Tottenham and Liverpool on the rise in RealSport’s European Power Rankings
With Liverpool and Tottenham rising up the rankings, can Manchester City hold onto their place at the top?
Each month, RealSport assesses the best teams in Europe based on their performances in both European and domestic competition.
In the inaugural February list, Manchester City topped the list and, after collecting their first silverware, the League Cup, retained their spot at the top in March’s list, which also saw PSG drop out of the top five after failing to live up to the hype from their marquee signings.
March saw Real Madrid impressively sweep aside PSG. Barcelona put Chelsea to the sword and Bayern Munich thrashed Besiktas – but have any of them done enough to usurp Guardiola’s team at the top?
Read the list below to find out:
10. Napoli (↓2)
After keeping the relentless pace required to match with Juventus – winning ten consecutive Serie A matches from December through to the start of March – finally the wheels are coming off for Napoli’s unlikely title challenge.
In March, they have won just one of four games to let their place at the top of the table slip to a four-point gap behind Juventus. Saturday March 3rd 2018 might become an infamous date for Napoli fans because it was emblematic of the how their challenge has begun to fade.
Just after Paulo Dybala’s clutch last-minute winner took all three points for Juventus against Lazio, Napoli followed it up by being ripped to shreds by Roma at home – they took the lead but conceded four.
Their thin squad has started to cost them. Mario Rui, who had started promisingly at left-back in place of long-term absentee Faouzi Ghoulam, was extremely poor against Roma and they paid the price for not completing the signing of Sassuolo’s winger Matteo Politano – as he scored against them in a 1-1 draw.
Most concerningly, the fluid and free-flowing attacking play that made Guardiola a fan, has appeared to dry up. They drew a blank against Inter Milan, and looked nervous against an average Genoa – it took a defender, Raul Albiol, to score a late winner, from a corner.
It didn’t improve much against Sassuolo as they managed an equaliser but didn’t create enough to win the game.
9. Atletico Madrid (↑1)
March was a mixed month for Simeone’s team. They were a little limp in their visit to the Camp Nou, in which a win would have given them a genuine shot at the title. They were also uncharacteristically sloppy in squandering a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 against Villarreal.
But they have also played some of their best football of the season. Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann are forging a formidable partnership, and the eight goals they scored over two legs against Lokomotiv Moscow demonstrate why they are the favourites for the Europa League.
Under Simeone, they have been one of the strongest teams in the Champions League in the past few seasons – and again, they are playing at the same standard.
Were it not for lapses in the Autumn, they would still consider themselves a match for any team still in the competition. Perhaps they can console themselves with Europe’s second most prestigious trophy?
8. Liverpool (↑1)
Klopp’s team continues to make progress. They finished the job against Porto after the thrashing they inflicted in the first leg with a dour but professional 0-0 draw at Anfield.
Elsewhere, they have consolidated their position in the top four after winning three out of four Premier League games in March. It should be another season of Champions League football next season – the first time this decade they will compete in it for two consecutive years.
They were impressive wins, too. Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle have been in excellent form, yet Liverpool ably defeated them 2-0. A Salah-inspired thrashing of Watford, with four goals for the Egyptian, demonstrated how devastating this team can be. Their late winner over Crystal Palace also showed character.
However, their loss to Manchester United will have hurt and it was concerning on two fronts. First, Trent Alexander-Arnold looks vulnerable against top-quality opposition. Second, their free-scoring front three were blunted against Jose Mourinho’s deep defensive block – a situation in which Philippe Coutinho’s ingenuity might have been handy.
In terms of the rest of their season, the deep defensive block shouldn’t prove too much of an issue. Few English sides have the personnel to carry out such a gameplan effectively, and few European sides would ever adopt such tactics – least of all their quarter-final opponents Manchester City.
They should, however, look to immediate solutions to the issue of Alexander-Arnold: be it offering him more protection or replacing him with greater experience.
7. PSG (↓1)
Paris Saint-Germain won all but one of their games over the last month, in which Neymar didn’t feature.
Ángel di María has generally deputised well for the Parisians and Kylian Mbappe continues to look special, providing too assists and winning a penalty in the Coupe De La Ligue final against the second best team in France, his former club Monaco.
The 3-0 cup final win underlined just how dominant PSG are in France and how they are outgrowing their competition – they’re set to have another clean sweep of domestic trophies again.
But one result inevitably sticks out – the 2-1 home loss to Real Madrid, in which they were clearly second best. Tactically, Zinedine Zidane got the better of Unai Emery, emphasising how they need an elite-level coach to get the best out of their investments in the squad.
PSG can consider themselves unfortunate to have met such a stellar side so early, especially after topping their group over Bayern Munich but they have shown ambition to challenge anyone.
Yet again, they failed to compete with the biggest and the best.
6. Tottenham (↑1)
Like PSG and Liverpool before them in this list, Tottenham won every game in March – apart from one, which was damaging.
At one point against Juventus, they were in control and look destined to progress in the Champions League. This is great credit to Tottenham and there is no shame in losing to a team that have won the last six Serie A titles, made two of the last three Champions League finals, and have only been knocked out by Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona under Massimiliano Allegri.
Despite the exit, the performance and their ability to compete showed Tottenham have made big steps forward and they continue to do so domestically too.
There’s a consistency and reliability about this team: very rarely do they fail to beat the teams they should be beating anymore. In a professional manner, they made short work of Huddersfield and Bournemouth in the league and did the same to Swansea to progress to an FA Cup semi-final on their home patch.
Tottenham look more capable than ever of getting their first piece of silverware under Mauricio Pochettino after they outclassed both Manchester United and Chelsea in recent weeks – the two teams standing in their way of the FA Cup (assuming Chelsea beat lowly Southampton).
The Chelsea result in particular – 3-1 at Stamford Bridge – showed they’re finally developing an ability to turn up away from home in the biggest encounters after winning just one in nineteen away games against big six opposition before.
5. Juventus (↓2)
At Wembley, a goal down and heading out of the competition, Allegri made a brilliant tactical switch.
Moving from a vulnerable three at the back, he changed to 4-3-3 by introducing Kwadwo Asamoah for Blaise Matuidi and Stephan Lichtsteiner in place of Mehdi Benatia. It forced the game back in Juventus favour, forcing two quick goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala.
It also indicated their ruthlessness, and a will to win, that has been so vital in them dominating Italian football for so long, again keeping up a relentless pressure that has seen them keep up with Napoli, and finally start to pull away. Dybala’s fantastic clutch goal against Lazio encapsulates how this team will always find a way to win.
Allegri is an asset many of their competitors can only dream of – a coach capable of changing games with a tactical nous that can keep Juventus competing with anyone.
However, after ceding three goals in the first quarterfinal leg against Real Madrid, it is hard to see them progressing from here. And without a return to the Champions League final, the fans will ask whether or not Scudetto after Scudetto is enough.
4. Real Madrid (↑1)
Things couldn’t have been much better for Real Madrid in March, winning every fixture. Too late to catch Barcelona, they are making up for lost time with formidable form in La Liga, winning eight of their last nine games and scoring fifteen goals in their last four games.
Cristiano Ronaldo is looking sharp again, making his early season woes feel like a distant fever dream. He played six games for club and country in March, scoring 11 goals – including two in injury time for Portugal to turn a loss into a win against Egypt, and a brilliant four against Girona in La Liga.
The outstanding performance came in their trip to Paris – defeating PSG 2-1 and progressing with ease. With midfield stalwarts Toni Kroos and Luka Modric missing, Zidane showed tactical nous by opting for Mateo Kovacic, Lucas Vázquez and Marco Asensio in an extremely mobile and hard-working midfield.
Again, they are looking every bit the same team that has won last season’s Champions League. After faltering so often earlier in the season, conceding both La Liga and the Copa del Rey, they must repeat their dominant performance from last season’s Cardiff final when they meet Juventus again in the quarter-finals.
3. Bayern Munich (↑1)
Four and a half seasons, two coaches instilling very different playing philosophies, players retiring, investment in youth and standard squad turnover.
A lot has happened between Jupp Heynckes leaving Bayern after winning their first and only treble in 2013 and his return to the club after the sacking of Carlo Ancelloti.
Remarkably, despite everything, this team looks reminiscent of his last one: Against Borussia Dortmund, in a 6-0 thrashing, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery rolled back the years to terrorise their defence once again.
Javi Martinez has returned to the base of midfield to wrestle and exert control, while former Dortmund players Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels are upgrades on the options Heynckes had in 2013 – Dante and Mario Mandzukic.
March also saw Bayern thrash Hamburg 6-0, and Freiburg 4-0, while going to Istanbul and finishing the job against Besiktas, winning 3-1. Once again, Heynckes has Bayern at the top of their game.
2. Barcelona (=)
It was fitting that it was Lionel Messi who scored that free-kick, his third in three games, to defeat Atletico Madrid and all but secure the league title.
He has been incredible yet again this season, and it has usually been his individual brilliance that has been the difference between Barcelona and their competitors.
Chelsea know that all too well – it was his nutmeg from an acute angle past Thibaut Courtois after just three minutes that made their task at the Camp Nou second-leg encounter even more daunting.
Later, he took the tie beyond them after drawing in their defence in a brilliant counter, before cutting back to assist for Ousmane Dembele’s first Barcelona goal. In the second half, another dribble, another nutmeg, and it was completely done: 3-0. All Messi.
Barcelona ended the month with a lacklustre and unconvincing display against Sevilla, in which they conceded two goals, but it could have been a lot more.
Messi, recovering from the muscle fatigue that kept him out of Argentina’s friendlies, could only feature for the last half an hour – but that was enough. Just 50 seconds after Suarez got one back, he perfectly shot from outside the box to equalise and keep Barcelona’s unbeaten run intact.
With that player, doing those things, they might just be invincible.
1. Manchester City (=)
Pep Guardiola’s team actually went and lost a game of football in March – an inconsequential 2-1 home loss to Basel after they had all but secured qualification to the quarter-finals after winning 4-0 in Switzerland.
In the games that matter, it was another perfect month. They followed up their League Cup victory over Arsenal by breezing past them 3-0 at the Emirates, before defeating Chelsea and then winning on the road away to the traditionally tricky Stoke and Everton. Not anymore.
Manchester City can secure the title this weekend against their rivals: remarkably, six games before the end of the season. They remain on course to break the record for most points and most goals scored.
Even more than the results and the records, it’s the performances that continue impress. Teams have so few answers to their gameplan, including the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Now, it appears the sophisticated possession game Guardiola has fostered comes naturally to the team and there’s an effortless about how they deploy it.
There is total control. City have conceded fewer goals than anybody else in England because they afford their opponents so few chances. Chelsea and Stoke failed to register a single shot on target against them and Everton took until the second half to get one.
David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne continue to thread through balls that inconceivable even from a panoramic view, and the likes of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are just getting better and better.
The fluency and sophistication of this team has never before been seen in English football and currently no side in Europe matches them for it. Guardiola has done what many thought impossible and built a team, like his Bayern Munich or Barcelona, that utterly dominates the Premier League.
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