European Power Rankings: The Continent's 20 Best Football Clubs

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2013

European Power Rankings: The Continent's 20 Best Football Clubs

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    After a fortnight of international action, Europe’s elite have once again resumed their domestic seasons and the fight for continental supremacy has resumed along with it.

    With both the Champions League and Europa League set to take centre stage this week, some sides will have the chance to directly influence their standings in the coming days.

    Until then, a comparison of league form will have to do and the following 20 clubs have been ranked in accordance with their most recent club form, taking into account any success the side might have going for them in European competition as well.

    Should you find yourself scratching your head at some of these rankings, feel free to tell us in the comments section below and don’t forget to engage with me on Twitter @TomSunderland_:

20. Bayer Leverkusen

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    The only debutant in our European Power Rankings, Bayer Leverkusen have actually fallen away slightly after going through a mid-season run of just two losses in four months.

    Admittedly, that statistic is helped by the Bundesliga’s winter break but such a streak has helped the Lions into contention for a top-two finish, urged on by their most recent 4-1 mauling of Fortuna Dusseldorf.

    Just four points away from Borussia Dormund, the club currently being co-managed by Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski (no relation to Robert) are fighting for an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League, more than a decade after losing the 2002 title to Real Madrid at Hampden Park.

18= Arsenal

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    Movement: Down 4

    One of three London clubs to have found their way into our countdown, Arsenal’s placement is unfortunate given the fact that the club is currently enjoying a three-match winning streak, one of which being a 2-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich.

    However, victim to the good form of those around them, the Gunners just haven’t quite been convincing enough to warrant a serious challenge on the rest of the European elite.

    Currently sitting in fifth in the Premier League standings, Arsene Wenger’s side are two points away from a top four finish and teeter on the brink of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in 14 years.

    Regardless of how impressive such a streak is, Arsenal need to replicate the kind of clinical form seen in a more recent 4-1 thrashing of Reading on a more consistent basis if they’re to extend their qualification run.

18= FC Porto

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    Movement: Down 1

    Continuing their unbeaten league campaign, Porto’s win tally was extended to 28 over the weekend as the Dragons romped to a 3-0 victory against Academica Coimbra.

    The Portuguese giants might be four points behind league leaders Benfica but an impressive run to the Champions League Round of 16 this season is a testament to the club’s strength in depth.

    Regardless of their European exit to Málaga, the Liga Primeira titans continue to produce a factory line of emerging talent with the likes of James Rodriguez, Eliaquim Mangala, Danilo and Alex Sandro the latest youngster to make major waves of continental proportions.

    Although Porto have seen a drop down the rankings, a stern defence still sees them challenging for two titles this season, and an upcoming clash against Sporting Braga might test the resolve of Vitor Pereira’s outfit.

17. Chelsea

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    Movement: Down 6

    Having to battle for a finish amongst the season’s top four, this season hasn’t been the roaring success that many Blues would have hoped for on the back of their Champions League triumph.

    The West London club have failed to clutch any signs of consistency under Rafa Benitez and a 2-1 loss to Southampton over the weekend would appear to have been the nail in the Spaniard’s coffin.

    Having already admitted that he’ll be leaving his interim post with the club come season’s end (via BBC Sport), an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City is one of only two lights at the end of the tunnel for Chelsea, the other being a Europa League quarterfinal against Rubin Kazan. 

16. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Movement: Up 3

    After experiencing three losses on the bounce, Tottenham got their season back on track with a weekend win at the Liberty Stadium at the end of March, overcoming a Swansea side that has withstood the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in recent months.

    Spurs now sit third in the English top flight and while they still have a long seven games to go before sewing up a Champions League finish, Andre Villas-Boas' squad is now arguably one of the strongest in the division.

    Set to go up against Basel in their Europa League quarter-final, the North London outfit have a great chance of winning their first European trophy for 29 years, showing their capacity to challenge the rest of the continent’s select.

15. Galatasaray

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    Movement: No Change

    With a Champions League quarter-final tie against Real Madrid to think about, it’s remarkable that Galatasaray have also managed to maintain their push for a second consecutive Super Lig title.

    With 28 goals across all competitions, Burak Yilmaz remains the most potent attacking threat in his native Turkey and is one player in particular Jose Mourinho’s side will be wary of when it comes to their Champions League clash.

    The 27-year-old has netted seven goals in his last five games for club and country and Fatih Terim can thank much of the current campaign’s success to his leading hitman.

    Although the Turkish top flight may not have the kind of pedigree throughout of other top European leagues, Gala have developed a star quality about them in recent seasons and appear ready to tussle with the world’s best clubs for some time to come.

14. Benfica

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    Movement: Up 4

    If Porto’s unbeaten league campaign has been impressive thus far, then the team that beats them to the top of the Portuguese top flight’s has to be something of a marvel as well.

    Scoring 15 goals in their last three domestic outings, Jorge Jesus’ side continue their push to regain Liga Primeira honours and are four points clear at the top of the division’s pile.

    While their European run may have ended all too soon for some of the club’s supporters, Benfica are almost guaranteed to be featuring amongst the Champions League push once more next season and will pose their usually stubborn obstacle.

    However, all eyes are currently on the club’s Europa League chances and Jesus’ men will undoubtedly be considered favourites to make their way past Newcastle United and into a European semi-final later this month.

13. Napoli

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    Movement: Up 3

    Eight goals in their last two games is an average to be proud of for any club, but such numbers have perhaps become less surprising for a side with Edinson Cavani leading their assault.

    The Uruguayan has so far scored 29 goals this season, four of which were scored in those last two Serie A games despite one of them being just a 25-minute cameo.

    Although the Naples club are averaging 1.83 goals per game, it’s perhaps Napoli’s defence that is one of the more encouraging improvements for Walter Mazzarri’s side and is currently second-best in the Italian top flight.

    While a gap of nine points between them and league leaders, Juventus, isn’t the kind of fissure the club would have been hoping to see at this stage of the season, Napoli can be happy to have held the reigning champions within their reach for so much of the current campaign, emphasised in their 1-1 draw with Antonio Conte’s men at the beginning of March.

    After going through a very rough patch of form in February and early March, Napoli’s push for a second-place finish is certainly back on track after earning two consecutive victories.

12. Atletico Madrid

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    Movement: Down 4

    Now a point off Real Madrid in La Liga, Atletico’s bid to break the Spanish dominion of Los Merengues and Barcelona took a blow over the weekend following their 1-1 home draw with Valencia.

    With both Barca and Real being held to draws of their own, the Rojiblancos were provided with the ideal opportunity in pouncing on second place but couldn’t take their chance.

    However, Diego Simeone’s drive against Spain’s power balance continues to impress this season and it certainly takes a club of certain pedigree to pull off such a feat.

    That being said, the capital club’s bid for recognition would have been helped had the club not managed to win only two of their last five league outings which have assuredly damaged their chances.

11. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Movement: Down 1

    Moving away from the top half of the rankings, Shakhtar were made to work hard for their most recent league triumph but eventually overcame relegation candidates Karpaty with three red cards seen in the display.

    In total, 10 cards were shown in a 97-minute outing that really shouldn’t have been as close as it was made to be considering Mircea Lucescu’s side are fighting to retain their Ukrainian Premier League title.

    Fortunately for the Romanian manager, his side still boast a 16-point advantage over closest rivals Dynamo Kyiv and a goal difference of plus-51 would seem as useful as another few points in its own right.

    Although their Champions League Round of 16 exit to Borussia Dortmund suggests the Miners are still a shade away from the rest of Europe’s finest, the Eastern Europeans will be back in the hunt for the continent’s most prestigious silverware next season and deservedly so given recent form.

10. Manchester City

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    Movement: Up 3

    Despite the managerial ambiguity that seems to revolve around the Etihad Stadium on a near constant basis, Manchester City remain a power to be reckoned with on their day.

    Roberto Mancini’s most recent result came in a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United and while a raft of injuries for the Magpies undoubtedly made the Citizens’ task that much simpler, the win isn’t to be undervalued.

    Manchester United’s domination of the domestic season has seen second place become City’s best hope for a league finish this season but an FA Cup semi-final might also provide reason for some joy come season’s end.

    Yet to really crack the formula of European competition, Manchester City look set to get another attempt at the Champions League next season if they can maintain their most recent form, which is of little wonder given their wealth of squad options.

9. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Movement: No Change

    Another side still competing in the Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti’s Parisians will come up against the formidable threat of Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final tie, hoping to pull off an upset and truly announce themselves as a European force of their own.

    With one of the most expensive squads on the continent, Paris Saint-Germain have also managed to continue their push for the Ligue 1 title, which would be their first since the 1993-94 campaign.

    French giants once again and emerging as a threat to the rest of Europe, the Qatari-financed club, boasting assets such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, David Beckham and Lucas, have a seven-point lead at the top of the French top flight in what will assuredly be considered a season to remember.

    Unbeaten in their last four games and most recently seeing off reigning league champions Montpellier, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long PSG’s hold over Ligue 1 could continue given their swift rise through domestic ranks.

8. Málaga

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    Movement: Up 4

    Although a club currently sitting fifth in La Liga may not be considered one of Europe’s brightest, it’s Málaga’s broad success across all fronts this season that earns them such a high spot.

    A Copa del Rey quarterfinal, a Champions League quarterfinal fixture against Borussia Dortmund in their maiden voyage of the tournament as well as competing for another top four finish in the Spanish first tier are achievements not to be sniffed at.

    The fact that the club’s financial woes over the summer saw Manuel Pellegrini lose several key players for the side is also reason to admire the Chilean’s leadership this season, also, and Málaga have coped wonderfully despite having quite a thin squad.

    In Europe, Porto were the most recent side to fall victim to the Anchovies and a 3-1 triumph at Rayo Vallecano over the weekend saw the Andalusians’ league bid get back to winning ways. 

7. AC Milan

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    Movement: No Change

    Still one of the most in-form teams from any top European league, AC Milan’s 2013 rejuvenation continues to confound.

    That being said, it’s no wonder the Rossoneri’s rise in success has coincided with the arrival of Mario Balotelli, the scorer of seven goals and two assists in just six Serie A starts for the club.

    In 12 league fixtures since New Year’s, Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain unbeaten in their domestic season and were it not for the brilliance of Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona, the Italians might have found their way to a Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain.

    With four clean sheets in their last four matches, Milan’s defence also appears to have undergone a drastic improvement in recent weeks.

    The San Siro club may still be 11 points away from league leaders and reigning Serie A champions, Juventus, but Milan’s surge from mid-table mediocrity to a Champions League qualification spot is nothing short of remarkable. 

4= Real Madrid

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    Movement: Down 1

    On par with Manchester United this season is the side that recently overcame them in a head-to-head clash, although many might agree it would take another meeting to truly gauge who’s superior at this moment.

    Regardless of the Champions League Round of 16 triumph against the Red Devils, Jose Mourinho’s side haven’t managed to pose the same threat against Barcelona this term and are currently 13 points away from the side at La Liga’s summit.

    However, Los Merengues have plenty else to be satisfied with and can count a Copa del Rey final with Atletico Madrid as well as a Champions League quarterfinal meeting with Galatasaray among their season achievements.

    Having gone eight matches unbeaten across all competitions, Real’s latest match in Spain ended with them level against Real Zaragoza, and had Atletico Madrid not experienced an identical result against Valencia, the capital outfit might find themselves in third place.

4= Manchester United

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    Movement: No Change

    15 points clear at the top of a division regularly looked upon as the most entertaining in the world, Manchester United have all but sewn up their 20th top flight trophy.

    After losing out to bitter rivals Manchester City 11 months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson stated that his Red Devils would regain the domestic title in the 2012-13 season, a promise he has not relented in making sure of.

    The Scot’s Champions League campaign came to a controversial end at the hands of Real Madrid but decent authority over English matters has left Ferguson with something to take away from his 26th term in charge of the club.

    This year, April Fool’s Day was unkind to United as Chelsea had the last laugh against the Red Devils, easing them out of the FA Cup in a closely fought 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

    Having no English club in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is an anomaly not often seen in recent history, and even though the English game is currently going through a time of rustiness, Manchester United remain at the head of its table.

4= Borussia Dortmund

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    Movement: Up 2

    Having famously come out on top of this season’s Group of Death, Borussia Dortmund have already beaten off fearsome opposition in the shapes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax this season.

