Chelsea are defending champions but a host of Europe’s biggest clubs are also in the running to lift the continent’s most-coveted trophy
Cue the music – the Champions League is back!
Europe’s biggest and best clubs are now well under way with the group-stage campaigns, with shock results and superb performances already grabbing the headlines.
Chelsea are the defending champions, but there are arguably more contenders this time around than in any previous iteration of the competition.
So, who are the favourites, and which teams will be sent packing before Christmas?
Goal’s Champions League Power Rankings are here to lay it all out…
(Previous rankings after MD2, September 30)
#32 Malmo | Last time: 32nd
The whipping boys of this season’s Champions League are now all-but eliminated following their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
#31 Besiktas | Last time: 31st
Only a win would do for Besiktas when they hosted fellow winless side Sporting CP on Tuesday, but a 4-1 loss to the Portuguese champions means the Istanbul outfit are now staring early elimination in the face.
#30 RB Leipzig | Last time: 30th
After a dispiriting first two matchdays, Leipzig looked like they might be about to give their Champions League hopes an unexpected shot in the arm when they went 2-1 up at PSG on Tuesday.
Then, Lionel Messi happened, and the Bundesliga remain without a point at the halfway stage. Expect elimination to be confirmed in a fortnight.
#29 Young Boys | Last time: 28th
Young Boys’ opening-night win over Manchester United is keeping them in contention for the knockout stages for now, but back-to-back defeats against Atalanta and Villarreal have put David Wagner’s side on the back foot despite some encouraging moments.
#28 Shakhtar Donetsk | Last time: 27th
Shakhtar’s second-half capitulation at the hands of Real Madrid leaves the Ukrainians with it all to do in the second half of the group stages, and with their heroics from a season ago now a distant memory, it feels unlikely they will be able to pull it off.
#27 Dynamo Kyiv | Last time: 26th
Dynamo Kyiv came close to frustrating Barcelona at Camp Nou on Wednesday, but will now likely need to beat the Catalans at home in two weeks’ time to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
#26 Zenit | Last time: 22nd
Zenit clung on for 80 minutes against Juventus before finally succumbing to the Bianconeri in Saint Petersburg, meaning they will likely either need to win in Turin or beat Chelsea on matchday six to have any hope of reaching the last 16.
#25 Sheriff Tiraspol | Last time: 23rd
Sheriff remain top of their group at the halfway stage, but Tuesday’s defeat at Inter put a dent into their dream start to Champions League life.
The Moldovan minnows showed they still have plenty of spirit by pulling the game back to 1-1 at San Siro before finally succumbing to the Serie A champions. How they now bounce back will be key.
#24 Club Brugge | Last time: 21st
After picking up four points from their opening two group matches, Brugge were brought back down to earth on Tuesday as Manchester City tore them apart in their own backyard.
The Belgian champions will need to avoid a similar beatng at the Etihad Stadium next time out if they are to maintain confidence heading into December.
#23 Lille | Last time: 25th
Lille do not look like a team capable of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, and yet the tightness of their group and a decent defensive record so far means they are by no means out of the race.
Their 0-0 draw with Sevilla may have been uninspiring, but every point is likely to count in Group G.
#22 Sporting C.P. | Last time: 29th
Sporting’s win over Besiktas might only end up being worth a place in the Europa League come 2022, but it at least keeps the Portuguese champions competitive in the Champions League.
Repeat the result at home in two weeks and Ruben Almorim’s side will be right back in the qualification mix, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves for now…
#21 AC Milan | Last time: 20th
AC Milan’s return to the top table of European football could barely have gone worse, with defeat in Porto making it three losses from three so far for the Rossoneri.
They have shown enough in each game to suggest that they could go on and win each of their final trio of matches, but Stefano Pioli’s side have left themselves with a mountain to climb.
#20 Wolfsburg | Last time: 16th
Wolfsburg’s sturdy defence was rocked by Red Bull Salzburg on Wednesday as the German outfit fell to a 3-1 defeat in Austria.
Their group remains wide open, however, meaning Mark van Bommel’s side are far from out of contention for a place in the last 16.
#19 Porto | Last time: 24th
Full credit to Porto, who bounced back from their chastening defeat against Liverpool to beat AC Milan on Tuesday evening.
Luis Diaz is emerging as one of the brightest young forwards playing outside of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues, and despite being underdogs in their group, last season’s quarter-finalists are well in the running to qualify at the halfway mark.
#18 Barcelona | Last time: 18th
It wasn’t wholly convincing, but Barcelona did what they had to do with their narrow win over Dynamo Kyiv in front of a sparse Camp Nou crowd on Wednesday.
Their performance level will still need to go up a few notches if they are to avoid the embarrassment of group-stage elimination, but all they could do this week was keep their heads above water, and they just about managed it.
#17 Benfica | Last time: 15th
Benfica did well to keep Bayern Munich at bay for almost 70 minutes, and if not for Manuel Neuer could have been a CmaTrends or two ahead by the time Leroy Sane’s stunning free-kick broke the deadlock.
As such, the 4-0 scoreline is probably a little unfair on the Portuguese outfit, who now know that – in all likelihood – their fate will come down to their clash with Barcelona on matchday five.
#16 Sevilla | Last time: 17th
Another Champions League week, another massively underwhelming performance from Sevilla that ends in a draw.
The Spanish side’s only goals in the competition so far have come from the penalty spot, and Julen Lopetegui needs to find something more from his team if they are to reach the knockout rounds.
