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

One down, five to go. The Champions League returned with a bang this week as well Dinamo ZagrebNaples and Shakhtar Donetsk stunned their rivals to earn big wins on Matchday 1. Tuesday’s action was highlighted by PSG beating Juventus, while Wednesday has everybody wondering if Liverpool are facing a crisis after their loss at Napoli.

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

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. Manchester City (–)

Pep Guardiola’s side continues to make the poetic appear prosaic, swatting aside Sevilla in Andalusia with an ease even the best clubs tend only to reserve for minnows in the early rounds of the FA Cup. Erling Haaland continues to earn the headlines but Phil Foden continues to thrive away from the spotlight. At just 22 years of age, he has reached double figures goals in the Champions League, and two more and he will overtake Michael Owen. One day he may just beat Wayne Rooney’s record of 30.

2. Bayern Munich (–)

Their Bundesliga wobble was set to one side in an assertive win away at Inter Milan, a performance worthy of a European champion in waiting. Registering 21 shots while allowing a dangerous opponent just nine, Julian Nagelsmann’s side totally dictated the tempo of the contest without ever looking like they needed to get out of third gear. They will eventually — and there is sometimes a sense this team is too comfortable coasting — but if they do, Europe beware.

3. Real Madrid (+1)

4. Liverpool (-1)

I would rather be the last to cash in my Liverpool stocks than join in the rush to disregard a team who have consistently reached the summit of European football in recent years. But it would be wrong to suggest that that uphill climb hasn’t taken something out of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Their midfield in particular just looks exhausted, and without enough energy in front of them, the defensive deficiencies of this backline are being exposed all too frequently.

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, although it may require a few lucky breaks for the tournament to go their way.

5. Paris Saint-Germain (–)

Dark horses: Unlikely contenders, but contenders all the same

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

6. Barcelona (+6)

Perhaps I erred in my assumption that Xavi could not simply gel this talented collection of players into a cohesive squad quickly enough. We are yet to see Barcelona face a truly top-tier opponent in La Liga or the Champions League, but only really good teams put together the run of paddlings that this one 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 to this team that profile as European champion worthy have ebbed away. The defense that was once their cornerstone has been ripped apart in a summer transfer window where Chelsea spent £275 million, but you couldn’t be certain they strengthened their first XI. 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 withdraw, Chelsea have now lost their world-class manager.

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. Naples (+3)

Luciano Spalletti’s side started early and faded before, but in those years they had the early season advantage of a settled squad. They don’t have that yet but they looked as good as they ever have in putting a disappointing Liverpool to the sword. In Khvicha Kvaratskhelia they have a star emerging as if from nowhere, something that was not supposed to happen in the world of Wyscout, YouTube compilations and millions of scouting podcasts.

11. Borussia Dortmund (–)

12. Inter Milan (-3)

13. Atletico Madrid (-1)

Thrilling as injury time was in their win over Porto, don’t discount the 90 extremely ordinary minutes that preceded it. Indeed until Mateus Uribe was sent off, Atletico registered just one shot on target and five in total. That familiar monster could emerge in the knockout stages, and they should get there. But you wouldn’t pay much to watch their journey.

14. Ajax (+1)

15. Sporting (+3)

16. Benfica (+3)

17. Salzburg (+5)

18. Shakthar Donetsk (+8)

Undoubtedly the result of the round as Shakhtar stirred 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 are going to pose problems for any defense they come up against in this competition while Mykola Matviyenko is surety personified in defense.

19. port (-5)

20. Juventus (-4)

21. Dinamo Zagreb (+7)

Had a bigger name delivered Dinamo’s performance against Chelsea on Tuesday they might be talked up as potential contenders for this competition, so excellent were the Croats without the ball and on the counter. There will still be doubts as to whether this was a moment where the stars align or could be the blueprint to escape the group, but there is one idea that will certainly help their cause. All they need to do is convince Mislav Orsic that Milan and Salzburg are suburbs of London.

In the mix

A few lucky breaks and they may find themselves extending their Champions League involvement beyond Christmas. Don’t bet on it though.

22. Club Brugge (+7)

23. Celtic (+1)

Few teams were as impressive in defeat as Ange Postecoglu’s, who looked a match for the European champions in the first half at Celtic Park. Indeed if Daizen Maeda had just made better contact with the ball in the 48th minute, it could have been Celtic emerging victorious. There will be no time for slip-ups now though, their next four matches coming against Leipzig and Shakhtar. They could still get enough points to send them into the knockout rounds.

24. Marseille (-4)

25. Eintracht Frankfurt (-4)

26. RB Leipzig (-9)

27. Sevilla (-3)

28. Bayer Leverkusen (-3)

Perhaps the most baffling of Germany’s numerous disappointing entrants to the Champions League, Leverkusen seem to have fallen off a cliff at the start of this season and never particularly tested Simon Mignolet in defeat to Club Brugge. Equally, they gave up few quality chances to the Belgians, only to be undone by one set piece. Luck is not on their side and they’re lacking in quality. It is a worrying mix.

Likely chasing 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. Victoria Plzen (–)

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