The last-16 stage of the Champions League promises to be extremely competitive. Two of the semi-finalists from last season have been knocked out already; Atlético Madrid have been relegated to the Europa League and Monaco, who didn’t win a single match in their group, are out of Europe altogether.
Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea – all of whom have played in at least one of the last six finals – failed to win their groups, meaning there will be some even bigger casualties when the knockout stages return in February. It is difficult to separate remaining sides in the competition but, by looking at their domestic form this season and performances in the Champions League groups, we have ranked the teams who will go into the last-16 draw on Monday.
Basel, who are currently second place in the Swiss Super League behind Young Boys, are among the underdogs in the last-16 but they deserve great credit for making it beyond the group stages for the third time in the last six years. Such consistency shows Raphael Wicky’s side should not be underestimated but they have never progressed any further in the tournament.
Nevertheless, they beat Manchester United and smashed the admittedly disappointing Portuguese champions Benfica 5-0 at home. They conceded just five goals in six matches and boast an impressive young centre-back pairing in Eder Balanta and Manuel Akanji, while 20-year-old Dimitri Oberlin scored four goals.
The Ukrainian Premier League leaders are not just here to make up the numbers. Paulo Fonseca’s side were expected to finish third in a group containing Manchester City and Napoli, but they upset the odds by beating City on Wednesday night. Fonseca capped off qualification to the knockout stages by dressing as Zorro for his post-match press conference, as promised.
Shakhtar struggled on their travels, losing two of their three away games, but their home form carried them through; they beat Napoli, Feyenoord and City at the Metalist Stadium. If they take confidence from their home form and their Brazilian players keep performing well, they have a chance of reaching the last eight.
Besiktas’ title defence may be floundering – they are currently fourth in the Süper Lig – but they have thrived in the Champions League this season, topping Group G above Porto, RB Leipzig and Ligue 1 champions Monaco. They are something of an unknown quality – this is their first time in the knockout stages of the Champions League – but the Turkish champions have a solid spine.
Three-time Champions League winner Pepe has the necessary experience in the latter stages of the competition and he was their best player in the group stage. Their manager, Senol Gunes, has ample attacking options in Cenk Tosun and Anderson Talisca (who both scored four goals in the group stage), and Ricardo Quaresma, who helped himself to three assists (James Milner, with five, is the only player with more). Besiktas were one of four teams to go unbeaten in the group stage and they won all three of their away games. Rating: 6.45
Sevilla’s progression to the last-16 owed much to their exceptional home form. They picked up seven of their nine points at the Pizjuán, including a memorable 3-3 draw with Liverpool when they had been 3-0 down at half-time. Away from Seville, they laboured to a 1-1 draw with Maribor and were ruthlessly dismantled by Spartak Moscow, falling to a thumping 5-1 defeat in Russia.
They have quality, with Éver Banega the heartbeat of the team, but they have never made it past the last-16 in the Champions League and will need a kind draw – and some better away form – to progress further. Rating: 6.83
To win a group that included both Chelsea and Atlético Madrid was no mean feat. That said, Eusebio Di Francesco doesn’t boast many world class players capable of unlocking defences in the latter stages of the tournament. Former Manchester City duo Aleksandar Kolarov (7.77) and Edin Dzeko (7.46) are sandwiched between Diego Perotti (7.52) as the team’s highest rated players this season across the league and Champions League.
They outclassed an out of sorts Chelsea team over two games but haven’t gone past the round of 16 since they were beaten by Manchester United 8-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals in 2008. A similar achievement would not be beyond them this year but, as a side currently fourth in Serie A, they may well come unstuck thereafter. Rating: 6.827
Marginally in front of their Italian rivals, Juventus are aiming to reach a third final in four years but they will have to improve a lot to do so. While finishing second to Barcelona in their group was no embarrassment, they couldn’t cope at Camp Nou in the group stage, which was somewhat surprising given that they beat Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season.
Their domestic dominance is also stuttering. They have won Serie A for the last six seasons but are currently behind both Inter and Napoli in the table. They looked closer to their best when beating Napoli 1-0 last weekend, but they were a little underwhelmed in their victory over Olympiacos this week and that has been the case too often for Juve this season. Rating: 6.828
As Portugal’s sole representative in the knockout stages after Benfica’s lacklustre showing, Porto will look to transfer their strong league form to the Champions League in the New Year. They are still unbeaten after 13 games in the Primeira Liga but will need to improve their European form to go much further in the competition. They lost twice in their group, including a home defeat to Besiktas.
