From Man City to Club Brugge, why each Champions League team will, won’t win it all

The break between the Champions League group stage and the play-off rounds always feels a bit odd. Competition drives and dictates the European football season to such an extent that we follow the top four races in the major leagues as closely as we do the title races – or even more because of the competition in such races – but usually we take a break of about two months. from competitions during the winter months. This year, the specified break was 3.5 months.

A lot has happened in the football world since 2 November, when RB Leipzig and AC Milan edged out Shakhtar Donetsk and Salzburg respectively to finish last in the Round of 16. Barcelona have taken full control of the La Liga title race… after being knocked out of the Champions League. Arsenal have retained their lead in the Premier League. Bayern Munich pulled away from the Bundesliga field only to stagger a bit. Chelsea and Liverpool were getting worse and worse. Manchester United released their most famous player and immediately grew. Oh yes, and the whole world of club football came to a standstill for a few weeks until Lionel Messi and Argentina won the World Cup.

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But now the competition is back and a curse unless the hierarchy seems a little blurry. Both in terms of betting and odds, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are clear favorites, but the former have only won three of their last six matches in all competitions, while the latter one of four. PSG lost Kylian Mbappe to injury in the short term and after returning to service showed an uneven shape of the road.

Real Madrid are on a roll. Liverpool and Chelsea play like mid-table Premier League teams, which they are. Benfica, who beat Paris Saint-Germain in Group H last autumn, have lost their brightest young player (midfielder Enzo Fernandez) to a large money transfer at the end of January.

It’s all a bit of a mess. Of the seven or eight big favorites heading into the round of 16, only one, Napoli, is playing so well. Will it lead to shocking results in the next couple of weeks? Can the big name lunatics use the Champions League as a shot in the arm and find fifth gear again? We’re going to find out.

In order to prepare for the upcoming matches in the middle of the week, let’s walk around the rest of the field. Who are the favourites? Why can each team win the competition? What is the most fatal flaw of each team?

The action will start on Tuesday in Milan (Tottenham Hotspur in Milan) and Paris (Bayern in PSG).



Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +170 (equivalent to 37%) and 19% respectively
Opponent of 1/8 finals: RB Leipzig (22 February and 14 March)

Why they will win: They may still be the best team in Europe. Erling Haaland has delivered the expected results (31 goals in 28 matches) since arriving last summer. But being at the top of City’s attack somewhat stifled his fluidity and creativity.

There have been enough dubious results lately – a 2-0 loss to Southampton in the League Cup, recent one-goal losses to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – to keep the Sky Blues five points behind in the race. for the Premier League title. and offer the series “Is the city worse with Haaland?” beret. However, in the same questionable period of time, they have won victories against Arsenal and Chelsea (twice) and have continued to average almost two goals per match in all competitions since the restart.

Caesars still calls them Champions League favorites. For all their wobbly form, they still have Haaland, World Cup hero Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and some of the best and most creative attacking talent in Europe.

Why They Won’t: Pep is in Tinker Mode. Pep Guardiola is currently looking for solutions to City’s impassive behavior and with the pieces in hand he is likely to find them. However, he has not yet done so, and his fuss leads the City to strange places. Joao Cancelo fell out of favor and unexpectedly took out a loan at Bayern. De Bruyne, City’s engine, started the Spurs’ defeat on the bench for “tactical reasons”.

City’s formation against Tottenham was pretty illegible – it was something like 4-2-3-1, like 4-4-2, like 4-1-2-1-2, like 3-2. -3-2 — and created a walkthrough map that could best be described as “What the hell is that?”

City freshmen often took time to settle in, and despite his productivity (which forces Guardiola to keep him in the line-up at all times), Haaland is no different. Guardiola will inevitably find the answers he seeks, but Leipzig are catching the Sky Blues at a pretty vulnerable time.

Bayern Munich

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +600 (equivalent to 14%) and 22%
Opponent of 1/8 finals: PSG (14 February and 8 March)

Why they’ll win: They still have the most offensive potential in the world. When Bayern started their restart with three 1-1 draws and several challengers got close to the 10-time reigning Bundesliga champions at the top of the table, we overreacted, as we always do to short streaks in mortal form. They miss Robert Lewandowski too much! The team chemistry is terrible! Julian Nagelsmann will be sacked if they lose to PSG!

Of course, the last part may still be on the table, but Bayern reacted to it. complete and final collapse set fire to Mainz and Wolfsburg with a total score of 8-2. The concentration of their attention on the match against Wolfsburg decreased and they almost let go of the opponent in the match, but Jamal Musiala put things away with an otherworldly personal show.

Despite all of Bayern’s supposed struggles, Musiala still has 14 goals and nine assists in all competitions, while Serge Gnabry has 10 and 10, and three other players have scored double figures and at least four assists. (None of them Thomas Muller or Kingsley Comanwho scored three goals in total against Wolfsburg.)

It may not be a 2020-class Bayern, but in a sea of ​​opponents that don’t play to their full potential, the German champions remain absurdly dangerous. (Now they have Cancelo too, who already has two assists in just 149 minutes.) And they should get injured. Sadio Mane by the time the second leg against PSG starts.

Why they won’t: Opponents shoot better. This team boasts some of the most impressive finishing skills in the world, but without Lewandowski as the center of gravity in attack, the quality of Bayern’s accurate shots has suffered somewhat. Although they still take far more shots than anyone in the Bundesliga (0.20 per possession), their 0.11 xG per shot only ranks 10th in the Bundesliga; meanwhile, league opponents are averaging 0.12 xG per shot (14th).

Is it a huge difference? No, but with Leo Messi, Neymar and (at least in the second leg) Kylian Mbappe on deck, the quality of the shot could quickly become a major issue in Bayern’s quest for a seventh European crown.


Paris Saint Germain

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +700 (equivalent to 13%) and 5%
Opponent of 1/8 finals: Bayern Munich (14 February and 8 March)

Why they’ll win: The sum of the parts is still staggering. Messi. Neymar. Mbappe (eventually). Achrafi Hakimi. Gianluigi Donnarumma. Marco Verratti. Did you understand. When PSG lights up, it’s just amazing.

They started the season by beating their first six league rivals 24-4 on aggregate. Despite long battles with dubious focus, plus injuries and a long process of weakening the stars after the World Cup, they still scored 85 goals and conceded just 27 in 32 matches. The three stars are ahead with 57 goals and 35 assists. The whole never seems to equal the sum of the parts, but that doesn’t mean the sum isn’t huge.

Why they won’t: We’ve walked this path before. There is a fairly reliable scenario for a team with so many stars to fall apart at the wrong time. Firstly, due to injuries and workload management (among other things), the three scorers are not all together much on the pitch: Mbappe, Messi and Neymar have only played 17 out of 32 matches. Secondly, midfield duties become impossible due to the lack of any forward pressure. Thirdly, other clubs still cannot boast of the depth of talent, and aging veterans love Sergio Ramos (36), Verratti (30) and Juan Bernat (29) are asked to play hard minutes.

In the winter transfer window, PSG did not bring new blood, but marquinhosRamos and defender Prenel Kimpembe everyone has been in questionable shape lately. They only have the third best xG differential in Ligue 1 since the restart, having lost to Lance, Rennes and Marseille away from 1 January and although Mbappe will return for the second leg against Bayern, his absence from the home leg could put them in an uncomfortable position ahead of Munich .

real Madrid

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1100 (equivalent to 8%) and 9%
Opponent of 1/8 finals: Liverpool (21 February and 15 March)

Why they will win: Come on, it’s Real Madrid. If any team in this competition is entitled to doubt, it is the reigning (and 14-time) champions. blanco have been lurking for injury lately; defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy And Lucas Vasquez and (of course) midfielder Eden Hazard eliminated, and both attackers (and current Ballon d’Or winner) Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois missed a lot of time. They had to fly to Morocco for the Club World Cup – they beat Al Ahly on Wednesday, and will face surprise finalist Al Hilal on Saturday – their visit to Liverpool on February 21 will be their 37th match. in the season. (Real Madrid players also broke the 3,500-minute mark at the World Cup.)

But… it’s Real Madrid! When they should appear, they still appear in force. Benzema is picking up form – he has two goals and two assists in his last four matches – and although on paper they were only the third or fourth best team in last year’s Champions League, they beat PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City. and Liverpool in turn, always collecting…


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