European Club Rankings Entering 2018/19 Season
Welcome to the opening edition of the 2018-19 European Club Rankings, your definitive source for how the continent’s best teams are performing on a weekly basis.
Once the season kicks off, this will turn into a rolling, performance-based list, but this version is a more simplistic, on-paper assessment of football’s powerhouses.
Put simply, Europe’s top 20 sides have been ranked based on how good they are before a ball is kicked. We take into account squad strength, transfer-window work, managerial appointments and the likelihood of silverware in measuring them.
You can consider this list somewhat predictive, too. If a team is ranked in the top three, then it’s a front-runner for Champions League and domestic title glory; if a team is in the 16-20 range, it’s merely a top-four contender or at Europa League level.
Valencia appear to have stood fairly still during the summer.
They’ve done good work in the market but haven’t signed any players who will blow you away, the best move being the arrival of the excellent Geoffrey Kondogbia on a permanent deal. They’re also yet to sign 2017-18 star Goncalo Guedes permanently; his loss would be keenly felt.
Los Che’s squad isn’t overwhelmingly deep, so the balance between La Liga and the Champions League might be tough to find for manager Marcelino.
What will the post-Arsene Wenger era be like at Arsenal? It’s a question that is only possible to answer by guessing at the moment. After 22 years with the same man in charge, no one knows how this club will react to a fresh face and fresh ideas.
What we can establish, though, is that Unai Emery’s goal of restoring the Gunners to the Champions League will be hard. He is not an elite-tier manager and doesn’t have too many elite-tier players to call upon.
For now, Lyon have managed to keep hold of Nabil Fekir. Any other transfer activity, in our out, pales in significance compared to that.
This season, we get to see this young, talented team take on Champions League duties. It’s a fantastic chance to see how “ready” they are for bigger and better things.
17. AS Roma
Those expecting a repeat of Roma’s brilliant 2017-18 campaign, in which they finished third in Serie A and reached the Champions League semi-finals, will likely be left disappointed.
It’s arguable the club have become weaker during this transfer window, with Radja Nainggolan and Alisson departing, and one or two Serie A clubs might well leapfrog them as a result.
16. Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund look a striker short of a very good, deep squad. It’s one that has been remodelled to suit new manager Lucien Favre, and one which should be much more solid and reliable this term.
The 2017-18 campaign was BVB’s worst in a while. Under Favre’s guidance they can only improve.
15. Schalke 04
Schalke’s remarkable rise under manager Domenico Tedesco has been a fantastic storyline in Germany. Now, he’ll present it to the wider world via the Champions League.
Despite having their midfield heart of Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer removed during the transfer window, Die Konigsblauen head into the new campaign in good shape after acquiring a number of good players including Suat Serdar, Omar Mascarell and Salif Sane.
From the outside looking in, it seems Lazio are playing this summer quite smartly.
They only just missed out on Champions League football for this season, so no drastic measures were needed. And with several of Serie A’s top order undergoing widespread change, the Biancocelesti’s familiarity could be a huge advantage.
They’ve become weaker defensively (Stefan de Vrij is gone), but they have strengthened in midfield (Milan Badelj and Joaquin Correa have joined). Overall, they balance out about the same as last term.
We’re placing Maurizio Sarri’s new club, Chelsea, just below his old one, Napoli. Don’t perceive that as him taking a downward step, though; it’s more to do with recognising the Blues will encounter some teething issues when adapting to his style of play.
The Community Shield matchup with Manchester City on Sunday confirmed how much work there is to be done. A difficult summer has set them back, and while this Chelsea side could look startlingly good by January, “patience” and “faith” will likely be the buzzwords for the rest of the year.
With Jorginho and Sarri gone, this upcoming campaign feels like a clean slate for Napoli.
Unlike the last two seasons, there will be no expectation to challenge for the league title, perhaps leading to a healthier, broader focus that spans multiple competitions. We’ll also get to see which of the Partenopei’s fringe players are ready to step into a more prominent role.
11. Tottenham Hotspur
Not a new signing in sight for Spurs, sending some fans into a panicked frenzy. When you’re watching rivals such as Liverpool spend big and introduce high-quality players while your club do nothing, it can be quite difficult.
But even if Tottenham don’t welcome a new face in this summer, they’re still a strong side capable of a top-four finish. A little something extra in midfield would be nice, but the squad is still one of the best in Europe.
10. Manchester United
It’s been all doom and gloom for Manchester United this pre-season, with manager Jose Mourinho’s unhappy face and unhappy quotes dominating the headlines.
His most recent volley came on Sunday, when he told MUTV (h/t Sky Sports): “My CEO knows what I want for quite a long time. If we don’t make our team better it will be a difficult season for us.”
But if Mourinho’s got you feeling down, Red Devils fans, just quickly scroll through your squad list and remind yourself of the players at your disposal. Not one key man has been lost, and two good ones have been added to a side that bagged 81 points in the Premier League last season.
If Paul Pogba’s FIFA World Cup maturation filters into 2018-19, Romelu Lukaku catches fire again and Fred’s a success, this is still a top-10 side in Europe.
