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Midterm grades in Champs League

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. Grade: A

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. Grade: A

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. Grade: A

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. Grade: A-

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

Chelsea: Two ugly wins followed by a convincing one. Carlo Ancelotti's men get extra credit for achieving them without Didier Drogba. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

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. Grade: B+

Fiorentina: After an initial hiccup, Cesare Prandelli's crew has been growing, though there are a few things to fix at the back. Grade: B

FC Zürich: Two goals against Real Madrid, a win at the San Siro -- not too bad for a club written off by everyone. Grade: B

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). Grade: B

Olympiakos: It could have turned into a disaster given the sacking of TemuriKetsbaia and the indifferent domestic performance. Instead, the team buckled down, did its homework and executed well. Grade: B

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. Grade: B

AC Milan: Expectations weren't that high (outside of owner Silvio Berlusconi's public statements), but without Andrea Pirlo and Pato firing on all cylinders (which didn't happen until last night), Milan was always going to struggle. Grade: B-

Standard Liège: Deserves a bit of a pass because of the absence of its best player, Steven Defour, and has managed to keep things close despite a lack of resources. Grade: C+

Real Madrid: The heavy summer spending raised the bar very high and Real has shown only flashes of what it can do. Still a work in progress. Grade: C+

Olympique Marseille: The third force in Group C has underachieved thus far. Plenty of room for improvement, and its win in Zürich on Wednesday means it's still in the running. Grade: C+

FC Barcelona: As defending champions, the Blaugrana are supposed to be the benchmarks. Instead, Barça showed there's still work to do and that, maybe, there's a bit of a lack of depth up front. Grade: C+

Besiktas: Too many injuries, too little spark for Mustafa Denizli's crew, which is doing rather poorly domestically as well. Grade: C-

Juventus: Still a work in progress, Ciro Ferrara has a mountain to climb and integrating Felipe Melo and Diego is proving harder than anticipated. Pretty much struggled in every outing. Grade: C-

AZ Alkmaar: Too often plays pretty without any real cutting edge. Needs to dig deeper and remember that possession is only part of the game. Grade: D+

Bayern Munich: About as lackluster as last season, which takes some doing. Louis van Gaal's curious -- and often controversial -- decisions aren't bearing fruit on the pitch. Too often Bayern sinks to the oppositions' level. Grade: D

Rangers: Started brightly and then lost the plot halfway through the Sevilla game. Too sterile, too defensive, too much to do. Grade: D

Stuttgart: No question that Markus Babbel overachieved last year and the loss of Mario Gómez was a huge blow, but you still would have expected a little bit more. Grade: F

Inter Milan: This club is winless in its last eight European games, a new record of futility for Italian teams. José Mourinho is the highest-paid coach in the world and the squad is solid -- the results simply are not acceptable. Grade: F

Liverpool: It's as if the Reds never got started in this competition. Horrible at every turn, including the opening victory, we know they can do much better. Grade: F

Atlético Madrid: Zero goals in three games -- when you have Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán up front, no less -- tells its own story. An absolute nightmare. Grade: F

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