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

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

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

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    The landscape of European football is an ever-shifting being that is constantly in a form of metamorphosis, and the balance of power is one of the attributes that sees perhaps the most significant twists.

    Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, one said that “There is nothing permanent except change” and UEFA co-efficient was probably the basis for the historian’s claims, despite being born circa 535 B.C.

    In any case, the biggest teams of tomorrow may not necessarily be the same as today. Here, we’ll look at the parties that carry the biggest weight on the European stage as things stand.

    The inclusion of any club will take a variety of attributes into account including recent participation in European tournaments, league performances and even notable individual fixtures or encounters.

    History only counts for so much on this list and winning the Champions League several seasons ago will only do so much good if that team has greatly slumped in stature since then.

20. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Coming from Ukraine, it would be all too easy to forget about Shakhtar Donetsk and leave the club out in the cold when thinking of Europe’s best and brightest.

    That said, the 2008-09 UEFA Cup champions have become a staple in European competitions and regularly appear in the Champions League, as well as its younger sibling, the Europa League.

    Shakhtar are backed by one of the richest men in Ukraine and have invested heavily in Brazilian talent in the last five or six years.

    Constantly challenging for domestic titles, the current Ukrainian champions have made Donetsk a hard place to travel to and are well worthy of a mention.

19. Ajax

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    It wouldn’t be fair to look at the best of the European elite without paying dues to Ajax, a club that has coped tremendously in the last decade or so, despite the odds being against them.

    The way money is distributed in Holland prevents the Eredivisie from following the likes of the Premier League into financial disarray, but Ajax have remained a European force nonetheless.

    Instead of relying solely on outside talent, the Godenzonen prefer to breed from within, and the line of prospects that have spent time in the Ajax academy before going on to bigger things is a long one.

    While their trophy cabinet may not be full of European accolades, Ajax are a constant contender for bragging rights in the Dutch top flight and have been unfortunate in their group stage draws in the last few Champions League tournaments.

18. Tottenham Hotspur

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    While Daniel Levy may be criticised by some for his penny-scrounging habits, the Tottenham chairman has brought his club to a respectable position of power in the Premier League whilst maintaining his financial integrity.

    Instead of throwing money at the problem, Spurs are in a good position prior to the introduction of Financial Fair Play, but have also begun to make their first forays into European football.

    The north London outfit had a decent run in the 2010-12 edition of the Champions League and while Real Madrid may have shown them why they weren’t ready for such honours yet, there’s no question that they’re slowly getting there.

    Under Andre Villas Boas, Tottenham are being guided by a Europa League winner and although the 2012-13 campaign hasn’t started how the club would have wanted, the new-look Spurs appear to be finding their groove under the Portuguese boss.

17. Valencia

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    While it may be true that Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate the Spanish top flight in a resounding fashion most seasons, Valencia are frequently one of those parties threatening to break the pattern.

    Los Che haven’t had the start to the current campaign that they would have been hoping for in the Champions League or on a more domestic scale.

    Regardless, the Spaniards are a constant fixture in European competition and have done well to maintain the finishes that they have in recent seasons.

    A visit to the Mestalla is a difficult trip for any side, irrespective of their global stature, and Mauricio Pellegrino will be hoping to improve upon the record left by predecessor, Unai Emery.

16. Schalke 04

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    A club that has emerged as somewhat of a German powerhouse in recent seasons, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to witness Schalke competing for Bundesliga honours in the coming seasons.

    Under the tutelage of Huub Stevens, The Miners have become a staple in the top four finishers of the German top flight and even made a run at the Champions League semi-finals in the 2010-11 season.

    With the likes of Julian Draxler, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Joel Matip and Lewis Holtby, Die Knappen have made a habit of developing young talent and would seem to have a secure future in their hands.

    It may be a while before silverware is a common occurrence at the Veltins-Arena, but Borussia Dortmund’s fierce rivals are a considerable power of their own.

15. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Like Manchester City, and so many other clubs in recent times, Paris Saint-Germain have the fortune of being owned by foreign investors willing to plough funds into the club.

    The summer acquisitions of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are perfect examples of just how far that investment has come since 2011’s takeover of their Qatari owners.

    The Paris outfit had to settle for a second place finish last season but will only improve in their standing as the squad gels as a collective force.

    Generally absent in European competition in recent years, you can expect to see Carlo Ancelotti’s men more closely involved in the Champions and Europa Leagues in coming years.

14. Benfica

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    The second of this list’s Portuguese representatives, Benfica will be looking to stage a repeat of last season’s Champions League upset against Manchester United last season.

