The Champions League will begin it’s World Cup-style knockout tournament on Wednesday as the eight remaining sides battle it out to be crowned European champions.
All the action will take place in Portugal, and ahead of an end to the season like no other, we’ve previewed the chances of each team left in the competition with a team-by-team guide to the Champions League.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Route to Final: QF v Lyon, SF v Barcelona or Bayern Munich
Best CL performance: Semi-finalists (2015-16)
Why they can do it: Have you seen City going forward? Even without Sergio Aguero, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and David Silva have the ability to tear teams apart without even breaking sweat.
The tournament-style format should also suit the Cityzens more, while also providing Guardiola with less of an opportunity to overthink things, particularly at left-back. They’re the favourites to win the thing for a reason.
Why they won’t do it: Have you seen City at the back? Ok, it’s not quite keystone cops, but they have issues at centre-half and full-back, both of which are liable to be exposed up against one of the very best teams.
Aguero’s loss remains a big one, and the fact they’ve lost 11 matches in all competition this season would suggest they have a soft underbelly. The new format could be a blessing, but it could equally be a curse if things go wrong.
Manager: Hans-Dieter Flick
Route to Final: QF v Barcelona, SF v Man City v Lyon
Best CL performance: 5x winners (1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76, 2000-01, 2012-13)
Why they can do it: Just check out their form. Bayern have won 13-in-a-row since football restarted and have added another Bundesliga title and a 20th DFB-Pokal to their trophy cabinet in the meantime.
A 4-1 victory over Chelsea last week blew away any cobwebs following a month-long break from competitive action, and in Robert Lewandowski, they possess one of the world’s best strikers and this season’s Champions League top-scorer.
Why they won’t do it: For a side that like to play with two wing-backs bombing on, Benjamin Pavard’s injury isn’t ideal. The Frenchman has been integral this season but picked up an ankle knock in training earlier this week.
He’s now touch-and-go for the quarter-final against Barcelona, and his absence could force a rejig with Joshua Kimmich slotting in at right-back and Thiago filling in for him. Could that disruption halt their momentum?
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Route to Final: QF v Atalanta, SF v RB Leipzig or Atletico Madrid
Best CL performance: Semi-finals (1994-95)
Why they can do it: Of the four favourites, PSG have the easiest route through to the final. It should be noted, however, that football isn’t played on paper and that it is in fact played on grass, where anything can happen.
As well as an enticing route through, the Parisians also have squad choc-full of attacking talent. Angel Di Maria, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have shone this season, but can a squad full of stars finally live up to it’s potential?
Why they won’t do it: Mentality. This is PSG we’re talking about. While the French champions may dominate domestically, they’ve developed a worrying habit of blowing up in spectacular fashion in the Champions League.
From Barcelona in 2017 to Man United in 2019, PSG are starting to earn a reputation for bottling the big occasions in Europe. The fitness of Mbappe is also an issue after he sustained an injury in the Couple de la Ligue final.
Manager: Quique Setien
Route to Final: QF v Bayern Munich, SF v Man City or Lyon
Best CL performance: Winners (1991-92, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15)
Why they can do it: Lionel Messi. If Barcelona are to win a first Champions League since 2015, then it all rests on him. The Argentine has carried the team this season, and he’ll need to carry them for another three matches here.
Expecting a second point here? Nope, we think it really does all depend on Messi.
Why they won’t do it: Barcelona are at their lowest ebb for some time. An overreliance on Messi coupled with a shambolic defence and aging stars throughout the rest of the team is not a good combination.
They also have a manager who hasn’t played or coached at this tip-top level, and in any case is doing the job with a hand tied behind his back. Injuries to Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti further detract from their chances.
Manager: Diego Simeone
Route to Final: QF v RB Leipzig, SF v Atalanta or PSG
Best CL performance: Runners-up (1973-74, 2013-14, 2015-16)
Why they can do it: This might not be the same Simeone vintage as 2014 or 2016, but Atletico’s victory over Liverpool in the last-16 goes to show that that this side still know their way around a knockout tie in Europe.
One-legged ties from here on in should help their cause, with the physicality of Atletico’s game betted-suited to a one-off duel over 90 minutes. Backers will also be pleased the La Liga side are in the ‘easier’ side of the draw.
Why they won’t do it: Atletico are better-equipped as a backs-to-the-wall side, so the prospect of taking on a relatively evenly-matched team in RB Leipzig could throw a spanner in the works for Simeone.
The loss of Angel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko after the pair both tested positive for coronavirus is also far from ideal, and it means the duo will miss the quarter-final against Leipzig. Correa, in particular, is a big miss.
Manager: Gian Piero Gasperini
Route to Final: QF v PSG, SF v RB Leipzig or Atletico Madrid
Best CL performance: Quarter-finals (2019-20)
Why they can do it: They’re fearless. Atalanta won’t change their style of play for anybody, and why should they when their performances this season have earnt them the tag of one of the most exciting sides in Europe.
Defence is the best form of attack against a side like PSG, and if Le Dea come out all guns blazing against Thomas Tuchel’s men, then we could be in for another Champions League classic.
Why they won’t do it: For all of their exciting attacking football this season, the goals have dried up of late. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have only scored five in their last five matches and were shutout against Inter last time.
Top scorer Josip Ilisici is a big miss, and they need to overcome one of the tournament favourites in PSG before they can start contemplating a place in the final. They’re a good side, but could the quarter-finals be Atalanta’s ceiling?
Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
Route to Final: QF v Atletico Madrid, SF v Atalanta or PSG
Best CL performance: Quarter-finals (2019-20)
Why they can do it: Did you watch Leipzig against Tottenham in March? The Bundesliga side blew Spurs away in their last-16 tie and like Atalanta, will fear no-one after reaching this stage of the competition for the first time.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side have also proved incredibly tough to beat this season, suffering just six defeats in all competitions. The one-legged format will suit them, and they have goals in the side even without Timo Werner.
Why they won’t do it: Leipzig haven’t been as impressive as they could’ve been since the resumption of the Bundesliga, winning only four of their nine matches, although all of those successes came away from home.
They’ve also been hamstrung by the departure of 34-goal striker Werner to Chelsea, and with the German providing 32% of Leipzig’s goals in all competitions this season, it’s fair to say they’ve lost some bite up-front.
Manager: Rudi Garcia
Route to Final: QF v Man City, SF v Barcelona or Bayern Munich
Best CL performance: Semi-finalists (2009-10)
Why they can do it: Lyon beat Juventus over two legs to reach this stage, took four points off Man City in last season’s group stage and also held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the same campaign. Why should they fear anyone?
Houssem Aouar, Bruno Guimaraes and Maxence Caqueret performed superbly as a unit against Juve, and Memphis Depay offers a genuine threat up-front. The one-legged nature of the remaining ties should favour Lyon too.
Why they won’t do it: Make no bones about it, however good Lyon might have been to reach the quarter-finals, they’re still one of the weakest sides left in the competition.
Juventus exploited them last week, Barcelona put five past them at Camp Nou last March and when all is said and done, they’ve not won any of their last 11 Champions League matches away from the Groupama Stadium.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing