• John Gilding


Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The Champions League is the pinnacle of club football, featuring the best teams in Europe battling it out for the continental crown. But it is a bit misleading. Firstly, not every team in it are actually champions, and secondly, it’s a knockout competition, not a season-long league where everyone plays everyone.

So what if we take it literally?

Well, that’s exactly what we have devised here. We’ve taken all the most recent champions of the top 20 leagues in the world and shoved them into a mental league, to see just what happens.

(We took the ranking from Football Manager’s league reputation ranking, because it was the best source that ranked global leagues rather than just European ones) These are the teams going into the competition.

The league shakes out into a number of smaller groups of teams which I can see having similar seasons.

Let’s start at the bottom. Celtic top the group of five teams all fighting to avoid being last in the table. The main reason these teams are down here is because of the quality of the opposition they normally face in their domestic leagues.

Prague go home with last place, after they sold two of their best players to West Ham in the summer and lack the star quality needed for a season in this league.

Seattle might be disappointed with their position second-from-last, as MLS is definitely on the up, but it has a long way to go before it reaches the highest of European leagues.

The two champions league debutants are next, and Istanbul would have reason to be disappointed with their low position in the table, given the strength of their league, and the fact they’ve already beaten Manchester United in the Champions League. Their low position in the table is a result of my doubts over their ability to keep that up over the course of a whole season, on account of their lack of top-level European experience. The same goes for Midtjylland.

Celtic, although they have a rich history of success in Europe, find themselves buried deep in the table because of their very poor start to the season. They are a promising side, but their performances against lesser sides than the ones in this competition do not inspire confidence.

So, to recap the bottom part of the table. From 20th to 15th, that’s Slavia, Seattle, Midtjylland, Istanbul, Olympiacos and then Celtic.

Onto the next group. Every other non-European team falls in here, along with Zenit and Club Brugge, some more seasoned Champions League participants.

Monterrey come in at the bottom, not through any particular weakness, but fewer outstanding strengths than the teams above. Zenit come next, with a strong squad including Dejan Lovren and Barcelona reject Malcom, but their poor form in the actual Champions League holds them back. They have some star power, but Boca sit above them riding a wave of crowd power (yes, our fantasy Champions League has crowds back, because it’s just better). They have the capability to surprise. Club Brugge are maybe a controversial pick next, but their two wins in two games against Zenit this season is enough evidence to back that up.

The top spot in the group goes to Flamengo, who are probably the best club in the Americas right now, due in no small part to the goal machine that is Gabigol. His performances power them into the top half.

Recap: 14th-10th – Monterrey, Zenit, Boca, Brugge and Flamengo

Now we come to the ‘best of the rest’ group. Ajax start us off. They’re a far cry from the magical semi-final run in 2019, but they’ve still held onto names like Tadic, Tagliafico and Onana. They’re a good side, and clear of the teams below them, but above them is some real quality.

Porto next, with what is arguably a weaker side than Ajax, and they both play in similarly strong leagues, but what sets them apart is their excellent record in the Champions League group stages. In the last 10 years, they have advanced from the group stages more often than not, which is an impressive record for a team outside of the main European leagues, and it is that history in international competitions that carries them above Ajax.

The other two teams in the group are Shakhtar and Salzburg. These two are close, but Salzburg edges it on consistency and the fact they have Dominik Szoboszlai in their ranks. Shakhtar have been very impressive on occasions this season, especially going two from two against Real Madrid in the Champions League, but their 10-0 aggregate score against Monchengladbach in the same group suggests some weaknesses that can be exploited.

Recap: 9th – 6th – Ajax, Porto, Shakhtar and Salzburg

The top five in this league are some of the biggest names in football, but there can only really be one winner. But first, fifth.

Real Madrid are weirdly a shoo-in at the bottom of the top five, because of their shambles of a start to the season. Tonight, they could be knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages of all things, and things aren’t much prettier in La Liga. It could be worse, they could be Barca, but it could be a lot better, and the top four are a lot better right now.

Third and fourth are one of the tightest pairs in the whole league. Juventus play in a stronger league and have the power of Ronaldo to carry them through the season. However, Pirlo is still figuring out a system to make them click, and they haven’t started this season brilliantly as a result. They will recover, but a poor start is not something you can afford to have in this league. This means they drop to fourth behind PSG, who know exactly how they want to play.

With Mbappe and Neymar at the pointy end of the team, anything is possible, and they will certainly rip a few teams apart, but the step up from Ligue 1 to this new Champions League will be significant, and they might drop a few points to the relentless tide of world-class teams they have to face, which puts them out of the title race.

The deserved winners of last season’s Champions League, Bayern take another title home in this imaginary league. No explanation needed. They were the best team in the world last season, and they’ve only strengthened since then.

Liverpool come home in second place. They have been ravaged by injuries this season and are still in good shape in the Premier League. With a bit more luck, they would be able to keep more of their players fit over the course of this international season and have the quality to finish well in the standings.

Here’s the final league table: