While the summer was headlined by an incredible World Cup, it is a relief to finally have club football back in our lives. The 2018/19 season, for a variety of reasons, promises to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.
Last year’s top European competition, the Champions League, was unpredictable as the top sides were less dominant than usual. That, combined with gravitational moves around Europe, have led to changes which make the upper echelon of the continent as competitive as ever.
Here we rank the top ten sides in Europe heading into the new season.
Perhaps the most difficult spot to pick on this list was the final place, but Tottenham edge Inter Milan to it by nature of their excellent performance against Juventus in last year’s Champions League Round of 16 encounter, which ended in a disappointing defeat but showed their credentials at the top of the continent.
Spearheaded by world class operators Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, it is easy to forget that Spurs’ defence is the most settled in England, as well as the fact that they have a very clear brand of high-pressing, balanced football enabled by quality in every position on the pitch.
Challenging for the Premier League will be difficult for Mauricio Pochettino’s side this season, especially after a transfer window which has so far yielded no new signings, but Tottenham will enter their new stadium in September with complete knowledge of the fact that this is their best team in years.
- Manchester United
José Mourinho’s Manchester United have some weaknesses and tactical question marks on paper which prevent them from placing higher on this list, but the sheer world class talent currently at Old Trafford is enough to guarantee a place in the top 10.
Many have forgotten that the Red Devils finished second in England’s first division last season, largely due to their lack of a title challenge and injury-ridden disaster in the Champions League against Sevilla.
Nonetheless, this side were easily capable of a quarterfinal place in the Champions League last season and many will hope for the same now, as well as some more exciting performances to give fans something to cheer about again. It is a terrible idea to write off a side with Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sánchez and David de Gea in their ranks.
Placing narrowly ahead of bitter rivals United in this list are Liverpool, whose run to the Champions League final last season was somewhat lucky but also very well executed. One of the most frightening attacking setups in Europe, Liverpool have done everything in their power to strengthen their midfield and defence by signing superstar goalkeeper Alisson, Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, and potential world class midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keïta.
It is these signings which place them ahead of a United side who had a very similar campaign, and while the Anfield outfit arguably do not have the same amount of talent as the Red Devils, their transfer exploits minimize their weaknesses on the pitch and give Jürgen Klopp a full squad of talent to perform his tactical responsibilities.
Expecting another Champions League final would be a push, but a more serious challenge on all fronts domestically is almost a given for Klopp’s men.
- Atlético Madrid
The first non-English club on this list, Atlético Madrid crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages last season but ended up winning the second-tier Europa League due to the brilliance which has seen them exceed expectations for half a decade now.
Diego Simeone has created one of the most monstrous sides in Europe at Atlético, with world class attacking talent Antoine Griezmann the creative hub of a hard-working side which boasts quality all over the pitch.
Strengthening greatly by signing flying natural wingers Gelson Martins and Thomas Lemar this summer after finishing second in La Liga last season, this is arguably the best Atléti side since their heartbreak in the 2014 Champions League final.
- Manchester City
Despite a record-breaking 2017/18 season in England’s top flight, Manchester City fall just short of the top five due to their disappointment in the Champions League for two seasons running under Pep Guardiola.
The Spanish manager, who has made City one of the best sides ever to grace the Premier League, has failed spectacularly in his first two attempts at continental competition, with his side stuttering in the biggest matches.
City seem to lack the defensive impetus to be a completely foolproof side, and they have done little in the transfer market, other than adding depth to their attack with record-signing Riyad Mahrez, to change this reality. The Community Shield proved that they are undisputed favourites to retain the Premier League, though.
- Paris Saint-Germain
Drawing Real Madrid in the Round of 16 of last year’s Champions League ensured that Paris Saint-Germain once again failed to deliver upon their promise on a continental level. Now under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel, they have a manager who could spark even greater attacking football than was already on show in the French capital.
In Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani, among other illustrious options, PSG have the best attack in Europe on paper and all three showed their ability to be spectacular at the World Cup. Should key members of the squad such as Marco Verratti and the defensive duo of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos prove their worth, Tuchel’s side will be incredibly difficult to play against.
Signing Gianluigi Buffon to add to last summer’s Dani Alves purchase is clearly a bid to improve the winning mentality and experience at the Parc des Princes, and should it work, there is no reason why this side doesn’t have the credentials to win the Champions League.
- Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich are undoubtedly the strongest side in Germany and one of the finest in Europe heading into the new season. Poised to win their seventh consecutive Bundesliga title, the quality they have throughout the pitch is stacking up.
The signing of Leon Goretzka adds engine and power to an already stacked midfield, Nicklas Süle is finally set to replace Jerome Boateng in defence, and Robert Lewandowski remains one of the best strikers in the world.
There are questions surrounding quality in wide areas, the presence of a truly elite ball-winner in the side, and the x-factor required to get over the line in the end, a trait which the final three sides all boast.
With Lionel Messi still among the best players in the world and a host of world class talent around him, Barcelona easily warrant a place in the top five. However, cracks which appeared in their side and potentially the tactics in the Champions League last season, leaving doubts as to where they stand and prevent them from being at the top of this list.
While Clément Lenglet, Malcom and Arturo Vidal improve Ernesto Valverde’s squad significantly, there are questions as to whether any of the three will improve the starting eleven at the Camp Nou, leaving the same problems against elite opposition.
Remaining undefeated for almost the entire La Liga season showed that Barcelona could be a force in Europe this season, but they will need to perform a lot better in key matches to make that dream a reality.
Already extremely close to knocking Real Madrid out of the Champions League last season, Juventus have now spectacularly lured potentially the greatest player of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo, from Madrid to Turin.
With Leonardo Bonucci also returning, Juventus have the defence and attack to compete on all fronts next season, and with a virtual guarantee of winning Serie A this season even without Ronaldo, they become one of the best sides on the continent with him.
The combination of arguably the best current player in world football and an established defence undoubtedly bodes well for Juventus, though they will be dependent on the likes of Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi, Claudio Marchisio and new signing Emre Can to emerge alongside Miralem Pjanić in midfield.
- Real Madrid
While Real Madrid lost a lot of goals to Juventus this summer, they still have the best side in world football, stacked to the brim with talent. Zinedine Zidane’s resignation should give them new life in domestic competition under Julen Lopetegui, and their pragmatic nature and experience guarantee competitiveness in the Champions League again as they look to win their fourth consecutive.
Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane were the best defenders in last year’s Champions League and World Cup, respectively, while Marcelo and Dani Carvajal form the best fullback duo in football. In front of the defence, most spectacularly, is the all-action midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić, all of whom have a claim to being the best in the world at their respective roles.
Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema will need to combine to soften the Ronaldo loss, but with the money earned from the sale of the iconic forward, there are enough funds to both replace him and add a top goalkeeper (if Keylor Navas isn’t already one), with golden glove winner Thibaut Courtois likely to join this week.
Zidane’s efforts were excellent in the Champions League last season, but under Lopetegui this Real Madrid squad should have more than enough to challenge both domestically and continentally.