B/R Football Ranks: The Best Teams in Europe as Football Returns

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 8, 2020

DORTMUND, GERMANY - MAY 26: Julian Brandt of Borussia Dortmund reacts to Bayern Munich scoring there first goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Signal Iduna Park on May 26, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images)
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Slowly but steadily, football is coming back. 

The Bundesliga will complete its fifth matchweek since returning on Monday night; last Wednesday saw the Portuguese Primeira Liga open its doors again; this week sees La Liga back in action; and next week we'll welcome the Premier League and Serie A back into loving arms.

It makes it the perfect time re-set the scene among Europe's top clubs—and refresh some memories along the way—as to who the very best in the business are.

This is a ranking of the continent's top teams, gauged on overall strength. Only the Bundesliga sides can be judged on true strength and sharpness, so the others are done so on the state they were in before the coronavirus brought sport to a halt.


10. RB Leipzig

COLOGNE, GERMANY - JUNE 01: Timo Werner of Leipzig celebrates with Christopher Nkunku after scoring his sides third goal during the Bundesliga match between 1. FC Koeln and RB Leipzig at RheinEnergieStadion on June 1, 2020 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by I
Pool/Getty Images

The positive spin is that Leipzig are unbeaten since the Bundesliga restart. The negative? Just two of their five games have brought wins, and even worse, the three draws have been against Freiburg (8th), Hertha Berlin (9th) and Paderborn (18th).

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It's hardly the sort of form that will have Europe's best scared, but it's also probably only a matter of time before usual order is restored. They've won the Expected Goals (xG) battle comprehensively in four of those five games, missed chances haunting them against Freiburg and a red card ruining their day against Paderborn.

That's a long-winded way of saying Leipzig are still a major threat to anyone who comes across them—even if things haven't quite clicked into place just yet. Their demolition of Tottenham before the break was the fairest reflection of their strength we can point to.

   

9. Lazio

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 29: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio in action during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and Bologna FC at Stadio Olimpico on February 29, 2020 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

In August, most were predicting a Serie A title race between Juventus and Inter Milan, but while the latter have fallen short of the required standard, Lazio have elbowed their way into the conversation in their place.

They're just a point back from the Old Lady in the table and have already beaten them twice this season—once in the Supercoppa, once in the league, both by a 3-1 scoreline.

Those results, plus the February victory over Inter, affirm both Lazio's strength and ability to pull off results against fellow big guns. It leaves the assessment of them in no doubt.

   

8. Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund's German midfielder Emre Can (C) celebrates after the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Hertha Berlin on June 6, 2020 in Dortmund, western Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron / POOL / AFP) / DFL REGULATIONS PROHIBI
LARS BARON/Getty Images

Dortmund can now proffer a stout defence to pair with their high-octane attack, making them a balanced, reliable, impressive team.

They've conceded just two goals since returning from the break, and in 2020 they've shown clear evidence of becoming a more streetwise outfit, capable of holding teams completely at bay—rather than having to outscore everyone at every turn.

Their only remaining nemesis? Perhaps that big-game nerve. The last two top-tier sides they played—Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich—beat them to nil and showed a level of maturity and ease on the big occasion that BVB are still working toward.

    

7. Juventus

LYON, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 26: Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus reacts after missing a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Juventus at Groupama Stadium on February 26, 2020 in Decines near Lyon,
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

On paper, Juventus' squad is better than the majority on this list, but at no point this season has Maurizio Sarri been able to pull it together in a convincing way.

Transitioning from Max Allegri's more direct style to Sarri's precision circuit passing was always going to be tough, but most figured they'd have it nailed by February. Instead, that month saw them lose 1-0 to Lyon in the Champions League, creating quite the recovery task for themselves later down the line.

They have the ability to beat anyone, to win any game, thanks to the presence of superstars and an eye-popping depth of squad. But they remain a week-to-week question mark when taking to the field, and it's impossible to say if the enforced break has been a help or a hindrance there.

   

6. Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 07: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates his team's first goal during the Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad at Camp Nou on March 07, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Im
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

If you thought Juventus were a giant question mark, try Barcelona out for size.

