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

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

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

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    With the first of two major European cup finals to look forward to this week, it can only mean that the always-dreaded (yet highly anticipated) climax is coming to a season near you.

    That being the case, only a few weeks of the regular campaign remain for the continent’s elite to impress enough to make their way into our end-of-term rankings.

    This is the time of year when trophies are awarded, achievements recognized and, in contrast, great misery lumped upon those who deserve it most.

    With all that out in the open, here are this week’s European Power Rankings, which take recent form into highest account, but with the latest outings of each club bearing a particular influence on grading.

Honourable Mentions

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    Galatasaray

    Many would think Galatasaray, having just won the Süper Lig title, are officially the strongest team in Turkey right now. Their advancement to the Champions League Round of 16 this season backs up such claims.

    However, an air of doubt has emerged around these claims after Gala failed to come away from fierce rivals Fenerbahce with any points in hand, suffering a 2-1 defeat and bringing an end to the club’s six-match winning run.

     

    Zenit St. Petersburg

    While their dream of an epic Russian Premier League revival looked hopeful for a period, Zenit St. Petersburg now seems very likely to surrender another domestic campaign to CSKA Moscow, after drawing away at Rostov this weekend.

    The 1-1 result comes on the back of a 1-0 defeat at home to Anzhi Makhachkala in the cup during midweek, rounding off what’s been a pretty depressing seven-day period for Luciano Spalletti and his men.

     

    Atlético Madrid

    Though their efforts were valiant, Atlético Madrid could only provide Barcelona with a small speed bump on their way to reclaiming the La Liga title this weekend, surrendering a 1-0 lead to eventually lose their home fixture 2-1.

    While the result may be Atleti’s second loss in their last six games, both defeats have come against the only two sides above them in the Spanish top flight, bringing more of a humble sense to the record.

    Unsurprisingly, it was Radamel Falcao who netted Los Rojiblancos's only goal of the fixture, providing the Colombian's with means to be hopeful heading into Friday’s Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid.

     

    Fiorentina

    La Viola can be sorely upset at missing out on this week’s top 20, having bounced back well from the defeat suffered at Roma just over a week ago.

    Since the 1-0 loss, the Florence outfit have won their last two outings, the latest of which was a slim 1-0 victory over Palermo.

    With just one fixture left in their season, Fiorentina have to pray for an AC Milan loss in order to have any hope of Champions League football next term, after the Rossoneri drew against Roma this weekend and reduced the gap between fourth and third to just two points.

20. Manchester City

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    Movement: Down Three

    Just over a fortnight ago, Manchester City could still boast the title of Premier League champions, making it all the harder to believe that the Citizens now find themselves at the foot of our rankings.

    That said, the Citizens’ FA Cup loss to Wigan Athletic was a limp display, very much indicative of the lack of desire many within the club have for the sky blue jersey.

    As a result of the Cupset, manager Roberto Mancini has been reported by BBC Sport as soon to be out of a job, with Málaga’s Manuel Pellegrini the standout favourite to replace him.

    Four wins in their last six matches and second in the English top flight is not anything to be sniffed at. However, having scored just five goals in those fixtures and surrendering crucial points to the likes of Swansea City and Tottenham, City are not the same team they were this time last year.

19. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Movement: New Entry

    Having spent several weeks out of our top 20, Shakhtar Donetsk actually bounced back to a bit of fine form over the weekend and are fully deserving of their place back among Europe’s elite.

    The recently re-crowned Ukrainian champions cantered to a 5-0 result over Tavriya this weekend, just four days after advancing to a Ukraine Cup final fixture following their 4-2 victory over Sevastopol in the competition’s semis.

    The Miners have gradually built a side capable of challenging for international honours (with more than a little South American influence), but they're also showing that they’re on a par with their western rivals, who are often viewed as being of a superior standard.

    In all competitions, Mircea Lucescu’s men are now unbeaten across 11 matches, of which an impressive eight have been wins.

18. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Movement: New Entry

    With a record of four wins and five draws in their last nine fixtures, Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham side have been a hard nut to crack.

    The problem is that Spurs have made it an issue of failing to crack opponents they really ought to have in the same time frame, making their bid for a Premier League top four finish all the more unlikely.

    This weekend, the North Londoners managed to earn three points at the Britannia Stadium, winning 2-1 against Stoke City on the back of a well-earned 2-2 draw against Chelsea in midweek.

