The first round of Champions League group games is in the ledgers and the state of play at the top of European football is beginning to look a little clearer. Here is how the 32 teams stand in our latest edition of the power rankings.
The top tier: Title or bust
These teams should be disappointed with anything less than a semi final berth and frankly even that might not be enough, such is their talent profile.
1. Chelsea (unchanged)
Is there a better manager-club tandem in top tier football right now than Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea? The head coach seems utterly enamored with his squad who in turn are proving themselves to be tactically astute, creative in attack and absolute masters of holding on to the leads they inevitably build. Tottenham played pretty well indeed in the first half of their Premier League matchup on Sunday but all it took was a tweak in formation and Spurs were blown away by the European champions in the second half, ultimately losing 3-0. This team is developing a repertoire of different ways to win. That does not augur well for the rest of Europe.
2. Manchester City (unchanged)
For the time being there seem to be two versions of City at play this season. There is either the invigorating attacking force that ran in six against RB Leipzig in midweek or the lockdown defense that held Leicester City and Southampton at bay but did not create a huge number of high quality chances of their own. The return of more link players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden will help when they are up to full fitness and they are hardly performing badly without them. The best is yet to come.
3. Liverpool (up one)
Liverpool's entry to the top tier comes with a potential caveat in that unlike the French team they have usurped and Chelsea there is perhaps not the same ruthless demand for titles or sacking. Jurgen Klopp is not managing with the sword of Damocles over him. It suits him. Both of their games over the last seven days brought three goals scored and though they wobbled for a moment against AC Milan, the intensity of their press and the quality of their chances was as good as it has been for some time.
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Serious contenders: If things go right, why not us?
It certainly is not beyond the realm of imagination that any of these teams could be lifting the European Cup in Istanbul come May, though it may require a few fortunate breaks for the tournament to go their way.
4. Bayern Munich (up one)
With 31 goals scored in their last five games, this Bayern side are motoring through the gears. They hardly looked to be at their very best yet still pummeled Barcelona 3-0 in the matchup at Camp Nou that began their Champions League campaign. Julian Nagelsmann seems to be getting the best out of his players simply by letting them flourish in their natural positions. No one has been quite as impressive of late as Leroy Sane, the winger scoring one and providing an assist in Saturday's 7-0 win over VfL Bochum.
5. Paris Saint-Germain (down two)
Similar caveats that apply to Liverpool are in place at the Parc des Princes. Mauricio Pochettino must know that a run deep in the competition is not enough. Having said that this is hardly a squad built for its manager's favored approach. He might have pronounced himself happy with his forward's defensive work against Gent but it was diffident at best and not compensated by the sort of attacking interplay that might make up for it. Talent will out on occasions -- as it did against Lyon when Mauro Icardi came off the bench to win the game -- but for Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi to gel they need the one thing that even their considerable talents may not be able to supply...time.
Dark horses: Unlikely contenders, but contenders all the same
These teams are unlikely champions, but then so were Chelsea this time a year ago. It may take a change of circumstances like the Blues had when they appointed Thomas Tuchel, perhaps a new signing or the unearthing of a new tactical plan. It's possible, but certainly not probable.
6. Real Madrid (up one)
There are burbling signs of encouragement both for the short and long term at Real Madrid. Crucially, the relentless will to win that was embodied by Sergio Ramos did not depart with the former captain as against both Inter Milan and Valencia the team struck late to take all three points. Indeed, in the latter they scored twice to turn a disappointing defeat into a win that propelled them to the top of La Liga. Meanwhile Vinicius Junior might be taking the leap and Eduardo Camavinga is not far behind. Those two are 21 and 18 years old. Imagine how good they could be soon.
7. Borussia Dortmund (up two)
There have been few teams as downright fun as Marco Rose's Borussia Dortmund early in the new season. Maybe they don't have the defense of a European champion but when you have a striker who averages better than a goal a game you can get away with a certain level of clumsiness at the back. Meanwhile Jude Bellingham is emerging as a star of the present rather than the future and Marco Reus' decision to skip the Euros to preserve his fitness has been emphatically vindicated.
8. Atletico Madrid (down two)
There is a temptation to look at the Atletico Madrid dugout and assume that the team on the pitch is the same one that were such experts in European competition in the mid 2000s. And yet most of those players are gone, replaced by a group with real talent but who are struggling to excel on the continental stage. Their 0-0 draw against Porto was typical of their start to the season. They do not create enough chances, their attacks lack pace and they are not creating enough quality shooting chances from open play.
9. Manchester United (down one)
Was there that much difference between the Manchester United that lost at Young Boys and won at West Ham? On both occasions they seem to be devoid of much of an attacking plan beyond trusting Cristiano Ronaldo will score if they can just get the ball to him. In midweek Jesse Lingard turned one point into none with a clumsy pass on Sunday he offered a rare moment of verve and inspiration to turn one into three. For all the attacking talent of this team their only plan to break down a low block seems to be cross upon cross. If things don't change they will eventually get found out on the European stage.
Knockout stage contenders
You will note here that there are slightly more contenders for the knockout stages than there will be teams in there. Welcome to the wonder of those teams battling for second spot in the groups. There will always be someone disappointed.
10. Juventus (unchanged)
Dropping out of the tier of potential champions for now, there is something deeply underwhelming about the early weeks of Massimiliano Allegri's return job. They may have cut through one of the worst teams in the Champions League in midweek but in Serie A their attack is not really up to par, in the period when they were leading against AC Milan they created just one shooting chance for Paulo Dybala and none for goal scorer Alvaro Morata. For now, their history in Europe and the undeniable talent on the squad is keeping them higher in these rankings than the teams they're staring distantly up at in the Serie A table. But if results don't start coming, that won't last for long.
11. Ajax (up four)
In our last rankings we noted that it was hard to get a read on a club like Ajax without Champions League play in their legs. We can have a better idea now after their 5-0 evisceration of Sporting. Sebastien Haller probably is not going to keep up such electrifying form but the likes of Antony, Dusan Tadic and Noussair Mazraoui have a track record in this competition that suggests they ought to be trusted. With a favorable group stage draw, this team could go a long way.
12. Wolfsburg (up one)
Wolfsburg will be effective and you will not enjoy watching them. In the Bundesliga Mark van Bommel's side allow opponents shots worth less than one expected goal (xG) per game while they kept a clean sheet on the road in their Champions League opener at Lille. The issue was rather that they created two shooting chances worth just 0.07 xG themselves. Six games into the season they have conceded just two goals. It is a recipe for success but perhaps not to capture the imagination of neutrals.
13. Sevilla (down one)
14. Inter Milan (unchanged)
15. Atalanta (up two)
16. Barcelona (down five)
It will have been nearly a month without La Liga football when Barcelona take to the Camp Nou pitch against Granada on Monday night. All we have to really go on of late is their defeat to Bayern Munich and it was bad. However, it was probably about right given the gap between these two teams. One is a conglomeration of the finest talent from the German game. The other had the look of, at best, a mid tier Champions League side with a good midfield and potential match winners at both ends in Memphis Depay and Marc Andre ter Stegen. On their day they might give anyone a tough game but if they play to anything even slightly less than their collective level they will not be successful in this competition.
17. Villarreal (up two)
18. Benfica (up two)
19. Red Bull Salzburg (up two)
20. RB Leipzig (down three)
Here we are in Red Bull corner with Jesse Marsch perhaps wondering if he might have been happier staying put in Austria rather than graduating to big time in the Bundesliga. There the US coach has been handed the first rebuild of RB Leipzig's history, tasked with putting together a new defense and stitching back together a midfield robbed of Marcel Sabitzer. It is not working so far with a 1-1 draw against Cologne leaving them with four points from a possible 15 in league play while a 6-3 hammering to Manchester City suggests this might be a tough group stage for Leipzig.
Marsch's former club might not have won at Sevilla but Red Bull Salzburg's fearless approach to what was probably the toughest group stage fixture they will face is a good omen for the coming weeks. There is no reason to think that they cannot get out of, or perhaps even top, their group.
21. Sporting (down five)
In the mix for top two
A few fortunate breaks and they may find themselves extending their Champions League involvement beyond Christmas. Don't bet on it though.
22. AC Milan (up one)
Though they may have been in their game with Liverpool for some time, Stefano Pioli will be under no illusions as to the gap between his side and Europe's elite after Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Anfield. It was a match where they seemed stunned into silence by the intensity of their opponent's press early on. Still, they have developed an encouraging habit of staying in games which was apparent both in that Liverpool match and their comeback draw with Juventus.
23. Besiktas (down one)
24. Dynamo Kyiv (unchanged)
25. Porto (up one)
26. Sheriff Tiraspol (up one)
Please allow us a moment to bask in your adulation for telling you that Sheriff Tiraspol were not a team to be slept on in this season's Champions League. Admittedly there is a long way to go before the champions of Moldova can start thinking about plans for the knockout stages but their 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk was proof that they have the quality on the counter, led by the outstanding Adama Traore, to pose difficulties even for Real Madrid and Inter Milan. Take four points from the latter and they are firmly in the mix for the top two.
27. Shakhtar Donetsk (down two)
Likely chasing the Europa League
There are no bad teams in the Champions League but these five will do well to achieve much more than third place
28. Zenit Saint Petersburg (unchanged)
29. Young Boys (up one)
30. Lille (down one)
31. Club Brugge (unchanged)
32. Malmo (unchanged)