After going through a rather tumultuous managerial changeover in January, moving from Ernesto Valverde to Quique Setien, their style is utterly up in the air. Setien feels more in line with the club's philosophy—possession football with a high press and a high defensive line—but the transition was never going to be smooth given the age of the squad.

Right now they're somewhere between the two managers' blueprints, putting in inconsistent and disjointed showings. Similar to Juventus again, though, they have world stars who can make the difference while things sort themselves out in the background.

   

5. Real Madrid

SEVILLA, SPAIN - MARCH 8: Casemiro of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander  match between Real Betis Sevilla v Real Madrid at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 8, 2020 in Sevilla Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
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Madrid have gone from feeble to feisty. Zinedine Zidane's second tenure at the helm has brought out a nastier, more aggressive side to Los Blancos that has allowed them to churn out results and position themselves in the Liga title race.

They don't batter teams too often anymore, but they rarely lose either. Wonderful creative and attacking talents headline the XIs they roll out, but hard work and tenacity underpin them.

Still, they were probably shown their level by Manchester City in February. They'll need to produce some performance to make the Champions League quarter-finals after losing the Round of 16 home leg 2-1, and it underlines their current status: very good, but not quite great in the way they were from 2014 to '17.

There's a big gap between the best four sides and the rest. Real Madrid are at the top of the trailing pack.

   

4. Paris Saint-Germain

LYON, FRANCE - MARCH 4: Kylian Mbappe of PSG celebrates his third goal with Neymar Jr during the French Cup semifinal match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Groupama Stadium on March 4, 2020 in Decines near Lyon, France. (P
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Ligue 1 made the decision to end their 2019-20 season on April 30, crowning PSG champions...but leaving them without any (domestic) games to play for a long time.

That leaves a side hunting their first Champions League crown in a sticky situation moving forward. How do they stay sharp enough to compete with the very best when Europe's premier competition returns?

All we can do for now is judge them on what we last saw of them: a four-game win streak to end the season, the final game being a very mature performance to see off an excellent Borussia Dortmund side. It felt different; it felt like the sort of showing that has been beyond PSG for too long.

    

3. Manchester City

Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (C) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) and Manchester City's Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva during the English League Cup semi-fi
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

If this ranking were judged solely on league form, Man City would be lower. For whatever reason—and no one's really been able to put their finger on it—it just hasn't happened for them, and they sit a whopping 25 points behind Liverpool.

But in the cups they've turned up. The Carabao Cup is already in the bag, they're in the FA Cup quarter-finals and they've put themselves in a very strong position in the Champions League—beating Real Madrid 2-1 away in the first leg to take a huge advantage.

The performance was a reminder that, on their day, they're a true force to be reckoned with; one of the best, if not the best, teams in the world—when the football is flowing, that is.

    

2. Liverpool

Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (C) celebrates with Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino (R) and Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah scoring his team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Li
GEOFF CADDICK/Getty Images

The break came at a good time for Liverpool, who had just begun to wobble after maintaining a near-perfect standard for approximately 18 months.

In the space of a week they went from potential treble winners to "just" Premier League champions elect. They will likely secure the crown quickly after the restart given they need just a couple of wins.

The lasting impression of the Reds is that rough patch of form, in which they lost four of six games, but a quick shake of the head reminds of how imperious they were before that—and how imperious they will be again when they return.

    

1. Bayern Munich

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JUNE 06: Robert Lewandowski of Muenchen celebrates his team's fourth goal with teammates Thomas Mueller and Leon Goretzka (L-R) during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Muenchen at BayArena on June 06, 20
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The intricacies of who ranks fifth, sixth, seventh, etc., can be debated long into the night, but the No. 1 spot on the list is an easy pick; an inarguable, automatic selection.

Bayern Munich looked just about the strongest team in the world just before the break, slamming Chelsea 3-0 in a jaw-dropping Champions League display, and they've done nothing but win since the restart.

Positive stories come from every area: Thomas Muller is back to his best, as is Manuel Neuer, while Leon Goretzka finally has a clear role in the side and Alphonso Davies has emerged as one of the world's best left-backs.

They've won 15 of 16 games in 2020, drawing the odd one with RB Leipzig, finding immense balance under manager Hansi Flick. They're so tactically in sync in every area of the pitch that they look near-impossible to beat.

   

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