Early 2015/16 European Club Rankings
It's the beginning of July. Teams are only just returning for pre-season training or embarking upon their money-spinning summer tours, but we've taken a stab at some early European club rankings.
Where the rankings are usually based upon form over the previous four to six weeks, here we judge based on how the teams finished up at the end of the 2014-15 season and the moves they've made in the summer transfer window to date.
Have your favourite club strengthened or lost their footing? Take a look inside and start the debate in the comments section below!
Milan: Signing Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano is a start, but let's see some strengthening elsewhere before we get too carried away.
PSV Eindhoven: Having lost Memphis Depay, PSV predictably hover just outside the top 25.
Ajax: Ajax will focus on becoming the best team in the Netherlands again this season. New signing Nemanja Gudelj will help.
Sampdoria: A great run last season saw them briefly flirt with the top order before they ultimately fell short.
Tottenham Hotspur: Toby Alderweireld is a hell of a signing, but they still need a few more pieces.
Sporting CP: They haven't lost William Carvalho yet, and they've gained coach Jorge Jesus from archrivals Benfica.
Saint-Etienne: Saint-Etienne are currently well ahead of Marseille, who are being ravaged for all their valuables.
Achieving UEFA Champions League football for this season was a remarkable feat by Lazio; Stefano Pioli deserves praise for taking this team to European football's proverbial promised land.
They've started the summer slowly, though, and although they haven't lost any key assets, such as Felipe Anderson, they haven't strengthened, either. The team spirit throughout their winning run in Serie A last season was incredible, but to predicate more success on that would be risky.
Lazio need to act in the transfer market.
24. Borussia Dortmund
The Jurgen Klopp Borussia Dortmund era has finished, and Thomas Tuchel has taken the reins for the 2015-16 season and beyond.
A squad overhaul is in progress, with ESPN FC reporting Ciro Immobile could be on his way to Sevilla while Mitchell Langerak has signed for Stuttgart. Meanwhile, Gonzalo Castro and Roman Burki have joined, bolstering the midfield and goalkeeping departments respectively.
Tuchel needs to ensure he reinvigorates and refreshes at the Westfalenstadion; the squad went stale last season, and the best must be coaxed from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Kampl and company.
Internazionale's influx of cash has helped them to acquire some excellent players in the transfer market, and early indications are they'll be back in the mix for a UEFA Champions League spot soon enough.
Geoffrey Kondogbia, Miranda, Jeison Murillo and loan-signing Martin Montoya are all excellent additions, and the feeling is Roberto Mancini won't stop there with his recruitment. The club already boasts a solid goalkeeper, some brilliant central midfielders and the reigning Capocannoniere, Mauro Icardi.
An upwardly mobile Inter? It's about time.
Monaco's moves in the transfer market have been solid so far.
They've sent Radamel Falcao back on loan to a Premier League club, though they're paying significantly more of his wages this season than they were last, and they've snared Fabinho on a permanent deal from Rio Ave. Troublesome winger Lucas Ocampos has left for Marseille, while Dimitar Berbatov has been released after his contract expired.
Bernardo Silva, star of the European Under-21 Championship, could be in for a bigger role, but it wouldn't be a proper summer without Les Monegasques losing a big player, and according to Marca, Atletico Madrid are interested in Yannick Ferreira Carrasco. Geoffrey Kondogbia has already joined Inter.
Porto have yet to improve the squad behind their impressive UEFA Champions League showing last season, in which they reached the quarter-final. In fact, they've been severely weakened, losing Danilo to Real Madrid and Jackson Martinez to Atletico Madrid.
They've signed Giannelli Imbula from Marseille, but that has only served to bolster an already extremely strong central-midfield area. Alberto Bueno was signed at the end of the season for free from Rayo Vallecano, but expect Julen Lopetegui to make an offer for a big-name striker before the window is out.
One of the major factors behind Benfica's title-winning 2014-15 season was manager Jorge Jesus' ability to keep the squad together despite maximal disruptions and setbacks. The fact he managed to win the Primeira Liga despite half of his first XI being sold the last summer is testament to his abilities.
But Jesus is gone; he's joined city rivals Sporting and will take up the youth project there. That severely weakens the Eagles, and their recruitment so far has been the epitome of low-key. Perhaps the biggest name they've landed this summer is former Queens Park Rangers misfit Adel Taarabt.
19. Bayer Leverkusen
So far, Bayer Leverkusen have lost two key players in Josip Drmic and Gonzalo Castro and gained two in Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Admir Mehmedi. Andre Ramalho has joined from Red Bull Salzburg to help Roger Schmidt instil his bizarre tactical blueprint in Germany.
It leaves the club in a state of minor flux and, consequently, difficult to judge. There are sure to be more signings on the way who will define them as a team. It's guaranteed they'll be just as unappealing to play against next season—they press like monsters and never stop running.
Napoli have appointed Maurizio Sarri in place of the departed Rafael Benitez, and it's a name that will be unknown to many football fans across Europe.
Regardless, the Partenopei still boast a very strong squad headed by goal-getter Gonzalo Higuain. As long as the Argentinian can recover from his rough Copa America 2015 campaign, he'll find the net at least 20 more times in 2015-16.
They may have failed to achieve UEFA Champions League football for this season, but they're a stronger outfit than Lazio as it stands.
Roma have a lot to prove this season, and the top brass in the Italian capital will be hoping this team's slide during the second half of the 2014-15 campaign can be erased from memory as we creep toward a fresh slate.
Rudi Garcia has the full backing of the board and a squad stacked full of talented players. Kevin Strootman is returning to action, Radja Nainggolan has been secured on a full-time basis and players such as Juan Iturbe have a lot more to give.
On paper, the Giallorossi are still the second-best Italian outfit.
They've brought in six players, but Liverpool are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the Premier League top four. Their early business has been great, but they're another marquee player away from breaching the glass ceiling.
Despite recruiting Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino, Brendan Rodgers still needs a striker to complete this set. If Daniel Sturridge cannot be relied upon because of his fitness issues, another potent, direct goal threat is required.
James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne are brilliant acquisitions for the club and respectively bolster the club's midfield and defence.
15. Manchester United
Manchester United are yet to spring into action in the transfer market. A bid for Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin has been rejected, per BBC Sport, and Memphis Depay was secured very early in the window, but a tangible lack of first-team upgrades haunts Louis van Gaal's progress so far.
It leaves them clinging to a fourth-placed placing among Premier League teams here, just ahead of archrivals Liverpool, whose early business has seen them leap into contention for the UEFA Champions League spots.
The signing of Matteo Darmian is set to be announced soon, though, according to the Independent, solving the right-back issues that dogged the team last season.
Lyon's fantastic 2014-15 was predicated on the front two of Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir's brilliance. When the former missed game time, the team suffered and fans feared what would become of their team if he were to leave in a big-money deal this summer.
But it doesn't look like Lacazette is off, and Hubert Fournier has recruited Claudio Beauvue from Guingamp to complement the attack. He should take some of the strain off the pivotal yet youthful front two, giving Lyon a greater range in the attacking third.
On paper, they're still well behind Paris Saint-Germain, but OL are gearing up for another title charge.
13. Borussia Monchengladbach
Lucien Favre has collated quite the team at Borussia Monchengladbach, and after excelling in the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign, they're set to make an assault on the UEFA Champions League this year.
Thus far in the transfer market, they've lost Max Kruse but gained Josip Drmic—hardly an upgrade but certainly a tonic to losing a starting striker—and kept the rest of the squad in tow. Unlike Wolfsburg, who are dogged by rumours of Kevin De Bruyne's potential departure, Gladbach have no such concerns.
Wolfsburg stunned the world in 2014-15, finishing second in the Bundesliga, winning the DFB Pokal and making a deep run in the UEFA Europa League.
Unfortunately, they're struggling to bat away bids for their key players, with Kevin De Bruyne of particular interest to Manchester City, per the Mirror. Talk of a €50 million bid won't subside.
Additions-wise, Dieter Hecking has made one, and it's a good one. Max Kruse comes in to assume the starting role up front, bringing Die Wolfe some consistency and reliability in the forward line.
Valencia's summer has consisted of securing 100 per cent of the rights to their three Benfica imports, being forced to spend €30 million to sign Alvaro Negredo permanently from Manchester City and fending off interest in Nicolas Otamendi.
Despite the fact they're no weaker than they were, the media swirl surrounding the club is hardly encouraging. Losing Otamendi feels inevitable despite the riches recently injected into the club.
Santi Mina and Zakaria Bakkali have both been secured, with the former a wonderful young talent who sparkled for Celta Vigo last season. The latter could be world class if he screws his head on straight.
10. Manchester City
Manchester City rank as the third-best Premier League club as it stands, and we're still waiting for the Citizens to really kick into action this summer.
Many expect the Raheem Sterling saga to eventually conclude with the player joining Manuel Pellegrini's side, but City have failed to secure his signature in time for pre-season training.
