In a matchup-packed week of Champions League and Europa League action, the semi-finals of Europe’s two premier competitions were decided in as dramatic a fashion as ever, sorting the proverbial men from the boys.
As ever, such encounters give us the ideal foundation on which to rank the continent’s best football clubs, although recent domestic form also plays a large part in any positioning.
Fans will disagree, supporters will be outraged, but the following 20 clubs currently sit as the strongest that European football has to offer right now.
One of four Europa League semi-finalists, Fenerbahce are in with a real shout of winning their first ever European title this season and will face off against Benfica to determine who will take their place in the competition’s finale.
Currently enjoying a five-match winning streak in the Super Lig and just four points behind reigning Turkish champions Galatasaray, Fener may yet pull off an underdog double in what could be a 2012-13 campaign to remember.
Unfortunate not to find themselves in this week’s top 20, Ajax drop out despite opening their lead at the summit of the Eredivisie to five points following their weekend win away to PSV Eindhoven.
In doing so, De Godenzonen extended their domestic winning run to six consecutive matches and haven’t lost a fixture since late January.
One of the most important fixtures of the weekend in terms of next season’s Champions League makeup, Bayer Leverkusen held an in-form Schalke at bay to earn themselves a much-needed point at the Veltins Arena.
In truth, the away side may feel unfortunate not to have come away with all three points in hand thanks to a late Raffael penalty, but will still be pleased to call the Bundesliga’s third spot their own, four points ahead of The Miners.
Like Ajax, Vitesse are one of Holland’s in-form teams right now and saw their seven-match winning streak come to an end over the weekend, drawing 3-3 at Roda JC.
Just five points away from the Eredivisie leaders and currently residing in second place, “FC Hollywood” remain just one point ahead of PSV and Feyenoord, but are so far looking up to the challenge of upsetting the Dutch applecart.
Movement: New Entry
In recent years, Switzerland has emerged as a major contender for producing young talent in European football and if there’s one club at the forefront of their nation’s factory line, it’s FC Basel.
This past week, the Red and Blues secured their Europa League semi-final meeting against Chelsea after defeating a 10-man Tottenham outfit on penalties.
That being said, the Swiss giants were on top for a great deal of the encounter and the likes of Marco Streller, Mohamed Salah or Marcelo Diaz could have all decided the fixture earlier than was in fact the case.
Not to mention Murat Yakin’s side currently sit atop the Swiss Super League and are three points ahead of nearest challengers Grasshoppers, well on their way to a fourth consecutive league crown.
Movement: Down Two
Despite pulling off a miraculous comeback in the last 10 minutes of the Premier League encounter against Norwich, Arsenal see a drop in the continental rankings thanks to somewhat more confident results for those around them.
Coming into this fixture, Norwich had one of the worst away forms in the English top flight and had failed to keep a clean sheet away from home since February 2.
However, that didn’t stop the Canaries from taking a 1-0 lead at the Emirates Stadium and maintaining such a scoreline until the final few minutes when Arsenal finally saw it fit to kick into gear.
An ambiguous result, the eventual 3-1 demolition of Chris Hughton’s side showed resolve perseverance and loyalty to the cause, but it also showed that Arsene Wenger’s side can be opened up far more easily than supporters would like to see, and the Gunners will assuredly find the going tougher against bigger opposition.
Movement: Down Five
After seeing their Champions League dream come to a bitter end at Signal Iduna Park during the week, Málaga risk seeing the wheels coming off what was once looking like a highly encouraging season in the next few weeks.
The Anchovies were unfortunate that a last-gasp Borussia Dortmund turnaround denied them what looked like their spot in the competition’s semi-finals, but could still walk away from the tournament with their heads held high.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men recovered to win 1-0 at home to Osasuna but weren’t overly convincing in their victory despite the fact that the league is all they have left to play for.
While European football isn’t possible next season due to the club’s ban from European competition, the Andalusian outfit could do with a jumpstart to their campaign, regardless of how over their European thrill-ride might be for now.
Movement: Up Three
Still one of Europe’s most in-form clubs, Real Sociedad’s incredible 2012-13 story continues to write itself and the Basque outfit have almost now gone three months since their last league loss; a 3-1 defeat at Real Madrid.
Following a very poor start to the season, Philippe Montanier has somehow managed to rouse his players in impressive fashion and now has Champions League football firmly within his club’s sights for next season.
Four points ahead of Málaga but still 11 away from Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad still sit in La Liga’s fourth place and it would take a considerably strong side to take that record away from La Real considering their current vein of form.
Movement: Up One
Another week, another unbeaten fixture in the league calendar for Porto in what’s beginning to fringe on formality for the Portuguese titans.
Conceding just their sixth goal in the club’s last 10 outings across all competitions, Vitor Pereira’s side last week kept within touching distance of Liga Primeira leaders Benfica, winning 3-1 against Sporting Braga.
However, they came back to earn redemption later on in the week by beating Porto 1-0 in the Taca da Liga final and possibly making this a trophy-less campaign for the Dragons.
The first time in seven games that Porto had failed to score against Portuguese opposition, the club can still look to their 25-match unbeaten league streak as a major achievement this season and now look towards their May matchup with Benfica where they’ll hope to turn the table in Portugal’s top flight.
Movement: Down One
Perhaps as a result of their highly congested fixture list of late, Chelsea have looked slightly beleaguered of late and were this weekend dumped out of the running for the FA Cup by Manchester City.
In their Wembley clash, the Blues’ first half was a significant indicator of their timid approach and while they may have finished the stronger of the two sides, pulling back a two-goal deficit simply proved too much for the semi-finalists.
Earlier in the week, Rafa Benitez’s side also made their way to a Europe League semi-final despite a second-leg loss to Rubin Kazan in their own territory, albeit with a significantly weakened starting XI.
The West Londoners will now face FC Basel in the next stage of the European tournament and will need to divert serious attention to the fixture if they’re to come away from this season with a trophy in the cabinet.
Benitez’s FA Cup exit was but the latest in a line of disappointing performances for his side as the Blues—who it’s easy to forget still reign as the champions of Europe—fail to obtain any real note of consistency in their form.
Movement: Up Three
While it may not have booked them a place in the Champions League semi-finals, Galatasaray’s performance in the second-leg of their quarter-final tie against Real Madrid will have been a very encouraging one for Fatih Terim and his side.
Beating the Primera Liga champions 3-2 on the night, Gala showed that they can indeed compete with some of Europe’s giants when playing at their best, but simply had too much of an uphill task following their 3-0 loss in the first leg.
The Istanbul outfit then went on to Karabukspor a domestic defeat in their Super Lig encounter, holding their lead at the top of the Turkish top flight at four points.
If all carries on with current momentum, Terim should wrap up back-to-back league titles for Gala next month and will undoubtedly be back more prepared for Europe’s finest in the next campaign.
Movement: Up Two
After scoring just three goals in three games, Atletico Madrid will have gotten a few home supporters back on their side this weekend after easing relegation candidates Granada out of their way 5-0.
No matter how inferior the opponent, coming out on the better side of a five-goal crushing is always a morale booster and Diego Simeone will be hoping for this to be a revival of some of Atleti’s earlier-season form.
Across all competitions, the capital club have lost just twice in their last 10 outings but are still three points away from Real Madrid in second, and will find it difficult to claw that deficit down in time for a late La Liga lunge on the division’s top two places.
Movement: Down One
Shakhtar Donetsk continued their rampaging run towards a fourth consecutive Ukrainian Premier League title this weekend, seeing off a challenge by mid-table side Zorya 3-0 and featuring a Man of the Match showing from Darijo Srna.
The Eastern European giants were impressive during their run to the Champions League Round of 16 this season, handling the likes of Chelsea and Juventus with confidence in their stride.
Although that pursuit ultimately came undone, the Miners still have a chance at obtaining a domestic treble and with the league title almost certainly staying at the Donbass Arena, Mircea Lucescu’s side will face Karpaty in the quarter-finals of the Ukrainian Cup this week, hoping to add to their Super Cup win from earlier in the campaign.
