Champions League squads ranked: All 32 clubs rated as 2021-22 tournament kicks off

By Alex Richards & Mark Jones

The lights, the cameras, those hugely missed fans and most importantly, the music.

Yep it is that time of year again when the Champions League kicks off, and everything is possible.

Well, if you've got a fair bit of money that is.

READ MORE: The Champions League rule changes you need to know this season

The group stages begin this week and we're rolling out our usual power rankings to judge just who is in the best possible shape to carry off Ol' Big Ears this season.

As ever, your comments and criticisms are very much accepted as long as you keep them a) clean, and b) confined to our comments section.

Note: This isn't necessarily a ranking of the best clubs, but more how likely they are to win the Champions League based on their group stage draw, squad strength and current form

Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea are defending champions after their triumph last term (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Groups

Group A: Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge

Group B: Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Porto, AC Milan

Group C: Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas

Group D: Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donestk, Sheriff Tiraspol

Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kiev

Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, Young Boys

Group G: Lille, Sevilla, Salzburg, Wolfsburg

Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit St Petersburg, Malmo

Who are your favourites to win the Champions League? Have your say and let us know in the comments section below.

The Rankings

32. Sheriff Tiraspol

Sheriff are in the competition for the first time their history (Getty Images)

No club has worked harder to get here than the club without a country.

Sheriff Tiraspol are on paper are the first Moldovan side to enter the group stages, but in reality play their games in the breakaway Transnistria on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border, a state unrecognised by the UN and which has a heavy Russian army presence, still carrying the Soviet hammer and sickle on its flag.

Sheriff have been Moldovan champions in nine of the last 10 years, but Inter Milan and Real Madrid will be a bit of a step up.

31. Malmo

Malmo are in a tough group with reigning champions Chelsea and Juventus (TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Ima)

A first group stage since 2015-16 for the Swedes, still remembered for being European Cup runners-up to Nottingham Forest back in 1979.

Coached by the former Denmark and Newcastle forward Jon Dahl Tomasson, this time around it will be all about not embarrassing themselves in a group along with Chelsea and Juventus, having lost 8-0 to Real Madrid and 5-0 to Paris Saint-Germain six years ago.

30. Club Brugge

Simon Mignolet is the familiar face in the Brugge goal (Getty Images)

The 17-time Belgian champions had their European heyday in the late 1970s, losing UEFA Cup and then European Cup finals to Liverpool in 1976 and 1978.

More recently they've been weakened by the sale of forward Emmanuel Dennis to Watford, and while veterans Bas Dost and Simon Mignolet plus exciting youngsters Noa Lang and Owen Otasowie, signed from Wolves, have promise, they're in a tough group with Manchester City, PSG and Leipzig.

29. Dynamo Kiev

The Ukrainians made it through a playoff against Gent (SIPA USA/PA Images)

The Ukrainians are back again, and are back in a group from which Europa League qualification would have to be considered a huge success.

That's what happened last time around when they finished third behind Juventus and Barcelona, ahead of the Hungarians Ferencvaros, but having been given Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Benfica this time - disappointingly not in Group B - then 76-year-old coach Mircea Lucescu has it all to do.

28. Young Boys

David Wagner leads Young Boys into the Champions League (PETER KLAUNZER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

It's another crack at the Champions League for the side who've won the last four Swiss league titles, and who return this time around under new manager David Wagner, who continues his odyssey after spells at Huddersfield and Schalke.

Villarreal, Manchester United and Atalanta will probably be too strong for them, and a Europa League spot would be a huge success.

27. Salzburg

Salzburg got the better of Danish side Brondby to qualify (Claus Bech/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Erling Haaland, Takumi Minamino, Patson Daka, Dominik Szoboszlai, Hwang Hee-chan and now coach Jesse Marsch have all drifted away from Salzburg now, the latter trio rather predictably to RB Leipzig, and so it is all about the next batch of players to prove they've got what it takes to make the step up.

They'll be happy with their kind group, but this year's vintage might just need another year or two to even match the feats of the last one.

26. Zenit St Petersburg

Former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren captains Zenit (NurPhoto/PA Images)

A tricky group for the Russians, who come up against reigning champions Chelsea and a Juventus side determined to prove themselves in this competition post-Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sergei Semak's side are full of well-known figures like captain Dejan Lovren, forward Malcom and - still - giant Russian forward Artem Dzyuba, but whether they'll have the legs to get through their group is extremely doubtful.

25. Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar edged out Monaco in a lively playoff (AFP via Getty Images)

The Ukrainians only just squeezed through thanks to a fairly comical own goal in their playoff against Monaco, although beating the Ligue 1 side was a huge feather in the cap for new coach Roberto De Zerbi in what is his first job outside of Italy.

Despite that Italian influence, Shakhtar are their usual mix of home-based talents and journeymen Brazilians, and that surely won't be enough to get past Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

24. Besiktas

There will be a raucous welcome for away teams at Besiktas (AFP/Getty Images)

The Turkish champions possess their usual array of erstwhile performers who were on the fringes of the Premier League in Rachid Ghezzal, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Michy Batshuayi - who, yes, is still out on loan from Chelsea.

None of Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund or Ajax will be relishing their trip to Turkey, and while they'll put up a fight you just fancy that they won't have enough on the road to progress.

23. AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back for Milan, but they're in a tough group (NurPhoto/PA Images)

Back in the Champions League for the first time in seven years, Milan would have wanted a kinder group than this.

The seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners have got it incredibly tough against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, two sides famed for their intensity who might just run Stefano Pioli's side ragged if they're on their game.

With Porto as the third side in probably the toughest group of the tournament, a difficult task to even reach the Europa League awaits.

Although they do have Zlatan Ibrahimovic...

22. Benfica

Benfica will hope to get the better of Bayern Munich and Barcelona (SIPA USA/PA Images)

Third in Portugal last season, and in all likelihood heading for third in their Champions League group this time around as Benfica are paired with both Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

The issues at Barca have made the possibility of progression a little more likely on paper though, and if any team is to take advantage of the post-Lionel Messi, er, mess then it will likely be Jorge Jesus' men, who are top of their domestic table with five wins from five.

21. RB Leipzig

Jesse Marsch has switched from Salzburg to Leipzig (AFP via Getty Images)

You'd expect them to be higher, yes, but having reached the second round last season the Bundesliga side have lost their manager and have been drawn in a group with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain this time around.

New coach Jesse Marsch will hope they can punch above their weight, but three defeats in their opening four Bundesliga matches suggests otherwise.

20. Atalanta

The Italians are one of the livelier teams to watch in Europe (PAOLO MAGNI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

It has been three games played, three goals scored, three conceded and all three possible outcomes for Atalanta in Serie A this season, but as they return to Europe they do so with the tag of the great entertainers.

The 2019-20 quarter-finalists managed a win over Liverpool at Anfield last season, although did lose 5-0 to them at home, and there is the potential for similar amounts of fun when they take on Villarreal and Young Boys, while their all-action style has the potential to frighten Manchester United.

19. Porto

Veteran centre-back Pepe is still going at the back (NurPhoto/PA Images)

They saw off Juventus last season before a tussle with eventual winners Chelsea, but if Porto are just going to get out of the group here then they're going to have to pull off something special.

Atletico Madrid and Liverpool are the clear favourites to advance, meaning that the Portuguese are likely to have to get the better of AC Milan both at home and away to stand a chance of going through. They've got the talent to do that, but maybe not beat the rest.

18. Ajax

Ajax still have a wealth of attacking talent despite high profile departures (Olaf Kraak/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

A decent group for the 2018-19 semi-finalists, although they have changed markedly since that night in Amsterdam against Tottenham.

The likes of Dusan Tadic and David Neres still remain though, and were key to the side that finished third in their group behind Liverpool and Atalanta last season.

This time they might just get that little bit closer to qualification alongside Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund and Besiktas in what looks to be an open group.

17. Sporting Lisbon

Sporting won the Portuguese title last season, and are top seeds in the Champions League (RODRIGO ANTUNES/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Last season's champions in Portugal, losing only once, Sporting are arguably the weakest of the top seeds.

Ruben Amorim's men will hope that being stout defensively will be enough to help them scrap their way through the group stage.

Not big scorers as a team, but keep an eye out for attacking midfielder Pedro Goncalves, formerly of Wolves, who struck 23 in 37 last term and has four goals already this campaign.

16. Wolfsburg

Mark van Bommel is the new man in charge of Wolfsburg (Getty Images)

With four Bundesliga wins from four, during which they've only conceded one goal, the German side are bouncing into a group they'll feel that they can get out of.

Now managed by Dutch legend Mark van Bommel - who has overcome a tough start at the club - they are sure to fancy their chances up against Lille, Sevilla and Salzburg, with at least the Europa League expected and more hoped for.

