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UEFA 2013/14 Club Ranking
The 2012/13 UEFA Champions League campaign surprised a lot of us. Not many fans across the globe would have put their money on an all-German final, but for the first time in the competitions history, there was. The final was a great spectacle for all neutral fans around the world to see. Many previous "rivalry" finals have been quiet dull, for example the 2003 final between Juventus and Milan, but the 2013 final was an exciting game for us all to witness.
A lot of shocks happened in the tournament during the course of the season. English Premier League champions Manchester City once again were unable to qualify through to the knock-out stages of the competition and even didn't manage to qualify in third place for the UEFA Europa League.
Scottish champions Celtic, against all odds, qualified through a very tough group. Neil Lennon galvanized his troops and gave the Glaswegian public some incredible performances; most notably a famous home win against the "best club in history" FC Barcelona at Celtic Park.
Not many would had predicted that Turkish champions, SK Galatasaray, would have made it to the quarter-final but they fully deserved their place there. They beat Manchester United at home in their group and knocked out a strong Schalke 04 team in the Round of 16.
Before the competition began in September 2012, FC Barcelona were heavy favourites to be crowned European champions and were followed by their fierce Spanish rivals Real Madrid. Many would have predicted an all-Spanish final but it was German football's year, and more specifically, Bayern Munich's year; Bayern Munich went to to win "the treble" by being crowned Bundesliga champions, European champions, and winning the German Cup.
The 2013/2014 campaign looks to be the most competitive in decades. Unlike before where there were heavy favourites, now a handful of teams are capable of winning the competition. In recent years Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United have always been tipped to win the tournament but now half a dozen of teams are in contention.
The revolution of teams such as Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Shakhtar Donetsk have put pressure on the big European teams to be tactically flawless. Also the reemergence of former giants, Juventus and Bayern Munich, have also strengthened the competition and has made the competition harder to win than ever before.
Below is a personal ranking system where I rate the best clubs in the 2014 UEFA Champions League and select them in order of strength, quality, and personnel.
1. FC Bayern München
FC Bayern München are the current "kings of Europe" and rightfully take their place at the top of the leader-board. After coming off their greatest ever season, they're looking as strong as ever going into next season's campaign under the management of former Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola.
Bayern won the treble last season, and it will be incredibly difficult for Guardiola to emulate what his predecessor achieved. However, the only way possible for him to exceed last season's triumph is to win every competition that Bayern is entered into. Next season, because Bayern are European champions, they will take part in the FIFA Club World Cup in December, and face-off against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in September. If Bayern achieve what they're capable of next season, Guardiola could win up to six trophies in his first test with the team, something he has done previously with Barcelona in 2009.
Bayern, already having one of the strongest squads in Europe, have made some substantial acquisitions this summer. Guardiola has brought in young starlet Mario Gotze from Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund, young German defender Jan Kirchhoff from Mainz, and lastly Thiago Alcantara from FC Barcelona. There will be plenty of competition in midfield, but only have one established striker in Mario Mandzukic after Mario Gomez was sold to Fiorentina.
2. FC Barcelona
Many still believe they are the best team in the world because of the way they play football and how they don't just win games, they demoralise the opposition in the process by bossing the game with their "tiki-taka" approach. The 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League semi-final was the worst loss in the club's history in a European knock-out round. However, during the course of the two games, their talisman, and four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi, was carrying an injury and wasn't playing up to the level expected of him.
They did manage to become Spanish champions again by demolishing runners-up Real Madrid and broke a number of Spanish League records whilst doing it.
However the summer has been a busy one for the Catalan giants. Tito Villanova, Barcelona's manager, has recently stepped down from his duties because of his health problems, so the club have to make quick work of appointing a new gaffer in time for the new season. Also, they have made hefty work in the transfer market by acquiring Brazilian wonderboy Neymar from Santos, who was awared Player of the Tournament at the recently finished FIFA Confederations Cup. However Barcelona have had to sell their own young starlet, Thiago Alcantara, to Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, and have also sold Spanish favourite David Villa to Atletico Madrid and Eric Abidal to emerging AS Monaco. I'm sure "Barca" are not done in the transfer market yet but they will be hoping to keep hold of Manchester United target, Cesc Fabregas.
3. Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund have taken the European stage by storm and have won over many fans by their creative and fast-paced way of playing football. Although, they finished the season without any silverware, last season was a great season for Borussia Dortmund. The quarter-final was the place where most pundits and critics had them going out in the UEFA Champions League but they progressed all the way through to the final by finishing first in the "group of death" - Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Ajax - and knocking out Shakhtar Donetsk, Malaga, and Real Madrid, only to eventually lose 2-1 to rivals Bayern Munich at Wembley.
Dortmund were German champions in 2011 and 2012 and were hoping to make it a 'three-peat' of Bundesligas. However they lost out to rivals Bayern Munich last season, eventually trailing the champions by a record 25 points. Dortmund also lost their young superstar Mario Gotze to rivals Bayern when new boss Pep Guardiola decided to activate Gotze's buy-out clause. Robert Lewandowski was hugely tipped to follow Gotze to Bayern, but Dortmund have prevented the transfer and will let Lewandowski leave on a free transfer next summer - presumably he will join Bayern.
Dortmund's summer acquisitions are Gabon forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Saint-Etienne, Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen and most notably, Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk, who was specifically bought to replace departing playmaker Mario Gotze.
4. Real Madrid
European semi-finalists for the last three seasons, Real Madrid haven't reached a Champions League final since 2002 where they historically beat Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow. Los Blancos, who are officially the largest club in the world in regards to revenue, have been absent from a European cup final in twelve years. Since the last time Madrid were crowned European Champions, their biggest and hated rivals FC Barcelona have won the European Cup three times and have won "the treble" - which came in 2009 under Pep Guardiola.
Last season will be remembered as a dismal season in the eyes of Real Madrid supporters. Real Madrid went trophyless for the first time in five years and for the first time in Jose Mourinho's managerial career. Mourinho has now left the Madridista club and has rejoined Chelsea. Italian veteran coach, Carlo Ancelotti, has been appointed the new manager after impressing at Paris Saint-Germain, and has brought in some peculiar signings. The most expected signing wasn't made by Ancelotti but by Madrid president Florentino Perez. Isco was Madrid's first summer signing after having the season of his life at Malaga. However, two unexpected and curious signings have been Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad, and the resigning of Daniel Carjval from Bayer Leverkusen. Whilst bringing in three Spaniards, they have said farewell to two. Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon have both been sold to SSC Napoli and it is widely rumoured that Madrid will try to prize away Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur before the transfer window is over.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, have been one of the most surging forces in European football. Being invested heavily in by the Qatari group, the Parisean club are one of the richest clubs in the world now and therefore have brought in world-class players. World Class players such as Thiago Silva, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Jeremy Menez, Thiago Motta, and most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been just some of the commercial acquisitions in the past two seasons, and the new recruits didn't disappoint. Paris Saint-Germain were crowned French champions for the first time in nineteen years last season and Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, swept the floor in the annual awards by picking up the top goal scorer award and Ligue 1 Player of the Year award.
They narrowly lost out on away goals to Barcelona in last year's Champions League quarter-final but made a great account of themselves and will surely have gained valuable experience. Winning coach Carlo Ancelotti has moved on to Real Madrid but former Bordeaux and French national team coach Laurent Blanc has taken up the reigns. Blanc has made an immediete impact on the club by spending just over 100m in the transfer window. He has acquired 19 year-old Brazilian centre-back, Marquinhos, from AS Roma, French left-back Lucas Digne from Lille, and made Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani the fifth most expensive player in history by signing him from Napoli; reuniting him with former teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi.
The famous "Old Lady" have been adrift in the last couple of seasons in the Champions League but their reemergence under former legend, Antonio Conte, has been refreshing for Italian football. Italian football has gone from the most superior league in Europe to barely hanging onto fourth place. In recent times Italian football has struggled in European competitions and therefore their UEFA ranking has been heavily effected. Before Conte arrived at Juventus, they finished 7th for two consecutive seasons and even failed to qualify for the Europa League. It was left to the Milanese clubs and Roma to fight the fight in Europe for the Serie A.
However, Juventus are now the kings of Italy for the second consecutive season and claimed their 31st Scudetto last year. Their European campaign was very promising. They progressed through first in their group, leaving then current champions Chelsea being demoted into the Europa League. They made comfortable work of Celtic in the round of 16 but were left deflated when they were outplayed twice by eventual champions Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Conte now wants to dominate Italy for future seasons but also wants to compete in Europe. The biggest signing of the summer for Juventus has been Carlos Tevez from Manchester City who has been controversially given the no.10 jersey on his arrival in Turin - previously worn by Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero. Juventus have also signed Spanish striker Fernando Llorente on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao and Antonio Ogbonna from Turin rivals Torino.
The first six teams of the rankings are the most powerful and strongest teams in next season's competition and all have a great chance of winning the competition. Notably, there is no English team in the 'top 6' of the ranking system. Last season there was no English team that progressed passed the Round of 16 stage. This tells us that the Premier League, although probably the most exciting league in the world, is losing it's grip on the European stage. Perhaps it's more of a tactical issue and that English teams aren't as strategic as the Spanish or the German clubs?
Manchester United were unlucky last year by being beaten by Real Madrid after Nani was controversially sent off for a unintentional challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa; even Jose Mourinho admitted after the match that the "better team lost."
Arsenal did what they always do in the Champions League, perform well in the group stages but perform like schoolboys in the knock-out games. Manchester City for the second season running failed to qualify through their group and Chelsea, who were the Champions League holders last season, also failed to progress through their group. Whilst all four Spanish teams progressed through their groups, and all three German teams, only two English teams managed the feat.
However teams like Shakhtar Donetsk and SK Galatasaray have something to be cheerful of for next season's campaign. Shakhtar are developing every year and only narrowly missed out last year to Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16, and Galatasaray made it all the way to quarter-final but lost out to Real Madrid. Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba will both be hungry for European success next year with the Turkish champions and will lead from the front when they take on the big guns next year.
The Top 20
Below is the top 20 teams, including the ones I've already mentioned, that will take part in next season's UEFA Champions League.
1. FC Bayern Munchen (GER)
2. FC Barcelona (ESP)
3. Borussia Dortmund (GER)
4. Real Madrid CF (ESP)
5. Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
6. Juventus (ITA)
7. Manchester United (ENG)
8. Chelsea (ENG)
9. Manchester City (ENG)
10. Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
11. Atletico de Madrid (ESP)
12. Arsenal (ENG)
13. SK Galatasaray (TUR)
14. AFC Ajax (NED)
15. Zenit St. Petersberg (RUS)
16. SL Benfica (POR)
17. CSKA Moscow (RUS)
18. FC Schalke 04 (GER)
19. Bayer Leverkusen 04 (GER)
20. FC Porto (POR)