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Champions League: Team by team rankings

Champions League: Team by team rankings Close

32) Maribor 7

Star quality: 1 History: 2 Romance: 4

“This group is more difficult than people think,” Jose Mourinho said at the weekend. “When Chelsea play Sporting in a couple of weeks, it will be difficult. Schalke have improved a lot in relation to last season.” And what of Slovenian champions Maribor, back in the group stage after a 15-year absence? “I haven’t analysed them yet,” Mourinho said. Burn.

32) Maribor 7 Star quality: 1 History: 2 Romance: 4 “This group is more difficult than people think,” Jose Mourinho said at the weekend. “When Chelsea play Sporting in a couple of weeks, it will be difficult. Schalke have improved a lot in relation to last season.” And what of Slovenian champions Maribor, back in the group stage after a 15-year absence? “I haven’t analysed them yet,” Mourinho said. Burn.

31) BATE Borisov 9

Star quality: 1 History: 1 Romance: 7

The globalisation of football means it’s increasingly rare to find a team that is a genuinely unknown quantity. But BATE are one of them, despite reaching the group stage for the fourth time. Virtually their entire squad is from Belarus, which means that you can put your house on a commentator describing them as “well-organised” at some stage.

31) BATE Borisov 9 Star quality: 1 History: 1 Romance: 7 The globalisation of football means it’s increasingly rare to find a team that is a genuinely unknown quantity. But BATE are one of them, despite reaching the group stage for the fourth time. Virtually their entire squad is from Belarus, which means that you can put your house on a commentator describing them as “well-organised” at some stage.

30) Zenit St Petersburg 12

Star quality: 7 History: 3 Romance: 2

The rehabilitation of Andre Villas-Boas continues apace. Zenit’s insistence on placing their manager in a series of ever more bizarre internet videos is one of the more arresting things about the club, but the renewal of his partnership with Hulk promises to be just as compelling.

30) Zenit St Petersburg 12 Star quality: 7 History: 3 Romance: 2 The rehabilitation of Andre Villas-Boas continues apace. Zenit’s insistence on placing their manager in a series of ever more bizarre internet videos is one of the more arresting things about the club, but the renewal of his partnership with Hulk promises to be just as compelling.

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29) Shakhtar Donetsk 14

Star quality: 6 History: 3 Romance: 5

It’s always worth watching Shakhtar Donetsk, if only so you can pretend you’re a scout and try and guess the player Manchester City are going to sign next. Credit is due to coach Mircea Lucescu, who has maintained a quick, attractive style despite the frequent churn in personnel.

29) Shakhtar Donetsk 14 Star quality: 6 History: 3 Romance: 5 It’s always worth watching Shakhtar Donetsk, if only so you can pretend you’re a scout and try and guess the player Manchester City are going to sign next. Credit is due to coach Mircea Lucescu, who has maintained a quick, attractive style despite the frequent churn in personnel.

28) APOEL 15

Star quality: 2 History: 4 Romance: 9

Perhaps the unlikeliest quarter-finalists in history two years ago, there’s still an admirable underdog spirit to APOEL, despite the recent signing of John Arne Riise. They’re not all that good to watch – “hard-working” just about covers it – but who cares?

28) APOEL 15 Star quality: 2 History: 4 Romance: 9 Perhaps the unlikeliest quarter-finalists in history two years ago, there’s still an admirable underdog spirit to APOEL, despite the recent signing of John Arne Riise. They’re not all that good to watch – “hard-working” just about covers it – but who cares?

27) Monaco 17

Star quality: 7 History: 6 Romance: 4

Like a souped-up, pimped-up SUV that proves utterly incapable of negotiating the speed bumps on the B264, Monaco have had to sell most of their priceless assets to comply with Financial Fair Play. But they still have Joao Moutinho, they still have Dimitar Berbatov, and most importantly they still have their piddly little Stade Louis II stadium, home of the most pointless arches in European football.

27) Monaco 17 Star quality: 7 History: 6 Romance: 4 Like a souped-up, pimped-up SUV that proves utterly incapable of negotiating the speed bumps on the B264, Monaco have had to sell most of their priceless assets to comply with Financial Fair Play. But they still have Joao Moutinho, they still have Dimitar Berbatov, and most importantly they still have their piddly little Stade Louis II stadium, home of the most pointless arches in European football.

26) Olympiakos 17

Star quality: 6 History: 5 Romance: 6

Not content with winning 16 Greek titles out of 18, not content with gamely attempting to rebuild the Barcelona side of 2011, signing Ibrahim Afellay and Eric Abidal (Messi failed a medical), Olympiakos have spent the last few months trolling Fulham to an epic degree. In return for giving them Kostas Mitroglou, they received £11 million, Patijm Kasami and – a few months later – Kostas Mitroglou. Which is, by any measure, pretty funny.

26) Olympiakos 17 Star quality: 6 History: 5 Romance: 6 Not content with winning 16 Greek titles out of 18, not content with gamely attempting to rebuild the Barcelona side of 2011, signing Ibrahim Afellay and Eric Abidal (Messi failed a medical), Olympiakos have spent the last few months trolling Fulham to an epic degree. In return for giving them Kostas Mitroglou, they received £11 million, Patijm Kasami and – a few months later – Kostas Mitroglou. Which is, by any measure, pretty funny.

25) Sporting Lisbon 17

Star quality: 5 History: 5 Romance: 7

What a curious bunch Sporting are: world-beating youngsters like William Carvalho, club stalwarts like Rui Patricio, returning conquerors like Nani and Bebe. If Sporting appear at times to be little more than a plaything of Jorge Mendes, there’s always a certain comfort in seeing one of Europe’s big names back at the top table. And in Ryan Gauld, they have the only Scot that’s getting anywhere near the Champions League this season.

25) Sporting Lisbon 17 Star quality: 5 History: 5 Romance: 7 What a curious bunch Sporting are: world-beating youngsters like William Carvalho, club stalwarts like Rui Patricio, returning conquerors like Nani and Bebe. If Sporting appear at times to be little more than a plaything of Jorge Mendes, there’s always a certain comfort in seeing one of Europe’s big names back at the top table. And in Ryan Gauld, they have the only Scot that’s getting anywhere near the Champions League this season.

24) Basel 17

Star quality: 4 History: 5 Romance: 8

QPR and Leicester fans may be wondering what Paulo Sousa has done to get a gig in the Champions League. Not a lot, in truth, but Basel’s wider success is something everyone can get behind. Their academy is beginning to rival Ajax and Crewe Alexandra as a talent factory, and they are the classic example of a small club punching above their weight. Quite where new signing Walter Samuel fits into this we’re not sure, but it’s great news regardless.

24) Basel 17 Star quality: 4 History: 5 Romance: 8 QPR and Leicester fans may be wondering what Paulo Sousa has done to get a gig in the Champions League. Not a lot, in truth, but Basel’s wider success is something everyone can get behind. Their academy is beginning to rival Ajax and Crewe Alexandra as a talent factory, and they are the classic example of a small club punching above their weight. Quite where new signing Walter Samuel fits into this we’re not sure, but it’s great news regardless.

23) Galatasaray 18

Star quality: 7 History: 6 Romance: 5

Galatasaray are never there to make up the numbers, even if some of their players often are. If the likes of Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop, Emmanuel Eboue, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder give the faintest whiff of a team just beyond its Best Before date, then younger stars like Portuguese winger Bruma offer hope of renewal.

23) Galatasaray 18 Star quality: 7 History: 6 Romance: 5 Galatasaray are never there to make up the numbers, even if some of their players often are. If the likes of Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop, Emmanuel Eboue, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder give the faintest whiff of a team just beyond its Best Before date, then younger stars like Portuguese winger Bruma offer hope of renewal.

