At the halfway point of group play, with some help from oddsmakers, we predicted (and ranked) the 16 teams that would advance from group play to the knockout round of the Champions League.
Sure enough, 14 of those 16 teams are still alive after Champions League group play wrapped up on Wednesday. The two I showed some faith in who let me down? In a truly shocking turn of events, Manchester United and Inter Milan provided the letdowns. In those teams’ places are RB Leipzig (ahead of ManU) and Monchengladbach (taking advantage of Inter’s latest failure to reach knockout play).
*And apologies to Porto, who I left out of the top 16 – I promise that won’t happen again!
Before getting to my rankings, here’s how the oddsmakers see it ahead of the draw on Monday.
- Bayern Munich (+275)
- Manchester City (+450)
- Liverpool (+600)
- PSG (+900)
- Chelsea (+1,500)
- Juventus (+1,500)
- Borussia Dortmund (+1,700)
- Barcelona (+1,700)
- Real Madrid (+1,700)
- Atletico Madrid (+2,500)
- RB Leipzig (+3,500)
- Atalanta (+4,000)
- Lazio (+4,500)
- Sevilla (+4,500)
- Monchengladbach (+10,000)
- Porto (+12,500)
Nothing shocking there. Without further ado, my rankings.
*Note, for teams that have risen or fallen, we’ll point out where they’re ranked compared to where they were after Matchday 3 of Group Play in parentheses. So (↑3) would mean a team moved from No. 5 to No. 2, while (↓2) would apply to a team dropping from No. 5 to No. 7. If you’re guessing that no parentheses means a team has stayed put, you’re correct!
1. Bayern Munich
I’m quickly running out of ways to praise this team, which is concerning considering how much of the season is left. They’re yet to run away with the Bundesliga, but their performance in Group A – five wins and a draw (and a goal differential of +13) — was the most impressive of anyone, period. They deserve that much more credit considering they drew Atleti with a heavily rotated squad, and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 this week, also without their first-choice XI.
If you’re one of the eight teams that advanced with a second-place finish this week, your biggest hope is that you don’t draw Hansi Flick’s team. This time last year (LINK), right after the conclusion of group play, the favorite was Manchester City at +375. Bayern being priced at +275 right now tells you what a force they are.
2. Liverpool (↑1)
I guess, with all their injuries, it makes sense why Liverpool is behind City, for oddsmakers. But this team has presumably played the most shorthanded lineups it will have to … and fared just fine! As long as Fabinho stays healthy, the back line will be at least average. With what this team has in the midfield and up top, where Diogo Jota has broken out to make the Reds that much deeper, the only team I’d favor in a head-to-head battle with these guys is Bayern.
3. Manchester City (↓1)
They deserve some love for handling their group, again. But the fact they were drawn alongside Porto (third place in Portugal), Olympiacos (first in Greece) and Marseille (fourth in Ligue 1) makes outscoring everyone in group play 13-1 a lot less impressive. Between their issues in domestic play (just five wins through their first 10 EPL games) and their recent UCL history, I’d love to rank them at around No. 5 or No. 6. At the moment, however, I can’t put PSG, Chelsea or Juve quite this high.
4. Atlético Madrid
The team I am way higher on than the oddsmakers is Atleti, who I also had No. 4 last time. They didn’t exactly qualify from group play with ease, but this team is vastly improved from the one that reached the quarterfinals with a shocking upset of Liverpool a year ago. The improved attack is what’s new for Diego Simeone and Co., but the defense is also as good as ever, despite that 4-0 blowout loss to Bayern on Matchday 1.
Atleti is not only the most dangerous team to finish second in their group, but a legit contender. Thanks to the well-documented improvement by Joao Felix as well as the far-less-heralded strides taken so far this season by Ángel Correa, Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente, these are not Los Rojiblancos of the last few seasons.
5. Chelsea (↑3)
Chelsea quietly dominated Group E and is also in good form domestically. We had high hopes for this team’s attack this summer (to understate it), and those do not appear to have been misplaced. Even with Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz yet to break out in EPL play (though Ziyech does have three assists), this team has as many scoring threats as anyone. Even Kurt Zouma (four EPL goals) and Olivier Giroud (5 UCL goals) are contributing in big ways. As long as the defense plays OK, I feel good about this team’s chances of reaching the UCL semifinals.
6. PSG (↑1)
The Parisians finished group play strong, winning four of five after falling to Manchester United on Matchday 1. This team pushed historically good ’19-20 Bayern Munich in last year’s UCL final and deserves to be ranked higher when Neymar and Mbappe are both healthy, but that’s the big if.
I’m also ranking PSG lower than I probably should because of their struggles in Ligue 1. While they are in first place, they’ve captured just 28 of 39 possible points, which tells me they aren’t quite themselves right now. While that might sound ridiculous, consider the number of Ligue 1 losses they’ve suffered the last three seasons: 5, in 38 games, in ’18-19; 3, in 27 games, in ’19-20; and 3, through 13 games, to this point in ’20-21.
7. Juventus (↓2)
It’s early, but Andrea Pirlo’s team is in legit danger of losing its longstanding grip on first place in Serie A. Through 10 games, they’re six points behind first-place AC Milan, and FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 17% (!) chance of winning the league. Despite that, they did win Group G thanks to a 3-0 win over Barcelona this week. That victory also seems to have convinced everyone that the Catalans are not on Juve’s level, even though they beat Juve 2-0 on October 28. Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence was a factor in that one, but I digress.
Juve is not quite on the level of the top 2 or 3 teams in this competition, but as long as CR7 is healthy, you have to like their chances.
8. Borussia Dortmund (↑2)
The collective youth of this roster makes me question how far they can go in this tournament, but the upside, especially in the final third, is obviously there. This isn’t the first time we’ve said as much, and no, it probably won’t be the last time this team’s place in the UCL pecking order is described in those terms. The biggest thing to watch with BVB is the health of Erling Braut Haaland.
9. Barcelona (↓3)
There simply isn’t a lot of reason for optimism regarding this team. In December alone, the Catalans have lost to promoted side Cádiz and been blown out by Juventus. The even more concerning thing is that it’s becoming more and more apparent that Lionel Messi is either A) finally at the age where he’s merely great, as opposed to historically dominant and B) the lack of consistent help for him up top means this team just doesn’t scare you as long as you’re solid defensively.
10. Real Madrid (↓1)
With their backs against the wall last weekend against Sevilla and this week vs. Monchengladbach, Zinedine Zidane’s team showed what they can do in desperation mode. It helped that Sergio Ramos was back against Monchengladbach, but even at full strength, it’s hard to see this team advancing beyond the quarterfinals unless Eden Hazard
magically becomes the threat his team hoped for when it signed him in summer ’19 … never mind, not happening.
11. RB Leizpig (↑4)
This team is certainly capable of an upset in the round of 16. If we’re honest, a lot of teams would probably rather see Barcelona or Real Madrid than these guys. The pedigree and experience of Messi for Barcelona and Ramos and Karim Benzema for RM is why I’m still sleeping on RBL – though it is reassuring to me that oddsmakers feel the same way.
12. Atalanta (↑1)
While a narrow escape from group play is nothing new for these guys after last year, this doesn’t look like the same group so for this season. A trip to the quarterfinals feels like the best-case scenario.
13. Sevilla (↓1)
14. Lazio (↑2)
15. Monchengladbach (not ranked last time)
16. Porto (also not previously ranked)
Of these four, Sevilla strike me as the most likely to reach the quarterfinals, but these teams will all understandably be big underdogs against whoever they face in the round of 16.