UEFA Champions League Power Rankings: Chelsea on the slide after Thomas Tuchel's sacking;  Barcelona rising

UEFA Champions League Power Rankings: Chelsea on the slide after Thomas Tuchel’s sacking; Barcelona rising

One down, five to go. The Champions League returned this week with a bang as Dinamo ZagrebNaples and Shakhtar Donetsk stunned their rivals to take big wins on matchday 1. Tuesday’s action was highlighted by PSG beating Juventus, while on Wednesday everyone wondered if Liverpool will face a crisis after their loss to Napoli.

Here’s who we see as the runners and riders to win it all in Istanbul in June:

The highest level: title or bust

These teams should be disappointed with anything less than a semi-final berth and quite frankly even that may not be enough, that’s their talent profile.

1. Manchester City (–)

Pep Guardiola’s side continues to make it seem poetic prosaic, with Sevilla knocking out Andalusia with ease, even the best clubs tend to reserve only for minnows in the first rounds of the FA Cup. Erling Haaland continues to make headlines, but Phil Foden continues to thrive away from the spotlight. At just 22 years old, he has hit double figures in the Champions League, and two more and he will overtake Michael Owen. One day he might beat Wayne Rooney’s record of 30.

2. Bayern Munich (–)

Their Bundesliga wobble was set aside in an assertive win over Inter Milan, a feat worthy of a waiting European champion. Registering 21 shots and allowing a dangerous opponent only nine, Julian Nagelsmann’s side completely dictated the pace of the match without ever seeming like they needed to get out of third gear. Eventually they will – and sometimes there’s a feeling this team is rolling out too comfortably – but if they do, watch out for Europe.

3. Real Madrid (+1)

4. Liverpool (-1)

I’d rather be the last to cash in on my Liverpool shares than join the rush to ignore a team that has consistently topped European football in recent years. But it would be wrong to suggest that that uphill climb didn’t take something out of Jürgen Klopp’s side. Their midfield in particular just looks exhausted, and without enough energy for them, this backline’s defensive flaws are all too often exposed.

Serious contenders: if things go well, why not us?

It’s certainly not inconceivable that one of these teams could win the European Cup in Istanbul in May, although it might take a few lucky breaks for the tournament to run its course.

5. Paris Saint Germain (–)

Dark horses: unlikely contenders, but contenders nonetheless

These teams are unlikely champions, but so is Real Madrid at the moment in 2021. It may take a change of circumstances, or a new tactical plan, or just Karim Benzema having the season of his life, but it is possible. It’s certainly not likely, but stranger things have happened.

6. Barcelona (+6)

Maybe I made a mistake in my assumption that Xavi couldn’t bring this talented collection of players into a cohesive squad fast enough. We have yet to see Barcelona face a real top-level opponent in La Liga or the Champions League, but only really good teams have assembled the range of paddles it has on good opponents such as Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Viktoria Plzen.

7. Tottenham (–)

8. AC Milan (–)

9. Chelsea (-3)

Slowly but surely, the facets of this team that profiles itself as European champions ebbed away. The defense that was once their cornerstone has been torn apart during a summer transfer window where Chelsea spent £275million, but you couldn’t be sure they were bolstering their first team. Who knows how often N’Golo Kante will be at his best next season, and regardless of whether the tension between Todd Boehly and Thomas Tuchel was too much to pull back, Chelsea have now lost their world-class manager.

Knock out podium candidates

You will notice here that there are slightly more contenders for the knockout stage than there are teams. Welcome to the wonder of those teams competing for second place in the groups. There will always be someone disappointed.

10. Naples (+3)

Luciano Spalletti’s squad started early and faded, but in those years they had the early season advantage of a regular squad. They haven’t yet, but they looked as good as they ever had beating a disappointing Liverpool. In Khvicha Kvaratskhelia they have a star that comes out of nowhere, something that shouldn’t have happened in the world of Wyscout, YouTube compilations and millions of Scouting podcasts.

11. Borussia Dortmund (–)

12. Inter Milan (-3)

13. Atletico Madrid (-1)

Exciting as stoppage time was in their win over Porto, don’t let the 90 extremely ordinary minutes that precede it pass. Indeed, until Mateus Uribe was sent off, Atletico scored just one shot on target and five in total. That well-known monster could show up in the knockout stage, and they should get there. But you wouldn’t pay much to see their journey.

14. Ajax (+1)

15. Sporty (+3)

16. Benfica (+3)

17. Salzburg (+5)

18. Shakthar Donetsk (+8)

Undoubtedly the result of the round as Shakhtar touched hearts in Ukraine and beyond with an outstanding win over RB Leipzig. In Marian Shved and Mykhaylo Mudryk, they have a devastating pair of wingers who will present problems for any defense they come across in this league, while Mykola Matviyenko is the guarantor in defence.

19. postage (-5)

20. Juve (-4)

21. Dinamo Zagreb (+7)

If a bigger name had delivered Dinamo’s performance against Chelsea on Tuesday they might have been cited as potential contenders for this competition, that’s how outstanding the Croats were off the ball and on the counter. There will still be doubts as to whether this was a moment when the stars aligned or could be the blueprint for escaping the group, but there is one idea that will certainly help their cause. They just need to convince Mislav Orsic that Milan and Salzburg are suburbs of London.

in the mix

A few happy breaks and maybe they’ll extend their Champions League entry beyond Christmas. Don’t bet on it though.

22. Club Brugge (+7)

23. Celtic (+1)

Few teams have been more impressive in their defeat than Ange Postecoglu, who looked like a match for the European champions in the first half at Celtic Park. Indeed, if Daizen Maeda had made better contact with the ball in the 48th minute, Celtic could have taken the win. There will be no time for slip-ups now, however, as their next four games are against Leipzig and Shakhtar. They could still get enough points to send them to the knockout rounds.

24. Marseille (-4)

25. Eintracht Frankfurt (-4)

26. RB Leipzig (-9)

27. Seville (-3)

28. Bayer Leverkusen (-3)

Perhaps the most baffling of Germany’s many disappointing Champions League entrants, Leverkusen appears to have fallen off a cliff at the start of this season and never been particularly tested. Simon Mignolet defeat against Club Brugge. Likewise, they gave the Belgians few quality chances but were undone by one piece. Luck is not on their side and they lack quality. It’s a worrying mix.

Probably on the hunt for the Europa League

There are no bad teams in the Champions League, but these will do well to achieve much more than third place

29. Rangers (-2)

30. Copenhagen (–)

31. Maccabi Haifa (–)

32. Viktoria Pilsen (–)

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