21=) Malmo 18

Star quality: 2 History: 8 Romance: 8

Manchester City and Norwich fans will recognise Malmo coach Age Hareide, who has built a young, largely home-grown team that switches readily between 4-4-2 and 5-3-2. Expect some expert bus-parking against the bigger teams, but there should also be plenty to love about the 1979 finalists, most notably some of the most deranged fans in Europe

21=) Malmo 18 Star quality: 2 History: 8 Romance: 8 Manchester City and Norwich fans will recognise Malmo coach Age Hareide, who has built a young, largely home-grown team that switches readily between 4-4-2 and 5-3-2. Expect some expert bus-parking against the bigger teams, but there should also be plenty to love about the 1979 finalists, most notably some of the most deranged fans in Europe

21=) Anderlecht 18

Star quality: 3 History: 7 Romance: 8

Like Boney M, Anderlecht were huge in the 1970s and have spent the intervening decades getting progressively worse and worse. But while they look like the weak link in Arsenal’s group, their new young side may bloody a few noses. Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic forms the tip of the attack, Steven Defour marshals affairs from midfield and expect teenage midfielder Youri Tielemans to be linked with a Premier League club in 3… 2… 1…

21=) Anderlecht 18 Star quality: 3 History: 7 Romance: 8 Like Boney M, Anderlecht were huge in the 1970s and have spent the intervening decades getting progressively worse and worse. But while they look like the weak link in Arsenal’s group, their new young side may bloody a few noses. Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic forms the tip of the attack, Steven Defour marshals affairs from midfield and expect teenage midfielder Youri Tielemans to be linked with a Premier League club in 3… 2… 1…

20) CSKA Moscow 19

Star quality: 5 History: 6 Romance: 8

This isn’t the only thing you need to know about CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutski, but it’s important: his playing career was cut short at the age of 19 when he fell out of a tree trying to rescue his neighbour’s cat. Now one of Russia’s outstanding coaches, Slutski has forged a tight-knit unit, built on the pace of Ahmed Musa and Vitinho, the creativity of Alan Dzagoev, the goals of Seydou Doumbia and the occasional racism of some of its fans.

20) CSKA Moscow 19 Star quality: 5 History: 6 Romance: 8 This isn’t the only thing you need to know about CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutski, but it’s important: his playing career was cut short at the age of 19 when he fell out of a tree trying to rescue his neighbour’s cat. Now one of Russia’s outstanding coaches, Slutski has forged a tight-knit unit, built on the pace of Ahmed Musa and Vitinho, the creativity of Alan Dzagoev, the goals of Seydou Doumbia and the occasional racism of some of its fans.

19) Chelsea 20

Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 4

No manager has ever won the Champions League with three different clubs. Can you imagine how utterly unbearable Jose Mourinho would be if he became the first? These are the stakes here. And yet – a brilliant summer of transfer activity, a renewed focus on attack, a pretty simple group. It looks written. Best get that new kit out, John Terry.

19) Chelsea 20 Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 4 No manager has ever won the Champions League with three different clubs. Can you imagine how utterly unbearable Jose Mourinho would be if he became the first? These are the stakes here. And yet – a brilliant summer of transfer activity, a renewed focus on attack, a pretty simple group. It looks written. Best get that new kit out, John Terry.

18) Paris Saint Germain 20

Star quality: 9 History: 4 Romance: 7

There would, admittedly, be something quite thrilling about PSG going all the way, if you turn a blind eye to the petro-billions and the flagrant abuses of Financial Fair Play.

18) Paris Saint Germain 20 Star quality: 9 History: 4 Romance: 7 There would, admittedly, be something quite thrilling about PSG going all the way, if you turn a blind eye to the petro-billions and the flagrant abuses of Financial Fair Play.

17) Porto 21

Star quality: 7 History: 8 Romance: 6

The worst season in a decade, finishing third in a three-team league, and a nail-biting play-off to secure a place in the group stage. So how did Uefa reward Porto? With a top seeding and one of the easiest groups in history. It would probably be worth rooting against them for that alone, but this season has the feel of a new dawn. Bruno Martins Indi and Cristian Tello are among the new signings, and watch out for 17-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves.

