Midterm grades in Champs League
Lyon, Sevilla cream of the crop halfway through Champions League group stage
Defending champion Barcelona has been average at best, might be thin up top
Winless Inter Milan, slacking Liverpool have been awful; there's much work to do
We're halfway through the Champions League group stage, which means it's midterm report-card time for Europe's elite. In this evaluation, though, you don't get a straight grade -- you're on a curve based on how you've performed relative to expectations.
Olympique Lyonnais: Maybe a bit lucky at times, but good teams make their own luck. Les Gones have shown poise and character, despite an overhauled side and injuries at the back.
Sevilla: Right now, it's the gold standard in the Champions League. A settled team with a clear identity and players who've been together for ages, it's the toast of the Spanish contingent.
FC Unirea Urziceni: Another debutante who knows no fear. Urziceni is a Romanian town of 15,000 people, the smallest to ever host a Champions League team, but Dan Petrescu's crew has done itself proud.
Dynamo Kiev: Lots of changes were always going to be a problem, but Dynamo has shown tremendous resilience against highly pedigreed opponents and definitely has punched above its weight.
APOEL Nicosia: Shocked everyone by proving to be extremely difficult to break down. From doormats to bulldogs, the Cypriot club has shown that organization and tactical nous can help you compete with anyone.
Arsenal: Gunners have shown a tendency to coast on their talent and sometimes have paid a price for it (like it did in Wednesday's draw at AZ Alkmaar). Thankfully, there's plenty of ability and everything is on course.
FC Rubin Kazan: Another team making the most of what it has. The Russians could have beaten Inter Milan and did beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Tuesday, a testament to the club's quiet rise.
Debrecen: Hungarians could have bowed to fear in their Champions League debut, but instead took on all comers and, Lyon apart, gave as good as they got.
Chelsea: Two ugly wins followed by a convincing one. Carlo Ancelotti's men get extra credit for achieving them without Didier Drogba.
Maccabi Haifa: Thumped in its opener against Bayern, but the Israeli minnows showed no fear in trips to Bordeaux and Turin. And, with a bit more luck, Elisha Levi's team could have grabbed some points.
Manchester United: Like the bright kid who slacks off but does just enough to get straight As, United's results have been better than its performances. Pushed in all three games, it just upped the bar to squeeze through with maximum points. You get the sense it will have to raise its game come the spring, but, for now, it's plenty.
Bordeaux: Looked better last year, but maybe Laurent Blanc's crew are late bloomers. Still, obtained some very impressive results against the heavyweights, Bayern and Juventus.
Wolfsburg: Looked very good in the first two outings, less so against Besiktas. Evidence perhaps that the transition from Felix Magath to Armin Veh has been somewhat bumpy. Still, Wolfsburg is pulling its weight.
Fiorentina: After an initial hiccup, Cesare Prandelli's crew has been growing, though there are a few things to fix at the back.
FC Zürich: Two goals against Real Madrid, a win at the San Siro -- not too bad for a club written off by everyone.
FC Porto: No team could lose arguably its three best performers from last year (Aly Cissokho, Lucho González and Lisandro López) and not suffer, but Porto has weathered the storm well in the Champions League (despite being ho-hum domestically).
Olympiakos: It could have turned into a disaster given the sacking of Temuri Ketsbaia and the indifferent domestic performance. Instead, the team buckled down, did its homework and executed well.
CSKA Moscow: Enduring a nightmarish domestic season, but Juande Ramos has steadied the ship since taking over. Still, except for the opener, managed to hold its own.