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UEFA Champions League Power Rankings: Erling Haaland keeps Manchester City top; Barcelona and Tottenham drop

In no time at all the Champions League group stage has reached its halfway mark with five teams — Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Napoli and, remarkably, Club Brugge — holding maximum points to their names. No team is eliminated yet nor has anyone guaranteed their place in the round of 16 but the picture is already looking clear. Here is who we view 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 (–)

This is all getting a bit silly now. Erling Haaland has 19 goals in 12 games for his new club, more than Manchester City’s top scorer in the 2020-21 season where they played 61 games. With 28 goals to his name in the Champions League, he is already in the competition’s top 30 scorers of all time at the age of 22 and as I write these down I am having to nervously check Twitter just to ensure those numbers haven’t changed yet. It’s Thursday morning. Still, you can never be too sure.

2. Real Madrid (+1)

After the high drama of their run to glory last year, Madrid are quietly ticking all the boxes in the group stage and La Liga with just one game seeing them drop points. Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior continue to blossom as Carlo Ancelotti places a greater load on them whilst Federico Valverde excelled in a hard-fought victory over Shakhtar Donetsk.

3. Bayern Munich (-1)

4. Liverpool (–)

A 2-0 win over Rangers righted a ship that has been wobbling quite significantly over early months but there are still serious questions to be asked over how Liverpool’s defense copes under sustained pressure. That isn’t just an issue for Trent Alexander-Arnold but also Virgil van Dijk, who has been some way off his imperious best this season.

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.

5. Paris Saint-Germain (–)

Dropping points away to Benfica certainly isn’t a big issue for Christophe Galtier’s side but their attacking output in Lisbon (where they registered just 1.4 expected goals) does buttress the sense that this team is still less than the sum of its parts. They are hiding the defensive weaknesses that come with their front three more effectively than before but against top opposition will that come at the cost of their build-up play?

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. Napoli (+4)

We have seen past iterations of this team fly out of the gates and hit a wall in the new year but something feels different about Napoli this time, not just the radical overhaul they conducted on their squad this summer. If nothing else the numbers are simply ludicrous. Bayern Munich have the Champions League’s second-highest expected goals (xG) at 6.1. Napoli — who have beaten three strong teams in Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax — have 11.1. It’s a small sample size indeed but even a sizeable drop off from that output would constitute Europe’s most formidable attack.

7. Chelsea (+2)

8. Barcelona (-2)

On the basis of La Liga results, Xavi has clearly been bequeathed a strong side, at the cost of so much to Barcelona’s long-term finances. But the margins at this stage of the Champions League season are razor sharp, as was proven in a harsh defeat to Inter Milan. Lose again next week and they will almost certainly be out. Either way, Barcelona have mortgaged their long-term future to be in the exact same position they were last year, in a brutal battle for second place behind Bayern Munich.

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.

9. AC Milan (-1)

10. Borussia Dortmund (+1)

11. Inter Milan (+1)

12. Club Brugge (+10)

In a group filled with unreliable sides, Club Brugge have found the edge in tight matches. At the halfway stage of the campaign they are a near lock for the last 16 with nine points to their name. In past years it has been homegrown talent that has shown for the Belgians but this season Ferran Jutgla has been a breakout star with eight goals and five assists in 14 games. Barcelona might be regretting their decision to let him leave.

13. Tottenham (-6)

If you were looking for the signs of the Antonio Conte spiral, they’re there. Demands for further recruitment after a summer where he got almost everything he wanted. A deep squad on paper where only 15 or so players are actually being used. A fanbase that is increasingly frustrated with the football that is being served.

Still, there are differences between Spurs and previous Conte sides, not least in how toothless they look going forward. Yes, some crosses flew dangerously through the Eintracht Frankfurt defense but the perfection that is required to make Tottenham attacks click feels like too much for an out-of-form Heung-min Son.

14. Benfica (+2)

15. Salzburg (+2)

16. Sporting (-1)

17. Shakhtar Donetsk (+1)

18. Porto (–)

19. Atletico Madrid (-6)

It has long since gone stale at the Metropolitano Stadium, Tuesday’s 2-0 loss in Bruges only served to emphasize that point. A team that was chock full of attacking talent hardly got going until they were two goals down. Games at this level seem to happen to Atletico in a way they never did in Diego Simeone’s heyday. They still have a strong chance to reach the knockout stages; if they do it might just be in spite of themselves.

In the mix

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

20. RB Leipzig (+6)

22. Juventus (-2)

A 3-1 win over Maccabi Haifa was the result Massimiliano Allegri needed but what may ultimately have killed off Juventus’ hopes of reaching the knockout stages was events in Lisbon. Benfica’s draw with PSG gives the Portuguese side valuable wiggle room if this does come down to a straight fight for second place. Juve will probably need to win at Benfica. Right now that looks to be beyond them.

23. Eintracht Frankfurt (+2)

24. Marseille (–)

24. Ajax (-10)

25. Dinamo Zagreb (-4)

26. Bayer Leverkusen (+2)

27. Sevilla (–)

Julen Lopetegui departed Sevilla with grace on Wednesday night but a 4-1 thumping at the hands of Borussia Dortmund was a reminder of how far they have slipped. Indeed they will have work to do against Copenhagen if they are to secure third spot, though there would be an inevitability about this team winning the Europa League (no matter how underwhelming their squad is as presently constructed) if they dropped into it.

28. Celtic (-5)

Out of the picture

Barring an unlikely set of events these teams will do well to extend their European involvement beyond Christmas

29. Rangers (–)

30. Copenhagen (–)

31. Maccabi Haifa (–)

32. Viktoria Plzen (–)



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