James Milner's departure sincerely weakens the club too, leaving them in a questionable position as of July 10.
Sevilla have absolutely aced the early part of the transfer market; after receiving close to €50 million for Carlos Bacca and Aleix Vidal, they've astutely secured cheap deals to bolster their already strong squad.
Michael Krohn-Dehli was one of La Liga's best midfielders last season and was secured on a free transfer, as was former Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk star Yevhen Konoplyanka. Full-back Sergio Escudero came cheap. The Guardian has reported that Stoke City have accepted a £7 million bid for Steven N'Zonzi, further bolstering the team's soldier-like midfield.
Their great early business moves them above Valencia in our rankings for the time being, and we're still expecting them to drop some serious cash on a quality striker to replace Bacca.
Petr Cech is a key piece in a puzzle Arsene Wenger is close to completing, and his addition bolsters the side's strength. Arsenal are firmly in the Premier League title race at this stage no matter what anyone says.
Because of Manchester City and Manchester United's lack of action in the market so far, we're placing the Gunners as the second-strongest outfit in England right now. It likely won't last—the Manchester clubs are sure to act soon enough—but the ranking is true for now.
Juventus are still the top dogs in Italy—that simply isn't up for discussion—but they've taken a hit in the form of Carlos Tevez's exit. He was their best player last season.
Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Simone Zaza have all been bought for a total of over £50 million, which creates a certain number of unknowns for the season ahead. All three are different players, while Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata remain, so what exactly is Massimiliano Allegri's plan?
Andrea Pirlo has departed too, leaving a gaping hole in midfield for someone to try and fill. Juve enter the season a legend and a star performer short, meaning they feature lower than perhaps some would've expected them to be.
6. Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid look to be facing a sea change once again this summer; credit to Diego Simeone for being able to oversee this circus time and time again and still put together a decent outfit.
Mario Mandzukic has been sent to Juventus, and Jackson Martinez has arrived in his place. If the Colombian subscribes to Cholo's methods, he could be a deadly force alongside fellow new arrival Luciano Vietto.
Miranda, Cristian Ansaldi and Toby Alderweireld have been sent packing as Atletico clear out the debris, but Arda Turan is a huge loss—Barcelona have made him their latest acquisition.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain's only major move this summer has come in the goalkeeping department, where Kevin Trapp has joined and is expected to become the next No. 1 under Laurent Blanc's watch.
That puts Salvatore Sirigu in a difficult situation, but he's a good goalkeeper who has often been overlooked by the French outfit, and anyone willing to cobble together a €10 million bid could land themselves a top shot-stopper.
A string of Blanc's stars, including Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, will return late to pre-season because of their Copa America exertions.
4. Real Madrid
Real Madrid have done little to close the gap between themselves and Barcelona this summer. If anything, they may have taken two or three steps back.
Firing Carlo Ancelotti was a typically Florentino Perez thing to do. Replacing him with Rafa Benitez—fresh off failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League with Napoli—is not an upgrade. Sergio Ramos is feeling unsettled and the Manchester United rumours, reported by the Mirror, among others, will not go away.
It's not a good look, Real.
Chelsea haven't made a permanent signing yet this summer, with just the loan acquisition of Radamel Falcao to boast. He'll likely be the third-choice striker behind Diego Costa and Loic Remy this season.
Regardless, the Blues are still the best team in the Premier League; Arsenal have wedged themselves firmly into title contention by acquiring Petr Cech, but Jose Mourinho's best XI is still the best in England.
That secures them a high spot in the early rankings.
2. Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich haven't dominated the headlines with a high-profile transfer this summer, but Douglas Costa has been signed for €30 million and Joshua Kimmich has joined the group after being secured earlier in the season.
Rumours of an impending Bastian Schweinsteiger exit, detailed by ESPN FC, persist, although that would be a wound more for the hearts of the club than the heads, as the German is declining in terms of fitness and capabilities.
Meanwhile, Mario Gotze is firing out first pitches. Pre-season is alright for some!
The European champions start the season top of the pile. Quelle surprise!
Since lifting Ol' Big Ears in Berlin, Barcelona have added Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan to their star-studded squad—despite the fact they have no board, no president and a transfer ban prohibiting them from registering their acquisitions. It doesn't matter how you chop that up, it's phenomenal going.
Although the new additions can't play until January, there's no reason to believe Barca will lose steam. The summer happenings at Real Madrid only serve to strengthen their position at the top of La Liga.