17) Porto 21 Star quality: 7 History: 8 Romance: 6 The worst season in a decade, finishing third in a three-team league, and a nail-biting play-off to secure a place in the group stage. So how did Uefa reward Porto? With a top seeding and one of the easiest groups in history. It would probably be worth rooting against them for that alone, but this season has the feel of a new dawn. Bruno Martins Indi and Cristian Tello are among the new signings, and watch out for 17-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves.

16) Schalke 21

Star quality: 7 History: 7 Romance: 7

There’s a gritty charm to Schalke that’s not unlike Newcastle – a former coal-mining town that has maintained its working-class character despite an influx of exotic foreign players and a dubious sponsor (for Wonga, read Gazprom). There’s a heavy influence on youth – you’ll know about Julian Draxler, but also keep an eye on 18-year-old forward Max Meyer, who’s been given the cherished No7 shirt once worn by Raul.

16) Schalke 21 Star quality: 7 History: 7 Romance: 7 There’s a gritty charm to Schalke that’s not unlike Newcastle – a former coal-mining town that has maintained its working-class character despite an influx of exotic foreign players and a dubious sponsor (for Wonga, read Gazprom). There’s a heavy influence on youth – you’ll know about Julian Draxler, but also keep an eye on 18-year-old forward Max Meyer, who’s been given the cherished No7 shirt once worn by Raul.

15) Bayer Leverkusen 21

Star quality: 6 History: 7 Romance: 8

Meet the new most exciting team in Europe. Leverkusen’s results this season: 6-0, 3-2, 2-0 (at Borussia Dortmund, including a goal after nine seconds), 4-0, 4-2 and 3-3. Roger Schmidt’s team play like overexcited children – they just charge at you en masse, whether they’ve got the ball or not. “Our aim is to play a perfect game and go to our absolute limits,” Schmidt says, which sounds like something Buzz Lightyear would come out with. Prepare to fall in love.

15) Bayer Leverkusen 21 Star quality: 6 History: 7 Romance: 8 Meet the new most exciting team in Europe. Leverkusen’s results this season: 6-0, 3-2, 2-0 (at Borussia Dortmund, including a goal after nine seconds), 4-0, 4-2 and 3-3. Roger Schmidt’s team play like overexcited children – they just charge at you en masse, whether they’ve got the ball or not. “Our aim is to play a perfect game and go to our absolute limits,” Schmidt says, which sounds like something Buzz Lightyear would come out with. Prepare to fall in love.

14) Athletic Bilbao 21

Star quality: 5 History: 7 Romance: 9

Everyone loves Athletic, with their time-honoured policy of selecting only players who were born not just in the Basque region, but in the San Mames Stadium itself, and to parents who are already club employees. Given that they essentially have about 25 adult males to choose from, getting back into the Champions League after a 15-year absence is quite an achievement, and a welcome antidote to the idea that success has to be bought.

14) Athletic Bilbao 21 Star quality: 5 History: 7 Romance: 9 Everyone loves Athletic, with their time-honoured policy of selecting only players who were born not just in the Basque region, but in the San Mames Stadium itself, and to parents who are already club employees. Given that they essentially have about 25 adult males to choose from, getting back into the Champions League after a 15-year absence is quite an achievement, and a welcome antidote to the idea that success has to be bought.

12=) Manchester City 22

Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 6

City’s first few years in the Champions League are beginning to look a lot like Manchester United’s – the odd stirring performance, but a more pervasive sense of opportunities missed. Could this be their 1999? The competition brings the best out of Manuel Pellegrini – he overachieved with both Villarreal and Malaga – but also seems to drive him slightly potty, as he showed last year when having a go at the referee for the crime of being Swedish.

