Champions League Power Rankings: How Do The 16 Remaining Teams Stack Up?
After a software malfunction rendered the hugely anticipated Champions League Round of 16 draw void (as well as a clash between Lionel Messi's PSG and Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United), we finally know the last-16 matchups and can make our terrible Champions League predictions after a redraw was held nearly two hours after the event started.
We have almost half the season and a completed group stage to draw conclusions from, but there's always a large degree of uncertainty in making these early guesses since the first legs don't begin for another two months (Feb. 15-16). By that time Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar might've formed a telepathic relationship, or they might have all collectively decided to say "to hell with this" and gone to Rafaella's birthday party instead.
Champions League Predictions And Power Rankings | Round Of 16
#16. Sporting CP
Round of 16 opponent: Manchester City
Sporting's 3-1 win over a Borussia Dortmund side without Erling Haaland is what ultimately clinched passage to the Round of 16, but no team arrives having conceded more goals in the group stage (12).
The squad has attacking firepower in Pedro "Pote" Gonçalves, Paulinho and Pablo Sarabia, but there's absolutely no way they're able to go goal-for-goal with Man City. It's over.
#15. RB Salzburg
Round of 16 opponent: Bayern Munich
The runaway leaders of the Austrian Bundesliga have all the markings of a traditional dark horse — a fearlessly young attack (21-year-old American Brenden Aaronson and 19-year-old German forward Karim Adeyemi) mixed with a little more experience in defense.
Their results in the group stage (wins over Lille and Sevilla) speak to that ability and represent an incredible achievement, but it's Bayern Munich now in the Round of 16. During last season's group stage, Bayern beat Salzburg by a combined scoreline of 9-3. Expect a similar result here.
Round of 16 opponent: Chelsea
The defending Ligue 1 champion is now a disappointing 11th after 18 games, and it's clear that the transfers of holding midfielder Boubakary Soumaré (Leicester City) and goalkeeper Mike Maignan (Milan) have been felt in defense. 36-year-old striker Burak Yılmaz's goals have dried up, but 21-year-old Canadian Jonathan David has quickly filled the void with 11 in the league and three in the UCL.
Lille commands the respect of group winners, but Chelsea, the defending champion, is a massive step up in competition.
Round of 16 opponent: Ajax
A 3-0 win over Barcelona in Lisbon and a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou represented a truly memorable group stage for Benfica, while taking care of business against Dynamo Kyiv at home on the final matchday was another feather for the Eagles.
However, the combined 9-2 scoreline from the two games against Bayern Munich is less heartwarming. Ajax isn't Bayern, but Erik ten Hag's team is coherent, structured and has an attacking plan — three things Barça lacked.
#12. Inter Milan
Round of 16 opponent: Liverpool
Despite the summer exodus of key performers like Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi and manager Antonio Conte, Inter Milan remains the pacemaker in Serie A behind the play of growing stars Lautaro Martínez and Nicolò Barella, while veterans like Edin Džeko, Ivan Perišić and Samir Handanović remain key performers.
Inter took care of business against Sheriff and Shakhtar in group play but lost both matches to Real Madrid without scoring a goal. Liverpool is a step up from Real.
Round of 16 opponent: Juventus
Forget the LaLiga position (13th) and just focus on Unai Emery's ability to navigate knockout competitions (a four-time Europa League champion). The group stage highlighted his ability to gameplan for opponents — a draw and win against an Atalanta team that's given opponents fits in Europe and two narrow defeats to Man United (late Ronaldo winners in both).
Juventus is a team with glaring weaknesses, as evidenced by its myriad of problems in Serie A (sixth place) and that 4-0 beatdown to Chelsea on Nov. 23. If I had to go for one upset in the Round of 16, I'd go with Villarreal over Juventus.
Round of 16 opponent: Manchester United
After winning LaLiga last season, it's clear that Atlético has been surpassed by Real in Spain. Qualification for the Round of 16 was done the hard way — as Diego Simeone prefers — but can Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann provide the more eloquent moments against United?
There is a sense that if Atléti can draw United into an individual street fight across the pitch then they could pull off the win, but Ralf Rangnick is expected to form a more cohesive collective at Old Trafford over the next couple months.
Round of 16 opponent: Villarreal
Juve is already 12 points back of Inter in the chase for the Scudetto, and the Old Lady's place at the top of UCL Group H came with the caveat of runner-up Chelsea beating them 4-0 in London.
It's a fine team that has its limitations — much like Álvaro Morata and Weston McKennie — but the fear factor is gone. There's no real consistency in attack, where playmakers like Paulo Dybala, Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi are just as likely to influence things as they are to ghost.
Round of 16 opponent: Real Madrid
PSG's group stage gave us clear examples of Mbappé at his best and Messi getting there, while Neymar wasn't effective before injury cut him down. If the Round of 16 began tomorrow, PSG would 100 percent be going out against Real.
But there's probably no side that stands to benefit from the two-month break as much as PSG. Neymar returns from injury at the beginning of the year, and Messi continues to adapt to life in Paris while growing his relationship with Mbappé.
You still get the feeling that if PSG is to overcome Real, it'll be Mbappé who provides a statement game before a move to the Santiago Bernabéu in the summer.
#7. Manchester United
Round of 16 opponent: Atlético
Based on this year's evidence, Atlético's style is going to prove exceptionally difficult for the Red Devils to break down, but Cristiano Ronaldo — who's scored 25 goals in 35 games against Atléti — is going to win it at the death.
Ronaldo has four hat-tricks against Atlético. He's constantly been a part of the teams that've knocked Simeone's side out, whether it's with Real Madrid, Juventus or now United.
There's no way it doesn't play out like this again.
Round of 16 opponent: Benfica
Ajax rolled through group play with the most impressive record outside of Bayern, winning all six, scoring 20 and finishing with a +15 goal difference. So, how similar are they to the 2018-19 Ajax that reached the semifinals?
Dušan Tadić was the goalscoring hero of that campaign, and while the Serbian is still a key performer for the club, Ajax's new hitman is 27-year-old Ivory Coast international Sébastien Haller.
After failing to make much of an impact at West Ham over the course of a year and a half, Haller is now the fastest to 10 goals in UCL history (only six appearances), and he was the first since Ronaldo in 2017 to score in all six group games.
Other holdovers from the squad include Daley Blind, Noussair Mazraoui, David Neres and Nicolás Tagliafico, while the next generation is Antony (21), Jurriën Timber (20) and Ryan Gravenberch (19). Maybe it's not 2018-19 all over again, but we can hope.
#5. Real Madrid
Round of 16 opponent: PSG
David Alaba's influence has taken the defense to another level, Vinícius Jr's emergence has complimented Benzema's genius to perfection and Luka Modrić has gone Benjamin Button on us — three storylines of Real's season that've quickly transformed the team into the odds-on favorite in LaLiga and a growing force in Europe.
But it's PSG in the Round of 16 — a team that's shown they can be inferior on the day but still triumph through individual moments of genius from Mbappé and Messi.
With all eyes on the attacking firepower, the real battle will take place in midfield between Modrić, Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Georginio Wijnaldum, Marco Verratti and Idrissa Gueye.
Real has to be the favorite for now.
Round of 16 opponent: Inter Milan
Liverpool's group of Atlético, AC Milan and Porto looked extremely interesting back in August, and then the Reds went out and won all six matches while scoring 17 and conceding six.
After initially getting Salzburg in the Round of 16, the redraw landed the defending Serie A champion in Inter. Inter and AC Milan appear equally matched in Italy, but Liverpool twice beat Milan in the group stage — although the scorelines of 3-2 and 2-1 foreshadow what Jürgen Klopp has already described as "a proper Champions League tie."
Can Inter generate enough of a threat without getting carved apart by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané? You wouldn't think so.
Round of 16 opponent: Lille
The defending European champion slumped to runner-up in Group H after a wild 3-3 draw with Zenit on the final matchday, so the Blues were left with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Lille as potential Round of 16 opponents.
It was the kindest draw possible for Thomas Tuchel's side as they landed Lille, which really shouldn't be able to cope with Chelsea's superior attack, defense and depth.
#2. Bayern Munich
Round of 16 opponent: RB Salzburg
Bayern stormed through the group stage with six wins, 22 goals scored and a +19 goal difference, with Lewandowski hitting nine and Leroy Sané adding five. The Bavarians have been drawn against Salzburg in the Round of 16, who they beat twice in the group stage last season with Lewandowski and Sané combining for five goals.
The quarterfinals await.
#1. Manchester City
Round of 16 opponent: Sporting CP
There would be no greater upset in the Round of 16 than the defending Premier League champion and UCL runner-up getting knocked out by Sporting. Man City is again pacing the Premier League, and a 2-1 victory over PSG on Nov. 24 highlighted this team's unwavering quality.
They might not have a standout goalscorer like Lewandowski, Salah or Benzema, but they get outstanding contributions from everywhere, including defense (João Cancelo), midfield (Bernardo Silva) and attack (Riyad Mahrez).
They're immediately penciled through to the quarterfinals.