Every two weeks I will bring you what I think are the top 25 clubs in European club football. For the first installment, a lot of teams have yet to start their seasons while the transfer market is still open, meaning things will fluctuate greatly. However, like all preseason rankings, a lot of guesswork and assumptions went into the Top 25, so let the debate begin.
1. FC Barcelona (Spain) – When your starting XI has six players from Spain’s World Cup winning starting XI (Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta and Villa) in addition to Lionel Messi, you are going to be tough to beat. The only issue facing Barca is height in midfield and attack, especially since striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks destined to leave the club.
2. Chelsea (England) – Chelsea didn’t spend as much money as they usually do in the transfer market, but perhaps having a familiar nucleus is going to be a blessing in disguise. In two EPL matches thus far, Chelsea is 2-0 and won each contest 6-0.
3. Real Madrid (Spain) – Probably the most hated team in the world, Real Madrid spent lavishly again this summer, but their biggest addition is likely that of manager Jose Mourinho. Kaka being out 3-4 months will hurt, but the bigger question is a sometimes shaky defense for Los Blancos, which has once again been hit by numerous injuries.
4. Inter Milan (Italy) – The UEFA Champions League titleholders lost their manager, but maintained the rest of their team for the most part, including Goal.com’s 2009-2010 player of the year Wesley Sneijder. Rafa Benitez will have a tough time replacing Mourinho’s Treble side of last season.
5. Manchester United (England) – The old guard remains at Old Trafford, and eventually they will lose a step. It might not be this year, but the Red Devils are more vulnerable this season than they have been in years past.
6. Arsenal (England) – A team full of young stars needs to finally step up and realize their potential. Perhaps Theo Walcott’s hat-trick against Blackpool is a sign of things to come, but the goaltender situation needs to be addressed if the Gunners hope to be real contenders.
7. Bayern Munich (Germany) – The CL runners-up are great everywhere but on defense. Philip Lahm is a stud, and Holger Badstuber has a bright future, but there are more questions than answers at the back. Can Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben stay healthy throughout the season.
8. Manchester City (England) – Man City haven’t hesitated to spend the billions of dollars at their disposal, and on paper they are a top five, if not top three, club in terms of overall talent. Chemistry is the chief concern for the Citizens, but if they do not finish in the top four of the EPL, their season would be an undeniable failure.
9. AS Roma (Italy) – Roma’s defense and goaltending is their biggest weakness, but the X-factor is how Adriano’s return to the Serie A fares. The Brazilian striker, who from 2002-to-2006 was a top-ten player in the world, looks to put his personal problems behind him and return to his dominating form.
10.Tottenham (England) – The third club from London on the list, Spurs have a balanced squad, but depth will be a concern. After qualifying for the CL, it will be interesting to see how the club decides to rotate players and keep them fresh, or if they can make a big signing or two at the end of the summer transfer window.
11. AC Milan (Italy) – A slight fall from grace for Milan, the 2006-2007 CL winners haven’t won a major trophy since, and this year they may not again. Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato lead the line, but Andrea Pirlo must return to form if they hope to have success on offense. A possible move for Barcelona striker Ibrahimovic would greatly improve Milan’s outlook.
12. Olympique Lyon (France) – The French Ligue 1 runners-up are an incredibly talented side, and improved greatly with the addition of attacking-midfielder Yoann Gourcuff. A deep run in the CL last year has expectations sky high in Lyon. Hugo Lloris is among the top five goalkeepers on the planet.
13. Atletico Madrid (Spain) – If Diego Forlan continues his World Cup form with Atletico Madrid, the Rojiblancos will be a handful. Atletico added Filipe Luis and Diego Godin on defense, and young Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea should continue to improve after a phenomenal rookie campaign. Beating Inter Milan in the European Super Cup shows their ability and potential.
14. Liverpool (England) – A club that normally challenges for EPL and CL titles, Liverpool is in a period of transition. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are still the key pieces, but a new manager and plenty of new players means a tough year could be ahead for the Anfield faithful.
15. Sevilla (Spain) – After beating Barcelona 3-1 in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, Sevilla has since been eliminated from the CL and lost to Barcelona 4-0 in the return leg of the Super Cup. Still very talented offensively, Sevilla’s defense looks to be their Achilles heel.
16. Olympique Marseille (France) – The champions of Ligue 1, Marseille will be in a two-horse race with Lyon all season. Marseille will also feature in the CL and will need their offense to be more consistent to realistically compete with Europe’s big boys.
17. Juventus (Italy) – Still trying to recover from their demotion to Serie B after the Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Juventus is very talented but lack real depth, and injuries seem to cripple the Turin based club. Aging stars Alessandro Del Piero, Mauro Camoranesi and Gianluigi Buffon will need to find the fountain of youth to give Juve a chance in Serie A.
18. Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) – Despite finishing second in the Dutch Eredivisie last season, Ajax posted an incredible +86 goal differential, scoring a record 106 goals and allowing just 20. This season, star striker Luis Suarez and Holland’s number one Maarten Stekelenburg aim to not only win the league title, but to find a way to advance past the CL group stage.
19. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) – The top team in Russia, Zenit relies on two Portugese internationals (Danny and new signing Bruno Alves) to give them the extra flair needed to succeed at the highest level. They currently lead Rubin Kazan by four points in the Russian Premier League.
20. Benfica (Portugal) – One of the best clubs at finding and developing talent, Benfica lost two key pieces this summer, but their roster still boasts an impressive squad. Fabio Coentrao and David Luiz are two of the best young defenders in the world, while Pablo Aimar, Oscar Cardozo and Javier Saviola make for a great attacking triumvirate.
21. Hamburg SV (Germany) – One of the biggest clubs in Germany, Hamburg has not really found much success since the early 80’s. However, this year two Dutch attackers, young winger Eljero Elia and veteran goal-machine Ruud van Nistelrooy, make for a potent Hamburg attack. If the defense can hold up, Hamburg could finish top three in the German Bundesliga.
22. FC Twente (Netherlands) – FC Twente was a relative nobody club in Holland before appointing Steve McClaren as manager prior to the 2008-2009 season. Since then, Twente has finished runners-up in 2009, and last year they won their first ever Eredivisie title losing just twice all season. Their depth will be tested this season since they will feature in the Champions League for the first time in club history.
23. Rangers (Scotland) – Rangers may not be as recognized as Celtic worldwide, but it is Rangers that holds more league titles with 53. Often accused of playing anti-football, Rangers gets the job done with great defense and a never say die attitude.
24. Panathinaikos (Greece) – Although I think rivals Olympiacos has more overall talent, Panathinaikos have more chemistry, won the league title last season, and are playing in the CL this season. Djibril Cisse, the man with 1,000 hairstyles, scored 23 goals in the Super League Greece in 2009-10. The next closest scorer had 11.
25. SC Braga (Portugal) – Minnows in the Portuguese top flight, SC Braga registered their first top two finish last season, and even though they probably won’t last on this list as the season continues, the fact that they eliminated Sevilla and advanced to the CL is a testament to their determination and grit.
About the Author
Written by Robert Bode
A sports die-hard through and through. I grew up playing almost every sport possible, and to this day I try to stay as active as possible. However, since I'm not a professional athlete, talking and writing about sports is the next best thing. A University of Florida graduate but living in my hometown of Washington D.C. (well Northern Virginia), my favorite teams are the Florida Gators, Miami Dolphins, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Real Madrid, good up-tempo NBA teams (so not the Knicks), and Washington Capitals.