    The Bundesliga champions are near the head of what is an emerging German movement and have contributed greatly to the success of German sides in the UEFA coefficient over recent seasons.

    Jurgen Klopp has steadily and assuredly assembled a squad capable of challenging for European honours and the Black and Yellows have a great opportunity of doing just that should they make it past Málaga in their Champions League quarter-final.

    In truth, Dortmund haven’t been as impressive this season as they have in recent campaigns and a gulf of 20 points between them and Bundesliga leaders, Bayern Munich, is a symbol of the current power balance in the country.

    Signal Iduna Park may not be the fortress it once was but one loss in their last six games and seven goals scored in their last two matches is indicative of the club’s on-going success.  

3. Barcelona

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     Movement: Down 1

    13 points clear at the top of La Liga, Barcelona take a drop of one place this week after drawing 2-2 against Celta Vigo and continuing what hasn’t been the most convincing bit of domestic form, despite good results.

    Last weekend, Lionel Messi became the first player ever to score against every team in a top European league in consecutive matches, netting for the 19th game in a row and scoring at least one goal against all La Liga teams.

    Irrespective of the Argentine’s accomplishments, a record of just six wins in their last 10 games isn’t typical of the Barca we’ve grown to know in recent years and shows signs of their recent slump.

    With an upcoming quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League to prepare for, Tito Vilanova’s return to the club couldn’t have been timed much better (via Guardian), although the Spaniard is bound to have little influence on matters from the touchline.

2. Juventus

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    Movement: Up 3

    One of several league leaders to make their way into the top four this week, Juventus have a firm grip on the Italian top flight and, even for a league renowned for its defensive approach, have done remarkable well in keeping clean sheets in 47 percent of their matches this season.

    Napoli, in second, sit nine points behind the current Serie A champions but with just eight matches left in the league campaign, are unlikely to close the deficit in time to mount a late challenge against the Bianconeri.

    The Old Lady have won eight of their last 10 matches across all competitions, two of which contributed to the 5-0 Champions League demolition of Celtic to set up a quarterfinal tie against German monolith, Bayern Munich.

    Against Bayern, Antonio Conte’s men have the opportunity to oust one of the European tournament’s biggest contenders for silverware, but after already winning the Supercoppa Italiana earlier in the season, have a thirst for trophies that’s unlikely to be quenched anytime soon.

1. Bayern Munich

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    Movement: No Change

    Still owning bragging rights as Europe’s best team right now, Bayern Munich’s ascension as Germany’s strongest power has transcended borders and now applies on a continental scale.

    As mentioned in the previous slide, Der FCB are set for a Champions League quarter-final tie against Juventus and, after beating Arsenal 3-1 in their own territory have shown the capacity to hit form against their European opposition.

    Bayern’s most recent statement of intent came in the form of a 9-2 thrashing of Hamburg.

    Want to know the scariest part about that result? Jupp Heynckes fielded a side that omitted more than a few of his regular starters, leaving it up to the likes of Claudio Pizarro to do the scoring.

    Winning their last 10 league fixtures on the trot, winning the DFL Supercup and advancing past Borussia Dortmund to a place in the DFB Pokal semi-finals, it seems Bayern Munich are set for another reign as Germany’s most powerful club and could extend that dominance onto the European stage.

Honourable Mentions

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    Schalke 04

    Currently fourth in the Bundesliga standings, Schalke still have a long way to go before qualifying for next season’s Champions League tournament but are finally hitting some domestic form after winning four of their last five matches.

     

    Real Sociedad

    A surprise outfit this season, nobody could have supposed that Real Sociedad would be quite as successful as they have been over the last eight months as they continue to challenge for Champions League qualification.

    Fourth in La Liga, Philippe Montanier’s side have gone 11 league matches without a loss and if they can start converting some of those results from wins into draws, one can expect to see them featuring amongst Europe’s elite next term.

     

    Ajax

    Ever a Dutch threat, Ajax were unlucky to be drawn in the Champions League’s Group of Death this season but did well to outdo Manchester City and not finish bottom of the rankings.

    In domestic matters, the Godenzonen sit at the summit of the Eredivisie and have won their last four fixtures in a row, losing just twice all season.