European Power Rankings: The Continent's 20 Best Football Clubs
The scales of power are forever changing in the European spectrum, and it’s important we keep on top of just who is the continent’s best and brightest clubs.
Taking into account any recent domestic success, participation in European competition as well as an assortment of other criteria, the next 20 slides consider just who’s in front of whom right now.
This season’s exploits obviously take greatest priority in how teams are graded, but some clubs might have the fortune of surviving on success from the previous campaign.
Offence will be taken. Controversy will be made. Here are my European power rankings as things stand.
Following the slight capitulation that was the 2011-12 campaign, Inter have stepped away from the old guard, forming a fresh outfit under Andrea Strammacioni that’s been revitalised massively with a youthful influx.
Although the Nerazzurri currently find themselves sitting in seventh spot of Serie A, it’s clear that the San Siro residents are making some fine moves toward re-establishing their name as a top Italian and perhaps even European side.
As things stand, Inter are seven points away from Champions League qualification with a game in hand and very much remain in the running to rejoin Europe’s elite next season just three years after topping the pile under Jose Mourinho.
19. Tottenham Hotspur
Currently balancing their Europa League campaign with a Premier League season that sees them fighting for Champions League qualification, Gareth Bale has shined in what has been a fine first season for Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas.
The former Chelsea flop took his time in getting up to speed at White Hart Lane but has now established some consistency in North London, more akin to the form that first made him such a hit with Porto.
Spurs’ most recent highlight came in their Europa League second-leg fixture against Inter, where the English representatives managed to squeeze past their Italian counterparts with an added-time away goal, pushing them through to the quarter-finals of the competition.
Having spent some time in Premier League mediocrity, Tottenham now rank as having one of the broadest squads in the English top flight and are driving for their second Champions League berth in three years.
Capitalising on some sluggish Porto form, Benfica have opened up a four-point gap on their closest Liga Primeira rivals and are just seven games away from securing domestic bragging rights for at least one more season.
The Eagles are also closing in on a place in the Taca de Portgual final and were unfortunate not to proceed past the group stage of this season’s Champions League, earning 0-0 draws at Barcelona and at Celtic.
The next big test on the club’s calendar is a Europa League quarterfinal against Newcastle United, a tie Jorge Jesus’ side might be confident of edging thanks to their dominance when going forward.
Having not failed to score in a league fixture this season and averaging more than 2.6 goals per game, Benfica’s front line is one for any club to be afraid of and Oscar Cardozo’s frightening tally of 27 goals across all competition is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet to lose a Liga Primeira match this campaign, Benfica are still on track for an unbeaten season but have a make-or-break away game against Porto that could single-handedly decide who is Portugal’s strongest asset right now.
Having endured three draws in their last six league outings as well as a Champions League exit at the hands of Málaga, it’s fair to say that Porto’s season isn’t going through its finest patch of late.
That being said, the Portuguese outfit are only going through the natural repercussions of a campaign made that much more difficult by the demands of European competition.
Vitor Pereira’s men remain within four points of fierce rivals Benfica and will have renewed vigour for their domestic commitments after ending their run through European competition.
Managing to keep clean sheets in 65 percent of their league games this season, Porto’s defence has uncharacteristically become their strong suit of late, with just 11 goals conceded after 23 Liga Primeira outings.
While that might be the case, it doesn’t detract from the considerable talents of stars at the Estadio Dragao such as Joao Moutinho, Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez, all of whom have established themselves as continental marvels in recent months.
Were it not for a pretty miserable run of form over the last month or so, Napoli may well have found themselves sitting atop the Serie A table right now.
However, as it is, the Naples club have dropped 11 points in their last six league games and now lie nine points off the pace, which is unsurprisingly being set by Juventus.
With Edinson Cavani once again leading their scoring with 29 to his name this season, it’s actually the club’s defence that’s showing big improvement this season and is, again, second only to Juve.
