So, that’s it for another year. The Champions League group stages are complete, and while we’ve of course said goodbye to the relative minnows of the competition, it hasn’t been without its upsets.
European giants Manchester United and Inter have both fallen at the first hurdle – with the latter failing to even secure a place in the Europa League after finishing bottom of Group B – but enough about those who’ve been knocked out, we’re only interested in who’s left.
16 teams remain in this season’s edition of the competition, and we’ve ranked them in order of who we believe has the best chance of going on to be crowned kings of Europe.
The 2004 champions emerged from a relatively straightforward group, with Olympiacos and Marseille never really putting up much of a fight.
However, they did well to keep the pace with Manchester City at the top of Group C and showed they’ve got the resilience to cope with a top-class attack as they battled to a decent point at home to Pep Guardiola’s men.
By no means one of the favourites but will be tough opposition.
Having been drawn alongside Real Madrid, Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk, it would have been easy to write off Borussia Monchengladbach’s chances of progression, but they defied the odds in emerging from Group B.
The Bundesliga side only finished two points behind Los Blancos, though in truth that says more about Zinedine Zidane’s men than it does the Germans.
They’ll be delighted if they can make it past the first knockout round.
After securing a solid opening day victory over Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League, Lazio’s hard work looked to be done.
However, they went onto draw four of their remaining five group games, and while their unbeaten run remained intact, the draws were enough to see them only qualify as runners-up.
A tie against one of Europe’s elite awaits and they’ll do well to progress to the quarter-final stage, though with Ciro Immobile up top they’re always a threat.
Atalanta’s league form this season has been far removed from the form which saw them challenge for the title last season, winning just one of their previous six games in Serie A.
However, their European performances have been quite the opposite, with Liverpool the only side to take all three points off them – though in truth it was a 5-0 mauling.
Although the goals have dried up slightly in recent weeks, Atalanta at their free-scoring best are a match for anyone and will be one to avoid for the big clubs.
The Europa League maestros themselves.
Sevilla were the benefactors of a fairly routine group having been drawn alongside Rennes, Krasnodar and Chelsea, though they made light work of qualifying after taking 13 points from a possible 18.
The La Liga outfit had a 100% record against Rennes and Krasnodar in Group E and also managed to take a point away from Stamford Bridge.
Wait, what? Barcelona? 11th?
Yep, you read it correctly. Barça have been an absolute shambles this season and look a shadow of the European behemoths we used to know.
From the summer fire sale and Lionel Messi demanding to leave, to the league defeats against Getafe and Cadiz, the last few months at Camp Nou have been like a circus.
Nevertheless, this looks likely to be Lionel Messi’s final season at the club, and – despite the ill-feeling which arose over the summer – the Argentina international would love to sign off with another Champions League victory.
Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga form has been far from stellar this campaign, with Lucien Favre’s men already suffering a number of setbacks in their quest for domestic glory, though their European form has been solid.
Die Borussen suffered just a single defeat in Group F – on the opening day against Lazio – and topped the group on 13 points, and with Erling Haaland spearheading the attack absolutely anything is possible.
Could they? You definitely wouldn’t back against them.
Just 11 years after being founded, RB Leipzig are already developing into one of the driving forces in European football, and with Julian Nagelsmann at the helm who knows how far they can go.
The German tactician masterminded his side’s route to second place in Group H – no mean feat in a group containing Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
Juventus’ superb victory at Camp Nou in their final game in Group G reminded the rest of Europe just what a force the Old Lady can be, despite the win coming against a far from brilliant Barcelona side.
Andrea Pirlo has made his side difficult to beat since taking charge, though the Italian boss is still struggling to find the right formula. Still, with a host of quality individuals at his disposal, Juve will always be in with a chance of success.
The unthinkable almost happened this year, with Real Madrid very nearly crashing out of the Champions League group stages for the first time in the competition’s history.
Zidane’s men scraped through following a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in the final matchday, and even managed to secure top spot in the group.
They may be having a rough time of it at the moment, but you’d be a fool to ever bet against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
The bulk of Roman Abramovich’s money has been spent on bettering Chelsea’s attacking outlets recently, yet perhaps the most impressive facet of their early-season form has been their defensive improvements.
The Blues look much more assured at the back this season, and with the summer additions of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, Chelsea suddenly look like a team capable of challenging for European football’s biggest prize once again.
You wouldn’t give Atletico Madrid’s Champions League credentials a second glance on the basis of their group stage form. A 4-0 hammering at the hands of defending champions Bayern Munich and back-to-back draws against Lokomotiv Moscow; hardly the form of potential winners.
BUT. You just can’t ruled out a side managed by Diego Simeone. The Argentinian tactician has proven to be able to grind out big results time and time again, and in a two-legged tie you would never rule out the possibility of them grabbing a goal and seeing out the win.
Can they finally do it?
Manchester City were handed their best chance of Champions League success yet last season as they were paired with French side Lyon in the quarter-final – but they blew it.
Pep Guardiola’s men have looked impressive in this season’s competition, brushing aside all who came before them in Group C with Porto the only side who managed to deny them victory at Estadio do Dragao.
With Sergio Aguero returning from injury they’ll be a force to be reckoned with if they can advance to the latter stages.
If Manchester City blew a great chance of Champions League glory last campaign then Paris Saint-Germain blew a golden opportunity.
The French side made it all the way to the final, only to meet the greatest team in Europe and be put to the sword by Bayern Munich.
PSG haven’t been at their free-flowing best this season but did enough to secure top spot in a tough group alongside Manchester United and RB Leipzig, and their frontline is a match for anyone.
Liverpool were dumped out of last season’s Champions League in the last 16 after coming up against Atletico Madrid, though in truth their attention was firmly on league success.
Now, with the Premier League trophy finally taking pride of place at Anfield, the Reds can focus their attentions on regaining their European crown.
One major advantage Liverpool have over a lot of the competition’s frontrunners is they’ve got a group of players who know what it takes to secure Champions League glory, unlike teams like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain who are yet to win the tournament.
Could that play a part come next May?
Last but not least is comfortably the best side in Europe right now.
Bayern Munich continue to steamroll their way through both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, and with a squad as rich in talent as theirs, it’s going to take something special to deny them back-to-back European triumphs.
Hansi Flick has completely reinvigorated some of his ageing squad, while developing the immense young talent at the club as well. Anything can happen in knockout football, but right now it’s almost impossible to look past another Die Roten triumph.