12=) Manchester City 22 Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 6 City’s first few years in the Champions League are beginning to look a lot like Manchester United’s – the odd stirring performance, but a more pervasive sense of opportunities missed. Could this be their 1999? The competition brings the best out of Manuel Pellegrini – he overachieved with both Villarreal and Malaga – but also seems to drive him slightly potty, as he showed last year when having a go at the referee for the crime of being Swedish.

12=) Benfica 22

Star quality: 7 History: 9 Romance: 6

The raucous celebrations in Lisbon when Benfica sealed the Primeira Liga title were quite something, although given that it’s basically a three-team league, you have to wonder whether it was a bit over the top. Either way, Benfica go into this year’s competition in a bit of form, with a new-look squad and high hopes for 20-year-old Brazilian playmaker Talisca.

12=) Benfica 22 Star quality: 7 History: 9 Romance: 6 The raucous celebrations in Lisbon when Benfica sealed the Primeira Liga title were quite something, although given that it’s basically a three-team league, you have to wonder whether it was a bit over the top. Either way, Benfica go into this year’s competition in a bit of form, with a new-look squad and high hopes for 20-year-old Brazilian playmaker Talisca.

) Arsenal 23

Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 7

Like people who buy second homes but never use them, sometimes you wonder whether Arsenal’s annual Champions League place would be better going to somebody else. We know how this ends, after all: Arsenal qualify comfortably from their group in second place, and then lose to the first proper club they face. And yet, Arsenal’s quick, technical squad is arguably better equipped for European football than it is for the Premier League. A kind draw, and who knows?

) Arsenal 23 Star quality: 9 History: 7 Romance: 7 Like people who buy second homes but never use them, sometimes you wonder whether Arsenal’s annual Champions League place would be better going to somebody else. We know how this ends, after all: Arsenal qualify comfortably from their group in second place, and then lose to the first proper club they face. And yet, Arsenal’s quick, technical squad is arguably better equipped for European football than it is for the Premier League. A kind draw, and who knows?

10) Ajax 23

Star quality: 4 History: 10 Romance: 9

The arrival of Louis van Gaal to English football has brought Ajax’s phenomenal achievements during the 1990s to a brand new audience. Ajax are cool again, and yet while their squad is more than good enough for the Eredivisie, they haven’t reached the knockout stages of this competition for nine years. A predominantly home-grown squad could be the antidote: pay special attention to teenage left-back Jairo Riedewald.

10) Ajax 23 Star quality: 4 History: 10 Romance: 9 The arrival of Louis van Gaal to English football has brought Ajax’s phenomenal achievements during the 1990s to a brand new audience. Ajax are cool again, and yet while their squad is more than good enough for the Eredivisie, they haven’t reached the knockout stages of this competition for nine years. A predominantly home-grown squad could be the antidote: pay special attention to teenage left-back Jairo Riedewald.

9) Bayern Munich 24

Star quality: 10 History: 9 Romance: 5

You’ve got to admire Bayern on so many levels, but loving Bayern is a slightly different matter: it’s always going to be hard to give your heart to a club that plays “Seven Nation Army” at deafening volume after every single goal they score. On the other hand, this season sees the return of two of European football’s priceless artefacts: the red-and-blue home shirt, and the Gotze-Lewandowski partnership. Welcome back, both.

9) Bayern Munich 24 Star quality: 10 History: 9 Romance: 5 You’ve got to admire Bayern on so many levels, but loving Bayern is a slightly different matter: it’s always going to be hard to give your heart to a club that plays “Seven Nation Army” at deafening volume after every single goal they score. On the other hand, this season sees the return of two of European football’s priceless artefacts: the red-and-blue home shirt, and the Gotze-Lewandowski partnership. Welcome back, both.

8) Real Madrid 25

Star quality: 10 History: 10 Romance: 5

The Undecima. Doesn’t really have the same ring, does it? And the fact remains that there is little left for this squad to prove, beyond reaffirming the fact that yes, buying the world’s best players will eventually win you the Champions League. Last year’s win was a defining moment in so many careers – Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti, Florentino Perez. A repeat triumph, you suspect, would be of interest to them alone.