Having exited the Coppa Italia in the first round, Walter Mazzarri’s men now have little other than league matters to worry about now after they were shown the Europa League exit by Viktoria Plzen in February.
If the Azzurri could manage to string together some consistency, Champions League football might be all but assured next season but Napoli continue to fight for their top-three finish.
In what is officially his third stint as manager of the club, Fatih Terim is showing that Galatasaray harbour ambitions to be regarded as a giant outside of their native Turkey.
The Yellow and Reds have earned their quarter-final berth against Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League and rightly so after some brave outings against Manchester United, Schalke and Braga.
Having signed some landmark players in Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, who was a Champions League winner last season, Gala have added some truly respectable talent to their ranks of late and are obviously serious about broadening their horizons of success.
With Burak Yilmaz leading the club’s scoring this season, notching 24 goals across all competitions, the Süper Lig leaders are having a successful season in every understanding and are looking likely to retain their domestic title.
A regular statistic opponents like to throw in the face of Arsenal is that Arsene Wenger’s side have failed to win any silverware in what could soon be eight seasons.
However, having qualified for the Champions League for the last 13 seasons on the trot, the Gunners risk losing one of their more positive streaks unless they can wrap up fourth place in the Premier League this season.
The North London outfit currently lie in fifth and are four points away from bitter rivals Tottenham but have a game in hand as well as a significantly superior goal difference to Andre Villas-Boas’ side.
While many a Gooner would undoubtedly be unhappy with the relative lack of success Arsenal have seen in recent years, qualifying for Europe’s biggest competition 13 years in a row is no mean feat and the accompanying money is even more of a reason to be impressed.
Although the club might have fallen from grace slightly over the last decade, Arsenal’s 2-0 over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena earlier this month was a small glimpse of the kind of football the side are capable of playing—if only they could do so on a more frequent basis.
Currently the third-best attack and fourth-best defence in England’s top flight, Arsenal’s numbers certainly point to a European giant on paper, but a substantial lack in depth seems to prevent the Gunners from going that extra mile.
13. Manchester City
Compared with the maiden Premier League triumph of 2011-12, this season might be looked upon as a disappointing one for some Manchester City fans, but the club are still growing as a force to be reckoned with.
Despite having one of the most expensive squads in the world, Roberto Mancini’s side were unable to register even one victory in the Champions League group stages this season and were instead shown up in the tournament’s “group of death.”
While their early ejection from the competition meant Manchester City didn’t even make it to the Europa League, the Citizens have done well not to fall out of Premier League contention entirely this season, regardless of how over the title race might be.
Now awaiting either Manchester United or Chelsea in their FA Cup semi-final, the club continue to fare better domestically than in European competition, preventing some from really valuing them as a continental giant.
However, while their previous two campaigns amongst Europe’s best and brightest has failed to see them go past the group stage, Manchester City nevertheless remain a giant, showcased in this season’s draws with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
Having taken over the club when they were in 17th place in La Liga, teetering on the brink of turmoil, Manuel Pellegrini has taken Málaga to unprecedented heights considering their recent history.
Despite competing against a financial crisis, the Chilean boss has managed the Anchovies to a highly respectable platform and is preparing to lead his side out for their first Champions League quarter-final, where they will face Borussia Dortmund.
However, balancing a European campaign with domestic commitments can often prove difficult, and the Andalusia outfit are currently fighting for fourth spot in the Spanish top flight.
While talismanic targets such as Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon may have jumped ship over the summer, others like Isco, Vitorino Antunes and Ignacio Camacho have stepped up to take their place in the Málaga limelight.
There’s not much higher a club can go after winning the Champions League, but Chelsea might not have expected to drop off the pace quite so dramatically this season.
After seeing off a Bayern Munich challenge in last season’s final, the West Londoners face a challenge to actually be involved in the Champions League at all next season and are tussling for a top-four finish in the English top flight.