    The Liga Primeira giants have found themselves in a group with Barcelona, Spartak Moscow and Celtic and have a good chance of proceeding to the competitions knockout phase for the second consecutive campaign.

    Jorge Jesus’ side have developed their youth program very efficiently and have made a habit of poaching flailing Spanish talent that go on to thrive at Benfica.

    The Eagles aren’t the most financially backed club in Europe, but do well given their position and can hope to return to their glory days once Financial Fair Play is in full action.

13. AC Milan

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    After losing a raft of superstar players and veterans alike, it’s hard to argue that AC Milan are anything but a weaker version of themselves this season compared to last term.

    The departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Antonio Cassano, Filippo Inzaghi and Mark van Bommel as well as others means that the Rossoneri are relying hugely on their youth.

    Massimiliano Allegri’s side haven’t gotten off to the best of starts this season but it’s easy to forget how much talent this side still has.

    Right now, Milan are in a battle for a Champions League spot, never mind resuming the challenge for a spot that they mounted against Juventus last season.

    Regardless, one summer isn’t enough to ruin the reputation of an entire club and a side with the history of AC Milan can recover from the miserable season that has been 2012-13 so far.

12. Porto

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    Despite losing talismanic forward, Hulk, to Zenit St. Petersburg earlier in September, Porto are still a strong outfit capable of challenging for titles, the 2012-13 Champions League being one.

    Porto were the last Portuguese club to win the competition and will need to upset the odds considerably if they are to do so again this season.

    Under Vitor Pereira, the Liga Premeira champions have looked impressive and will be considered more than capable of retaining their trophy this campaign.

    Porto have developed a habit of unearthing serious prospects from South America and would appear to be in a financially stable position as long as they continue to do so.

    Not all clubs on this list can boast of being as economically safe.

11. Napoli

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    The Holy Trinity of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi may have been reduced to just the former duo over the summer, but Napoli haven’t lingered on the loss of Lavezzi this season.

    The Naples outfit were a staggering distance from their current position in Italian football just seven years ago, but have enjoyed a meteoric rise and look as if they’re there to stay.

    Managing to see off competition from Manchester City in last year’s Champions League, the Naples club have had to settle for the Europa League this time around but will be major contenders to win the title.

10. Atletico Madrid

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    Any team capable of beating the Champions League title holders 4-1 can go down as a force to be reckoned with in European competition, which is just what Atletico Madrid did earlier in September.

    While the UEFA Super Cup isn’t held in the highest of regards, winning the title twice in three years is a massive feat and last season’s Europa League winners can be pleased at pulling off the achievement.

    Atleti’s European involvement has generally been limited to the Europa League in recent years, but the club are unfortunate to be in a league where competition is rife amongst the third and fourth place finishes.

    Radamel Falcao may run the scoring show for the Spaniards but Diego Simeone has a far deeper outfit than just the Columbian hitman.

9. Borussia Dortmund

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    After tying up their second consecutive Bundesliga title in the 2011-12 campaign, it’s fair to say that the scales of power are now far more even in Germany.

    For years, Bayern Munich commanded the nation’s top flight but Jürgen Klopp has used a mixture of homegrown talent and foreign infusion to shape his talented squad.

    The Borussians could certainly use an injection of “superstar quality” in one or two areas of the pitch, but are very well covered in all aspects.

    The club’s recent achievements are especially impressive given their relatively low expenditures compared to the champions of Europe’s other elite leagues.

8. Manchester City

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    Since their Abu Dhabi cash injection in 2008, Manchester City have steadily built up their reputation as an elite side, and it’s hard to see them as anything but.

    After four years of extravagant purchases, the summer of 2012 suggests that the Citizens’ spending policies may be coming to a more conservative approach.

    In any case, Roberto Mancini has led his side to the status they enjoy now, and the Italian has a roster of players boasting considerable talent underneath him.

    The club’s 3-2 loss at the Santiago Bernabeu in September was a sign of just how far City have come in recent years and any Premier League champion can be considered a major European presence.

7. Arsenal

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    Despite their respected position amongst Europe’s elite, Arsenal have perhaps spent the longest time away from silverware of any team on included on this list.

    The Gunners have built a reputation for not winning a trophy for over seven years, but that could all change this season.

    While that feat may seem harder to accomplish after losing Robin van Persie over the summer, Arsene Wenger’s men have looked dangerous in the opening exchanges of the 2012-13 campaign.

    A draw at the Etihad Stadium would suggest that the north London outfit have the potential to compete with the best and the summer signings of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski seem to have settled in well.

