Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs for the 2013-14 Season
The new European season is closing in. In roughly a month, depending on the nation, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona and the rest of the continent's powerhouses will be restarting domestic competition as they seek even better results than in 2012-13.
Every top side, moreover, will have one eye on the jewel in the European crown; glory in the Champions League, which was lifted by Jupp Heynckes' all-conquering outfit in May of this year.
But who is looking strong for the coming 12 months? Who has improved on a winning formula, and who has taken a few steps backwards so far in the preseason period?
Starting with Die Roten of Bavaria, here are the 10 best teams hoping for success in 2013-14.
1. Bayern Munich
Titles in 2012-13: Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB Pokal, DFL Supercup
There is no doubt whatsoever that 2012-13 belonged to the German powerhouses. And the frightening thing is that they could be even stronger for the upcoming campaign.
Josep Guardiola will try to bring his winning touch from Barcelona over to Bavaria, while there has been a flurry of transfer activity to bolster the team. The likes of Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara are quality additions to an already formidable base.
Bayern won everything going in the past 12 months, and with an even stronger squad, a repeat does not look out of the question.
Titles in 2012-13: La Liga
The Blaugrana may have missed out on a place in the Champions League in emphatic fashion against Bayern, but the Liga title was little more than a formality for Tito Vilanova's men.
Thanks to some spectacular transfer activity so far in the window, the Catalan side will once more be the team to beat in Spain and also across Europe. Brazil wonderkid Neymar is the big gamble for Barcelona, who they hope will lead them to continental glory once again.
3. Borussia Dortmund
Titles in 2012-13: None
If not for their countrymen in Bayern, Jurgen Klopp and his charges could well have been celebrating the most successful year in Dortmund's history. Not only did they finish a distant second in the Bundesliga, but BVB also suffered the pain of losing to their rivals in both the Champions League and DFL Super Cup finals.
The postseason has been hard on the German team. Mario Gotze defected to Bayern and Felipe Santana left for Schalke, while question marks remain over the futures of Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek.
There is still time for replacements to arrive, but Dortmund will have to fight hard if they wish to challenge Bayern over the next 12 months.
4. Real Madrid
Titles won in 2012-13: Supercopa
The 2013 summer break has been one of transition and uncertainty for Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho jumped ship and was replaced by the experienced Italian Carlo Ancelotti, but that coaching overhaul has meant the Merengue are late entrants into the transfer market.
The 15-point deficit to Barcelona in La Liga was a bitter blow to the capital club's pride, as was humiliation in the Champions League at the hands of Borussia Dortmund.
There is no doubt that Madrid will be as competitive as ever with their star-studded squad, but they will need investment and new faces before the transfer window closes if they wish to make up ground on our top three.
5. Manchester United
Titles won in 2012-13: Premier League
The Red Devils, reigning Premier League champions after an impressive season, are truly taking a leap into the unknown. For the first time in 27 years, the Old Trafford club will be starting a new term without Sir Alex Ferguson on the bench.
The Scottish tactician retired as manager, making way for David Moyes. The ex-Everton boss therefore has a mammoth task living up to the reputation of the man who won everything there was to win in football.
Moyes will still count on the virtuoso talent of Robin van Persie, Premier League top scorer for 2012-13, and strike partner Wayne Rooney. It will be fascinating to see how United respond to the new challenge as they strive to repeat this year's success.
Titles won in 2012-13: Serie A, Supercoppa Italiana
With the inconvenience of coach Antonio Conte's suspension for a significant part of the year, 2012-13 could have been a disappointing year for the Turin giants. But the Old Lady showed her resolve and ran out easy winners of Serie A to record back-to-back championships.
If anything was missing last year it was firepower. With the incorporations of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, however, Juve should have a potency in front of goal to match any team in Europe.
Conte has slowly but steadily built a powerful side in Juventus Stadium, and as well as starting as favourites in Italy, the club could well challenge in the Champions League.
7. Manchester City
Titles won in 2012-13: Community Shield
After the euphoria of the previous season, 2012-13 saw Manchester City return to earth with a thud. Hated city rivals Manchester United finished no less than 11 points clear at the top of the table, a disastrous result that led to the dismissal of Roberto Mancini.
New man on the bench Manuel Pellegrini certainly knows how to deal with pressure; thanks to a previous spell at Real Madrid, he will certainly not be intimidated by the short lifespan City managers have become accustomed to.
With the added talents of Fernandinho and Jesus Navas in the squad, the Chilean will know he needs to find an instant winning formula to challenge both in England and Europe.
8. Paris Saint-Germain
Titles won in 2012-13: Ligue 1
After a painful 19 years of disappointment and failure, Paris was filled with joy in 2013 as PSG finally recorded their third Ligue 1 title, ending a drought that stretched back to 1994. There is massive optimism around Parc des Princes, fuelled by the Qatar Investment Authority's generous investments.
Even the QIA financial muscle was not enough to convince Carlo Ancelotti to stay put. But the new Real Madrid coach, PSG hope, will be ably followed by the World Cup-winning captain of 1998, French legend Laurent Blanc.
Napoli striker Edinson Cavani, according to The Daily Telegraph, will also soon be joining the capital club as he arrives in France to sign terms. The Uruguayan joins an already formidable, immensely talented squad who will be hunting French and European glory in the coming season.
Titles won in 2012-13: Europa League
Even if the past season was one to forget for the Blues, there is one very good reason to get excited at Stamford Bridge. After nearly six years away from West London, the Special One himself, Jose Mourinho, is back with the Blues and ready to turn the Premier League upside down once more.
The Portuguese manager is almost certain to receive a sizable transfer warchest from owner Roman Abramovich, while Andre Schurrle (from Bayer Leverkusen) and Marco van Ginkel (from Vitesse) are already on board.
Chelsea fans are already dreaming that Mourinho can reverse the fortunes of last year and return the club to the top of the EPL, and few would bet against the charismatic character making a big impact once again.
10. AC Milan
Titles won in 2012-13: None
From a disastrous start, Milan did well to recover third place in the Serie A and Champions League football. From losing six of their first 12 matches, the Rossoneri would go on to suffer defeat just twice in the remainder of the season, a remarkable turnaround that averted disaster.
That revival means Massimiliano Allegri will remain in Lombardy, as will the man many credit with the improvement, walking controversy machine Mario Balotelli.
A serious clearout this time last year left its mark in Milan, but a younger squad withstood the departure of starters such as Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso to record a respectable season. With one year more in experience in the same lineup, this new-look Milan should be disputing bigger things in 2013-14.
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