Champions League Power Rankings: Real Madrid Look Like Early Favorites

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2012

Champions League Power Rankings: Real Madrid Look Like Early Favorites

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    Bleacher Report brings you the UEFA Champions League power rankings for all 32 teams following the first round of matches.

    Paris Saint-Germain look hot, Lille look lost and there were several surprises to get your teeth into.

    The rankings will take into account domestic form as well as European performances to successfully gauge what shape each of the teams are in.

    Enjoy the slideshow!

32. Braga

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    First-shock-of-the-round award goes to Portuguese football.

    Braga hosted CFR Cluj at the Estadio-AXA and expected a first home UEFA Champions League win.

    Unfortunately for Jose Peseiro's men, they couldn't find the killer instinct to overcome Ioan Andone's colossal central defensive pairing.

    A 2-0 reverse is not what the home crowd was expecting, and a total lack of cutting edge is alarming to say the least.

31. Dinamo Zagreb

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    Dinamo Zagreb were outplayed by a good FC Porto side and in doing so recorded their seventh straight loss in the UEFA Champions League.

    The result confirms that the Croatian side have little to no chance of qualifying for the knockout stages and are just here to make up the numbers.

    Select individuals played wellJosip Simunic, Ivan Kelava and Sammir among them—but several failed to step up and the entire team really struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

    Plavi host Paris Saint-Germain next and need serious improvement if they want to keep things respectable.

30. Dynamo Kiev

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    Those looking for Dynamo Kiev to emulate Ukraine-esque performances were left bitterly disappointed.

    The Bilo-Syni failed to get themselves going and even short pass-master Miguel Veloso struggled to drag his side into the game.

    Taras Mykhalyk was more or less dominated by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jeremy Menez, while Andriy Yarmolenko made no attacking impact.

    Kiev have all the peripherals to get results when they play well, but they're going to need to pick themselves up after a comprehensive defeat.

29. Lille

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    Lille would have been hoping their poor early domestic form didn't carry over to the European stage. It did.

    One win in the last six games sees Lille near the very bottom of these power rankings, and the alarm bells will be ringing for Rudi Garcia.

    Going into halftime 3-0 down at home to BATE Borisov is not what the crowd at the Grande Stade Lille Metropole were expecting, and things didn't get much better after the break.

    Mickael Landreau, Marvin Martin and Tulio de Melo all had particularly poor games.

28. Zenit St. Petersburg

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    Estadio La Rosaleda played host to one of this round's biggest upsets as Zenit St. Petersburg were crushed 3-0 by UEFA Champions League new boys Malaga.

    Zenitchiki have an excellent pedigree in this competition but failed to get going, despite playing new man Hulk along with several Euro 2012 stars.

    Alexander Anyukov and Aleksandar Lukovic in the full-back positions were particularly poor during this game.

    Losing 3-0 in the opening game makes it a big ask to recover and qualify.

27. Montpellier

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    Montpellier continued their poor start to the season by surrendering a lead to Arsenal at the Stade de la Mosson.

    Younes Belhanda chipped in a penalty for the home side, but goals from the in-form Gervinho and Lukas Podolski pegged them back.

    Olivier Giroud's homecoming didn't quite go to plan, and La Paillade look the weakest team in Group B.

26. Olympiacos

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    Olympiacos have some talented players, but they are not good enough overall to trouble the favoured two in Group B.

    A home loss to Schalke more or less cements the fact that, despite housing good individuals such as Jose Holebas and Vasilis Torosidis, the Thrylos will be vying for third place in this setup.

25. FC Nordsjaelland

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    Shakhtar Donetsk away is a tough opening fixture for anyone, let alone Danish minnows FC Nordsjaelland.

    While the Ukrainian side ran out deserved winners, Kasper Hjulmand will be rightfully pleased with his team's performance.

    A couple of players turned in encouraging performances—including U.S full-back Michael Parkhurst—and they're not nailed on to finish with zero points after all.

24. Anderlecht

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    Anderlecht probably couldn't have picked a better time to play AC Milan.

    With the Rossoneri struggling—particularly at the San Siro—a trip to the 18-time Scudetto winners has never been less dreading.

    The 0-0 draw represents a serious issue for Milan, but no matter what form they're in, it's an achievement for the Paars-wit to grab a point and a clean sheet here.

23. AC Milan

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    AC Milan's torrid summer has manifested itself into a torrid start to the season.

    Early Serie A form has seen the Rossoneri fall to two defeats from three games, conceding losses at the San Siro to Sampdoria and Atlanta.

    The opening round of UEFA Champions League fixtures resulted in little to no progress for il Diavolo, as they were held 0-0 on their own patch to lowly Anderlecht.

22. Ajax

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    Out of the three away games facing Ajax, Borussia Dortmund was the one most likely to yield a result.