    Now sitting fourth, with one game left in their season, but having having played a game more than their rivals Arsenal, it’s just about out of Tottenham's hands as to where in Europe AVB’s side they will be featuring next term, making their end-of-the-season encounter against Sunderland all the more crucial.

17. Udinese

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    Movement: Up Three

    With the best form in Serie A, Udinese once again find themselves competing for a finish worthy of European football.

    With seven wins from their last seven games, the Little Zebras could have been competing for bigger honours, should they have maintained such a record across the season, but they will have to settle for fifth spot at the most, it seems.

    Having netted six goals in their previous two games, the Udinese scoring train came off the rails slightly—but not altogether—against Atalanta this weekend, with Francesco Guidolin’s side earning a 2-1 win and keeping themselves within four points of Fiorentina.

16. Bayer Leverkusen

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    Movement: Up Two

    Now unbeaten in their last seven Bundesliga outings,with an average of more than 2.5 goals scored per game, Bayer Leverkusen are currently tied with Borussia Dortmund as the division’s second most in-form side.

    The management team of Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski have accomplished a grand feat in even slightly keeping up with the pace set by those above them in Germany, and will look to tie up an impressive campaign at Hamburg next weekend.

    Having already guaranteed themselves Champions League football next season,the Factory Squad won 3-1 at home to Hannover this weekend. Stefan Kießling was unsurprisingly featured among the match’s top performers.

15. Real Sociedad

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    Movement: Down Four

    Suffering just their second La Liga loss of 2013, Real Sociedad’s bid for Champions League qualification took a rather major dent last week after a 2-1 defeat at Getafe.

    La Real have the chance to once again move into fourth when they play their game in hand this evening (Monday). They are hoping to once again move past fourth-place Valencia, who are currently a point ahead of them.

    Despite their most recent result, Real Sociedad would still be looked at as favourites for Europe’s most prestigious tournament next season, with four fixtures left to run in their term.

    A record of six wins and three draws in their last 10 games is still impressive for Philippe Montanier’s side, but the Basque outfit will need to ensure that the loss to Getafe was nothing but an anomaly, instead of a start to their end-of-season decline. 

14. Arsenal

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    Movement: No Change

    Yet to feature since last week’s rankings, Arsenal will instead meet Wigan in midweek after a 10-day rest period that will have undoubtedly refreshed them, after going through a hectic part of their schedule.

    Neither up nor down this week, the Gunners’ season best form of nine matches unbeaten across all competitions will be put to the test against a Latics side fighting for their Premier League survival, in a game they have no choice but to win.

    In a way, this could be one of Arsenal’s more difficult fixtures of the season, and that’s taking into account the numerous encounters with the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Schalke 04 and Manchester City.

    With just two games left in their season and two points away from fourth-place Tottenham, Arsenal can ensure themselves of a Champions League qualifying place if they win both of their remaining games, a far from impossible feat after achieving seven wins in their last nine matches.

13. AC Milan

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    Movement: Down Three

    With their Champions League future still very much in the balance, AC Milan’s 0-0 stalemate at home to Roma this weekend could have come at a better time, to say the least.

    As things stand, the Rossoneri are now just one point ahead of Fiorentina, who lie in the fourth spot in Serie A. As long as La Viola don’t beat Pescara by a margin of four goals or more next weekend, and providing Massimiliano Allegri’s men can clinch a draw against Siena, Milan will once again compete against the continent’s elite next campaign.

    Having put four goals past Pescara and Catania in recent weeks, the Milan attack is free-flowing when working to its optimum. That said, keeping a clean sheet against Roma, the most threatening attack in Serie A this season, also shows that the defence is in good measure in preparation for the next term.

    While the season may have gotten off to a disappointing start, 2013 continues to herald good omens for the San Siro side, and only two domestic losses in 2013 is certainly evidence of that record.

12. Ajax

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    Movement: Up Four

    Having tied up a third consecutive Eredivisie championship last week, Ajax finished off their campaign with a bang after recording their ninth win in 10 matches, a 2-0 victory over FC Groningen.

    Following a slow start to the season, the Godenzonen have gradually settled into the kind of groove they have become known ,in Dutch football, for losing just one league fixture since mid-November.

    Frank de Boer’s side have not only finished their league season seven points ahead of nearest rivals PSV, but have managed to do so in a dominant fashion.

    Ajax have managed to score three more goals in six of their last 10 outings, and kept clean sheets in each of their last three matches.

    Although Holland’s top flight may not be seen as one of Europe’s truly elite divisions, Ajax remain at the head of this particular crop, and will hope to cause more of an upset on the Champions League stage next term.

11. Benfica

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    Movement: Down Two

    Having surrendered their first league loss of the season to none other than title rivals Porto,  Liga Primeira and their season would certainly seem just about lost for Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side.

    Going into their epic weekend clash, the Eagles held a two-point lead over Vito Pereira’s men, but fell victim to a late match-winner from Kelvin, a goal sparked a small pitch invasion and an intervention from the Estadio Daragao stewards.

    With just one league game left in their campaign, Benfica can only wish that Porto drop all three points in their final league outing this weekend, so that they once again move to the top of the Portuguese pile, claiming the trophy as their own.

    However depressing the weekend might have been, the Lisbon outfit still have a Europa League final to think about this week, and they can go a long way to earning back their silverware joy with a European title victory over Chelsea.

10. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Movement: Up Two

    With a 1-0 win over third-place Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain wrapped up their momentous Ligue 1 crown over the weekend, the first the club has won since the 1993-94 season.

    Although the occasion was marred by a post-match argument between Zlatan Ibrahimović and PSG sporting director Leonardo (via Daily Mail), the victory nonetheless marks a substantial stepping stone in the side’s evolution as not only a French, but a European power in football.

    Carlo Ancelotti’s men will now move into next season’s Champions League hoping to advance past the impressive quarterfinal finish of this season, again asserting their strength on the rest of the continent.

    Unbeaten in their last 11 games across all competitions, France’s new titan won this season’s campaign with a significant seven-point advantage over Marseille,one almost identical to the eight-point difference that separated the two sides in 1994.

9. Porto

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    Movement: Up Four

    Thanks to a late Kelvin winner in the dying moments of their top-of-the-table clash against Benfica, Porto turned the Liga Primeira race in their favour at the most crucial stage of the campaign.

    The Dragons saw off the Europa League finalists with a 2-1 scoreline, bringing an end to Jorge Jesus’ unbeaten league season while maintaining their own in the process.

    Now one point above their Lisbon opponents, Vitor Pereira looks set to seal a third consecutive league crown for Porto as long as his side can win achieve a better result than Benfica this coming weekend.

    In total, Porto have won 23 Liga Primeira matches this season, drawing just six and showing that while the competition might still be alive at the summit, they at least remain at the top of it.

7= Manchester United

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    Movement: No Change

    In what was a truly emotional send-off for the Scotsman, Sir Alex Ferguson paid his tributes to those in and around the Manchester United fraternity just minutes after his side gave their gaffer one last managerial victory at Old Trafford.

    Paul Scholes also featured in what should be his last appearance for the Red Devils, with a 2-1 victory over Swansea City at the Theatre of Dreams as good a time as any to say goodbye.

    Rio Ferdinand’s late winner capped off a deserved three points for what looked like quite an experimental United lineup, with players such as Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Anderson and others all having run-outs.

    As champions of England once again, Manchester United’s record of three wins, two draws and one loss in their last six games may not be a decisive an end as they would have wanted.

    That being said, the old saying goes that “nothing worth fighting for ever came easily,” and the English giants have certainly been made to work in reclaiming their title from Manchester City.

7= Juventus

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    Movement: Down Three

    Like Manchester United, Juventus could also be forgiven for slightly letting their foot off the gas pedal since winning their league title in early circumstance, stumbling to a 1-1 draw against Cagliari this weekend.

    With that result, Juventus are no longer the in-form team of Serie A, but a record of five wins and a draw in their last six outings is admittedly nothing to be sad about either.

    That being said, one thing Juventus will want to work on next season, particularly in Europe, is their strength when moving forward in attack.

    Juve are currently the second best attack in the Italian top flight but have averaged just eight goals in their last seven games, a little more than one per match.

    Such slight margins might be forgiven in the Italian divisions, but they will only get you so far when coming up against the likes of Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, who would appear to work on a “we’re going to score one more than you” motif.

6. Barcelona

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    Movement: Up One

    Amongst the dread of their 7-0 aggregate Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern, Munich, Barcelona and their fans finally have something to be a bit more cheerful about after bringing the La Liga trophy back to the Camp Nou this weekend.

    After going 1-0 down at the Vicente Calderon, Tito Vilanova’s side gathered to pull off a 2-1 turnaround win against the Rojiblancos, finally denying any notions of a Real Madrid revival that might have seemed doable to some.

    Although the Spaniards have some way to go before re-establishing themselves as the same European power they were two years ago, five wins in their last six domestic games is the kind of form necessary to seeing it become a reality once more.

    With eight goals scored in their last three La Liga fixtures, Barcelona has seen  Lionel Messi’s influence become noticeably smaller of late, and the Catalans can perhaps be grateful for a recent taste of what life is like without the Argentine.

5. Chelsea

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    Movement: Up One

    As a by-product of Frank Lampard becoming the club’s highest ever scorer this weekend, Chelsea fought back to earn a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in Birmingham and assuring themselves of a top four finish in the process.

    When one considers just how congested the club’s playing schedule has been over the last two months and that some at the club have featured in almost 60 games this season, Rafa Benitez’s accomplishments begin to look a little more impressive than as disappointing as some suggest.

    A big part of that congested schedule has been the Europa League, the finale of which Chelsea find themselves in this week where they’ll take on a Benfica side seeking redemption for their weekend loss to Porto.

    With Champions League football already in the bag for next campaign, the Blues can wrap up a second consecutive European title this week, putting their eight-match unbeaten streak to a considerable test. 

4. Real Madrid

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    Movement: Down One

    With their Champions League run ended by Borussia Dortmund several weeks ago and Barcelona having sealed a 22nd La Liga trophy, the Copa del Rey remains Real Madrid’s only source of solace.

    This weekend, Los Merengues will clash against capital city rivals Atletico Madrid in an attempt to salvage some silverware from their 2012-13 campaign.

    However, a 1-1 draw with Espanyol perhaps wasn’t the best way to warm up for their “King’s Cup” encounter, Gonzalo Higuain’s second-half finish providing Jose Mourinho’s side with a single point.

    Prior to this weekend, Real had scored 10 goals in their previous two outings, signifying two opposite sides to the near-bipolar outfit. It’s simply a question of who will turn up against Atletico later this week, in a capital struggle of quite epic proportions. 

3. Napoli

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    Movement: Up Two

    Although Napoli is not viewed as one of Europe’s giants, their recent run in Serie A points to a side that will pose a significant obstacle to the rest of Europe’s elite next season, though that hinges on just how much of their talent the Azzurri can hang onto this summer.

    The last time Walter Mazzarri’s side failed to score less than two goals came all the way back in mid-April, in a 1-1 draw away at AC Milan, which represents just one of four points that Napoli have dropped in their last 10 games.

    While a nine-point gap between Napoli and Juventus might signify a substantial power differential at the summit of Serie A, Napoli’s pedigree really is not that far off the reigning champions, and is, of late, arguably better.

2. Borussia Dortmund

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    Movement: No Change

    Although not  achieved a victory in three matches may not be a record akin to that of Europe’s finest, Borussia Dortmund remain in good stead for next week’s Champions League final.

    After last week’s trial run against Bayern Munich, the Black and Yellows’s “B team” took a share of the spoils from their clash at Signul Iduna Park, before seeing out another draw thriller this weekend, this time against Wolfsburg.

    However, some of Jurgen Klopp’s more usual stars returned to the fray in the 3-3 draw, where a Marco Reus double and a third courtesy of Sven Bender provided a sufficient counterweight to Ivan Perisic’s brace against his former club.

    With one of, if not arguably the most important, match of BVB’s history on the horizon, Dortmund are likely to again rest some key players this weekend before taking to the Wembley pitch against Bayern Munich in the final, climactic clash of their campaign.

1. Bayern Munich

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    Movement: No Change (Seven Consecutive Weeks at No. 1)

    The official crowning of their record-breaking season, Bayern Munich finally lifted the Bundesliga title following the final home outing of their season, a 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Augsburg.

    Like Jurgen Klopp, Jupp Heynckes also fielded a stronger lineup this weekend, one that’s more likely to resemble the starting 11 that takes to the field in this season’s all-German Champions League finale.

    In rather rudimentary fashion, the German giants trotted to a 3-0 win over the Fuggerstadter for their 28th league triumph of the campaign.

    Unbeaten in the league since October, Der FCB have a very real chance of lifting a quadruple of sorts this season, having already won the DFL Supercup, Bundesliga and making their way to the finals of two other tournaments.

    Not only is Bayern’s record remarkable, but an average of 2.7 goals scored per game in their last 10 meetings across competitions—bearing in mind two of those came against Barcelona—is truly the mark of a team that will be remembered for the ages.

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