This article will not give you the answer of who’s going to win the Champions League. It’s just a quick analysis of the draw and the current form of the teams remaining in contention, and a small prediction at the end.
Barcelona – hasn’t lost in the league, only one loss overall (to Espanyol in the first leg of the Spanish Cup quarter-final) since losing the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid at the beginning of the season;
Basel – 2nd place in Swiss Super League, lost Akanji and Steffen (two starters) in January’s transfer window;
Bayern Munich – has won 20 of 21 games since Jupp Heynckes took over as manager in October, 18-point lead in the Bundesliga;
Besiktas – 4th place in Turkish Super Lig (3 points behind leader), was undefeated in the group stage;
Chelsea – 5th place in Premier League, in poor form;
Juventus – 2nd place in Italy (1 point behind Napoli, 14 more than everyone else), hasn’t lost since November, has won 11 consecutive matches in all competitions and has conceded only once in its last 16 fixtures;
Liverpool – 3rd place in Premier League, Mohamed Salah has scored 22 goals in 26 games played in the EPL and 5 goals in the Champions league;
Manchester City – Most dominant team in Europe this season, has lost only twice in all competitions (to Liverpool and Shakthar Donetsk);
Manchester United – 2nd place in Premier League, unconvincing performances recently, but is led by knockout competitions expert Jose Mourinho;
Paris Saint-Germain – 12-point lead in Ligue 1, 3 losses all season (Strasbourg, Bayern Munich, Lyon);
Porto – hasn’t lost in Primeira Liga all season, three losses overall (RB Leipzig, Besiktas, Sporting);
Real Madrid – 4th place in La Liga, has struggled with inconsistency all season, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in last game;
Roma – 4th place in Seria A, hadn’t won in 6 games in the league before 2 wins in the last 2 rounds;
Sevilla – 6th place in Spain, has conceded more goals than it has scored in La Liga;
Shakhtar Donetsk – 1st place in Ukraine, last league game on December 10;
Tottenham – 4th place in Premier League, hasn’t lost in 12 straight games in all competitions, last loss in mid-December.
Let’s start with the elimination process. Looking at the draw, Basel is the first team I can disregard as having any chances of proceeding to the next stage. Even a weakened Manchester City is simply too good for the Swiss. I don’t want to take anything away from Besiktas, as the Turkish champions were impressive in the group stage, but they did have an easier group than most. Bayern Munich is too big of a bite to swallow. Sevilla could be troublesome for Manchester United, but Mourinho always finds a way, even if it means going through the rigmarole of extra time and penalty shootout. That’s three less teams.
Next, we have a matchup between Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma, in which no matter which squad progresses, it’s highly unlikely it has the necessary quality to climb another step on the ladder. That leaves us with 11. As much as I respect Conte and what he has done with Juventus and Chelsea, Barcelona has simply been too good to fail now. Furthermore, The Catalans have put themselves in a position to be able to focus on the Champions League, which is a privilege The Blues don’t have. Liverpool’s topsy-turvy performances make it as unpredictable as they come. That unpredictability can take them far, but it can also destroy them fast. For the sake of the argument, I say The Reds manage to get past Porto. Here, I stop the elimination process and move towards analysis.
The loss of Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, plus David Silva’s personal problems have slowed The Citizens down a bit recently. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Guardiola has created a monster that’s going to be difficult to overcome over two legs. Therefore, I’m putting Manchester City in the semi-finals. The winner of the Real Madrid versus PSG matchup will be there too. Emery led Sevilla to two Europa League titles, so he knows what he’s doing. With Neymar’s presence neutralizing Ronaldo’s, PSG’s form and motivation should finally guide it to the later stages of the competition. Juventus is hot, yet I have the feeling Tottenham is going to surprise some people, and jump over the first hurdle. However, that’s as far as I see them jumping. That takes me back to Liverpool’s unpredictability. The offense will score, but the defense will concede as well. That’s not a good recipe for success in the Champions League. Despite its superstars and a proven coach, Manchester’s form this season hasn’t instilled enough confidence for me to trust them. Too many 1-0 victories, too few chances created and too many sub-par displays for a team that wants to challenge for a title as Europe’s best club.
That leaves Bayern Munich and Barcelona as the last members of the final four. As long as Barca has Messi, it will have a shot at any trophy in all competitions it participates in. Despite their invincibility this season, I doubt they’ll have what it takes against a stronger opponent. At this point, it’s all about matchups. That’s why it’s the toughest stage to predict. I say Manchester City plays Barcelona and PSG plays Bayern. Based on what I said before, City is in the final, and will play against Bayern Munich. Jupp Heynckes is an amazing manager. Many underestimate Bayern’s potential at the moment, but as we progress towards the end of the season, the unity within his team and the years spent together will resurface and generate the advantage. Robben, Ribery and Muller will lead The Bavarians to the final. And then, we have a movie scenario. The manager who replaced Heynckes after he won the Champion League trophy, the manager under whose leadership Bayern dominated, but didn’t manage to repeat that accomplishment, against that same Heynckes who he replaced. It will be entertaining, it will be enjoyable, eventful, both teams will score, and eventually, as always, the Germans will prevail.