The Champions League quarter finals begin this week, with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea still flying the flag for the Premier League in what promises to be a blockbuster conclusion to the tournament
We have officially reached the business end of the Champions League season. Only eight teams remain in the battle for Europe’s most coveted prize.
The usual suspects are also in the running, with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich fierce foes for any side wanting to lift ‘Big Ears’ at the Parc des Princes in two months’ time. With the first legs of the quarter finals now just hours away, Mirror Football have rolled out our power rankings to determine who could reach and win the final in May.
We’ve taken into account a number of factors, including current form, squad strength and route to the showpiece game to give each team a ranking. So with that in mind, here are the fixtures and how the tournament will map out until only two remain.
April 5: Benfica vs Liverpool, Man City vs Atletico Madrid
April 6: Chelsea vs Real Madrid, Villarreal vs Bayern
Manchester City or Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea or Real Madrid
Benfica or Liverpool vs Villarreal or Bayern Munich
The Portuguese giants have upset the odds to reach this stage, qualifying from the group stage at the expense of Barcelona, before beating the much-fancied Ajax in the last-16.
But the scale of the task facing Nelson Verissimo and his players is surely too steep in the shape of Liverpool.
The Reds had been utterly relentless up to their hiccup in the second leg against Inter Milan and go into the tie as overwhelming favourites. If Benfica are to have a chance they will need to come to Anfield with a significant advantage…and that appears unlikely.
Find someone that loves you as much as Unai Emery loves European competitions.
The Spaniard has already won the Europa League four times, but winning the Champions League with Villarreal would comprehensively top the lot. The Yellow Submarine proved their credentials by walloping Juventus 3-0 in Turin to book their place in the last eight and will need similar heroics against Bayern Munich.
Villarreal’s form in Europe is in complete contrast to their showings La Liga, with successive defeats all-but confirming they won’t be in this competition next season…unless of course they can beat Robert Lewandowski and Co. before likely needing to do the same vs Liverpool and then Man City, it feels a very tall order.
6. Atletico Madrid
Diego Simeone has got Atletico Madrid back into the groove at the best possible time. Beating Man United over two legs is hardly the feat it once was, but Atleti showed their mettle at Old Trafford. And in the domestic game they have racked up six wins on the spin.
Joao Felix is arguably one of the form players in Europe and he will need to be at his best when they face Manchester City. Simeone masterminded one of Pep Guardiola’s most painful defeats back in 2016, when the unfancied Atletico knocked out his all-conquering Bayern Munich side, he will be out for revenge this time around.
The Blues faced Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi final and progressed 3-1 on aggregate. There are still major question marks over Madrid, but the manner of Chelsea’s defeat to Brentford has raised more than just doubts about Thomas Tuchel’s side.
The Bees ravaged Chelsea’s backline at Stamford Bridge and it only leaves you wondering what the likes of Karim Benzema and Vinicus Jr. could do to them over two legs. This is by no means a vintage Los Blancos team, but the fixture feels like it is coming at exactly the wrong time for the reigning European champions.
Tuchel has a huge decision to make on who leads the line in Wednesday’s first leg, with Romelu Lukaku in and out of the side and Timo Werner completely bereft of confidence.
Chelsea under Tuchel have been near-perfect in this competition so this isn’t to rule them out completely, but needing to beat Real Madrid and Man City in successive rounds for the second straight year will be a mammoth task.
4. Real Madrid
AFP via Getty Images)
If the round-of-16 proved anything to anyone, it’s that Real Madrid can never ever be written off in the Champions League. Two goals down to PSG on aggregate with less than 45 minutes of the tie remaining, the 13-time champions looked as good as eliminated.
That was of course before Benzema dragged his team kicking and screaming into the latter stages yet again. As mentioned above, this isn’t a vintage Madrid outfit, but when it matters most they look happy to step up a gear. Despite looking a level behind the three teams in front of them in this list they are still firmly in the mix.
3. Bayern Munich
It feels strange to put Bayern as third in this list, such has been their prolific and relentless form this season, but that is perhaps more a nod to Liverpool and Man City than a slight on the German champions. The 7-1 second-leg demolition of RB Salzburg was an eye opener, as was the fact they could only manage a 1-1 draw in the first meeting in Austria.
Robert Lewandowski means they will always have a real chance and they will expect to beat Villarreal with relative ease over the two legs. After that, we are primed for some mouth-watering contests with the two sides most agree are the current standard bearers in world football.
As any Premier League observer can attest, there is nothing between the two sides competing for English football’s biggest prize. The Reds have timed their run to absolute perfection, having at one stage trailed City by 14 points.
Jurgen Klopp’s side stand on the brink of history and remain in the hunt for an astonishing clean sweep of major trophies this term. Benfica will need to be respected despite that arguably being the most favourite tie, however, the fact they will then likely need to overcome Bayern, gives Man City the very slight edge.
1. Man City
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
‘Manchester City win the Champions League take 11.’
Since first qualifying for the tournament back in 2011, the new City have often been touted as the favourites. Particularly in the years since Guardiola’s appointment, not lifting Europe’s biggest prize has meant astonishing domestic seasons have been tinged with disappointment.
Having lost out in the final last time around, City will be desperate to go one better with this attempt. Atletico is by no means a bye, and even should they progress they will need to beat either Chelsea or Real Madrid just to get to Paris.
But with Liverpool on the other half of the draw, Guardiola will fancy his side’s chances of reaching the final. Once he’s there he just needs to resist the temptation to play a brand new formation or Ederson in centre midfield and they have a real chance to end their drought.