I’ve ranked all 32 teams competing in the Champions’ League making it easier to see which groups are the so-called ‘Groups of Death’ and which the top two seeds are going to romp to qualification! I have also separated the clubs into different ‘leagues’ as some teams are extremely close in terms of ability and experience in Europe.
32. FK Austria Wien
I can’t say that I know much about the Austrian champions but I know that they will, without a doubt, go out in the first round and probably will not win a point.
31. FC Steaua București
The Romanian club famously owned by the infamously imprisoned George Becali certainly have more history than most of these clubs but their decline since winning the trophy’s predecessor has been formidable.
30. FC Viktoria Plzeň
Plzeň looked good in the qualifiers, keeping possession of the ball well whilst looking ever so solid at the back against Slovenian champions Maribor but the step-up in quality will almost certainly be too much for them.
29. F.C. Copenhagen
The Danish champions have made Parken (their stadium) a fortress over the years with manager Ståle Solbakken working miracles at the club. They will provide an opposition for the bigger teams but once again, they have no hope of qualifying, especially after being drawn in the same group as Juventus and Real Madrid.
28. R.S.C. Anderlecht
John van den Brom has built a good squad of players but they lack the experience of top-flight European competition to make a real impact on this year’s tournament. I doubt they can cause any upsets but they may produce a few scares for Benfica or PSG fans.
Vying for Third Place
27. FC Basel
Basel have lost some of their young stars over the past few seasons but with captain Marco Streller and young goalkeeper Yann Sommer, the Swiss side can definitely cause some upsets.
26. Celtic F.C.
The Glaswegians may have already sewn up their league title but last year they proved that there is still some life left in Scottish football. Unfortunately for Neil Lennon, the loss of Gary Hooper to the Premier League may prove too big a hurdle for them to overcome. They have signed quite a few talented players, the pick of which is definitely Nir Biton, who represented Israel at the U-21 Euro Championships where he captained the home side with great authority. Being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ definitely won’t help.
25. Olympiacos F.C.
Having the talents of Javier Saviola, Vladimir Weiss and Ariel Ibagaza may not be enough to help this ambitious club attempt to qualify for the knockouts. The crowd will try their hardest to make Greece a tough country to play in.
24. PFC CSKA Moscow
There is quality within the squad and home form may be key to CSKA’s qualification hopes but there are holes in this club’s on the pitch ability. However, on their day, with the likes of Keisuke Honda, Rasmus Elm, Alan Dzagoev and Seydou Doumbia they have the potential to cause many upsets at any level of the competition.
23. Olympique de Marseille
L’OM have a great team and could compete within the French league despite the money being spent in Paris and Monaco but they lack the quality to really make an impact on this year’s competition. The Velodrome is one of the best stadiums in Europe and look for their home form to affect the hopes of Napoli, Dortmund and Arsenal.
Pushing for Qualification
22. Real Sociedad
Xabi Prieto and co. look to push their domestic form from last year into continental competition but may find that their lack of experience at this level. They dismantled Lyon with ease, showcasing their talents for all to see. However, the competition in their group is fierce and they may find themselves at the bottom of their group.
21. Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Sami Hyypia’s first venture into management has seen Leverkusen flourish into a fantastic side but they are not good enough to go far in this competition. However, their group is very open as all four teams can defeat each other so the German team could spring a surprise on Shakhtar or even the English champions.
20. FC Shalke 04
Gelsenkirchen houses one of the best atmosphere’s in all of Europe but this will not be enough to see the side who finished fourth in last year’s Bundesliga to reach the latter stages of the competition. Huntelaar will need to be on top form if the German side are to compete.
19. FC Zenit St. Petersburg
A side full of quality that could grace the upper echelons of any league across the globe, Zenit should be able to challenge for a qualifying spot but playing the likes of Porto and Atletico could see the Russian club fail to reach the knockout stages.
Happy to make the Quarter-Finals
18. Galatasaray S.K.
The Turkish giants, having signed the likes of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder last season, will be expecting big things from their side. Experienced with a history of reaching the knockouts, there is no reason why they can’t push Juventus and Real Madrid for a place in the next round.
17. AFC Ajax
Frank de Boer has been working wonders with the famous Amsterdam club and their magical academy. They showed last year in the ‘Group of Death’ that they can play with the best. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been drawn with the best yet again.
16. F.C. Porto
It may be a surprise to see Porto this far down the list but I think they have the potential to do well but having lost James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho over the summer to Monaco’s riches, the club will do well to adapt quick enough to make a lasting impact on this year;s competition.
15. FC Shakhtar Donetsk
Replacing Fernandinho, Willian and Mkhitaryan was always going to be difficult but the signings of Fred and Bernard from Brazil as well as Taison last year should provide the Ukrainian champions with a great chance to qualify this year from quite a tough group.