15. Lille

Buruk Yilmaz will bring his passionate displays to the Champions League (REUTERS)

Last season's shock French title winners are in among the top seeds, but have endured a tumultuous summer losing key players in 'keeper Mike Maignan and midfielder Boubakary Soumare as well as head coach Christophe Gaultier.

Jocelyn Gourvennec has taken the helm, and they remain dependant on veteran striker Burak Yilmaz in attack - although his displays for Turkey at Euro 2020 don't inspire confidence.

14. Villarreal

Villarreal enter the tournament as last season's Europa League winners (AFP via Getty Images)

Last season’s Europa League winners were among the top seeds and Unai Emery’s men deserve respect despite a winless start in La Liga.

Gerard Moreno will lead the attack once more having shone, and that top seeding means they’ll fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages.

Ex-Arsenal boss Emery may feel he has a point to prove after his previous spells in the competition, most notably with PSG; but secretly, does he hope they finish third in their group and he gets a crack at a fifth Europa League crown?

13. Sevilla

Julen Lopetegui is spearheading Sevilla's charge (AFP via Getty Images)

Two wins and a draw to begin their La Liga season is decent going for Sevilla, who went out to Borussia Dortmund in the last-16 last season.

Julen Lopetegui has added the experience of Denmark's Thomas Delaney, the flair of former Spurs man Erik Lamela and the intriguing prospect of Rafa Mir, who was never really seen at Wolves, since then, and failing to progress out of a kind-looking group would be a disappointment.

12. Inter Milan

Inter enter as Italian champions (NurPhoto/PA Images)

After romping to the Serie A title under Antonio Conte, with the goals of Romelu Lukaku firing the Nerazzurri to glory and ending Juventus ' stranglehold on the Scudetto, it's been a summer of change at San Siro.

Conte and Lukaku have both departed, replaced by Simone Inzaghi and Edin Dzeko respectively amid the club's financial issues, but a smart, experienced side remains.

The former Lazio manager - who, like Conte, also prefers a three-man defence, meaning there's little change to their defensive structure - will back himself to get out of the group stage. That's something that didn't happen last year, but top seeding will help their cause.

11. Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland will again command the attention at Dortmund (AFP via Getty Images)

If you've got Erling Haaland you've got a chance against anyone, and that is how Dortmund will be feeling going into what looks highly likely to be their final Champions League campaign with the big Norwegian in their ranks.

Anything but serene qualification will be a failure for Marco Rose's side, who are then likely to find themselves with the tag of the team clubs will most want to avoid in the last-16.

It is usually around there that their defending lets them down though, and not even Haaland can save them.

10. Juventus

It has been a rocky start to the season for Juventus (Alessandro Di Marco/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Following hot on the heels of another side waving goodbye to a modern icon, Juve weren't quite as sad to see the back of Cristiano Ronaldo as Barcelona were for Lionel Messi.

There were no tearful press conferences conducted by a player who failed to inspire Juve past the last eight of this competition, but the attempt to rebuild has started slowly.

Max Allegri is back and is in charge of a hugely talented bunch, and while they should have enough to join Chelsea in qualifying from the group, another last eight exit wouldn't be a surprise.

9. Barcelona

Memphis Depay is carrying the hopes of Barcelona (Getty Images)

The king is dead, long live the king.

Messi's exit, not to mention the continued ageing of other stars such as Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, means Ronald Koeman's men aren't being taken seriously as contenders this time around.

To get there, they'll likely rely on the brilliance of Memphis Depay - who already looks right at home at Camp Nou - and pray that Frenkie de Jong and Pedri continue their progress as two of the best young footballers on the planet.

On this occasion, a quarter-final would represent success for Los Cules.

8. Atletico Madrid

Luis Suarez will hope to be at his menacing best for Atletico (NurPhoto/PA Images)

Last season's La Liga champions, Diego Simeone's men fell short in the last 16 last year when they came up against eventual winners Chelsea.

Luis Suarez is another year older but will again lead the attack, while more will be expected of Portuguese youngster Joao Felix and Angel Correa has been in outstanding form recently, with the attack topped off by the return of Antoine Griezmann.

New Brazilian international Matheus Cunha also adds some X-factor in attack - the Olympic winner has joined from Hertha BSC in a £28million deal - but, as usual, it's the defence, led by 'keeper Jan Oblak, which will be vital to any potential success.

They'll face an intriguing battle with Liverpool in the group stages having knocked them out of the 2019-20 tournament.

