With Europe’s premier domestic competition restarting this weekend in a condensed, single-elimination format, FC Yahoo ranks the remaining contenders.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea has spent the entire season proving the doubters wrong. With a transfer ban, a hole where star player Eden Hazard used to be, a slew of untested youth products and a manager with no experience at top-flight level, the Blues finished in fourth place and reached the FA Cup final.
However, they are an incredible long shot to reach the quarterfinal stage of this contest in Lisbon.
Lampard’s side must visit Bayern Munich on Saturday, carrying a 3-0 deficit from an uninspired outing in the first leg at Stamford Bridge back in February. Not only is a comeback highly unlikely against a Bayern side that’s looked imperious since the restart, but the task is made more impossible by an injury list that includes Pedro, Willian, N’Golo Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta and Christian Pulisic, the American star who’s been terrific this summer.
There’s a reason Chelsea is the rank outsider with the bookmakers (they’re a phenomenal +20000 to win it all with BetMGM).
Lyon heads to Turin on Friday with the advantage over Juventus, thanks to a surprise 1-0 win at the end of February that represented the Ligue 1 side’s first Champions League knockout victory in over eight years.
That win, however, was likely down to Juventus’ lack of chance creation, rather than their own domination (they had just 36% possession in that home game). Aside from a handful of friendlies, Lyon’s only competitive game since March was last weekend’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de la Ligue final.
Rudi Garcia’s team finished the shortened season seventh in the league, and they were inconsistent in the Champions League group stage. If Lyon somehow manages to fend off Juventus, they will certainly fall to either Barcelona or Napoli in the next round.
10. RB Leipzig
After leading the Bundesliga at the end of January, RB Leipzig fell off in the second half of the season. They failed to win a single home game after the restart, with the exception of a resounding 3-0 win over Tottenham that secured a quarterfinal berth against Atletico Madrid. This represents their deepest-ever run in Europe’s top domestic competition.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side has looked less dynamic in recent months and will be hampered by the absence of their top goalscorer Timo Werner, who was sold to Chelsea. (The Blues will not be able to field him either.)
The Germans are in the “weaker” side of the draw, and a date with either Atalanta or Paris Saint-Germain awaits in the quarterfinals. However, given their recent form and the sale of their star striker, a deep run seems unlikely.
Suffice to say, this has not been Barcelona’s year. They ceded the league title to Real Madrid with a series of disappointing post-restart draws, they crashed out of the Copa del Rey in the quarterfinals, and they churned out a constant stream of chaos off the field.
Anything is possible if Lionel Messi is having a good day, but it would be fitting for Barca to finish the season with nothing to show for it.
They are fifth favorites to win the tournament outright (+900 at BetMGM), but that seems far too generous for a team that finished the season at a low point, who seem to have trouble with Quique Setien’s high press, and who have an inconsistent midfield that will be without Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal. A rumored switch to a 3-5-2 formation does not speak to their stability and confidence.
A home win against Napoli this weekend may be possible, and even a 0-0 draw will see them through. However, it is likely that Bayern Munich will be waiting in the quarterfinals, where Barcelona’s European quest will almost certainly conclude.
Since the restart, Napoli has looked strong, finishing Serie A with a comprehensive win over Lazio last weekend. Manager Gennaro Gattuso’s side also claimed the Coppa Italia, with impressive post-lockdown wins over Inter Milan and Juventus.
However, they must score at the Nou Camp on Saturday to stand a chance of progressing, and incisiveness in front of goal has not been a strength lately. An injury to striker Lorenzo Insigne certainly does not help matters.
Napoli has also kept only two clean sheets in the league since the restart, which might present an issue when coming up against Messi and his Catalan friends.
Gattuso’s team has the quality to upset Barcelona, and there has seldom been a better time to do so. But they do not have the quality to overcome likely quarterfinal opponents Bayern Munich.
Juve may have secured its ninth successive league title, but not in overly impressive fashion. Maurizio Sarri’s men won only two of their final eight league games.
Relieving Max Allegri of his managerial duties after winning five straight league titles indicates the Italian giants’ ambition. They’ve reached the Champions League final twice in the past five years, but still haven’t won the competition since 1996.
