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

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

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

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    With the Champions League returning to centre-stage this week, our European Power Rankings had the fortune of being directly influenced by some of the continent’s biggest and brightest facing off with one another.

    Based on their most recent form, it’s here that the European elite are graded on their performances in recent weeks with both domestic form and otherwise taken into account.

    Last week it was Bayern Munich that took home first-place honours, but will the Bavarian Bruisers have done enough to retain top spot, or has another football giant impressed enough to clinch their throne?

    Read on to find out. 

Honourable Mentions

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    FC Basel

    Although two draws in their last two games doesn't scream "quality," Basel maintain their run towards a fourth consecutive Swiss Super League title and are a point clear at the top of their division after drawing 1-1 with St. Gallen over the weekend.

    However, a 2-2 draw away at Tottenham in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final is something the Swiss outfit can be much more proud of, and puts them in the driving seat for the return fixture this week.

     

    Ajax

    Another league leader to make out honourable mentions list, Ajax keep a three-point advantage over close challengers PSV Eindhoven after recording a 4-0 win over Heracles this weekend.

    With 16 goals scored in their last five consecutive wins, the Dutch side are currently averaging more than three goals per game based on recent form but need to be careful with an inferior goal difference to PSV. 

     

    Schalke 04

    Unfortunate to crash out of this season's Champions League at the hands of Galatasaray, Schalke have bounced back into their Bundesliga campaign well in recent weeks, recording two wins on the trot.

    Jens Keller's 2-0 away win at Werder Bremen was especially convincing for the Miners and a top three challenge could make a late surge as long as current form of five wins in their last six league games can be maintained.

20. Real Sociedad

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    New Entry

    Making their first appearance in the European Power Rankings, Real Sociedad’s remarkable season lingers on and this week saw La Real take a major step forward in their hunt for a top four La Liga finish.

    With Malaga diverting one eye towards their Champions League commitments, Philippe Montanier’s side overcame the Andalusians 4-2 at the Anoeta Stadium, opening up a two-point gap between them and Valencia, who lie in fifth.

    It’s been 10 years since Real Sociedad last managed to finish in the top four of the Spanish top flight, and that came in their runners-up campaign of 2001-02, bringing a certain sense of fate to the Basque club’s current endeavours.

    Unbeaten in their last 12 league meetings, including wins over Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, proving the side’s run has been more than earned since the start of 2013 when their rapid rise through the ranks first began.

19. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Movement: Down 3

    Failing to take any real advantage of their Europa League home fixture against FC Basel, Tottenham have left themselves with a steep hill to climb when they make their way to Switzerland later this week.

    It’s now been a month since Andre Villas-Boas’ side last kept a clean sheet and matters weren’t helped when midfield marvel and Player of the Year contender Gareth Bale had to come off with an ankle injury against Basel.

    The Welshman’s absence was felt when Spurs returned to domestic action over the weekend, having to settle for a share of the spoils with Everton in a 2-2 draw with the Toffees at White Hart Lane.

    With just one win in their last six games across all competitions, Tottenham are falling out of the running for the top-four finish that once looked so much more assured, and their ranking has suffered as a result.

17= Galatasaray

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    Movement: Down 2

    Although their run towards a second consecutive Super Lig title was maintained with a 3-1 weekend win over Mersin Idmanyurdu, Galatasaray’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid sees them drop off slightly.

    The Turkish giants were handed a European masterclass by Real Madrid, falling 3-0 to La Liga’s reigning titleholders and learning just how far they have to travel before reaching such dominant standards themselves.

    Fatih Terim’s side can’t be lamented for falling victim to one of the strongest attacks in the world, but there are few occasions when the distance between two clubs can be laid out there for all to see; this was one of them.

17= Porto

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    Movement: Up 1

    Yet to play since their last ranking, this week Porto get a boost based on the hard work put in so far this season, form that sees them maintain their unbeaten league campaign.

    With 18 wins and six draws in their 24 Primeira Liga matches so far, Porto will be disappointed to find themselves seven points away from league leaders Benfica but can hope to reduce that deficit by winning their game in hand against Braga this week.

    Exiting this season’s Champions League at the Round of 16 stage, the Portuguese giants continue to hound their Lisbon rivals for a place at the top of their nation’s podium.