With Arsenal and Tottenham the other most likely suitors for fourth place, Rafa Benitez has found the campaign difficult at times in his interim role, posing the question as to whether Roberto Di Matteo was right to be dismissed from the club at all.
That being said, the Blues have recently earned an FA Cup semi-final replay against Manchester United and will meet Rubin Kazan in their Europa League quarter-final.
Roman Abramovich is known to be a keen admirer of success in Europe, and the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar have shown they may be better suited to a continental style of play.
The reigning European champions are still in a state of transition until they appoint another permanent manager, and were it not for a drop in form of late, they could already have clawed second place back from Manchester City in the Premier League standings.
10. Shakhtar Donetsk
Having established themselves as one of several Eastern European hubs for Brazilian talent, Shakhtar Donetsk’s rise as a continental power continues to enjoy an upward trajectory this season.
Top of the Ukrainian Premier League with a lead of 16 points and a goal difference of plus-50, the Miners look certain to win their fourth consecutive division title as the former dominance of Dynamo Kyiv now seems hard to imagine.
However, dominating a league not of the highest pedigree only earns so much in terms of bragging rights and the club needs European competition to truly prove itself.
Having drawn at the Donbass Arena, Shakhtar lost their Champions League round of 16 second-leg tie against Borussia Dortmund and exited the tournament. While a 5-2 aggregate scoreline is anything but flattering, Jurgen Klopp’s men are currently one of the continent’s in-form sides and one that any club would find difficult to compete with.
Before that however, Mircea Lucescu’s men put in some resilient performances against Juventus and Chelsea, showing their potential to tug it out with some of Europe’s finest in the process.
9. Paris Saint-Germain
With the hundreds of millions that have come as a result of their Qatari ownership, it’s only natural that Paris Saint-Germain form a squad capable of challenging for major silverware.
And this season, that squad will face perhaps the biggest test possible for a side hoping to establish themselves as a European giant, after they drew Barcelona for their Champions league quarter-final tie (see above).
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading from the front and Thiago Silva shoring things up at the back, PSG have the best defence and attack in Ligue 1 and are on target to win their first division title since 1994.
Still involved in three competitions, the star-studded Parisian side boasting talents such as David Beckham, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura are now establishing their reputation as a global brand, but might not find the same success under Financial Fair Play rulings once they come into effect next year.
8. Atletico Madrid
For the last four years, Real Madrid and Barcelona have taken it in turns exchanging La Liga dominance between them but 2012-13 has seen Atletico Madrid genuinely make their mark on the pair’s private club, once again opening up the Spanish Primera to others.
While the capital club might not be challenging for title honours in their current state, the Rojiblancos have the best defensive record in Spain’s top flight, conceding on average just 0.86 goals per game.
Atletico’s season got off to the brightest of starts in August when Diego Simeone’s outfit embarrassed a full-strength Chelsea 4-1 in the UEFA Super Cup.
Although such European form didn’t consistently carry into the Europa League—where they were recently beaten out by Rubin Kazan—the Spanish side look set to be back for more in the next campaign.
Just one point off Real Madrid in third and 13 points ahead of Real Sociedad in fourth, Atletico are also set to go head to head with Real in the Copa del Rey finale, presenting a very apt deciding fixture of the campaign between the two Madrid giants.
7. AC Milan
Much like Inter, AC Milan are battling to return to their former greatness but appear to be handling the task substantially better than their San Siro rivals at the moment.
Eleven points away from Juventus in first place, the Rossoneri aren’t exactly ready to make their charge towards another Scudetto trophy quite yet, but that fate might not be far off if their 2013 form is anything to go by.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side are yet to lose a league fixture this calendar year, making the substantial jump from seventh to third in the space of three months.
After earning a 2-0 victory over Barcelona in the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup, Milan ultimately fell victim to the Blaugrana back at the Camp Nou, despite putting up a valiant fight against the Spaniards.
With Mario Balotelli now amongst their ranks, the Milanese outfit look all the more threatening going forward and may soon challenge Juventus—the side who ended their Coppa Italia hopes this season—for Serie A honours.
6. Borussia Dortmund
Having famously topped this season’s Champions League “group of death” and swatting away the challenges of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax, Borussia Dortmund have once again improved their image on the European stage.
Still yet to lose a game in this edition of Europe’s biggest competition, the Black and Yellows will meet Málaga in their quarter-final, hoping to secure their first semi-final berth for 15 years.
Playing some of the most attractive football in the tournament, Jurgen Klopp’s men also managed to overcome Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk and can look at their European exploits as a nice distraction from their domestic form.
Struggling to adapt to the kind of depth needed for such an examination, Borussia Dortmund are now a staggering 20 points off league leaders Bayern Munich and would appear to have surrendered their Bundesliga title.
With just three wins in their last six league games, Signal Iduna Park isn’t the same fortress it’s proven to be in the last two campaigns, but the reigning DFB Pokal champions remain a force to be reckoned with when at full strength.
Some way off the unbeaten Serie A season of 2011-12, Juventus’ 2013 form isn’t quite of the standard the club have come to expect in the last year or so, but then that’s a considerable comparison, isn’t it?
While the Turin outfit remain top of the Italian top flight by nine points, Antonio Conte’s side risk losing their hold on league matters unless they can revive some form from the previous term.
While that might be the case, Juve have still managed to hold a high level of consistency this season and their unbeaten Champions League run will come up against a massive test in their quarter-final fixture against last season’s finalists, Bayern Munich.
Unsurprisingly for an elite Italian side, defence has been the Bianconeri’s main asset this season, with an average of just 0.62 goals conceded per game and clean sheets kept in roughly half of the club’s outings.
Considering it was just two seasons ago that Juventus finished their Serie A campaign in seventh, the Serie A giants have made massive leaps in once again establishing their authority on the continental level.
4. Manchester United
Although the Red Devils are no longer involved in European matters, Manchester United were always going to feature highly on a rundown such as this, following the fashion in which their Premier League campaign has taken shape.
Sir Alex Ferguson has done terrifically to launch a successful assault against title-holders, Manchester City, and a 15 point-gap between the pair would suggest that United have the trophy all but back within their reach.
Manchester United’s exit from this season’s Champions League didn’t come without controversy, and one might argue that the English giants would have booked a quarter-final spot were Nani not sent off for an apparent high challenge.
However, such things shouldn’t be dwelt on, and the club can nevertheless be pleased with the way in which they performed while still in the running.
With Robin van Persie at the helm of attacking responsibilities, Manchester United’s attacking line is once again one of the finest Europe has to offer and Fergie’s men might rank higher in a future episode of this countdown should the defence continue its dramatic improvements.
3. Real Madrid
Any side capable of beating Manchester United across two legs is certainly a strong one by any understanding of the word and while it didn’t come as cleanly as the Merengues might have liked, Real Madrid are once again one of Europe’s in-form clubs.
One would have to comb the history books to find a time where Real were last considered anything but one of Europe’s best clubs, and La Liga’s reigning champions have shown precisely why in the last six weeks.
Currently enjoying an eight-match unbeaten run, Jose Mourinho’s outfit will continue to press Barcelona, the current Primera Division leaders, despite being 13 points behind the Catalan giants in second.
With a Spanish Supercup already under their belts, the capital club will face off against Galatasaray in this season’s Champions League quarter-finals and will also meet bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.
Any club with Cristiano Ronaldo amongst their roster would find it hard not to challenge for some silverware, and while some will say the race for La Liga silverware is over, Real’s hitman continues to lead them across numerous avenues this season.
Once again looking likely to prise the Spanish title away from Real Madrid’s mitts, a Tito Vilanova-led Barcelona have been far from their confident best at times this season.