8) Real Madrid 25 Star quality: 10 History: 10 Romance: 5 The Undecima. Doesn’t really have the same ring, does it? And the fact remains that there is little left for this squad to prove, beyond reaffirming the fact that yes, buying the world’s best players will eventually win you the Champions League. Last year’s win was a defining moment in so many careers – Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti, Florentino Perez. A repeat triumph, you suspect, would be of interest to them alone.

7) Juventus 25

Star quality: 9 History: 9 Romance: 7

A new era at Juve that serves only to underline how enjoyable the old one was. The expressive Antonio Conte has been replaced by ultimate “safe pair of hands” Massimiliano Allegri, with all his boring talk of “no easy games”. That said, new signings Alvaro Morata and Patrice Evra are intriguing, and surely this is the year Carlos Tevez makes his mark on the Champions League again. And that midfield! Pirlo, Pogba, Vidal: mamma mia.

7) Juventus 25 Star quality: 9 History: 9 Romance: 7 A new era at Juve that serves only to underline how enjoyable the old one was. The expressive Antonio Conte has been replaced by ultimate “safe pair of hands” Massimiliano Allegri, with all his boring talk of “no easy games”. That said, new signings Alvaro Morata and Patrice Evra are intriguing, and surely this is the year Carlos Tevez makes his mark on the Champions League again. And that midfield! Pirlo, Pogba, Vidal: mamma mia.

3=) Roma 26

Star quality: 8 History: 9 Romance: 9

Like Liverpool, Roma are returning to the Champions League after an extended break. Unlike Liverpool, they’ve never quite done themselves justice in this competition. But perhaps they’ve never had a squad quite as irresistible as this: a bewitching brew of precocious kids, flawed geniuses and elder statesmen. And none more stately than 51-year-old Francesco Totti, who everyone would just love to see lifting the trophy, even if it means Ashley Cole gets to lift it as well.

3=) Roma 26 Star quality: 8 History: 9 Romance: 9 Like Liverpool, Roma are returning to the Champions League after an extended break. Unlike Liverpool, they’ve never quite done themselves justice in this competition. But perhaps they’ve never had a squad quite as irresistible as this: a bewitching brew of precocious kids, flawed geniuses and elder statesmen. And none more stately than 51-year-old Francesco Totti, who everyone would just love to see lifting the trophy, even if it means Ashley Cole gets to lift it as well.

3=) Liverpool 26

Star quality: 7 History: 10 Romance: 9

Yes, yes, European nights at Anfield are special. (Other stadiums where European nights are special: all of them.) But for Liverpool, grasping at past glories isn’t really the point of the exercise. Everyone is keen to see Brendan Rodgers’s exciting young side tested at this level. Can Daniel Sturridge do it on a balmy Tuesday evening at the Bernabeu? Is Joe Allen Champions League material? You don’t have to be a Liverpool fan to be slightly excited.

3=) Liverpool 26 Star quality: 7 History: 10 Romance: 9 Yes, yes, European nights at Anfield are special. (Other stadiums where European nights are special: all of them.) But for Liverpool, grasping at past glories isn’t really the point of the exercise. Everyone is keen to see Brendan Rodgers’s exciting young side tested at this level. Can Daniel Sturridge do it on a balmy Tuesday evening at the Bernabeu? Is Joe Allen Champions League material? You don’t have to be a Liverpool fan to be slightly excited.

3=) Borussia Dortmund 26

Star quality: 9 History: 8 Romance: 9

No, perhaps not as good as a couple of years ago. And yes, the initial wave of Klopp-mania has abated somewhat. But pound for pound, you’d still rather watch Dortmund than virtually anybody else. And yes: Shinji Kagawa’s back, in a scenario reminiscent of the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, when James Stewart begs to be allowed to return to his previous life, and returns home to find the whole town singing Auld Lang Syne and showering him with money. This may not have been too far from the truth.

