Champions League knockout stage
The Champions League knockout stage gets under way on Tuesday, with 16 teams still standing after the group phase. A handful of the remaining competitors will consider a quarter-final berth a success, but many of the sides involved in the first knockout round will have designs on adding the trophy to their cabinet in May.
We've run the rule over all 16 clubs ahead of the tournament's resumption and ranked them by their chances of going all the way.
Next opponent: Man City
Basel suffered the joint-heaviest knockout-phase defeat in Champions League history when they were thrashed 7-0 by Bayern Munich in 2012, and some may fear a repeat in their upcoming tie with Manchester City. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Swiss side kept four clean sheets in their group, though, and in 20-year-old Dimitri Oberlin they boast an intriguing talent.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel isn’t cut out for this level, however, and it’s difficult to see Basel sufficiently unsettling City in either game. The probable absence of David Silva, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and John Stones from Tuesday’s first leg is a boost, but it won’t be enough to swing the balance in Basel’s favour.
Next opponent: Bayern Munich
Besiktas won Group G with 14 points, an impressive feat given the strength of Porto, Monaco and RB Leipzig. But while Istanbul and Champions League miracles have featured in the same fairy tale before, there’s not much chance of Pepe, Adriano and Ricardo Quaresma brining winners' medals back to the Turkish city this year.
Besiktas’s bulging club of 30-something foreigners includes the aforementioned trio plus Gary Medel, Atiba Hutchinson, Jeremain Lens and Alvaro Negredo. Ryan Babel and Talisca have also impressed this season, but the sale of multifaceted forward Cenk Tosun to Everton is a considerable blow and won't make their tie with five-time winner Bayern Munich any less onerous.
14. Shakhtar Donetsk
Next opponent: Roma
When Shakhtar condemned Manchester City to their first defeat in 29 games in the Group F closer, the result also confirmed the Ukrainians' qualification at Napoli’s expense. Brazilian duo Taison and Bernard are difficult to control on their day, but Facundo Ferreyra – who failed to see a second of Premier League action during a year at Newcastle – is the man entrusted with grabbing their goals.
This is Shakhtar's 18th consecutive crack at the Champions League, but if they're to have any chance of besting Roma and reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, they simply must build a lead during their first leg at "home" – or, as is the case for them, 200 miles from it in Kharkiv.
Next opponent: Liverpool
Only PSG, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea scored more often than Porto in the group stage. Their issue has been keeping goals out, with 10 goals conceded in six games against RB Leipzig, Monaco and Besiktas.So what they really don't want is a toe-to-toe slug-out with another attacking force... like Liverpool.
Danilo Pereira and Hector Herrera form a tough central midfield partnership, while winger Yacine Brahimi and striker Vincent Aboubakar could give Liverpool a fright or two. But their defence will be put to a serious test by the Reds’ front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who are capable of blitzing far superior opponents on their day.
Next opponent: Man United
Wissam Ben Yedder thrived in the group stage, but inadequate support for the former futsal star buried Sevilla’s hopes of pipping Liverpool to top spot. Jesus Navas and Nolito have both disappointed since swapping English benches for Spanish fields, while Clement Lenglet and Guido Pizarro have lacked discipline and Steven N’Zonzi hasn’t been at his best.
Last-16 opponents Manchester United should be concerned about canny composer Ever Banega, attacking midfielder Joaquin Correa and striker Luis Muriel (as an impact substitute against tired legs). Familiar faces will be available to Vincenzo Montella, too, with Sandro Ramirez and Roque Mesa joining on loan from Everton and Swansea respectively... but United are rightly still strong favourites.
Next opponent: Barcelona
Chelsea emerged from their group relatively impressively, but have subsequently sunk into chaos. Antonio Conte is at war with his own board, his midfield has melted in front of his eyes, and Alvaro Morata hasn’t made a particularly successful start to life in English football.
Even more worryingly for the Blues is the recent collapse of their defensive solidity, with seven goals conceded against Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a week. Andreas Christensen is out injured and while David Luiz was excellent in 2016/17, he seems to have lost the trust of Conte this term. Oh, and they're facing Barcelona. Unless something dramatically changes, Chelsea are as good as already out.
Next opponent: Shakhtar Donetsk
Roma weren’t expected to escape a group comprising Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, let alone win it. But that’s exactly what they did, and they won’t be too disappointed to have been paired with Shakhtar Donetsk in the round of 16.
There are issues, though. The Giallorossi still miss Mohamed Salah’s searing speed up front – they’ve only scored 33 goals in 23 Serie A games at the time of writing – and they’ve often looked short of ideas in attack. Aleksandar Kolarov is still capable in defence and Radja Nainggolan remains one of the finest midfielders on the continent, but Roma are unlikely to get beyond the quarter-finals even if they’re able to overcome Shakhtar.
Next opponent: Tottenham
Juventus looked disorientated defensively at the start of the season, but they’ve been far sturdier of late, keeping clean sheets at home to Barcelona and away to Milan, Napoli and Olympiakos. Their domestic form is also excellent, having not lost a game since the 3-2 defeat to Sampdoria in late November.
Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Douglas Costa all create, while Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain have 27 goals between them in Serie A. Overall, however, Juventus look a slightly weaker side than the one which got to the Champions League final last season, and they could be without the injured Dybala and influential midfielder Blaise Matuidi for the first leg with Tottenham.
Next opponent: Juventus
Is there a better finisher in world football than Harry Kane? Spurs’ issue will be how often they can get the 24-year-old into shooting positions against Italian giants Juventus. Christian Eriksen's performances have started to spike, which should worry the Old Lady, while Son Heung-min is currently in the form of his life.
Typically restless to improve, Mauricio Pochettino has added Lucas Moura in the recent transfer window. Spurs will have taken great confidence from accruing 16 points in a group with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and they shouldn't feel any inferiority in the knockout stage.
7. Manchester United
Next opponent: Sevilla
Manchester United are wealthy and decadently assembled, as well as being coached by one of the finest managers of the past decade, but there's something underwhelming about them. Individually, they’re a match for anyone and will likely be too strong for an out-of-form Sevilla, but their cast of superstars lacks the cohesion found in Barcelona, Bayern Munich or, gallingly, Manchester City.
The Red Devils have a chance of going all the way if Jose Mourinho’s knockout nous comes to the fore, but it’s doubtful whether they have the quality to match some of Europe’s biggest forces. Sevilla are eminently beatable, but they’ll be hoping for a kind draw thereafter.
Next opponent: Porto
So far this season, Liverpool have shown their full rainbow: often brilliant, but also capable of dreadful performances at inopportune moments. This is a team who ended Manchester City's unbeaten run and were immediately beaten by Swansea and West Brom.
Philippe Coutinho is gone, but Virgil van Dijk's arrival has made everyone feel better about Jurgen Klopp's defence. Still, the suspicion remains that their backline can be got at, and a stronger team than Porto will surely take advantage. Having said that, Liverpool’s frontline is capable of ripping anyone apart on their day, so they can’t be ruled out.
5. Bayern Munich
Next opponent: Besiktas
The 2013 champions have rediscovered their rhythm since Jupp Heynckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti at the helm. Summer import Corentin Tolisso is beginning to find his feet; Robert Lewandowski is one of the deadliest marksmen around; Arjen Robben remains rapid, predictable yet somehow unplayable; David Alaba is a diamond on his day; and Manuel Neuer could be back for the last 16.
Not everything in the Bayern garden is rosy, though: a public spat between Robben and Heynckes was caught on camera, while Lewandowski has started to flutter his eyelashes at Real Madrid again. This has been a very odd season for the Bavarians – albeit one which already has them in complete command of the Bundesliga – and it seems unlikely to end with a sixth European Cup.
Next opponent: Real Madrid
PSG’s project can be described as distastefully cynical and QSI's investment has obliterated the notion of competition in Ligue 1, but the facts are still the same: they’re a legitimate contender in Europe.
One wonders, though, whether their absurd competitive advantage in France might hurt them. Real Madrid are on a downswing, with Zinedine Zidane almost certainly heading out of the club in the summer, but they remain a better constructed team.
Conversely, PSG continue to juggle some sizeable egos at the top of the pitch and the unit as a whole is rarely exposed to the kind of examination it will face in the last 16. The smart money is on them falling at the first hurdle.
3. Real Madrid
Next opponent: PSG
An also-ran in La Liga and rightly so; the recent 2-2 draw with Levante demonstrated how out of rhythm this team is. The problem seems to lie in attack as much as anywhere else, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale suffering through a lack of continuity in selection and, of course, Ronaldo's evolution into an older, less dynamic player.
The last-16 tie with PSG will make or break their season. Defeat would surely spell the end of Zidane, who's probably headed for the employment office anyway, and yet victory would see Madrid emerge as one of the favourites to win the competition.
Next opponent: Chelsea
Surprisingly for Barcelona, they've flown slightly under the radar in the Champions League. The loss of Neymar helped to dull their star, but they've rebalanced since then and become an extremely dangerous team. They walked through the group stage and La Liga is all but won already, which could allow them to concentrate on Europe.
There’s still work to do, though: Barcelona’s domestic position is as descriptive of Real Madrid's issues as it is their own strength, and they aren't quite as dominant as they once were. Still, Lionel Messi is in sensational form and is good enough to bend any game to his will.
1. Manchester City
Next opponent: Basel
A truly awesome side. Tellingly this season, their Premier League dominance has translated abroad, and they made Serie A leaders Napoli look like a thoroughly ordinary team during two group stage victories.
Injuries could determine their European fate, though. Basel will be brushed aside painlessly enough, but Pep Guardiola will need Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and John Stones fit and available if this is to be his side’s year.
Yet if City can replicate their domestic form, no team would be confident of subduing them. Barcelona may possess the finest, most destructive player in the world, but no other club boasts the same marriage of ability and cohesion and that, you suspect, is what will help City finally break the European door down.
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