Movement: Down Two
Even considering a record of two draws on the trot, AC Milan’s drop in the rankings is more as a result of the good work of those around them as opposed to any bad form they may have undergone.
Having earned a point at Fiorentina last week, the Rosoneri wouldn’t have been as pleased with this weekend’s sharing of the spoils, allowing Napoli to walk away from the San Siro with a 1-1 draws in hand.
The result means that Napoli now sit in the driving seat for Serie A’s second spot and maintain a four-point lead over Massimiliano Allegri’s men, who sit in third.
However, such a draw does of course mean that Milan’s unbeaten 2013 league campaign endures and a run of 14 straight unbeaten outings is nothing to be sniffed at.
Next week’s meeting with Juventus in Turin promises to be the biggest test of Milan’s domestic season thus far and will truly tell us whether Allegri’s side is capable of moving onto that extra plain of quality.
Movement: No Change
Drawing 1-1 against AC Milan over the weekend, Napoli will have undoubtedly come away from the San Siro the far happier of the two sides, keeping their close rivals at arm's length in the hunt for a top-two finish.
Now unbeaten in their last four, Goran Pandev’s goal extends what has been an encouraging patch of form for the Azzurri that is currently seeing them through to a place in next season’s Champions League.
Still eight points behind Juventus and having played a game more than their Turin adversaries, Napoli may still be that shade off competing for a Scudetto title but have simply to correct a matter of consistency before that’s the case.
Movement: Up Four
Manchester City’s week couldn’t have started in much better fashion after earning a deserved 2-1 win over eternal rivals Manchester United, thanks in large part to the heroics of Yaya Toure.
However, Roberto Mancini’s fortune only got better after watching his side book another appearance at Wembley in May, where they’ll face off against Wigan Athletic to reclaim the FA Cup title they lost last season.
The Citizens saw out another convincing 2-1 win over the weekend, this time in their semi-final encounter with Chelsea where the West London side simply failed to get out of the blocks in the first 45 minutes.
Although the league might be lost at this stage, City still have the chance to claim silverware from “the oldest tournament in world football” and you wouldn’t bet against them given the pedigree of opposition overcome in the last seven days.
Movement: Down One
Pitched just above their local rivals, Manchester United have the good grace of a 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League to keep their noses in front of Manchester City this week.
Although the Citizens handed the Red Devils a 2-1 loss early in the week to bring an end to United’s impressive winning league streak, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side bounced back well to record a 2-0 win at Stoke City over the weekend, something many an English outfit have struggled to do in recent seasons.
Mathematically speaking, the leaders of the English top flight can win divisional honours in the next two weeks should everything go to plan on their schedule, asserting just how powerful Manchester United have been in league competition this term.
One particular aspect of United’s play to improve dramatically in months gone by is their defence, and after beginning the campaign in leaky fashion, the Red Devils have now recorded five clean sheets in their last six Premier League fixtures.
Movement: Up Two
Being looked at as one of the frontrunners to walk away with this season’s Europa League, Benfica came away from St. James’ Park with a 4-2 aggregate victory over Newcastle United this week to book a semi-final fixture against Fenerbahce.
Should Jorge Jesus’ men make their way past the Turkish club, they’ll then come up against either FC Basel or Chelsea in the competition’s final.
However, it’s not just in European competition that the Eagles have excelled this campaign and a record of 21 wins and four draws in their 25 league outings this season points toward an altogether more impressive dominion over domestic matters.
With the Taca da Liga taking centre stage in Portugal this weekend, it won’t be until next week that Jesus’ men get back to league action against Sporting Lisbon where they’ll get the opportunity to stretch their four-point lead at the head of the Liga Primeira.
Movement: Down Two
Yet to play a league match since their Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich, Juventus haven’t yet had the chance to redeem the 4-0 aggregate loss suffered against their Bavarian foes.
Although their dominance of Serie A this year has been magnanimous, the two-legged drubbing really highlighted the difference between Juve’s current standard and just where Europe’s truly elite now stand, however marginal that may be.
Antonio Conte’s men will meet with Lazio this week hoping to stretch their lead at the head of the Italian top tier to 11 points after watching Napoli and AC Milan, second and third respectively, run out a 1-1 draw at the San Siro.
Regardless of their European ejection, the Old Lady still boast a six-match unbeaten run in Serie A, the last five of which have been wins and it would seem the Turin club are set to wrap a second Scudetto in as many years.
Movement: Up One
Going through a two-legged encounter against Barcelona without losing either fixture is something not every side can brag about but Paris Saint-Germain managed to build on a 2-2 draw against the Catalan giants, drawing 1-1 against Tito Vilanova’s men at the Camp Nou.
Although the away-goal ruling ensured that the Ligue 1 leaders nevertheless bowed out of European competition, Carlo Ancelotti can feel invigorated by the steady progress his side have made on the European stage.
Returning to domestic action, PSG then travelled to basement side Troyes where they pulled off a fairly rudimentary 1-0 win over their lower league opposition, capitalising on Marseille’s 0-0 draw at Lille to take a nine-point lead at the head of the table.
Competing in the Champions League for the first time in eight years, PSG held a very decent account of themselves on their return to Europe’s elite tournament and sent a serious message of intent for seasons to come.
Movement: Down One
The first of our four Champions League finalists to feature in this week’s rankings, Barcelona earned a second draw against Paris Saint-Germain to book their spot against Bayern Munich thanks to the initiative shown in their 2-2 display at the Parc des Princes.
Fielding a considerably weakened starting XI, Barca also extended their unbeaten run to eight games across all competitions, condemning Real Zaragoza to their relegation place with a 3-0 thumping assisted largely by the youth of the Catalan club.
Since losing to Real Madrid in early March, Jordi Roura has done brilliantly in a caretaker aspect for the European titans but with Tito Vilanova now back at their helm, the Blaugrana seem to have injected a fresh enthusiasm into their approach.
Movement: No Change
Tied alongside their Spanish rivals in the rankings this week, Real Madrid’s 3-2 loss in Istanbul during the week was redeemed on the weekend thanks to a 3-0 La Liga win at Athletic Bilbao.
While the trip to Turkey left Los Merengues slightly more embarrassed than they might have liked, Real still moved past Gala to claim a spot in the Champions League semi-finals with a 6-2 aggregate victory.
Domestically, Jose Mourinho’s men have won eight and drawn one of their last nine league outings and will go up against capital rivals Atletico Madrid in May to determine this season’s Copa del Rey champion.
Movement: Up Three
Having conceded the Bundesliga title by a margin of 20 points, it’s fair to say Borussia Dortmund’s defence of their league title went far from according to plan this season.
That being said, European competition has provided a welcome diversion for the Black and Yellows, who will now see their Champions League rollercoaster continue thanks to a late turnaround at Signal Iduna Park in midweek.
When 90 minutes passed, Málaga led by a scoreline of 2-1 but Jurgen Klopp watched on as a tale akin to that of Manchester United’s 1999 reversal against Juventus unfolded before his eyes.
Marco Reus was first to draw his side level in the first minute of stoppage time but the away goals scored by Eliseu and Joaquin meant that the equaliser provided little comfort, that was until Felipe Santana fired home from just a few yards out with only 60 seconds left of the four added minutes.
Evidently pleased with their fairytale journey, BVB then went on to hand Greuther Furth a 6-1 smattering at the Trolli Arena over the weekend, earning the seventh win of their last 10 matches across all competitions.
Movement: No Change
Having won the Bundesliga title in record time last week, Bayern Munich don’t look keen to call it a day on their season just yet and continued an incredible season with wins over Juventus and Nuremburg.
Travelling to Turin, Bayern needed only to maintain the 2-0 lead picked up from their first encounter with Juve but chose to go one better and actually handed the Italian champions another 2-0 battering, establishing the distance in quality between the two outfits with some assurance.
Jupp Heynckes then casually stretched their goal difference to a casual plus-70 with a 4-0 triumph over Nuremburg at the Allianz Arena, sending a small statement to Barcelona in anticipation of their Champions League semi-final clash.
Die Roten have now gone four matches without conceding a goal but have, perhaps more impressively, managed to score a tally of 30 goals in their last 10 games, averaging three goals per game in that time.
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