14. S.L. Benfica
With fantastic quality throughout the team, Benfica will be a tough match-up for any side. However last year’s Europa League finalists may just find the standard a little too high to reach the latter stages of the competition.
13. A.C. Milan
Despite Berlusconi almost pulling funding from this now legendary club, Allegri has produced an extremely talented side that could go very far in the competition but almost certainly won’t be able to win the whole tournament.
The Dark Horses
12. Arsenal F.C.
Arsene Wenger pulled off one of the biggest transfers in recent history signing Mesut Özil towards the end of the window. However, this won’t cover up the lack of depth up front or at the back. If Arsenal can stay injury-free in those key areas then they can mount a decent challenge for silverware but goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny could end up costing them in the long-run.
11. Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
PSG will be a force once again but they may find a little bit of adaptation is needed for Laurent Blanc’s style of management compared to departing boss Ancelotti. Despite a brilliant performance against Barcelona last year, I think the lack of experience on Blanc’s part could mean a season of regression as they try to retain their Ligue 1 title against their big spending counterparts Monaco.
10. S.S.C. Napoli
With manager and talisman leaving you may have been mistaken in thinking that Napoli’s chances were over but the appointment of Rafa Benitez has sparked new life into the Azzurri’s chances this year. They are a fantastic team but may become a little too reliant on Gonzalo Higuain.
9. Borussia Dortmund
Last year’s runners-up may be a little low down for most fans’ liking but I think they’ve lost a little of the spark they once had. Whilst they have invested extremely well and some could argue their team, on paper, is better than last year’s squad, the soul of their side has been ripped out after talisman Mario Götze left to join huge rivals Bayern. With Robert Lewandowski also making the same move at the end of this season, it may simply be too much for the great club to replicate and further their progress from the past three seasons.
8. Manchester City
Despite now having a manager with great continental know-how, City’s players will have to deal with previous failures which may lead them to falter under the pressure. Their squad better than any other in England and it all depends on how new boys Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo integrate within the club.
7. Chelsea FC
Despite the Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge, I do not think that the players in the squad suit Mourinho’s style. They lack wingers who will give them width, strength in midfield and a true number one striker who will be the first name on the team sheet. Unless Samuel Eto’o can provide the difference, I cannot see Chelsea winning this trophy. However, I wouldn’t quote me on that and I’ve been wrong in the past!
6. Manchester United
With the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes has huge shoes to fill, especially with his lack of experience in Europe but Wayne Rooney has shown enough this season that with him and Robin van Persie playing to full potential combined with the winning mentality instilled at the club, Manchester United could challenge for silverware this season.
5. Juventus F.C.
Antonio Conte is one Europe’s leading tacticians and with the addition of two featured strikers in Llorente and Tevez, this already strong squad could make a huge impact on this year’s tournament. Last year’s loss against Bayern looked bad on paper but they showed great potential in the opening moments of the second leg. They will be heavily reliant on Tevez if they are to win but Bayern have already illustrated that with a formidable midfield anything is possible.
4. Atlético Madrid
Perhaps the side that is most adept at cup football, Atlético have been fantastic for the past few years and now they are at the stage where they can really challenge with the best of them. Simeone’s blend of youth and experience has created one of the most enjoyable sides to watch and one that can cause some real upsets in this competition. Like with many of the dark horses, Madrid will be quite reliant on their new striker David Villa but unlike most of the sides, they have great back-ups and depth to their squad.
The Real Contenders
3. Real Madrid C.F.
Real are amazing on paper but it all depends on how they gel under new coach Ancelotti. His experience with PSG will aid the Italian in forming cohesion within the squad at a quick rate combined with his knowledge of the competition and sport and Madrid could quite easily win the competition. Also, they happen to have one of the best players to ever grace the game in Cristiano Ronaldo.
2. FC Bayern München
After completing a historic treble and triumphing in what I believe to be the greatest season of any club side in the history of the game, Bayern (or more specifically Pep) have a lot to live up to. I think Guardiola will slowly try to change the formula of this side which could produce stunning results but at the same time it could result in a disastrous campaign. I think the players, especially the likes of Lahm and Schweinsteiger, will be too strong to allow that to happen but it meant that I couldn’t pick them as the strongest team in the competition this year.
1. FC Barcelona
Despite being thrashed by FC Hollywood in the semi-finals of last year’s tournament, Barcelona look formidable this year. Their defensive frailties will almost certainly be their downfall but if Lionel Messi plays as well as he seemingly always does then their attack could be quite something. Neymar is a phenomenal talent and can even replace the diminutive Argentine genius if he injures himself. Tata Martino looks comfortable on the sideline whilst his players look unstoppable in attack.