As majority owners, the Agnelli family has taken drastic measures to win Europe again, such as gambling on a blockbuster deal for Cristiano Ronaldo. All attacking play funnels through the Portuguese superstar, who will need to help overturn the first-leg deficit against Lyon before a taxing quarterfinal against either Manchester City or his former employer Real Madrid.
Juventus is favored to advance past Lyon, but stands at a justifiably long +1600 with BetMGM to win the tournament.
6. Paris Saint-Germain
The perennial French champions are ranked in the top three of this tournament by most bookmakers. They may not have played a league game since March, but PSG has won two domestic cups in recent weeks and possesses one of the best squads in Europe.
However, they fall down these rankings due to the lack of competitive games in recent months, injury concern for star striker Kylian Mbappe, and a recent tendency to falter when the going gets tough in the Champions League.
In quarterfinal opponent Atalanta, PSG faces one of the most thrilling and entertaining teams in the world right now. If they manage to clear that hurdle, Champions League juggernaut Atletico Madrid will likely await at the semifinal stage.
5. Real Madrid
It may surprise some to see Real Madrid so high up these rankings. After all, they head to the Etihad Stadium on Friday trailing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City by a 2-1 scoreline. The bookmakers place them as ninth favorites in a field of 12 (+2200 to win the tournament with BetMGM).
Having watched Real Madrid in recent months, this is baffling. They have powered their way to the La Liga title, often with clinical and narrow wins. With Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in the back, Casemiro in the middle and Karim Benzema up front, their team has one of the best spines in the game.
And most crucially, this is a team designed to win European tournaments. Zinedine Zidane has done it three times as manager in the past five seasons.
It’s odd to call Real Madrid a dark horse, but if they can turn around their tie with Manchester City, they can very easily win this tournament.
4. Atletico Madrid
Much like their more celebrated city counterparts, it is never wise to underestimate Atletico Madrid.
Atleti has continually featured in the latter stages of this tournament and booked a quarterfinal with RB Leipzig by virtue of eliminating reigning champions Liverpool in their own backyard.
Furthermore, Atleti hasn’t lost since February. Diego Simeone’s charges are heavy favorites to progress past RB Leipzig and will find themselves potentially in the final (once again) after 90 minutes against either PSG or Atalanta.
They may not have the defensive fortitude of seasons past, but discount Los Rojiblancos at your peril.
Hang on, what on earth is Atalanta doing so high in the rankings of a competition that seldom allows a smaller team to creep into its latter stages? Atalanta’s home stadium is so modest that they play Champions League home games at the nearby San Siro. Their crest looks like a shampoo label.
But in their first-ever Champions League campaign, Atalanta is the team the big boys secretly fear. They scored a staggering 98 goals in 2019-20, with seven players on the roster scoring 10 or more goals. They press high and furiously, they can unlock any defense, and their passing combinations can be dazzling. They are daunted by no one.
Their matchup with Paris Saint-Germain is poised to be the highlight of the quarterfinals, such will be the firepower on display. Nobody could have possibly predicted the Italians would come this far, so who says they can’t go further? It’s 2020, and stranger things have happened.
2. Manchester City
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are favorites to win the Champions League, just as they were for most of last season.
They hold a 2-1 advantage over Real Madrid ahead of the tournament restart, they closed out the Premier League season in style with 21 goals in their final five matches, and they resoundingly defeated UEFA on the Away Lawyers Rule in the Court of Arbitration. Only an inexplicable FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal blots their record in recent weeks.
City is magnificent, they are in good form and Guardiola is long overdue an appearance in another Champions League final.
There is, however, one team that is likely to stop that from happening.
1. Bayern Munich
Although they have very famously suffered at the hands of Chelsea in their home stadium in this competition, Bayern Munich will gently brush away the Blues when they conclude their Round of 16 tie on Saturday.
After that, one must feel sorry for any other team that gets in their way. The Bavarians are on a 17-game winning streak, they are looking to complete their second treble in eight years, and they boast striker Robert Lewandowski, who is the Champions League’s top scorer with a mere 51 goals in all competitions this season.
Bayern have been breathtaking under Hansi Flick and they are Europe’s most in-form team. A monthlong break in competitive action may work to their disadvantage, but a team that always seems to come back stronger after the German midseason break will likely take the time off in stride.
This tournament is Bayern Munich’s to lose.
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