With the round of 16 in Europe’s premier club competition behind us, we’re now down to the final eight teams in a competition that began with 32. One of these eight teams will be crowned champions of Europe. Let’s take a look at who they are, how they got here, and what their chances are going forward.
Barcelona Barcelona looked all but finished a couple of weeks ago after losing 4-0 to Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes. However, Luis Enrique’s team pulled off one of the great comebacks in the history of soccer (of all sport?) to beat PSG 6-1 in the second leg and progress to the quarters.
After the turnabout at the Camp Nou, which saw a command performance from Neymar, Barça are strong favorites to win what would be their second European title under Enrique and sixth all-time. Barcelona have no reason to fear any team left in the competition, although avoiding a Bayern or Real Madrid at this early stage will be a boost.
Bayern Munich If there is a second favorite after Barça, it’s Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga powerhouse absolutely embarrassed Arsenal in the knockout round, eliminating the Premier League side by a whopping 10-2 aggregate score line.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team also sit 10 points clear atop the Bundesliga table and are coming into form at just the right time. Like Barça, they have no reason to fear any of the teams left in the competition and arguably have more depth than any of the other teams remaining.
Real Madrid Not long ago, Real Madrid looked like favorites to win this thing. While Zinedine Zidane’s team progressed in a slightly less-spectacular fashion than Bayern or Barça, they still managed to defeat Napoli comfortably by 6-2 on aggregate.
The worrying thing for other teams is that, as one-sided as that score line was, there’s still a prevailing sense that Real Madrid have another couple of gears to hit should they need to. While no team has ever successfully defended a Champions League title, this Real side, which has won the competition two out of the last three seasons, look capable of pulling it off.
Atletico Madrid For every winner, there is a loser and the team that Real Madrid have beat twice in the last three seasons to win the European title is their city-rival Atletico Madrid. Atleti did the necessary damage to round of 16 opponents Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg, winning 4-2 at BayArena.
Atleti boss Diego Simeone kept his powder dry in the second leg, holding Bayer to a scoreless draw at the Vicente Calderon on the way to progressing to the quarters for an impressive fourth consecutive season. Atletico are never going to dish out whopping Bayern or Barça size scores but they aren’t going to give up many goals either.
While they might not be the most spectacular team left in the competition Simeone’s side are capable of stymying any of the remaining teams and if they can barge their way into another final, anything’s possible.
AS Monaco While most of the English papers dwelt on the failure of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to advance, credit must be given to a Monaco side that utterly outplayed them in the second leg. Leonardo Jardem’s team bounced back from losing 5-3 in the first leg to win 3-1 in the second and advance on away goals in a 6-6 aggregate tie. City were the second Premier League scalp taken by Monaco, after the un-fancied Ligue 1 side brushed aside Tottenham in the group stages.
Will they go much further? It’s difficult to say. But this is the most free-scoring team in Europe this season. The principality outfit also has a three-point lead atop Ligue 1 and having already exceeded expectations, who’s to say this isn’t Monaco’s season? Much may depend on avoiding the likes of Bayern, Barça or Real in the next round.
Borussia Dortmund It was only four years ago that Dortmund made the final of the Champions League. They lost to Bayern and spent the next few seasons regaining ground, making the quarters the following year and failing to qualify the year after that. However, under Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund are revitalized and boast a high powered attack led by striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, new signing Ousmane Dembele, and teenage American sensation Christian Pulisic.
Dortmund really to play some dazzling football and their status as slight underdogs who boast an American in their starting lineup, makes them a regular favorite of neutrals. How far can they go? On their day they’re a match for anyone, as they showed in the group stages when they twice held Real Madrid to a draw. However, avoiding an early run-in with Barça or Bayern may be the key.
Leicester City While they may be defending champions of England, given their domestic form, few would’ve expected Leicester City to be the last Premier League side standing at this point. Foxes fans can take pride in the fact that their team succeeded where the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Man City failed.
The unfortunate sacking of Claudio Ranieri appears to have taken a load off the team and under interim boss Craig Shakespeare, Leicester are playing more like the team that stormed to an unlikely Premier League title just nine months ago. However, until now the Foxes have had a relatively easy run of things in Europe. Yes, they topped their group – but it consisted of the likes of Porto, Brugge and Copenhagen.
But this is a team that’s made its reputation on doing what seems impossible and that knocked out a very good Sevilla team to make the last eight. With Leicester we’ve learned never to say never, but it’s difficult to make a case for a Midlands side helmed by a temporary manager with no experience at this level getting the better of any of the remaining teams in the competition.
Juventus Serial champions of Italy, Juventus were in the Champions League final just two years ago, eventually losing to Barcelona. Max Allegri’s side has seen some turnover since then, losing major midfield cogs like Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo, while gaining a truly world-class striker in Gonzalo Higuain.
Juve may not have the dazzle of Bayern, Barça or even Real Madrid, but they are a dangerous side, capable of beating any team in Europe on their day. They made relatively easy work of Porto in the last round – winning comfortably on a 3-0 aggregate. Unspectacular perhaps, but like Real Madrid, you sense that Juve still have another gear to hit and with more depth than any team in the competition aside from perhaps Bayern, you wouldn’t put it past The Old Lady to reach a second final in three years.