#15 Villarreal | Last time: 19th
Villarreal bounced back from their last-gasp defeat at Old Trafford in style in Switzerland, beating Young Boys 4-1, albeit two late goals meant that the scoreline did not quite reflect the balance of the match.
Regardless, the Yellow Submarine now know that another victory over the same opposition on matchday four will leave them well placed ahead of tougher tests in their final two group games.
#14 Atalanta | Last time: 13th
Atalanta yet again showed that they can mix it with Europe’s biggest and most-expensively assembled squads against Manchester United, but that will not offer much comfort to them after they threw away a 2-0 lead to lose at Old Trafford.
Beating the Red Devils at home in the return fixture is not out of the question, however, with the Italian outfit knowing that such a result would put them in pole position to top the group come December.
#13 Red Bull Salzburg | Last time: 14th
Salzburg’s win over Wolfsburg on Wednesday put them four points clear at the top of Group G and within touching distance of reaching the Champions League knockout stages for the first time.
Whether they go any further in the competition may well rely on if they can keep hold of teenage star Karim Adeyemi in January, but for now all is well for the Austrian champions.
#12 Borussia Dortmund | Last time: 7th
Seen by many as a dark horse for this season’s Champions League, Dortmund were brought down to earth with a bump on Tuesday after their 4-0 defeat at Ajax.
Despite having the likes of Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham to call upon, the Bundesliga outfit were shown up in Amsterdam, and will have to improve markedly if they are to make a deep run in the competition.
#11 Inter | Last time: 12th
Inter belatedly kickstarted their Champions League campaign with a 3-1 win over Sheriff on Tuesday, as Simone Inzaghi tasted victory in Europe with the Nerazzurri for the first time.
If they can back up that result with another win in Moldova, then the the Italian champions will be well on their way towards the last 16.
#10 Atletico Madrid | Last time: 9th
It’s difficult to get an accurate gauge on just where Atletico rank among the Champions League contenders this season.
They were lucky to scrape a goalless draw with Porto, thankful of a red card and two late goals against AC Milan, and then started slowly against Liverpool before battling their way back into the game, only for Antoine Griezmann’s dismissal at a time when they were dominating to ultimately cost them the match.
Diego Simeone’s side are certainly a match for anyone on their day, but we are yet to see the best of them in Europe so far this term.
#9 Ajax | Last time: 11th
Two seasons removed from their surprise run to the semi-finals, Ajax announced themselves as being genuine Champions League dark horses once more with their crushing 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.
Erik ten Hag has got his side playing exceptional football both domestically and in Europe, and if they can sustain their current form into the new year, then no one will want to face the Dutch giants come the knockout rounds.
#8 Manchester United | Last time: 10th
It does not feel sustainable in the long-term, but there is no doubt that the way Manchester United are navigating their way through the Champions League group stages is pretty exciting.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s second successive late winner in a come-from-behind victory means the Red Devils know a win at either Atalanta or Villarreal in their next two games should be enough – with a home game against Young Boys to finish – to get them over the line and into the knockouts.
#7 Juventus | Last time: 6th
Juventus might not be providing the same thrills as some of their rivals for the Champions League crown, but their performances are effective in as much as they are easing them through the groups.
With three wins from three, the Bianconeri know that one more victory will be enough to earn them a place in the last 16.
#6 Real Madrid | Last time: 8th
Real Madrid bounced back from their shock defeat against Sheriff to put Shakhtar Donetsk to the sword, running out 5-0 winners in Ukraine.
Vinicius Jr. was the star, with the Brazil international finally starting to show the star quality that persuaded Madrid to sign him as a teenager on a consistent basis.
#5 Chelsea | Last time: 5th
Very few people expected Chelsea to drop points against Malmo, and the Blues duly cruised to a 4-0 win over the Swedish side at Stamford Bridge.
Injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner are concerning in the short-term, but as long as neither problem is serious, then it should not impact their Champions League hopes too much.
#4 Liverpool | Last time: 4th
While the way that Liverpool through away their early two-CmaTrends lead against Atletico Madrid will have concerned Jurgen Klopp, the way that they were able to steady themselves and go again to secure the three points just pointed to the confidence the Reds are playing with right now.
Mohamed Salah is the in-form player in world football right now, and if can maintain that throughout the campaign, then a seventh European Cup could well be on its way back to Anfield.
#3 Paris Saint-Germain | Last time: 2nd
They may have seven points from three games and sit atop what looked a difficult group at the halfway stage, but PSG have yet to hit the dizzy heights many expected of them in the Champions League thus far.
Their performance against RB Leipzig was laboured at best, and though they did still manage to come from behind to secure victory, they will need to do much better come the knockout rounds if they are to challenge for a place in the final.
#2 Manchester City | Last time: 3rd
City returned to winning ways in the Champions League with a supreme display against Club Brugge, as Pep Guardiola’s side again showed why they are among the most feared anywhere in the world.
A win over PSG will still likely be need to top the group and avoid a difficult last-16 draw, but right now you would bet on the Premier League champions doing just that.
#1 Bayern Munich | Last time: 1st
When a team can run out 4-0 winners despite being shut out for the first three-quarters of a match, you know they have to be taken serious as Champions League challengers, and that is exactly what Bayern did on Wednesday.
Their win over Benfica means that Julian Nagelsmann’s team now need just one more victory to secure safe passage to the knockout stages, and expect them to get that done in the quickest possible way on matchday four.