The Champions League trophy (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo

Ranking the 8 remaining teams in the Champions League

Manchester City and other contenders who will fancy their chances.

8. Benfica

As they are on course to win the title in Portugal, it looks set to be a memorable season for Benfica. For a club of their stature in a league where resources are somewhat limited, simply reaching the Champions League quarter-finals is a success in itself from their perspective. Yet that is also why they are at the bottom of this list. Whereas the likes of Man City and Real Madrid will feel they belong on this stage, for the Portuguese side, this is relatively unfamiliar territory. They also didn’t have the toughest of last-16 draws, coming up against a Scott Parker-managed Club Brugge side, who they nonetheless amply dispatched 7-1 on aggregate. They were impressive early on in the competition, unexpectedly finishing top of a group that also featured PSG, Juventus and Maccabi Haifa, winning four and drawing two of their six matches. You get the feeling the quarter-final may be their ceiling, but that said, Inter Milan are one of the less formidable of the remaining opponents they could have drawn and so passage to the semis is far from unthinkable, particularly with players of the calibre of Gonçalo Ramos, João Mário and  Nicolás Otamendi in their squad.

7. Chelsea

Most people will consider Chelsea rank outsiders given their disastrous season domestically. The club appear to be in disarray, having just sacked Graham Potter and replaced him with caretaker manager Frank Lampard until the end of the season. You will consequently get long odds on them winning the Champions League. However, stranger things have happened. There was a similar scenario during the 2011-12 season. The Blues had a poor campaign in the Premier League by their standards, finishing sixth. After André Villas-Boas was sacked in March of that season, the club hired a club legend in Roberto Di Matteo as caretaker manager until the end of the year and he ended up guiding them to an improbable Champions League triumph. There are obvious differences though — the current Chelsea team don’t have as many strong, experienced characters like Frank Lampard (the player) and John Terry to call upon. Yet they are obviously extremely talented, as is inevitably the case when a team spends £600 million on players within a short time period. And they are capable of decent one-off displays, as they demonstrated by knocking Borussia Dortmund out in the previous round. Yet a quarter-final exit against holders Real Madrid, a far more experienced and cohesive side, would appear to be the logical outcome on the basis of everything that has transpired this season thus far.  

6. Inter Milan

It’s much of a muchness as to which of the two Milan sides should place higher on this list. Just one point separates them in the table. Both face tricky but winnable quarter-final ties and both have a proud history in this competition — AC have won it seven times (more than anyone bar Real Madrid), Inter three. But the reason Inter are ultimately below their bitter rivals is that momentum is crucial at this stage of the season and their form has taken a dramatic nosedive of late. They have picked up just two wins and suffered four losses in their last seven matches. They also just scraped through in the last round, with a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 aggregate victory over Porto to reach the quarter-finals of this competition for the first time in 12 years. And while the likes of Matteo Darmian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Edin Džeko and Lautaro Martínez are all excellent professionals, even the most avid Inter fan would be hard-pressed to make the case that they are at the level required to win the Champions League.

5. AC Milan

Perhaps the least predictable side left in the competition. There is no doubt Milan have many top-quality players at their disposal — most squads in Europe would be happy to have the likes of Sandro Tonali, Fikayo Tomori, Mike Maignan, Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud to choose from while the 41-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović has just returned from injury. They put in a solid, defensively resilient, unspectacular-but-professional display to deservedly knock out Tottenham 1-0 on aggregate in the round of 16. Yet they have a tendency to be very inconsistent. They have won just one of their last five Serie A matches, but that happened to be a brilliant 4-0 destruction of leaders Napoli, a game after losing 3-1 to a Udinese side that featured Ireland U21 international Festy Eboseke. That ostensible ability to perform to their potential in big one-off games has served certain unlikely Champions League winners well in the past and with hopes of triumphing domestically all but over, they have the luxury of being able to put extra focus on Europe.

4. Napoli

There is a case to be made that Napoli should be higher on this list given how good they have been in Serie A this season. And you could certainly envisage them beating any team left in the competition on their day. They effectively have the Serie A title wrapped up with nine games left to play, as they sit 16 points clear of nearest rivals Lazio. Star attacking duo Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia with 25 and 14 goals respectively on current form look good enough to grace any team in Europe. Elsewhere, in the side, the likes of Kim Min-Jae, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Piotr Zielinski have been among the best players in Italy this season and have ensured they are set to win their first league title since the Diego Maradona-inspired outfit of the 1989-90 season. There are a couple of caveats though. They lack the Champions League big-game experience of some other teams remaining in the competition and so their players are less accustomed to this type of pressure. Furthermore, they have shown signs of wobbling of late. A remarkable run saw them just lose one game and drop points on only three occasions in the league up until the start of March. However, they have tasted defeat in two big games of late, suffering a 1-0 loss to Lazio and most notably being well beaten 4-0 at home to a Milan side earlier this month who they will face again in an all-Italian quarter-final on Wednesday. With the title win now a formality, there is a real danger that a phenomenal campaign could end on a slightly anti-climactic note for Luciano Spalletti’s men.

3. Real Madrid

In terms of experience, no other team left in the competition can match Real Madrid. Karim Benzema, to cite one example, has won the Champions League five times since joining the club in 2009. 35-year-old Benzema is far from the only veteran in their side, with the likes of Luka Modric (37) and Toni Kroos (33) having seen better days. But players such as Rodrygo (22), Vinícius Júnior (22) and Federico Valverde (24) provide legs elsewhere in the team. There were few signs of age catching up on Modric and Benzema when they comfortably earned a 6-2 aggregate win in the last round against an admittedly out-of-sorts Liverpool, nor in the recent Copa del Rey semi-final second-leg as they impressively overcame title rivals Barcelona 4-0. You could argue both City and Bayern Munich possess greater strength in depth beyond the starting XI, but there is no doubt Real Madrid — bidding for an incredible 15th triumph — will take some stopping. 

2. Bayern Munich

While some of the teams on this list have the luxury of either being comfortably clear at the top of their domestic league or have seen their title chances effectively end prematurely, neither is the case with Bayern Munich. At the time of writing, the Bundesliga race is incredibly tight with just two points separating themselves and Dortmund at the top. So that pressure may prove a distraction, as they bid to win the Champions League/European Cup for the seventh time, having last prevailed in 2020. Their coach, Thomas Tuchel, won the trophy a year later with Chelsea, and so will be hoping to consolidate his reputation as somewhat of a European specialist, having guided a limited Blues side to glory and also steering the notoriously flaky PSG to within one game of triumphing (losing to Bayern in the final). Yet it has been a troubled season for Bayern, as the recent sacking of Julian Nagelsman in favour of Tuchel would suggest. They may be top of the Bundesliga, but that is a competition they normally win at a canter, and so to drop points in 10 of their 27 league games has been enough for alarm bells to start ringing. In the Champions League though, they have been extremely solid, winning all six of their group games and convincingly overcoming PSG 3-0 on aggregate in the round of 16. However, the quarter-final draw has not been kind, as they have been paired with Pep Guardiola’s Man City. Win that two-legged encounter — easier said than done obviously — and they will be strong favourites to go all the way. But despite several world-class players in their squad –  Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala and Sadio Mane to name a couple — they will definitely be underdogs ahead of this week’s clash. In January, they only managed a 1-1 draw with the same RB Leipzig side that City beat 7-0. That’s not to say they are incapable of upsetting the reigning English champions, though you suspect that if both sides play to their full potential, the Etihad outfit will prevail.

1. Man City

Anyone who watched Man City’s 8-1 aggregate mauling of RB Leipzig in the last round and particularly Erling Haaland’s scarcely believable five-goal haul within an hour of the second leg will have suspected they may well be watching champions in waiting. Yet Guardiola has now had six failed attempts to win the Champions League while at Man City, with three of those exits coming at the quarter-final stage. A recurring feature of these disappointments has been a tactical gamble made by the Catalan coach going awry, epitomised by the 2021 final against Chelsea when he implemented an unusual 4-3-3 system that did not include a natural defensive midfielder. The Man City boss has more or less mastered the art of winning over the course of a season — as the four league titles won during Guardiola’s reign would indicate — however, in what is effectively a cup competition, he has been far less dominant. Man City would be identified by most people as the most talented squad of players left in the Champions League, and probably in the world, yet the best teams do not always win Europe’s premier club competition and so it would be no major shock if Man City fall short again.

Upcoming quarter-final fixtures (all games kick off at 8pm Irish time)

11 April

Benfica v Inter Milan

Man City v Bayern Munich

12 April

AC Milan v Napoli

Real Madrid v Chelsea

18 April

Chelsea v Real Madrid

Napoli v AC Milan

19 April

Bayern Munich v Man City

Inter Milan v Benfica

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