The Champions League quarter-finalists are set.
The elite eight of European football have been paired off, and for the first time since 2006 there are no Bundesliga sides and for the first time since 2009 there are four Premier League sides. It’s a fantastic group of clubs that contains four of the six most decorated teams in Champions League history.
We’ve had a look at all the eight sides getting ready to rock and roll and ranked them by their performances so far this season. Obviously special weighting will be given to their performances in the Champions League, but their whole season is taken into consideration.
Porto blasted their way through to the knockout rounds with 15 goals. Only Paris Saint-Germain (17) and Manchester City (16) scored more than them in the group stages and of the teams left in the competition now only City remain on-top.
They made light work of Group D and are currently second in the Primeira Liga and, despite needing extra time, they eventually saw off Roma to fire their way into the quarters. They will be no pushovers.
Qualifying from the group of death with negative goal difference shouldn’t be possible, but hey, never doubt Mauricio Pochettino. Spurs recovered from ‘Spursing’ two of their opening three games (getting massacred by Barcelona at Wembley inbetween) to eek out two wins and a draw from their last three.
They then made remarkably light work of Borussia Dortmund, smashing the German side 4-0 on aggregate with a big win at home and a comfortable(ish) win away too.
Juggling two competitions is clearly too much for the Spurs squad but Pochettino appears to have prioritised the Champions League so they will be a tricky opponent for anyone.
6. Manchester United
It’s hard to imagine a side qualifying from such a tricky group in quite such an unspectacular manner. But under José Mourinho that’s pretty much what Manchester United were. Now that they’ve finally sacked the belligerent Portuguese, United are humming again and look a genuinely dangerous prospect.
United were outclassed at home against PSG in a match that exposed a lot of their “true” level but they showed that grit, determination and a little bit of luck can take you far by knocking PSG out in Paris. That comeback and the strength of personality it showed will make United a side no one will want to face; they simply don’t know when they’re beaten and that’s always dangerous in a knockout competition.
In their first season back in the Champions League since 2015, Ajax have been bold and organised and have, quite frankly, shaken up the competition in a way no other side has. They finished second in their group, impressively drawing twice with Bayern before pulling Real Madrid in the round of 16. Despite a plucky performance at home, they were undone by Real Madrid’s sheer quality and experience.
It looked like the three-time-defending European Champions were just going to fluke their way past Ajax as usual, but in the Santiago Bernabeu the Dutch side gave us one of the most glorious comebacks in recent years.
Led by their amazing spine of André Onana, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Dusan Tadic, Ajax tore Madrid to shreds and deservedly won 1-4 to be the first team to eliminate Real Madrid in over one thousand days. They’re not the best side left, but after what they did to Los Blancos, they will believe they can progress further.
Sir Alex Ferguson used to say you can qualify from the Champions League by winning your home games and picking up one point somewhere on the road. Well, Liverpool did even better by not even needing a point on the road. Dominant at home, dire away.
Liverpool’s 0-0 draw at home against Bayern didn’t leave them in an ideal position but Jurgen Klopp rolled back the years and his lads produced a scintillating display in Munich. Their first away win in Europe since last year’s quarter-finals. No one will want to draw the Reds as the tournament progresses because they are a side almost perfectly engineered for two-legged knockout football.
Juventus cruised through their first three games but the reverse fixtures have been less than impressive and have cast doubts on their ability to go all the way even though they are once again cruising in Serie A. They got Second Half FC’d at home where Valencia gave them a real game too, and then Young Boys slapped them around in the group’s final game.
They got blasted away to Atlético Madrid and thanks to some sloppy finishing from the Spanish side only lost 2-0. That’s all they needed as Atleti’s bête noire and Mr. Champions League Cristiano Ronaldo hammered a hat-trick to give them an immense comeback win. A quality side to be respected, but remember: they do have Wojciech Szczesny in goal.
2. Manchester City
Manchester City played some sublime football in their group games. They failed to beat the volatile Lyon, however, losing at home before drawing away. Their dominance on the domestic front is hard to overlook as is the fact that they played magnificent football without their best player (Kevin de Bruyne) for much of the season.
They’ve not been flawless, but they are top scorers by a distance. There’s genius in there for sure with Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero having career best seasons in terms of quality of performance and Bernardo Silva emerging as a dominant playmaker. They absolutely annihilated Schalke in the round of 16, but they have the tactical system and the collective confidence to finally reach a final.
Barcelona were placed in the group of death but have handled it so comfortably you may as well have called it the group of mild skin irritation. Resplendent at Wembley when they demolished Spurs, they also took four points from closest rivals Inter without their talisman Leo Messi, who missed the matches through injury.
The Argentine is the club’s top scorer in Europe with eight goals (having played just 477 minutes) and his three assists mean he is so far the only player to clock up over 10 direct goal involvements. What’s more, he is also playing at an absurdly high level – his displays at Wembley and at home against Lyon are among standout performances of the tournament so far.
They’ve been inconsistent at times in La Liga this season but are still 11 points clear at the top of the table. Meanwhile, they’ve been almost note perfect in the Champions League (the draws in Lyon and Milan were games they controlled and dominated meanwhile the Spurs draw was a dead rubber to them). They are the gold standard at present.