3=) Borussia Dortmund 26 Star quality: 9 History: 8 Romance: 9 No, perhaps not as good as a couple of years ago. And yes, the initial wave of Klopp-mania has abated somewhat. But pound for pound, you’d still rather watch Dortmund than virtually anybody else. And yes: Shinji Kagawa’s back, in a scenario reminiscent of the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, when James Stewart begs to be allowed to return to his previous life, and returns home to find the whole town singing Auld Lang Syne and showering him with money. This may not have been too far from the truth.

3=) Atletico Madrid 26

Star quality: 8 History: 9 Romance: 9

For Atletico, glorious failure has long been a birthright. Like getting to within a minute of winning the Champions League and ending up with a 4-1 spanking. Even last season’s La Liga title was followed by the careful extraction of all their best players by richer clubs. Which is why, despite their top seeding, despite big-money signings Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic, they remain the underdog’s underdog: the joy is in the pain.

3=) Atletico Madrid 26 Star quality: 8 History: 9 Romance: 9 For Atletico, glorious failure has long been a birthright. Like getting to within a minute of winning the Champions League and ending up with a 4-1 spanking. Even last season’s La Liga title was followed by the careful extraction of all their best players by richer clubs. Which is why, despite their top seeding, despite big-money signings Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic, they remain the underdog’s underdog: the joy is in the pain.

2) Barcelona 27

Star quality: 10 History: 10 Romance: 7

No longer the team to beat, and no longer “mes que un club” either, ever since people realised they owed mes que a lot to the taxman. But the sheer hubristic ferocity with which Barcelona are trying to recapture their lost dominance – Suarez! Rakitic! er, Vermaelen! – is arguably just as visceral and thrilling as their ascent. A fifth Champions League would be a kick in the shins of everybody who has written them off. Anything less, and we can safely draw a line under the Age of Barça. This is, quite literally, a make-or-break season.

2) Barcelona 27 Star quality: 10 History: 10 Romance: 7 No longer the team to beat, and no longer “mes que un club” either, ever since people realised they owed mes que a lot to the taxman. But the sheer hubristic ferocity with which Barcelona are trying to recapture their lost dominance – Suarez! Rakitic! er, Vermaelen! – is arguably just as visceral and thrilling as their ascent. A fifth Champions League would be a kick in the shins of everybody who has written them off. Anything less, and we can safely draw a line under the Age of Barça. This is, quite literally, a make-or-break season.

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1) Ludogorets 1003

Star quality: 1 History: 2 Romance: 1000

Razgrad, in north-eastern Bulgaria, is about the size of Glossop. Fourteen years ago, Ludogorets didn’t exist. Four years ago, they were still amateurs. Three weeks ago, their central defender saved two penalties to win a shoot-out. They may be owned by a millionaire (only a millionaire – how quaint) and play their home games in Sofia, but Ludogorets are already the story of this year’s Champions League, and it hasn’t even started yet. Only the asbestos-hearted will not secretly be rooting for them.

1) Ludogorets 1003 Star quality: 1 History: 2 Romance: 1000 Razgrad, in north-eastern Bulgaria, is about the size of Glossop. Fourteen years ago, Ludogorets didn’t exist. Four years ago, they were still amateurs. Three weeks ago, their central defender saved two penalties to win a shoot-out. They may be owned by a millionaire (only a millionaire – how quaint) and play their home games in Sofia, but Ludogorets are already the story of this year’s Champions League, and it hasn’t even started yet. Only the asbestos-hearted will not secretly be rooting for them.

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32) Maribor 7 Star quality: 1 History: 2 Romance: 4 “This group is more difficult than people think,” Jose Mourinho said at the weekend. “When Chelsea play Sporting in a couple of weeks, it will be difficult. Schalke have improved a lot in relation to last season.” And what of Slovenian champions Maribor, back in the group stage after a 15-year absence? “I haven’t analysed them yet,” Mourinho said. Burn.

Jonathan Liew assesses the 32 teams from this season's Champions League group stages and ranks their chances of lifting the trophy.

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Online Editors