16. Arsenal

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    Movement: Up 2

    Although fifth in the Premier League might not suggest it, Arsenal actually have the best home attack in the English top tier—averaging more than 2.50 goals per game—as well as the best away defence in the division, conceding an average of just 0.88 goals per game.

    That being said, the name of Arsenal’s game this season has been inconsistency and achieving those kind of statistics on away and home soil, respectively, has proven troublesome, evidenced in their Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.

    Over the weekend, the Gunners achieved a valuable away win over West Brom to reduce the gap between them and Tottenham to just two points and pulling a top-four finish into more realistic reach.

15. Atletico Madrid

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    Movement: Down 3

    Despite piling the pressure on their fierce local rivals earlier on in the season, Atletico Madrid’s hopes of breaking La Liga’s top two pairing of Real Madrid and Barcelona now looks less and less likely thanks to a dramatic drop in form of late.

    In the first half of the season, a Diego Simeone side led by the scoring exploits of Radamel Falcao was scoring an average of 2.1 goals per game, netting four goals on four occasions as well as a 6-0 Christmas drubbing of Deportivo La Coruna.

    In the 13 games since the beginning of 2013, however, Atleti have managed to rack up an average of just 1.07 goals per game, showing a drop in scoring success of almost 50 percent.

    With just two wins in their last six games, Los Rojiblancos must pray that Real Madrid’s Champions League commitments see their season affected by fatigue if they’re to have any hopes of breaking into the truly elite of the Spanish top flight.

    With a Copa del Rey final against Los Merengues still to come though, Simeone’s men will have one opportunity to prove themselves in direct battle.

14. Chelsea

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    Movement: Up 3

    With five wins in their last six matches across all competitions, Chelsea are coping excellently with the highly congested schedule handed to them, four of those fixtures having come in the last week alone.

    As a result of their extravagant spending patterns, the Blues have the fortune of employing a firm squad rotation amongst their players while maintaining a certain standard throughout the team.

    This week saw Rafa Benitez’s side advance to an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City thanks to Demba Ba’s 1-0 winner over Manchester United in their quarter-final replay.

    Chelsea also clinched the upper hand in their Europa League campaign and will take a 3-1 lead into the away leg of their quarter-final tie with Rubin Kazan later this week.

    A weekend win over Sunderland, albeit getting off to a shaky start, showed the resolve of the West Londoners and brought a fine end to an even finer week for the English club.

13. Málaga

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    Movement: Down 5

    Earning just two wins in their last six encounters across all competitions, what started out as a very bright season for the Anchovies looks to be falling victim to a classic case of second-half-of-the-season syndrome.

    Malaga could have done more in the home encounter of their Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund but will instead travel to Signal Iduna Park this week with a 0-0 scoreline to overcome.

    Manuel Pellegrini’s woes were deepened after a 4-2 loss against Real Sociedad over the weekend seriously damaged their hopes of a top four La Liga spot.

    While they might be suspended from European competition next season, there’s still a certain amount of pride at stake for the Andalusians but scoring just seven goals in their last 10 matches, form must improve if much is to be salvaged.

12. Manchester City

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    Movement: Down 2

    Manchester City’s small drop in the standings is in no part down to the form they’ve shown this week—the reason for that being that they’re yet to play.

    Monday evening will see the Citizens go up against Manchester United in a clash that could decide just how soon the Premier League’s title race is decided as Roberto Mancini’s side seek to slow the Red Devils as much as they can.

    That being said, something City can really look forward to is their FA Cup semi-final fixture against Chelsea where the reigning Premier League champions will go up against the current titleholders of England’s biggest knockout tournament.

    The FA Cup could bring some joy from what’s been an otherwise disappointing season for the Sky Blues, but that hasn’t helped their rankings this time around.

11. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Movement: No Change

    Dropping just 10 points all season, Shakhtar Donetsk too another major step towards their fourth consecutive Ukrainian Premier League title this weekend, seeing off the challenge of former giants Dynamo Kiev with a 2-1 win in the nation’s capital.

    Extending their league winning streak to seven, the Miners look just about certain to wrap up the domestic title and will also be considered favourites to achieve a double with their Ukrainian Cup quarter-final draw with Karpaty just around the corner.

    With just seven matches remaining in their division calendar, Mircea Lucescu’s side can hope to wrap up their season as early as late April, having already established a 17-point gap at the summit of the standings.

10. Napoli

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    Movement: Up 3

    Breaking into this week’s top 10 of the European Power Rankings, Napoli head into their upcoming encounter with AC Milan in hopeful fashion after recording three consecutive Serie A wins.

    In those three matches, the Azzurri have averaged more than three goals scored per game and a clean sheet against Genoa only gives Walter Mazzarri’s side that much more confidence.

    Nine points behind Juventus, second-placed Napoli might already have given up on their hopes for a Scudetto title but continue to fight for a top-two finish and can take a slightly firmer grip on such an achievement with a victory this weekend.

    Two weeks ago, Blerim Dzemalli had scored just one goal for Napoli all season that came back in September; fast forward a fortnight and the Swiss international has scored four goals in his last two games.

    Combine the 26-year-old’s startling progress with the always reliable Edinson Cavani and the Naples outfit look like a team capable of European competition once again.

9. Benfica

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    Movement: Up 5

    Our joint-largest shift in placement this week, Benfica’s achievements this season have earned them a substantial jump in the rankings and deservedly so.

    Eight months after season’s start, the Portuguese giants have dropped just eight points in their Primeira Liga campaign and currently boast a seven-point advantage over second-place Porto.

    What’s more, the Eagles take a 3-1 scoreline into the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Newcastle United and look likely to reach the Taca de Portugal final.

    Bar the Taca da Liga semi-final loss to Sporting Braga on penalties, Benfica have won their last 12 outings across all competitions and while the Portuguese first tier may not be held in the same esteem it once was, Jorge Jesus has earned his side a spot among the continent’s elite.

8. AC Milan

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    Movement: Down 1

    A trip to Florence might have threatened AC Milan’s remarkable run this year but the 2013 unbeaten Serie A streak was extended to 13 league matches when the Rossoneri drew 2-2 against Fiorentina.

    That being said, Massimiliano Allegri can perhaps be disappointed that his side let a 2-0 lead slip from their grasp in the final 30 minutes of the game, especially considering the opposition were down to 10 men.

    Although the draw prevents Milan from pulling away from fourth-place Fiorentina—currently six points below them—the result keeps Allegri’s hopes of a top-two finish alive for now as Milan look to reduce the four-point gap between them and Napoli.

    Mario Balotelli has now gone two games without a goal but fans of the San Siro side can be confident that their enigmatic frontman will be swiftly back to his scoring ways.

7. Manchester United

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    Movement: Down 3

    Just over a month ago, Manchester United were in the running for three trophies and looked confident in all aspects of their 2012-13 campaign.

    After being ejected from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid however, United’s bid for silverware was dented further after Chelsea eased them out of the FA Cup at the beginning of the week.

    As a result, the Premier League remains their only real source of salvation and no matter how confidently that particular race might look to have been won, the Red Devils will certainly be kicking themselves they hadn’t made more of their season.

    That being said, the FA Cup quarter-final to the Blues was Sir Alex Ferguson’s only matchup this week and a Monday night game against Manchester City provides United with the chance to tie up the Premier League title very early on.

6. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Movement: Up 3

    Dramatic though it may seem, a draw against Barcelona can often prove the pedigree of a side all on its own and the Catalan giants have been forced to sweat in their Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain after tying 2-2 at the Parc des Princes.

    Unbeaten in their last six games across all competitions, PSG remain seven points clear at the head of Ligue 1 and a 2-0 triumph at Rennes over the weekend has only shored up their romp towards the French domestic title.

    Carlo Ancelotti has also guided the big spenders to a Coupe de France quarter-final, meaning Les Parisiens can actually still pull off a treble in what’s already been a remarkable season.

    PSG now head to Spain looking to grab some away goals of their own against Barcelona, and while many might suppose that task will be futile, France’s new kids on the block have already proven themselves as major contenders for future European honours.

5. Borussia Dortmund

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    Movement: Down 1

    While not the most glamorous of ties, Borussia Dortmund’s 0-0 draw at Malaga in the Champions League last week sets them up for a more comfortable quarter-final second leg at Signal Iduna Park this week.