7. Real Madrid

Karim Benzema's ever-present threat will be in evidence (AFP via Getty Images)

A summer of change at the Santiago Bernabeu and one which suggests Los Blancos won't be major players this time around.

Zinedine Zidane is out, replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, who led the Spanish giants to their 2014 triumph, but he will have to summon every inch of his knowhow to take Madrid to the final four having lost defensive stalwarts Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane over the summer.

Thus, the defence is a little bit shakier, the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are all another year older and the attack remains heavily reliant on Karim Benzema.

They need Eden Hazard to rediscover his best, but even if he does the 13-time winners just look a little short to go all the way this time around.

6. Manchester United

Ronaldo-mania is back at Manchester United (AFP via Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo is the new/old gunslinger in town, and that has caused quite a lot of excitement down on Sir Matt Busby way.

Just as at Juve, questions will remain over Ronaldo's suitability to the modern game, and the need to press and be an active part of the proceedings when the going gets tough, but you also cannot see a situation were he doesn't get a couple more moments in the Champions League sun.

It is his stage, and with the additions of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho come a pretty impressive supporting cast.

Expectation is high, and a quarter-final spot has to be the minimum.

Think United should be higher? Leave your own rankings in the comments section.

5. Liverpool

Mo Salah will be chasing more records with Liverpool (REUTERS)

After a summer in which we all got obsessed with the transfer market, have we been sleeping on Liverpool?

They certainly slept on us, adding only centre-back Ibrahima Konate in a senior capacity, but to doubt the Reds' squad is to forget that this is a group full of experience and knowhow at the top level, as well as one that has basically chosen to pretend that last season didn't happen due to their raft of injury issues.

Jurgen Klopp is a two-time Champions League finalist, and will fancy his chances of outwitting the majority of bosses he comes up again in the competition.

There's the Anfield factor too, and we all know what that can do.

4. Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku brings a new threat to Chelsea (Getty Images)

The holders weren’t among the favourites when Frank Lampard was leading them through last season’s group stages but they came on strong under Thomas Tuchel.

Deserved winners of last season’s trophy after seeing off Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City - in truth, all with a certain degree of comfort - in the knockout rounds, the Blues are stronger this time around.

Young stars such as Reece James, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are a year older and wiser, while Romelu Lukaku gives them an attacking focal point who guarantees goals and, at 28, is very much in his prime.

3. Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski is one of top Champions League marksmen (AFP via Getty Images)

The 2020 winners fell short last term when being dumped out by PSG in the quarter-finals and there's a new man steering the ship, with Julian Nagelsmann having replaced Hansi Flick.

David Alaba, outstanding in their 2020 triumph, has departed for Real Madrid, with Dayot Upamecano following Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig and taking his place at the heart of defence. Further forwards the side remains more settled and Robert Lewandowski will be looking to make up for last term, when his injury proved costly in the last eight.

They're certainly, as always, among the favourites, but there's a perception that Nagelsmann can over-complicate things unnecessarily at times; when things get to the latter stages, it will be a big test of the coaching wunderkind's temperament.

2. Manchester City

Pep Guardiola still hasn't tasted European glory with City (AFP via Getty Images)

They seemed set to end their long-wait for a first Champions League - and Pep Guardiola's decade-long wait for his third crown - last season, but ultimately fell short in the final against Chelsea in Porto.

Then they were hampered by not being able to call upon a ruthless, fully-fit No.9 - Sergio Aguero was halfway out the exit door at that point - and having failed to land Harry Kane, that looks set to be their Achilles heel once more.

As has been the norm in recent seasons, they'll likely ease through the group stages once more, with £100million Jack Grealish hoping to impress as he gets his first taste of continental action.

1. Paris Saint-Germain

Lionel Messi has been signed to lead PSG to European glory (NurPhoto/PA Images)

Well this is it: The end game.

Having handed big deals to Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi, on the back of the final in 2020 and last year's semi-finals, PSG are very much in all or nothing territory when it comes to finally putting their Champions League obsession to an end.

Messi is the signing that has put them over the top, teaming him up once more with Neymar - with whom he won this trophy at Barcelona in 2015 - while few can match Ramos' for big-game continental nous, but Gini Wijnaldum was a 2019 winner with Liverpool and Gianluigi Donnarumma is a stellar goalkeeper.

Big questions surround Kylian Mbappe's future, but if he remains, then Les Parisiens are undoubtedly the team that all others need to stop.

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