It’s time for another Champions League watchability rankings!
Previous editions of these pieces used tiers, but now that we’re down to four matchups, those are out the window.
Even the worst (spoiler alert: Sunday’s Manchester City-Lyon is NOT an example of saving the best for last) of these quarterfinal battles will be a must-see match, but that won’t stop me from putting these in order.
Speaking of when these games will be on your TV (as long as you have CBS Sports All Access), the dates/kickoff times are as follows:
- Wednesday, 3 p.m. Eastern: Atalanta (+260)-PSG (-107)
- Thursday, 3 p.m.: RB Leipzig (+235)-Atleti (+133)
- Friday, 3 p.m.: Barcelona (+240)-Bayern Munich (+100)
- Saturday, 3 p.m.: Manchester City (-360)-Lyon (+950)
On to the breakdown…
1. Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
There’s a good argument that Atalanta’s battle with PSG on Wednesday will be the best of these games. That clash of megastars under massive pressure to win the UCL vs. under-the-radar veterans on the ultimate Cinderella franchise makes that game fascinating.
So how do I justify choosing Barcelona-Bayern over that one? I’ve got a handful of reasons: Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Marc-André ter Stegen, Riqui Puig, Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich, etc.
Those are just a handful of the superstars and/or young, exciting guys that will be hopefully be in action in this one. With that kind of star power on both sides, I give this one a slightly higher watchability score (which is too scientific for me to share).
The second-favorite in Bayern – they’re +325 to win it all, and they’d almost certainly be the favorite ahead of Man City (+220) if their quarterfinal opponents were swapped – against the best player in the world, who is slowly but surely running out of these opportunities, gives this the makings of an all-timer.
As for how I think it will actually play out, I just don’t have a good feeling for Barcelona. Despite some flashes (a 4-1 win over Villarreal on July 5 and Saturday’s 3-1 win over Napoli), Barcelona has largely played poorly against quality opponents since January. Since returning from the break, they drew both Atleti and Sevilla, and also had major issues against both Athletic Bilbao (in a victory) and Osasuna (in a 2-1 loss). Before that, they struggled in both match-ups with Real Madrid in December and March.
None of those opponents are nearly as imposing as Bayern right now, meaning I like the Bundesliga champs to prevail, and maybe even comfortably?? I feel like I’ll regret this, but World Cups have shown us time and again that if Messi’s team is totally outmatched, there’s not a whole lot he can do.
2. Atalanta vs. PSG
I really would have liked to put this number 1, but couldn’t quite go with it over Barça-Bayern. It’s still 100% worth your time, though.
For one thing, as you might have heard, Atalanta score at an absurd clip. They finished the season with just five goals in five games — which essentially constitutes a drought for these guys. Yet they still piled up 98 goals in 38 Serie A matches, putting them in the same league as City (102 goals in 38 games) and Bayern (100 in 34).
And we should mention that PSG has a pretty potent offense of its own (75 goals in 27 Ligue 1 matches). We could probably leave it at “there will be goals,” but there’s a lot more to it.
Even if you’re not as much of a Cinderella enthusiast as I am, it’s hard not to appreciate Atalanta’s story. A great look at the club’s unique story, from Bleacher Report’s Tom Williams, is available here.
It’s also amazing to see a team make this deep of a run when its top players are neither established stars nor up-and-coming megastars on everyone’s radar (like Ajax a year ago with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt). Unfortunately, Slovenian Josip Ilicic will likely miss this game, but familiarize yourself ASAP with him, Colombians Duván Zapata and Luis Muriel (18 Serie A goals apiece) and Argentinian Alejandro Gomez (16 assists) if you haven’t already.
For PSG, Neymar and the rest of that star-studded — and desperate, when it comes to the UCL — roster need no introduction.
3. Atleti-RB Leipzig
There’s a big drop off from the first two games on this list to the last two, but at this stage in the UCL, it’s all going to be compelling. A ton of people (myself included) have written off RB Leipzig due to the absence of Timo Werner, which means they’ll have a chip on their shoulder.
And their opponent in this one is as much of a “chip on the shoulder” club as anybody. This year’s version of Atleti is as gritty and physical, though not quite as good, as any previous edition, despite the signing of João Félix last summer. With seven wins and four draws in their final 11 games in La Liga post-pandemic, these guys are hot, with Marcos Llorente a revelation since his breakout vs. Liverpool. And with 20 goals in that stretch, by their standards, they’re now a high-flying offense that Vegas has as the fourth-favorite (+800) to win the whole thing.
So instead of the 1-0 win I’d usually expect from these guys, I predict that they’ll score not once but twice and win 2-0 or 2-1.
4. Manchester City-Lyon
Call me a hater, but I think Lyon is +950 here for a reason. Against anyone other than City (and maybe Bayern), I’d like Lyon’s chances to pull another upset, but I think they’ll be overmatched. I’ll even go so far as to say that Pep Guardiola’s team will have a comfortable advantage by halftime. I’d love to be wrong, but I think Man City handles its Champions League business, delaying its annual collapse until at least the semis.