They will have been buoyed by Vincent Aboubakar’s great form in the group, with the Cameroon striker scoring five goals and providing two assists in his five starts. Their full-backs, Alex Telles and Ricardo Pereira, are also more than a match for any side on their day. Having made it beyond the last-16 just once in their last six campaigns, Porto need a favourable draw to reach the quarter-finals. Rating: 6.85
Having crashed out of the Champions League with a whimper 12 months ago, Tottenham will be thrilled to have earned more points (16) than any other team in the group stage and finished above Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
Mauricio Pochettino has a young, vibrant squad and only Cristiano Ronaldo (nine) scored more goals than Harry Kane (six) in the group stage. They are a versatile group of players who can either dominate possession or sit back and look to hit teams on the counter. Tottenham have proven they are more than a match for any side on their day and are dark horses to lift the trophy in May. Rating: 6.90
Chelsea are finding their form again after a minor wobble earlier this season and Eden Hazard’s return to full fitness of in particular should make them a force in the competition. They were well beaten by Roma at the end of October but in the 10 matches since then they have won eight and drawn two.
Their reliance on Hazard and Álvaro Morata could prove an issue and Conte will also need to settle on his back three, having dropped David Luiz in recent weeks. Victor Moses’ return is timely but, aside from Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea look weak at the back. Rating: 6.94
They have improved since the return of Jupp Heynckes – and exacted some revenge on Paris Saint-Germain – but Bayern Munich are not the European superpower they were a few years ago. They have kept just two clean sheets in their last nine matches and are missing the injured Manuel Neuer. Robert Lewandowski is their still main man but new signing Corentin Tolisso was their top scorer in the group stage, with three goals – and one assist.
Bayern will be a force once their imposing goalkeeper returns but Heynckes is unlikely to repeat the success he enjoyed the last time he led Bayern in the Champions League – when they beat Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 final at Wembley. Rating 6.95
After a second 7-0 win of the campaign on Wednesday night, Liverpool have now scored more goals in the group stage (23) than any other English team in the Champions League history. Only Paris Saint-Germain (24) scored more this season. On their day, Liverpool are a match for any side. Their magic square of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah is fluid and ruthless enough to cut through any defence.
That being said, they have defensive issues, which was illustrated in their 3-3 draw with Sevilla. They need to shape up at the back if they want to make it to the last eight. Rating: 7.02
José Mourinho will be hoping to rely on his team’s defensive solidity and emulate Atlético Madrid’s style and success in recent years in the Champions League. Their group may have been favourable, but United conceded just three goals in six matches en route to the last 16. They also boast the meanest defence in the Premier League, where they have conceded just nine goals in 15 games.
In David de Gea they have perhaps the best goalkeeper in Europe and in Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial they have an attacking trio who are well suited to playing on the break. United have a decent shot of going far in the tournament. Rating: 7.04
Momentum has been building in Paris for some time and they looked to be in frightening form this season – until this week. Kylian Mbappé and Neymar have joined Edinson Cavani and given Paris Saint-Germain the strongest front three the tournament. This trio has scored 16 goals between them in the group stage – more than Barcelona, Manchester City or Bayern Munich managed between their whole squads.
They may have a slight weakness in midfield, where Marco Verratti has been some way off his best this season and Adrien Rabiot remains relatively young and inexperienced, but it would be a shock if they were knocked out before the semi-finals. Rating: 7.06
The defending European champions were expected to win a competitive group, but had to settle for second after their defeat to Tottenham at Wembley. Zinedine Zidane will not worry too much; they finished runners-up in their group last season but still went on to win the competition. The Champions League doesn’t really start until the second half of the season for Real Madrid and they know how to elevate their game when it matters most.
Real Madrid’s defence has been underwhelming this season but Cristiano Ronaldo has been sensational in Europe. He is the top scorer in the tournament with nine goals and his curling effort against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night made him the first player in the competition’s history to have scored in every group stage match. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are capable of controlling the tempo of games in midfield and they will be motivated by the chance to win their third Champions League in a row. Rating: 7.06
They were apparently in crisis before the start of the season but Barcelona have bounced back from their Super Cup drubbing to Real Madrid in impressive fashion under Ernesto Valverde. Unbeaten in 22 matches since that 5-1 aggregate defeat to their biggest rivals, they initially coped just fine without Neymar – but they have stagnated a little in the last month, drawing four of their last eight games.
They started well in the Champions League with a convincing 3-0 win over Juventus and perhaps took their foot off the gas a little. That should change in the New Year but Luis Suárez’s form remains a real concern; he has only scored six goals this season and none of them have come in the Champions League. Lionel Messi has made up for such profligacy though, with 20 goals for club and country this season. Rating: 7.097
An understrength Manchester City fell to their first defeat of the season in Ukraine on Wednesday night but they had already won their group so their loss to Shakhtar mattered little. Pep Guardiola has won the Champions League twice and knows what it takes in the latter stages of the competition. His players have bought into his philosophy and have been rampant in the Premier League, scoring 46 goals in 15 matches.
David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne can unlock most defences and City had six different goalscorers in the group stage, showing they have options throughout the team. If they live up to their status as favourites, they will secure their first European trophy since they won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. Rating 7.104