Ranking the Top 8 Contenders for Champions League Glory

Ed Dove@EddydoveContributor IIIOctober 23, 2013

Ranking the Top 8 Contenders for Champions League Glory

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    Here at the half-way point of Champions League competition, the tournament’s top teams are beginning to purr, and the group stage outcomes are becoming clearer.

    This article ranks the top-eight contenders for Champions League glory, taking on board the evidence of the performances and results so far.

    Obviously, the tournament has a long way to go, with numerous twists and turns doubtless riddling the road to come. These eight teams have each done enough so far, however, to suggest that they may be contending Europe’s chief prize come the season’s close.

8. Manchester United

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    The Road so Far

    Conceding a late equaliser in Donetsk heaped more pressure on David Moyes in the early days of his reign. The truth, however, is that United are gently growing into the Champions League this term. They sit atop their group having won two and drawn one.

     

    Pedigree

    They remain one of only six clubs to have won the European Cup in three different decades. Sir Matt Busby brought one European Cup to Old Trafford while Sir Alex Ferguson contributed two more.

     

    Last Season

    Eliminated by Real Madrid in a controversial knock-out round, United rarely convinced in the tournament. A low-key end to Ferguson’s long association with the competition.

     

    Coach

    It has been a tough few months for David Moyes, who looks to have aged considerably since swapping Goodison Park for Old Trafford in the summer. He has endured an uncomfortable start to life in the Red Devils’ hot seat.

     

    Star Man

    Wayne Rooney has been a revelation this term, having been denied a move to Chelsea during the summer. His retention could prove to be an important pointer in this uncertain new era at the club.

7. Manchester City

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    The Road so Far

    Worryingly outclassed by Bayern Munich in between a convincing victory over Plzen and a professional performance away in Moscow, their progression (alongside Bayern) ought to be all-but confirmed if they can beat CSKA at the Etihad in early November.

     

    Pedigree

    Coming off the back of two horrendously disappointing years in the Champions League, as well as a disappointing attempt to retain their Premier League title last term, Manchester City still need to prove they do belong at this level.

     

    Last Season

    Wretched performances saw the Citizens bomb out of the tournament in the group stage. Such underwhelming outings almost certainly cost Roberto Mancini his job.

     

    Coach

    Manuel Pellegrini has had a slow start to life in Manchester but ought to be the man to ensure the rest of the field take the Sky Blues seriously in the Champions League. He has experience of leading teams into unchartered territory in Europe’s premier club competition.

     

    Star Man

    Sergio Aguero struggled to replicate his 2011-12 form last term but has exploded into life in the Champions League this term. He is thriving alongside the squad’s new recruits and has found the net three times in the club’s opening three fixtures.

6. Chelsea

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    The Road So Far

    An opening round defeat at home to Basel set alarm bells ringing, but Chelsea have responded well. They exposed Steaua in Bucharest and then secured a terrific victory away at Schalke. They ought to have little difficulty in qualifying for the next round, particularly with two home games to come.

     

    Pedigree

    They became the first London club to claim Europe’s top prize by beating Bayern Munich in 2012.

     

    Last Season

    They crashed out in the group stage as defending champions after struggling to contend with Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. Chelsea almost made up for their poor start to the European season by beating Benfica to claim the Europa League title.

     

    Coach

    Jose Mourinho has returned to Stamford Bridge after several years away. He arrived as the Happy One but has slowly become the Beligerent One after encountering different obstacles this term.

     

    Star Man

    Last season’s star performer, Juan Mata, is gently returning to favour at Stamford Bridge, but the team’s best players in the Champions League so far this year have been new recruit Andre Schurrle as well as beleaguered former Liverpool man Fernando Torres. The striker has scored two in two.

5. Borussia Dortmund

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    The Road So Far

    An opening defeat to Napoli prompted concern, not least considering Dortmund’s place in the so-called Group of Death. Jurgen Klopp’s men have responded well, however, overcoming Marseille at the Signal Iduna Park before besting a tentative Arsenal in London this week.

     

    Last Season

    Dortmund provided some unforgettable evenings in the Champions League with rampant performances against Real Madrid and some clashes of genuine intensity against Malaga. They struggled to match Bayern in the Bundesliga.

     

    Coach

    Klopp has taken his place among, if not just beneath, the continent’s finest managers, following a successful few seasons in the Rhine. He remains at the Westfalenstadion despite persistent rumours linking him to posts further afield.

     

    Star Man

    Frontman Robert Lewandowski has bagged three in three so far in this European campaign. His future with Dortmund will not be extensive, but the Pole has already found the net three times in the Champions League this term. He is backed by a wonderful supporting cast.

4. Paris Saint-Germain

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    The Road So Far

    PSG have benefited from being in one of the group stage’s less-testing compilations of sides. They have the best record of any team in the competition at this point in time, having won three of three with a goal difference of +11.

     

    Pedigree

    PSG have failed to achieve sustained success in any decade of their history but are entering a new era, backed by impressive investment. Domestic dominance may be challenged by AS Monaco, but in Europe, they should have the quality to trouble the latter stages.

     

    Last Season

    They lost narrowly to Barcelona in the quarter-final, having navigated their way through a tricky group. Barcelona overcame Valencia in the second round.

     

    Coach

    Doubts may linger over Laurent Blanc's mental qualities at the truly elite end of football management. The job certainly carries immense pressure, but the early stages of the season have been promising.

     

    Star Man

    The team is littered with fine players, not least Brazil captain Thiago Silva. However, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in town, there is only one "Star Man." The Swede has scored six goals in three fixtures so far.

3. Real Madrid

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    The Road So Far

    Failings in the Spanish top flight have not transferred to the European arena. Real Madrid smashed Galatasaray 6-1 in Turkey, routed Copenhagen in Spain and then battled to a 2-1 victory over Juventus in Round 3.

     

    Pedigree

    As nine-time winners of the European Cup, they arguably gave the tournament its prestige in the late 50s and early 60s and remain its greatest custodians.

     

    Last Season

    Weaknesses were revealed before the watching world as they were taken apart by Dortmund in the semi-final. They overcame Manchester United and group opponents Gala to get that far.

     

    Coach

    Carlo Ancelotti arrives from Paris with a terrific reputation and a desire to crown his glorious track record at Madrid. His opening months at Madrid have not been free of controversy.

     

    Star Man

    Despite the arrival of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo remains the team’s undisputed star. He has been arguably the tournament’s finest player so far with seven goals in three games, one assist and two Man of the Match performances.

2. Barcelona

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    The Road So Far

    Drawn in the Group of Champions, Barcelona sit ahead of Milan, Celtic and Ajax at the halfway stage of proceedings. They battered Ajax in September, sneaked past Celtic in Glasgow and then secured a draw with Milan at the San Siro.

     

    Pedigree

    Barcelona have featured in seven finals, winning four of them. It remains to be seen whether their recent glorious era will continue under new management this year.

     

    Last Season

    They overcame Tito Vilanova’s demoralising battle with cancer to walk to La Liga gold. Barcelona came to a shuddering halt in the Champions League with a crushing 7-0 defeat to Munich in the semi-final.

     

    Coach

    Gerardo Martino is a legend in Argentina and has attempted to reintroduce some of the qualities that made Barcelona such a phenomenal force in the early days under Guardiola. They remain unbeaten in the league after nine games under Tata and are in first place.

     

    Star Man

    Lionel Messi was missed horribly last term and has bagged four goals in two games so far this year. He remains the team’s (if not the world’s) outstanding individual.

1. Bayern Munich

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    The Road So Far

    Bayern demonstrated their class by demolishing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium at the beginning of October. That performance was the icing upon a very appetising group-stage cake. The Bavarians have a 100 percent record, having also beaten CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen at home.

    Only Alvaro Negredo has breached their defence.

     

    Pedigree

    Bayern may have lost as many European Cup finals as they have won, but their victory over Borussia Dortmund last term was their fifth triumph in the competition.

     

    Last Season

    They became German and European Champions as they tore away from Dortmund in the Bundesliga and ended 12 years of pain at Wembley on May 25.

     

    Coach

    The honeymoon ended fairly swiftly for former Barcelona man Pep Guardiola after his arrival in Bavaria. Dominant performances in the Champions League have, however, settled things down.

     

    Star Man

    Arjen Robben has continued his fine form of last term, when his late winner secured the Champions League. He has set up three and scored two in his three European games this year.