of this should point to a team capable of making a run at the Champions League, right?
Wrong. Shakhtar Donetsk are a force to be reckoned with, admittedly, but the Group E likes of Chelsea and Juventus should move past the Miners.
Mircea Lucescu has been a loyal servant to the club, but while the Romanian is a good manager, even his talents will be found wanting this season.
The Ukrainians have a strong Brazilian contingent that has done them proud in the past, but won't be able to match up against the current Serie A and Champions League kings.
Rudi Garcia's Lille have fallen a long way from their Ligue 1-winning campaign of 2010-11 and would still appear to be reeling from the loss of some superstars after that season.
Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye would appear to be two particularly missed faces as the French outfit struggle creatively as well as in the goal department.
Following a miserable start to their league season, Les Dogues will have a tough time in Group F and will seek a second placed spot behind either Bayern Munich or Valencia, it seems.
Garcia's side are yet to claim a league win at home this season, meaning they don't have the comfort of a French haven to rely on for points.
Not far behind compatriots Lille in the odds is Montpellier, who have gotten off to an even worse start in the French top flight this season.
It would seem the loss of Olivier Giroud to Arsenal has been a telling one as the side struggle to score goals, and while the Frenchman isn't in prolific form at Arsenal, he may still contribute toward their Champions League downfall.
Montpellier will travel to the Emirates Stadium this week and are unlikely to grab anything from their early fixtures unless they see a swift turnaround in form.
The Gunners and Schalke 04 have both hit the ground running this campaign. Even if Montpellier were to squeeze through to the Round of 16, the odds still wouldn't be in their favour.
17. Zenit St. Petersburg
After a pair of deadline swoops for Axel Witsel and Hulk during the summer transfer window, Zenit St. Petersburg are looking to build on a good start to the league season with a similar foray into Europe.
Luciano Spalletti's Russian champions are well-equipped to make a good go of things in Group C, but the question is whether they can utilize those summer signings to their optimum.
With AC Milan faltering in Serie A and Malaga relative newcomers to the European scene, Zenit won't have a better chance to make of go of things in the Champions League.
That being said, a simplistic looking group may set the big spenders up for a fall in the Round of 16, should Spalletti's men make it there.
After Unai Emery's dismissal from the club last season, some would have thought the Mauricio Pellegrino's installation would only have heralded an improvement for Valencia.
Pellegrino isn't doing terribly in his new role, but will need to improve if he's to make a go of things in what will be his first experience as a manager in the Champions League.
Last year's finalists, Bayern Munich, will be looked upon as favourites to top Group F, but after restricting Real Madrid and Barcelona to an aggregate of just one goal each, perhaps Valencia can topple the Germans from their dominant position.
Lille and BATE Borisov will attempt to crash the party, but Los Che should overcome the pair. That said, a Round of 16 victory may then be asking too much of the Spaniards.
15. AC Milan
Yet to claim a point at the San Siro this season, AC Milan could well see an early exit from the Champions League unless they can begin to find some results, and soon.
There are sections of the club's support already calling for the head of Massimiliano Allegri, and the summer losses of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic appear to be hitting the club hard.
A trip to Zenit St. Petersburg may not prove fruitful for the Rossoneri, and Málaga are certainly capable of toppling the Italians if their La Liga form is anything to go by.
Despite all the omens, Milan have an illustrious past in this competition and can't be ruled out of anything just yet.
Despite losing several of the club's supposedly "bigger" players over the summer, Málaga have bounced back strongly this season and appear to be well on the road to recovery.
The Spaniards were reportedly in a bad financial state and had to balance the books by selling the likes of Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) and Salomon Rondon (Rubin Kazan), but the assets that stuck around look to be doing the business.
Group C is balanced in quite an even fashion. The Anchovies will need to overcome Milan, Anderlecht and Zenit St. Petersburg if they are to advance, the latter of whom should prove most testing.
Seeing as how they can't encounter any La Liga opposition in the Round of 16, don't be surprised to see Málaga make a surprise trip to the quarterfinals if they manage to top Group C.
13. Schalke 04
After running to an impressive third-place finish in last season's Bundesliga, Schalke 04 have continued the new season in a similar fashion and are within two points of top spot.
Two years ago, Die Knappen made an admirable run to the semifinals in this competition, and if Huub Stevens' side can take the seeded place from Arsenal, they could surprise once more.
Montpellier and Olympiacos will be equally tough underdogs for the Germans to overcome, but Schalke have the depth needed to progress from Group B.
While Raul may no longer be amongst their roster, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has taken his place as the prolific scorer and could lead the Miners on a journey this time around.
Having proved their worth against the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg and Manchester United last season, Benfica will carry a somewhat weightier reputation heading into the 2012-13 Champions League campaign.
The Eagles were beaten by eventual winners, Chelsea, in the quarterfinals of last year's tournament and may do so again after being drawn amongst similar opposition.
This time around, it's Barcelona that the Portuguese giants will have to overcome, while Spartak Moscow and Celtic are certainly beatable enemies.
The fixtures against Barcelona will show if the Reds have made the necessary steps up from last season, but Benfica are not to be fooled with. That much is for certain.
11. Borussia Dortmund
If Borussia DOrtmund manage to make it past the group stage this season, it's fair to say that Jürgen Klopp's men can make a run at the title itself.
The Yellow and Blacks have been drawn in the ever-dreaded Group of Death and find themselves pitted against Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax.
At this stage, it's anyone's guess as to who the two will be to qualify from Group D, but whoever does so can genuinely challenge for the whole thing.
With Jakub Błaszczykowski starting the season in terrific fashion, the likes of Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski are other names to watch out for if Dortmund are to have any success.
10. Paris Saint-Germain
Yet to be beaten this season, it seems Paris Saint-Germain are making good use of the hundreds of millions they've spent in the last year or so.
However, the question still lingers as to whether that's enough to cut it on the European stage.
Fourth in Ligue 1, all fingers would appear to point to "no," but with so much talent in one squad, it's difficult to rule the Parisiens out.
Carlo Ancelotti led his side to a second-place finish in the league last season and is no stranger to a Champions League campaign.
With the depth that the Italian's squad carries, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb should be brushed aside, while Porto will provide an altogether more difficult task.
As was mentioned in the previous slide, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb shouldn't be too much hassle for the rest of Group A's residents to move past.
This leaves PSG and Porto to duke it out for top spot, a fight which either side could realistically edge.
While PSG spent big this summer, Porto sold big and let Hulk leave their ranks for an estimated £35m (via BBC Sport).
The Portuguese champions are still a contender for the seeded place, however, and have more than their French counterparts in terms of European experience, making for a very intriguing tussle.
If Porto manage to come out first in Group A, there's no reason to believe Vitor Pereira's side can't challenge for a quarterfinal place, or even further having last won the competition in 2004.
The first English entrants to be included on this list, Arsenal appear to be hitting form at the perfect time if we were to judge the Gunners by their Premier League form.
After seeing out two 0-0 draws in their first two games, Arsene Wenger's men have now hit eight in their last two matches, with goals coming from all over the team.
The north Londoners are particularly impressive at home and have sent the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona reeling from the Emirates Stadium in recent seasons.
While Montpellier and Olympiacos should have a tougher time in Group B, Arsenal are likely to duel with Schalke for the seeded spot in the group, a struggle they are very capable of winning.
Despite the loss of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, Arsenal appear to be moving on well and are a dark horse to go the distance in this tournament.
7. Manchester City
Another year into Roberto Mancini's reign at the club as well as one Premier League title later, and its Manchester City's turn to return to the Champions League.
The Citizens were inexperienced in these climates last season, leading to their exit at the hands of Napoli and Bayern Munich, but are a more mature outfit this time around.
Drawn alongside Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax in this year's Group of Death, the English title-holders will have as difficult a time moving into the Round of 16 as they ever will.
That said, it bodes magnificently well for Mancini's men if they can make the step up and move past the group stage, showing that they can genuinely challenge with Europe's big guns.
Beating their Group D opponents will be the hardest trial of this club's recent history, but they have the depth needed to make a break at the trophy this year.
Most clubs would count themselves lucky to have one brilliant manager on their team, but it looks as if Juventus may just be fortunate enough to have two.
Antonio Conte is still serving a touchline ban over the alleged match-fixing scandal that supposedly took place during his time at Siena, and Massimo Carrera takes his place on match days (via BBC Sport).
Under Carrera's care, Juve have begun this season where they left off last season and are unbeaten in their first three Serie A fixtures.
The Italians, of course, went the entire 2011-12 Serie A season without losing a game and have only strengthened their squad this summer, making them strong candidates to progress from the group stage, even with Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjælland in the mix.
5. Real Madrid
After retrieving their La Liga title from the clutches of Barcelona last season, one wouldn't have been blamed for thinking that Real Madrid were ready to re-establish themselves as Spain's dominant force.
However, Jose Mourinho's side look to have reacted unfavourably to the pressure that comes with that kind of honour and are somewhat flailing this season.
Real have won just one of their first four fixtures and don't have the easiest opposition in the 2012-13 Champions League's Group of Death.
Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax should all be encouraged by the resilience of the likes of Sevilla and Getafe, who have all earned results against Los Merengues this campaign.
That said, a team with Real's history in this competition can't be denied, and with a manager like Mourinho at their helm, it's still impossible to look at this team as anything but title contenders, bad start or not.
After drawing with QPR, Chelsea don't have the form that they'd like heading into the start of their European title defence.
However, Roberto Di Matteo's team will remain as one of the favourites to advance from Group E. That their early season performances saw them rocket to the summit of the Premier League won't hurt confidence.
This season, the Blues can become the first side to ever defend a Champions League crown, and judging by their aggressive summer transfer window, Roman Abramovich is eager to make that happen.
Eden Hazard has been a particular glimmer of brilliance, while even Fernando Torres has started to find his shooting boots, making for bright Chelsea omens.
3. Manchester United
In what could be the last season at Old Trafford for a number of club legends, wouldn't it be the perfect goodbye for the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to end their career with a Champions League title in tow?
The Red Devils have had to cope with a number of injuries at the start of the season but should have good depth when the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney return to full fitness.
Not to mention, the Red Devils signed Robin van Persie, one of Europe's most prolific talents, over the summer. If they figure out how to use him correctly, the Dutchman should be devastating.
Group H is far from the most difficult group to advance from. A seeded place would appear there for the taking as long as United can make their way past Galatasaray, CFR Cluj and Braga.
After such a disappointing Champions League in 2011-12, you can bet that Ferguson has learned a lot from his and his team's mistakes. This makes for considerably bad omens for the rest of Europe.
2. Bayern Munich
Four-time winners and five-time runners-up in the competition, Bayern Munich are striving to go one better than they did last season by emerging victorious in a Champions League final.
Renowned for their stern nature, a number of the German contingent in the club's ranks will have been cut deep by the penalty shootout loss to Chelsea last season and will be seeking revenge this time round.
Jupp Heynckes' side are another club to have been particularly aggressive in the summer transfer window, with the signing of Javi Martinez a specifically expensive purchase.
It's become clear that Der FCB board are keen to right the wrongs of last season. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the German giants claim the title this season.
BATE Borisov will be of little worry to Heynckes' outfit, and while they'll be slightly tougher, Lille and Valencia should finish second to Bayern Munich in Group F.
As monotonous as it must sound by now, Barcelona head into the 2012-13 Champions League campaign as the most likely to win the whole thing.
The bookmakers are already pegging the Spaniards to reclaim the title they lost last season and, as ever, it's difficult to argue otherwise.
Tito Vilanova has slotted effortlessly into the void left by Pep Guardiola and sees his side sit atop La Liga, the only team to take 100 percent of the points available so far.
The Catalan giants only made two moves in the summer—Jordi Alba and Alex Song from Valencia and Arsenal, respectively—and are right not to panic buy with the squad they boast.
Group G won't be the most difficult test for the Spaniards, with Spartak Moscow, Benfica and Celtic unlikely to withstand Barça's assault.
The Tiki-Taka style will once again be in full flow this season, and Vilanova leads another side looking to make up for last season's mistakes.