And then there were eight. After some shocks, stutters, and several stunning goals, the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League are set. There are the usual juggernauts: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, PSG, Juventus, and Bayern Munich, as well as some pleasant surprises in the form of Monaco and Porto.
Several marquee sides were eliminated in the round of 16, most notably all three English outfits. Arsenal’s poor showing at home against Monaco meant that a late surge in France wasn’t enough to withstand the away goals rule (they tied 3-3 on aggregate, but Monaco scored 3 away goals to Arsenals 2), Manchester City were thoroughly outclassed by Barcelona, and Chelsea slipped up at home against 10-men PSG. For the third consecutive year, England won’t have a club win the Champions League, but the fact that such a statement can be made so early is a testament to how disappointing Premier League teams have fared in Europe’s marquee competition.
Now, onto the rankings. These rankings will be determined by three factors, how well they’ve been playing recently, how good their squads are, and how difficult their opponent is. Without further adieu, here are the power rankings for the last 8 teams in the UEFA Champions League.
8. Monaco – Kudos to the French outfit for thrashing Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates and then holding on for a final 8 spot. It was a display that few expected, and one that put perennial powerhouse Arsenal to the sword. However, Monaco’s lackluster display at home leaves few doubts that they are the worst remaining team in the competition, and are simply along for the ride. Regardless, the fact that Monaco have advanced this far without their two best players from a year ago (James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao) is astounding.
What do Monaco have going for them? Well, for one, they got a decent draw. While Juventus are coming off a 3-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund on the road, they aren’t quite as intimidating as Barca, Real, Atletico, and Bayern. They also have a star striker in Dimitar Berbatov, and a fantastic midfielder in Joao Moutinho. Will it be enough to topple Juventus? Almost certainly not, but we salute you, Monaco, for making it this far.
7. Porto – The Portuguese outfit are flying after destroying Basel 4-0 in the second leg, bringing the score to 5-1 on aggregate. Porto showed their wide range of talent in the victory, but will now face Bayern Munich, who completed a more emphatic destruction in the second leg of their tie with Shakhtar Donetsk, a 7-0 victory. The injury to Dutch winger Arjen Robben may make this matchup more competitive, but Bayern are on a different level than Porto. Despite a wide range of attacking options, from Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahimi to Mexican midfielder Hector Herrera to Colombian forward Jackson Martinez, Porto do not boast enough defensive talent to keep the Bavarians at bay.
6. PSG – It’s really a shame that PSG aren’t ranked higher, because they’ve certainly earned it. Defeating Chelsea 3-3 on away goals was impressive, but how they did it was even more astounding. After going down 1-0 in the last ten minutes, David Luiz smashed the visitors level via header. After going down 2-1 in extra time, Tiago Silva produced a stunning headed effort that proved to be decisive. But the Parisians earn this ranking simply based on who they’re playing. There isn’t a team in the world right now that’s in better form than Barcelona, who dispatched Manchester City in the Round of 16 and defeated Real Madrid in the most recent El Clasico. Even worse, they’ll have to face the Catalans without their best player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for the first leg (he picked up a red card against Chelsea). While this suspension may bring out the best in Edison Cavani, who gets to play in his favored position as a center forward, PSG will miss a lot of their impetus without their Swedish star. In order to win, their all-Brazilian back line will need to be compact as ever, but even with a star studded side and a midfield that does well to keep possession, defeating Barcelona may prove to be too difficult a task to manage.
5. Juventus – No team got a better draw in the Quarterfinals than Juventus, who drew Monaco. The French side are the worst team remaining, which means Juventus have a great change of advancing. The Old Lady stunned Dortmund on the road: Carlos Tevez scored mere minutes into the match, and from then on the Italians dominated. A major setback, however, was an injury to French star Paul Pogba, who may not be able to feature in their tie with Monaco. Despite this injury, Juve are loaded– Tevez is in top form, and Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, and Andrea Pirlo are good enough to fill the void left by Pogba. Expect Juventus to advance to the semifinals in a fairly decisive manner.
4. Real Madrid – The defending champions’ form of late has been frankly embarrassing. Last year, Los Merengues defeated Schalke 9-2 in aggregate in the last 16. This season, they were a goal away from elimination against the same side. Real’s fall from grace has been well documented, and has put manager Carlo Ancelotti on the hot seat one year after a Champions League-Copa del Rey double. Cristiano Ronaldo remains good as ever, but other players have failed to step up. The most notable disappointment has been Gareth Bale, who seemingly stopped playing in the second half of Real’s 2-1 loss to Barcelona in El Clasico. Bale has been under the most scrutiny recently, but injuries to James Rodriguez and Luka Modric have also contributed to the team’s loss of form. Real’s draw isn’t good, either. They’ve played their crosstown rivals 6 times this year, and have yet to win. The latest meeting between the two teams resulted in a 4-0 embarrassment at the Vicente Calderon, where Atletico blitzed their crosstime rivals in a jaw dropping performance. That defeat, paired with a scary 4-3 home defeat to Schalke in the second leg of last round, has put Madrid fans in an uproar as their quest for a Champions League repeat looks more and more unlikely.
3. Atletico Madrid – Last year’s runners-up were definitely humbled by Bayer Leverkusen. The German side held Atletico to one goal for 210 minutes, and nearly defeated them on penalties. Fortunately for Atletico, they gave their absolute all against Bayer, and it was barely enough to squeak by. Now, they find themselves against Real Madrid who, despite their dipping form, remain one of the most talented sides in Europe. But precedent suggests that Atletico are favored in this tie. Atletico have gotten the better of Real this season every time they’ve met, defeating them twice in La Liga, beating them for the Spanish Super Cup title, and knocking them out of the Copa del Rey. If Atletico knock Real out of three tournaments in one season, Diego Simeone can salvage some good memories from a season that will almost certainly see the Atleti fail to defend their La Liga title. The attack is key; If Koke can pull the strings from deep, and if Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic, and a rejuvenated Fernando Torres can put pressure on Iker Casillas’ net, expect Atletico to advance. Another key? Jan Oblak could be in net, after number one Miguel Moya picked up an injury against Bayer. Oblak stopped a penalty in the shootout against Leverkusen, but whether or not he can be effective against the vicious Los Merengues attack remains to be seen.
2. Bayern Munich – Bayern should be content with their draw for the quarterfinals. Porto are a talented side but pose no real viable threats to the German champions. The Bavarians have been one of the most unfortunate sides in football this season, as they’ve seen a plethora of consistent players, from captain Philipp Lahm to midfielders Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger, to superstar winger Arjen Robben, who recently picked up a semi-serious injury in a 2-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach. But Robben’s injury, while inconvenient, shouldn’t tilt the balance of power in this tie. Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, and Robert Lewandowski are still healthy, and Franck Ribery is beginning to rediscover the form that earned him a nomination for the Ballon d’Or a year ago. With a superbly talented squad led by mastermind Pep Guardiola, Bayern are still the class of Europe, but without Arjen Robben, who is arguably their best field player, there’s no way they can be ranked number one.
1. Barcelona – Bayern also aren’t number one because at the moment, no team in Europe is playing better than FC Barcelona. Luis Suarez is regaining the sublime form he had at Liverpool last year. Gerard Pique is proving to the world again that he is a world class center back, and he may have found his first true center-back partner since Carles Puyol retired, thanks to Jeremy Matthieu’s emergence. They also have Brazilian superstar Neymar, legendary maestro Andres Iniesta, and a healthy Sergio Busquets. Barca have lost only once since 2015 began, and Lionel Messi’s first 3 months of the new year have catapulted him to first in La Liga for goals, assists, chances created, and dribbles. He’s the best player in the world, and his newfound success playing on the right hand side has made Barcelona more dangerous than ever. La Blaugrana knocked off the Champions of England in the round of 16, and they’ll have to knock out the champions of France in the last 8, but with the form they’re in, Luis Enrique’s side look like a championship caliber team.