    Having been beaten, it's tough to see de Godenzonen qualifying but stand a chance if they can pull up some trees in their home fixtures.

    This was the first chance much of Europe have had to see how Frank de Boer's side are coping without Jan Vertonghen, Gregory van der Wiel and Vurnon Anita.

    Ryan Babel looked lively, but it'll take more than he and Niklas Moisander to see Ajax into the knockout stage.

21. FC Porto

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    Vítor Pereira's FC Porto put in an impressive performance to overcome Dinamo Zagreb 2-0.

    The Dragoes squandered a number of chances to put the game beyond any measurable doubt and had to wait for the final minute for the killer goal.

    Joao Moutinho set about showing just why Tottenham will be gutted to have missed out on him. His extensive passing range and calm nature helped the Portuguese side control this start to finish.

    Zagreb had their chances, though, and serious questions must be asked of Maicon and Miguel Lopes' abilities.

20. CFR Cluj

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    Reining Romanian champions CFR Cluj produced one of the most resolute defensive displays the UEFA Champions League will ever see to escape the Estadio-AXA with three points.

    Ioan Andone's team rarely saw the ball, but they scored two incisive goals and punished Braga's overconfidence and recklessness accordingly.

    There is room for improvement, as the full-backs had an absolutely horrendous 90 minutes, but the two centre-backs were simply unbeatable.

19. Celtic

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    Neil Lennon has expressed his disappointment at only securing a point in Celtic's opening fixture, and rightly so.

    Home advantage is key in the UEFA Champions League, and if you want to qualify, you have to win your home games.

     A 50-50 match resulted in a 0-0 draw, but the Benfica will be far happier than the Bhoys.

18. BATE Borisov

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    The much-unfancied BATE Borisov managed to overcome French side Lille by playing almost exclusively on the counterattack.

    That makes them a dangerous team to play for anyone, and it's a feat even more plausible considering star player Bressan started from the bench.

    Aleksandr Volodko, Edgar Olekhnovich and Vitali Rodionov scored the goals, but Rodionov's was contentious to say the least.

17. Benfica

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    Benfica have had to deal with losing key personnel, but they still provide more than a match for most European teams.

    Jorge Jesus' side travelled to Parkhead and matched up against Celtic well, have the best chance of the match and continuing their strong early-season domestic form.

    Javi García and Axel Witsel may be gone, but they've still got Rodrigo and Nicolas Gaitan.

16. Valencia

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    Bayern Munich will be hurting after losing last year's final on home territory, so Valencia got a rough draw when they landed the Bavarian giants away in the opening round.

    Despite being on the end of a deserved loss, Los Che will be pretty happy with how things went at the Allianz-Arena.

    They limited Die Bayern to two goals in this contest and scored a consolation goal right at the death.

15. Galatasaray

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    One thing is for sure: Manchester United aren't excited about travelling to the Turk Telecom Arena.

    Galatasaray put up one hell of a fight and caused more than a few nerves at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, conceding just a single goal and even saving a penalty from Nani.

    Nordin Amrabat and Hamit Altintop were constant threats to the Red Devils' defence, and should Burak Yilmaz hit form in this competition, Sir Alex Ferguson's men will be right up against it in the return game.

14. Spartak Moscow

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    To take the lead at Camp Nou is tough—only the very best teams can do it.

    Spartak Moscow are by no means elite, but they make a fine opponent and pushed Barcelona all the way in this enthralling contest.

    It speaks volumes of Spartak's ability when the Blaugrana players credit them so highly after the game. Keep your eye on Romulo in the next round of fixtures.

13. Schalke 04

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    Schalke 04's win at Olympiakos was less dominant than they would have liked, but it's all about getting the job done and picking up points away from home.

    Die Konigsblauen have a star-studded squad, but they looked a little unconvincing in their Bundesliga start. They're winning games, though, and held off a brief Thrylos rally.

    Vasilis Torosidis looked a constant threat, but goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Benedikt Howedes showed why Arsenal have a genuine rival in Group B.

12. Paris Saint-Germain

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    They may be struggling in Ligue 1, but they got it right when it counted on the world stage.

    Paris Saint-Germain are here to stay, ladies and gentleman, as they dismantled Dynamo Kiev with consummate ease to take spot in the group.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva both scored to delight the passive fans, and this result should spark renewed optimism in Paris.

11. Malaga

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    Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga shocked the world by dispatching Zenit St. Petersburg in a comfortable fashion.

    Isco was the star of the show and likely added a million euros to his price tag, while the defence continued its steely league form by keeping a clean sheet.

    Zenit fielded a strong lineup which included new signing Hulk, so to win so convincingly considering their financial circumstances is very impressive.

10. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Shakhtar Donetsk took temporary charge of Group E/F after dispatching FC Nordsjaelland.

    Armenian star Henrik Mkhitaryan grabbed both goals in a convincing win at the Donbass Arena, but the game could and should have been won by a bigger margin.

    Mircea Lucescu named a star-studded lineup filled with attacking potency and showcased some of the finest technical players in Europe.

    Shakhtar look a force.

9. Manchester City

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    Well then.

    Manchester City should have been facing a three-goal deficit at halftime, as Jose Mourinho's scathing post-Sevilla remarks kicked the team into the right gear and Real Madrid played superb football.

    It was a bold move to give Nastasic his Citizens debut in a game of such magnitude and difficulty, and an equally bold move to play the defensively-challenged Maicon against Cristiano Ronaldo.

    City looked genuinely shocked in this game—when was the last time any team asserted such immediate dominance over them?—but recovered well and their engine room worked hard.

    Encouraging signs for Roberto Mancini, despite a gut-wrenching loss.

8. Juventus

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    No head coach, removed from UEFA Champions League football for three years. What's your reward?

    The reining champions away. Ouch.

    Massimo Carrera used his intriguing 3-5-2 formation and battled to a hard-fought 2-2 draw courtesy of the reliable Fabio Quagliarella and a beautiful Arturo Vidal goal.

    This was an excellent start to life back in the big time by the Old Lady.

7. Borussia Dortmund

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    It was absolutely essential for Borussia Dortmund to grab a win here against Ajax, as they share a group with Manchester City and Real Madrid.

    City's loss makes Dortmund's win all the more sweet, as they move into a strong early position, but Jurgen Klopp may rue scoring just one goal.

    They were very much the better team in this encounter and missed a penalty that could have made it comfortable.

    As good as Ajax are, they are the basement boys in this group and the team that everyone will target as the easiest potential three-point haul.

6. Chelsea

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    This campaign was always going to be tough, as everyone will be gunning for the reining European champions.

    An opening bout against current Italian champions Juventus was always going to be tough, and the result suggests the Blues aren't quite up there with the other European giants at this moment.

    If you didn't catch the game, make sure you watch the highlights. Arturo Vidal's goal was almost incomprehensible, while Oscar's double delighted the fans.

5. Arsenal

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    There's just no stopping Arsenal at the moment, is there?

    A change in mentality is evident, as the Gunners are winning games they would have struggled with last season. A tough trip to Montpellier looked set to be a potential banana skin in their good run, but Arsene Wenger was well prepared yet again.

    Lukas Podolski shone, as the German quickly goes about proving doubters wrong with regard to his goalscoring ability. Gervinho finally appears settled in the red and white of North London.

4. Manchester United

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    Was it convincing? No, no it wasn't.

    But was it a win? Yes. Sir Alex Ferguson will be more careful this time after last season's early exit, and while this victory wasn't what Old Trafford expected, it's three points in the bag.

    Galatasaray are no slouches, but Manchester United will feel they should have won this by a larger margin. Great for Michael Carrick to score; great to see Darren Fletcher on the bench.

    The Red Devils must improve, but the injury problems are clearing up steadily and they look sure-fire bets to win an easy(ish) group.

3. Bayern Munich

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    Bayern Munich currently boast one of the best midfields in the entirety of Europe. The five they fielded against Valencia—including new record-signing Javi Martinez—has the potential to become the best in the game.

    Bayern were relatively comfortable in this victory, however, Valencia made them work for their second goal and it only came courtesy of a stunner from Toni Kroos.

    They gave up a late goal to make the scoreline look close and give Los Che heart, but this one was Die Bayern's from the beginning.

    The Bavarian giants are a lot of people's early favourites, but they need a few more wins to convince me they're worthy of the top rank.

2. Barcelona

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    Tito Vilanova's first test?

    Not many teams take the lead at the Camp Nou, so Barcelona will have been justifiably shell shocked by Spartak Moscow's efforts.

    After the initial set back, Vilanova made changes quickly to rectify the situation. The unimpressive Dani Alves came off for Alexis Sanchez, and Lionel Messi struck just minutes later.

    Not an awful lot has changed at the club since the managerial switch, so not a lot changes for the Blaugrana in the power rankings. Still major contenders.

1. Real Madrid

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    Jose Mourinho—king of the mind games? Sir Alex Ferguson's got some game, but the Portuguese tactician is fast becoming the very cleverest of managers in the business.

    Real Madrid were all over Manchester City for a full 90 minutes and were only really troubled by a single player in Yaya Toure.

    They largely nullified Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and David Silva. They contained Javi García and Gareth Barry, stopped them from controlling proceedings and dug a win out when it looked impossible.

    Though the Citizens defended resolutely, los Galacticos just showed them exactly how hard the UEFA Champions League can be.

    Madrid's form has been terrible in the league so far, but can you feel it? The air of inevitability surrounding their charge to the 10th European Cup.