9. Inter Milan
Inter Milan have stacked up on quality this summer, using that Champions League pull well, and they look a considerably stronger side than they did last season.
Acquiring Sime Vrsaljko, Radja Nainggolan, Kwadwo Asamoah, Stefan de Vrij and Lautaro Martinez in one window is stunning work, and all of this talent is now in the capable hands of manager Luciano Spalletti.
Serie A aficionados rate Inter as the likeliest side to cause Juventus issues in their march towards the Scudetto this season, but they must juggle multiple competitions well in order to achieve what’s expected of them in 2018-19.
Liverpool’s big summer splash has caught the attention of many—particularly Jose Mourinho—so the pressure to deliver has been ramped up. Anything short of a genuine title challenge and another strong Champions League run would likely be considered a failure.
On a purely on-paper basis, you would argue the Reds’ XI and squad are now the clear second-best in the Premier League (behind Manchester City) and they are the side you’d earmark to pressure Pep Guardiola’s charges.
Now let’s see if Jurgen Klopp can mix it all together, find the magic formula early, and live up to these expectations.
7. Bayern Munich
For Bayern Munich, 2018-19 is shaping up to be quite similar to 2017-18: top of the Bundesliga, very competitive in Europe but not quite good enough to be a serious shout for the Champions League.
That they haven’t spent a penny on new signings this summer is a contributing factor to that, while new manager Niko Kovac will have plenty of doubters to prove wrong.
If last season’s DFB-Pokal final is anything to go by, though, he’ll soon start doing exactly that—and the first opportunity comes this weekend when he faces his old side, Eintracht Frankfurt, in the DFL-Supercup.
6. Paris Saint-Germain
With financial fair play bearing down on them, Paris Saint-Germain have been a little restricted in the transfer market this summer. They have had to prioritise the right “type” of signing as a result, and in Gianluigi Buffon they’ve probably nailed the brief.
He strengthens a position in need of quality, and he will bring a winning mindset to a side that continually underachieves on the European stage.
Add the veteran goalkeeper to the appointment of Thomas Tuchel as manager—a fine tactical mind—and PSG have done quite a lot despite doing fairly little.
5. Atletico Madrid
It’s arguable Atletico Madrid’s squad hasn’t looked this strong in years. On paper at least, this current collection of players might just trump the set that reached Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016.
Tally this up with their neighbours losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona probably overachieving a little last season (points vs. performances), and you get the feeling this could be another special year for Atleti.
They’re good at grinding La Liga results, so a strong Champions League run could keep them alive in several competitions for a while. They have enough attacking options now to deal some serious damage to the elite.
Don’t rule them out of the running in any tournament.
4. Real Madrid
The inbound moves Real Madrid have made in the transfer market so far aren’t bad by any means, but they’re certainly not enough.
In losing Cristiano Ronaldo, they lost 40-50 goals per season; they have to replace those in some fashion.
Karim Benzema’s poor goal tallies have only been manageable due to Ronaldo’s stellar marksmanship, so to expect the Frenchman and an oft-injured Gareth Bale to assume those responsibilities feels like a risky move.
How this situation unfolds is unclear, but unless something seismic happens, it’s difficult to put Real Madrid in the top bracket for 2018-19—and it feels likely their Champions League dominance will also come to an end.
Juventus have sacrificed a few long-term pieces in favour of the now. They’ve tooled up during this transfer window and look a formidable side ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Adding Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Cancelo and Leonardo Bonucci to a side that scooped a whopping 95 points in Serie A last season means faith in a genuine title fight in Italy will be lacking. A Scudetto is the minimum requirement and they know it; they’ll be chasing the Champions League and shaping their season around it.
Ronaldo might give them the edge they need to win it.
Barcelona’s early summer business looked geared towards building for the future: Arthur, Clement Lenglet and Malcom—while talented—aren’t necessarily first-team upgrades at this point.
But the capture of Arturo Vidal suggests they’re still in win-now mode too. He’s basically a better version of Paulinho, who has been shifted out of the club after just one season. His fitness will be a concern at times, but when the Chilean hits his top level there are few better.
Ernesto Valverde must maximise this Lionel Messi window as much as he can and pull in as much silverware as possible while the Argentinian reigns supreme.
The way Barcelona are shaping up for this season in comparison to Europe’s other top teams is pretty positive.
1. Manchester City
Selecting our No. 1 was very difficult, as you can make a good argument for three or four sides. The Champions League race feels more open than it has been for years, and that’s a marker for how close it is among the elite.
Working in Manchester City’s favour is the incredibly settled nature of their squad and style, the fact their summer has gone smoothly, the weakened nature of Real Madrid (sans Cristiano Ronaldo) and, of course, the overwhelming quality in their own squad.
To justify this position, winning the Premier League and a second-rate domestic trophy won’t be enough; this season, City need to pass-and-move their way to a Champions League title too.
Sunday’s Community Shield game against Chelsea suggested they haven’t skipped a beat following their historic 100-point season last term, so expectations are already sky high.
All statistics via WhoScored.com