    There, they’ll look to turn the match in their favour just as they did against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16, keeping up what’s been some impressive home form this season.

    Although the weekend’s league fixtures saw Jurgen Klopp’s side officially lose their Bundesliga title to Bayern Munich, the Black and Yellows concentrate firmly on their own outing and saw off Augsburg 4-2 at home.

    Such a result prepares BVB well for their European fixture later this week, the only criticism being that their defence could do with some tidying up perhaps.

    With only one clean sheet in their last seven league games, Klopp’s men could undoubtedly be disheartened after losing the German league title by 20 points, but the Champions League continues to provide the club with a chance of redemption.

4. Juventus

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    Movement: Down 2

    Falling away from the very pinnacle of the standings somewhat, Juventus’ defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich showed off the Bavarians’ dominance as of right now and perhaps that Juve are still a shade away from equalling Bayern’s pedigree just yet.

    Travelling to the Allianz Arena for the away leg of their Champions League quarter-final, Antonio Conte’s side were sent to lick their wounds after a 2-0 defeat in Germany and have a tough task ahead of them back in Turin.

    Things took a slightly more positive turn over the weekend thanks to the Italians’ 2-1 win over Pescara but Juve have now gone three matches without a clean sheet, an uncharacteristic trend for them over the last two years.

    Still nine points clear at the head of the Serie A table however, the Old Lady can still boast a marvellous season should the club revive some of their better form—but they’ll need to do so quickly.

3. Real Madrid

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    Movement: Up 1

    Commanding a 3-0 aggregate lead going into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Galatasaray, it would take a reversal of epic proportions for Real Madrid to do anything but book their spot in the tournament’s semi-finals later this week.

    The reigning La Liga champions also took a considerable step towards tying up the division’s second spot, taking full advantage of Atletico Madrid’s 0-0 stalemate with Getafe and beating Levante 5-1.

    With that result, Jose Mourinho’s side are now three points clear of their capital city rivals, although still 13 points off league leaders Barcelona.

    With a Copa del Rey final to come in mid-May, Los Merengues would appear to have two realistic pieces of silverware still in their sights and have a serious chance of both if last week’s demolition of Gala was anything to go by.

    Scoring an average of 2.57 goals per game this season as well as keeping clean sheets in a third of their matches, Real have looked impressive across the board so far this campaign save for a few unfortunate league results.

2. Barcelona

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    Movement: Up 1

    Although the Catalans will be kicking themselves not to have come away from the Parc des Princes with a leading advantage last week, a 2-2 result against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with the French outfit is no small feat.

    With two away goals, one could argue Barca are in a commanding position of the tie as they head back to the Camp Nou this week and need only rely on good defence as well as a usual influx of goals to see them through to the semi-finals.

    Unfortunately, defence has been the one area letting Barca down of late and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic showing in the first leg just how Tito Vilanova’s backline can be pierced, everything is still up for grabs.

    However, Vilanova’s side prepared for their midweek game in the best possible way and an under-strength Blaugrana still manage to make their way past Mallorca with a 5-0 victory.

    The Catalan giants are unbeaten in their last six outings across all competitions and should they make their way past PSG later this week, they’ll have done well to overcome one of Europe’s emerging superpowers.

1. Bayern Munich

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    Movement: No Change

    For the third week in a row, Bayern Munich remain in the European hotspot after wrapping up their 23rd Bundesliga title in record time.

    With six games still to play in the league calendar, FCB can now devote all concentration towards their other commitments including a Champions League quarter-final against Juventus, as well as a DFB Pokal semi-final with Wolfsburg.

    Having already won the DFL Supercup earlier this season, this of course opens up the opportunity for the Bavarians to achieve a rare quadruple, and one would have to argue there’s no more likelier time for it to happen than now.

    In their first-leg tie against Juventus last week, Bayern were clinical, tireless and disciplined in their approach, exemplifying everything that once made German football the force it was and quite possibly could once again in the near future.

    Jupp Heynckes has quite simply got immense talent in all facets of his squad and although the 1-0 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt over the weekend was far from their most domineering display of the campaign, Bayern Munich now head to Turin confident of proceeding to a European semi-final.

     

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