- After the first leg of the round-of-16 ties, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea are all in front on aggregate
- Man City are favourites to lift their first Champions League trophy
- Liverpool and Chelsea also in with a chance, but face stiff competition from the likes of last year’s two finalists Bayern and PSG
There are still sixteen teams left in UEFA’s premier club competition, but the final, hosted at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, is only a couple of months away.
We’ve had the first leg of the last-16 games, with the second legs to come on 9-10 March and 16-17 March, and of the remaining teams three are from the Premier League. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea all harbour hopes of winning the trophy, but what are their chances like?
Liverpool – domestic struggle but European success?
It’s perhaps fair to say that this season hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as Liverpool would have hoped – domestically, at least. Their title defence is all but over, and the team sit in sixth place. It very much feels as though a top-four finish is the best the Reds can achieve – they’re 19 points behind leaders Man City having played the same number of games.
It’s been a different story in Europe, however, as they go into the home leg of their RB Leipzig tie with a 2-0 advantage from the first meet-up. Their woes at centre-back might have continued, with Jordan Henderson and Ozan Kabak one of many partnerships tried by Jurgen Klopp this season, but a clean sheet was kept while the ever-effective front-three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were in good form, the latter two contributing a goal apiece.
A good season on the domestic front does not necessarily correlate with a good season in Europe. Of course, Liverpool’s famous Champions League victory in 2005 came at the end of a season where they finished outside the top four – similarly, seven years later Chelsea were able to win the trophy despite finishing 6th in the Premier League. Liverpool could, of course, put everything into the Champions League, but then there’s the small matter of a top-four finish to consider – by focusing solely on Europe, they run the risk of finishing outside the top four but coming undone in the Champions League against a PSG or a Man City.
Man City and Chelsea – differing fortunes
In comparison to the struggles of the Reds, Man City look on course to win a third Premier League title in four seasons under Pep Guardiola. John Stones looks like a man transformed, Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying perhaps his best season in a Man City shirt, and Phil Foden is firmly establishing himself as one of the best young footballers in the world.
Like Liverpool, they won 2-0 away to a German team – this time Borussia Mönchengladbach – in the first leg, and it would be a huge shock were they not to progress. They’re in amazing form at the moment, and it feels as if they could beat anybody. Pretty much nailed-on to win the Premier League, could they really turn their attentions to the Champions League?
A little more surprising, however, was Chelsea’s victory over Atletico Madrid. The Spanish side are top of La Liga and aiming to break the Barcelona - Real Madrid duopoly for the first time since 2013-14, and perhaps their focus on domestic glory could mean them falling short in Europe. However, there’s still another 90 minutes to go, and with the likes of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix in the squad, anything can happen.
Chelsea have made a solid start under new boss Thomas Tuchel, unbeaten in seven Premier League games under the former PSG manager – including four wins on the bounce. Should they be able to hold on in the second leg, it’ll be a real statement of intent from the Londoners. Knocking out the Spanish league leaders would be a big confidence boost, and while they are not be considered one of the favourites to win, they surely have a stronger squad now than they did nine years ago when they first lifted the trophy.
The rest of the competition
Who might stop the Premier League trio, however? Only a fool would write off Real Madrid or Bayern Munich – the Spanish club might be struggling a little in La Liga this season but have had an extremely successful decade on the European front, while the Bundesliga side are the reigning European champions and have Robert Lewandowski in red-hot form.
PSG, like Man City, have had a lot of league success in recent years but remain desperate to win the Champions League. Could this be their year? A 4-1 victory away at Barcelona in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie bodes well, and they’re undoubtedly one of the strongest sides left in the competition. After coming so close with Tottenham two years ago, new manager Mauricio Pochettino will surely be desperate to win this time round.
Looking at the other teams left in the competition, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea are all well placed to progress. Juventus, have their work cut out to overturn a one-goal deficit to Porto, whilst an Erling Haaland-inspired Borussia Dortmund lead Sevilla by 3 goals to 2 at the half way stage.
The Odds (04.03.21)
5/2 Man City
12/1 Real Madrid
A Man City vs Liverpool final wouldn’t be a huge shock, with the former hoping to reach their first ever Champions League final. Liverpool will likely progress to the next round, but could their makeshift defence cause them to come unstuck in the quarters or semis? If Chelsea get through the tie against Atletico, currently the best team in Spain, what does that suggest about their chances of reaching the final? They could well be the surprise package.
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