PREM trio Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will discover on Friday their potential path to the Champions League Final in Paris.
With no more “country protection” the last eight and then semi-finals draws in Nyon are entirely “free”, throwing up the prospect of some titanic clashes.
SunSport guides you to our Champions league “power rankings”, bringing you the team the other sides want to avoid – and the one they’d love to get.
Manager: Nelson Verissimo – Key man: Darwin Nunez
Unheralded Verissimo stepped from the reserve team into the Estadio da Luz hotseat when Jorge Jesus was sacked in December and then masterminded a real shock triumph over in-form Ajax. Uruguay strike ace Nunez is the real threat in a team which has surprised itself. