As 2016 winds to a close, we now have 52 weeks of soccer under our belts. That's 52 weeks to see the best teams in the world play.
Who are the best?
Jurgen Klopp was hired at the tail end of 2015 and it took him some time for the Reds to adjust to their rockstar new boss. They weren't very good until mid-February, but once they figured it out, they were a machine. They got better all spring and made it to the Europa League final. Then in the fall, they rolled into second place in the Premier League.
Liverpool hired Klopp to turn the club around and in his first year, he made them one of the 10 best in the world. Not bad.
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Klopp's old team struggled in the first few months of Thomas Tuchel's reign, but come 2016, they found their groove. They lost just one Bundesliga match all spring and made it to the Europa League semifinals. They haven't been as good in the fall, slumping to sixth in Germany, but they managed to top their Champions League group, which featured Real Madrid. They may be flawed, but that's a lot of winning, especially for a team that leans on so many youngsters.
Benfica went 41-2-2 in 45 domestic league matches in 2016. That's an astonishing level of dominance. They also won their Champions League round of 16 tie in the spring and only went out of the competition in a tight tie against Bayern Munich. Then they came back in the fall and advanced from their group again.
Chelsea have unquestionably been the class of the Premier League in the fall. They're in first place with a six-point lead, thanks to Antonio Conte's leadership, the return of David Luiz and the rejuvenation of several players.
What about the spring? Chelsea's eighth place finish last season was so disappointing that it's easy to forget they lost just three of 18 Premier League matches after the new year.
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Manchester City had a pretty disappointing 2016, but that's only because they aim so high and spend so much that expectations are to be as good as anyone else in the world.
But they secured a Champions League spot and are within striking distance for the Premier League title. Not bad domestically. In Europe, they made the Champions League semifinals and got out of their group in the fall.
That's not a bad year by any means.
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Atleti were the best team in the world not to win a trophy in 2016. That's what happens when Real Madrid and Barcelona are your competition for everything. But being right there with both Spanish giants for the La Liga title then going to the Champions League final, only losing to Real in extra time, is spectacular. Their domestic play hasn't been so good in the fall, but they were arguably the best team in the Champions League group stage. With Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann, they were magnificent.
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It's easy to forget about a team that just rolls through a Serie A that lacks another great team, but Juventus were excellent again in 2016. They were champions of Italy, again, and only went out of the Champions League because they got drawn with Bayern Munich. Then they went out and put on one of the wildest matches we've ever seen with the Bavarian giants that they easily could have won. Juventus are still one of the best around.
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Another Bundesliga title in the spring, top of the Bundesliga in the fall. The big problem for Bayern Munich has been their failings in Europe. They lost in the Champions League semifinals again. Then again, when making the final four of the top club competition in the world is "failing," you're pretty damn good.
At the start of the year, it looked like they were the best around. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were unstoppable and they were cruising to the La Liga title. A stumble made them hold onto the title for dear life and knocked them from the Champions League, but even at their worst, they were still very good. And at their best, they're as good as anyone around.
They're right on Real Madrid's heels in La Liga this season and blew through a tough Champions League group that included Manchester City. It takes something special to be better than this Barcelona team.
Speaking of special, take a look at Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane took over at the start of 2016 and after a year at the helm, he's lost two matches. Total. In all competitions.
Real Madrid were absurdly dominant, winning the Champions League and then the Club World Cup. Meanwhile, they top La Liga at the winter break. Look at the results, the trophies, the dominant play, the goals, whatever you want. Real Madrid were the class of the world in 2016.