Ranked! Every Champions League last-16 team by their chances of winning it
Poor Schalke are on the wrong end of the most imbalanced last-16 match-up. Their two legs against Manchester City will likely be their last in the Champions League for a while, since they’re not going to climb out of the hole they find themselves in domestically.
There’s some consolation for Schalke fans in picking up talented 18-year-old winger Rabbi Matondo from City in the winter transfer window, and signing Jeffrey Bruma on loan until the end of the season to help them out.
The Veltins-Arena should provide a tremendous atmosphere in the first leg, and who knows – maybe the Germans can squeak a narrow victory before going to Manchester and bunkering up to protect an unlikely lead. But probably not.
Roma have capitulated more than once this season. An out-of-sorts Real Madrid have arguably only looked like world champions only twice this season – both against the Giallorossi. Eusebio Di Francesco has danced with high defensive lines against great offensive teams – often with disastrous consequences. Only at the end of January, Roma folded in a 7-1 capitulation against Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia.
Still – they have some promise. Daniele De Rossi is back and led Roma to a good performance against Milan, in which the team retained some of their defensive shape of old in a 4-1-4-1. They’ve missed his leadership.
Roma have yet to field De Rossi and Bryan Cristante together in midfield, but both are now available. It’s an intriguing option that Di Francesco may look to against Porto.
Porto are a hair above Benfica in the league title race, and have a slight edge over Roma in this year’s last-16 tie – but that’s probably their ceiling.
It’s hard to see them making it past the quarter-finals once the easier opponents are filtered out of the competition.
This team deserves more recognition – they took four points from a possible six against Manchester City, and gave PSG all kinds of problems en route to inflicting the Parisians’ first loss of the season (albeit without Neymar).
Nabil Fekir has been incisive this season, and could cause Barcelona the same problems as Manchester City encountered – a team not too dissimilar in style and identity.
But although Lyon have been impressive, there are surely 12 stronger teams ahead of them.
This season’s young Ajax team has enraptured European football fans. They went toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich in the group stage, and have two of the continent’s most exciting youngsters in Barça-bound Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt. Both help drive their team forward while balancing the team tactically.
De Jong is one of the most press-resistant midfielders in Europe – and this is the perfect time to be tested by Santi Solari’s newly implemented pressing scheme at Real Madrid.
Unfortunately for Ajax, Los Blancos have decided to wake up and it will be tough to leapfrog them in this round. A 6-2 tonking at Feyenoord in late-January doesn’t bode well.
Drawing Dortmund is a tough break for Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs, who came so close to slaying Juventus last season at this same hurdle, but fell asleep defensively for five minutes at home when everything came undone.
Tottenham can’t afford to be as loose with their pressing as they were against Barça, where their defensive shape fell apart easily and they ceded control. Dortmund are scary in transition and will pick you apart in those situations when you switch off.
10. Bayern Munich
Bayern, who haven’t been themselves defensively, are walking wounded this season and the last thing they needed was to be drawn against one of the favourites for the competition in Liverpool.
But maybe they’re lucky that the Reds are preoccupied with matters at home, and the environment within the Bayern camp has improved – they’ve closed the gap behind Dortmund to five points, and the relationship between Niko Kovac and James Rodriguez has taken a brighter turn.
Suddenly, momentum has arguably shifted in favour of Manchester United. While PSG are sauntering along in Ligue 1 as per, they’ll be without Neymar for this tie and their Premier League rivals are enjoying an unexpected resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
PSG were defeated by Lyon in the first big test since losing their star player. Their counter-attacks laboured without the Brazilian, and the team struggled to consistently find their passing targets as a collective.
Just as concerning for PSG is their sparse midfield. Not having Marco Verratti around has hit Thomas Tuchel’s side hard when it comes to controlling games. They’ll need him healthy. If Tuchel gets his wish, he’ll call on Adrien Rabiot to bolster the middle – but that’s a tough arm-wrestle to win against PSG’s head honchos.