However, even a slightly nervy Barcelona is still a Barcelona side to be frightened of and the Blaugrana’s attack remains one of, if not, the most fearsome in all of Europe.
Averaging 3.14 goals per game and scoring in every La Liga fixture thus far, Barca’s lead of 13 points over second-place Real Madrid is an almighty advantage to let drop at this stage of the season, making it highly likely the club will wrap up their 22nd Spanish top-tier trophy.
With Jordi Roura at their helm in the absence of an ill Vilanova, Barcelona will come up against Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League quarter-final this season in a battle between growth and green.
With 53 goals already across all competitions, Lionel Messi is having the kind of season the world has come to expect of the pint-sized poacher and his club are reaping the benefits of his sensational exploits.
Some will undoubtedly argue that Barca still deserve to be considered the world’s best side right now, but that honour has been reserved for another.
1. Bayern Munich
After spending a few seasons away from Bundesliga dominance, Bayern Munich are once again on their way to becoming the titans of German football that they once were.
For a while there, Borussia Dortmund had stepped in to wake the sleeping giants from their slumber, but the Bavarians are now wide awake and seem considerable irked by the cheek of the Black and Yellows.
It might only be March but Jupp Heynckes’ side have a jaw-dropping 20-point lead over Jurgen Klopp’s counterparts and a record 23rd title seems all but delivered to the Allianz Arena.
Although Arsenal’s second-leg win in Bavaria might have muddied Bayern’s round of 16 victory over the Gunners, the German league leaders were still tremendously confident in their progression, breezing past the North Londoners 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium.
Having made last season’s finale, Heynckes’ men will now play Juventus as they strive to right the wrongs of the last campaign by this time going the whole way and winning the competition.
With one of the deepest squads in Europe, it says a lot that players such as Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri are not automatically considered as starters for the Bundesliga club.
Sacrificing only nine points in their league season, progressing to the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal and already having won the DFL Supercup, one couldn’t really expect much more of Bayern Munich in the current campaign.
Oh, and they’re also posting pretty substantial profits too, a feat being made harder and harder to achieve at this standard.
Continuing to survive on a "grow-to-sell" basis, Ajax remains one of the best run clubs in Holland, Europe and quite possibly the world.
This season, the Amsterdam outfit showed that their vast amount of youth doesn't equal weakness as Frank de Boer's side earned a win and a draw against Manchester City in what was this season's incarnation of the Group of Death.
The Dutch side are currently top of the Eredivisie and continue to pride themselves on an attractive, modern version of total football.
Unfortunate not to make more of this season's Champions League run, Valencia were ultimately swept aside by PSG in the round of 16, mostly down to an apparent lack in depth that the Spaniards just couldn't compete with when compared with their French opposition.
Just two points off fourth place, Champions League qualification is once again within Valencia's reach however, and some improved 2013 form might be the key to salvaging an immediate future in Europe.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Having recently joined the ranks of the uber-spenders, some recent transfer sprees have given Zenit St. Petersburg a star-studded aura that was perhaps not as previously evident at the Petrovsky Stadium.
Players such as Hulk and Axel Witsel have pushed the Petersburg club into contention for Russian Premier League honours, and the club were unfortunate to miss out on progression in this season's Champions League group phase, just being edged out of Group C by AC Milan.
A frequent staple on the European stage, CSKA Moscow are once again on track to grace the Champions League with their presence after failing to qualify for the 2012-13 edition of the tournament.
The Russian Premier League leaders have established a seven-point gap between themselves and their nearest rivals, Anzhi Makhachkala, and are also set for their Russian Cup quarter-final clash with Yenisey Krasnoyarsk.
This season was the first time in six years that CSKA have failed to compete in the group stage of a European competition, but Leonid Slutsky’s men have responded in confident fashion, dominating domestic matters in a major way.
Disagree with my rankings or feel that a club's bee left out? Let me know in the comments section and don't forget to interact with me on Twitter @TomSunderland.