    Losing your best scorer is never easy to rebound from, but the departure of RVP could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Arsenal, who would appear a more bonded outfit in his absence. 

6. Juventus

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    As things stand, Juventus’ unbeaten streak in Serie A stands at 43 games, but that record looks as if it could go on for some time yet.

    The Old Lady have begun the 2012-13 season in as imperious a fashion as they ended the last, and would look as if they’re on track to retain the Scudetto title for the second campaign in a row.

    Antonio Conte may be sidelined as a result of the match-fixing scandal, but Massimo Carrera is doing a commendable job in his absence.

    Juve got their Champions League run off to good start with a draw away to the current title holders, and did well to come back from 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge.

    Over the summer, Juventus were substantially savvy in the transfer market and picked up several key purchases as well as some valuable free signatures.

    The Bianconeri squad has only improved since last season and the Italians will be striving to translate domestic form onto the European stage.

5. Bayern Munich

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    Although Eintracht Frankfurt have also begun the season with a 100 percent record, Bayern Munich are in pole position to wrestle the Bundesliga title away from Borussia Dortmund this campaign.

    Der FCB have spent two seasons settling for second spot in the German top flight and their summer spending appears to have been put to good use.

    Jupp Heynckes has a raft of talent at his disposal but not only that, the Bayern manager has it in great number and the club’s talent extends well onto the bench.

    After finishing as runners-up in last season’s Champions League and Bundesliga, there will be numerous stars on the Reds’ squad seeking revenge this time around.

    The German resolve is a hefty attribute to contend with, and Bayern Munich may be a good option as dark horse to go one better in Europe’s most prestigious tournament this season.

4. Manchester United

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    Sir Alex Ferguson will undoubtedly look at the 2011-12 season as one to forget, and the Scotsman is too mature not to have learnt a few lessons from a trophy-less campaign.

    A Manchester United outfit in good voice is dangerous. A Manchester United looking for redemptions is potentially an altogether more dangerous opponent.

    After acquiring one of the most prolific scoring talents of Europe’s 2011-12 campaign in Robin van Persie, the Red Devils have added just another dimension to their attack.

    One can never rule out a good Champions League run from a club with United’s history in the competition, and their “easy” group would only appear to help that bid.

    The fact that United came second in the Premier League last season and were still disappointed with the season shows exactly what class the club has accrued in the last two decades.

3. Real Madrid

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    After prising the La Liga title from the clutches of Barcelona last season, Real Madrid have reasserted themselves as a major European power after several seasons of limited activity.

    It would be hard for any side boasting the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo to be considered anything other than a giant on the European stage, and Real are no exception to the rule.

    The Real ranks run deeper than just their Portuguese talent however and from No. 1 to No. 11, Los Merengues are nothing if not formidable opposition to anyone out there.

    Some would argue that Jose Mourinho’s side were unfortunate not to make it to the Champions League final in 2011-12, and the current campaign could be the year where they live up to expectations.

    Real have a strong academy in La Castilla but are never shy of spending a buck or two in the transfer market either. It’s this potent mixture of production and purchase that makes the European giants a major figure on the continent.

2. Chelsea

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    After claiming their first Champions League title last season, Chelsea are seriously heavy-hitters on the continental stage and are striving to become the first club to defend their title.

    As I write, the Blues currently head the Premier League table and have looked impressive after a substantially busy summer transfer window that saw them bring in some major talent.

    Roberto Di Matteo has a squad of players at his disposal that are capable of challenging for any trophy, and although a “park the bus” mentality may have been used in the 2011-12 Champions League final, this team is capable of producing a wealth of glitz.

    With Roman Abramovich’s wallet behind them, Chelsea have developed a very talented roster and have a very threatening combination of quality in quantity.

1. Barcelona

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    No matter how drab it may begin to sound, there’s simply no denying that Barcelona are the side to beat as far as Europe is concerned.

    As if it wasn’t enough to have one of, if not the most successful academy in world football, recent years have shown us that the Barça board are more than willing to splash the cash every now and then.

    With their mighty Spanish contingent, La Blaugrana are looking to reclaim their Champions League title this season and one would be crazy to bet against them doing just that.

    Although the club may have lost the leadership of Pep Guardiola at the end of last season, Tito Vilanova looks to be a talented manager of his own and sees his side commanding the La Liga race.

    What’s more, the constant flow of prodigies coming from La Masia means that Barça would appear secured to keep on producing stars, and may not budge from this position for some years to come.

    You can follow me on Twitter @TomSunderland_

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