The start of the Champions League knockout stages marks the point in the competition where things start to get serious. The best of the best in Europe’s leagues have been whittled down to 16 remaining teams, all of who are supposed to harbor realistic aspirations of lifting football’s elite prize come May.
Yet as Ilkay Gundogan headed Manchester City into an early lead in their first leg tie in Basel, the question wasn’t whether the home team could make a comeback, it was how many would City score.
The Citizens’ eventual 4-0 win highlighted the gulf in class – and funding – between the two teams. At times, the match represented something of an exhibition, with City enjoying nearly 70% of possession.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Swiss champions had beaten City’s arch-rivals Manchester United at St. Jakob-Park in the group stages. Yet as City’s 16-point league in the Premier League title race proves, this may be one of the greatest teams to ever grace the world of modern football.
To earn an accolade such as this, they’ll have to win the Champions League, something City has never done in their 138-year history. With Guardiola at the helm, however, they have a man who has won it as both a player and a manager. That pedigree, along with their domestic league performance, has seen them be installed as favorites by the bookmaker Stakers to lift the trophy.
Is there any club that could get in their way of making history? We’re taking a look at how some of the other contenders shape up, below:
The Merseyside club raised a few eyebrows of their own on Wednesday night after they demolished Porto 5-0.
In Mohamed Salah, they have the second top goalscorer across all of Europe’s top five domestic leagues.
And as last month’s 4-3 victory over City proved, Liverpool’s attack is one of the most exciting in world football.
Question marks remain over their defense despite the £78 million signing of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window. It also remains to be seen how Jurgen Klopp will juggle his squad as he faces a five-team battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Despite this, their odds of 13/1 on www.stakers.com to win the competition for the sixth time are hard to resist.
By Real Madrid’s high standards, it’s been a torrid domestic season. The Spanish club currently lies fourth in La Liga, a whopping 17 points behind leaders Barcelona.
They’ve also suffered the humiliation of being knocked out of the Copa Del Rey by Los Pepineros (The Cucumber Growers).
That made Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory over big-spenders Paris St. Germain all the more impressive. Last year’s Champions League winners proved that on their day, they’re still a match for Europe’s best.
Bayern last tasted European success back in 2013, but with their domestic title all but sewn up, they could be this season’s dark horses.
Their success can largely be attributed to their defensive record, which is hardly surprising considering it’s comprised of two World Cup winning center backs.
They say lightning can’t strike twice, but manager Jupp Heynckes will be hoping differently. He was in charge the last time the club lifted the trophy, and his return this season could mean it’s written in the stars for Bayern to taste triumph at the NSK Olimpiyskyi Stadium, Kyiv on May 26th.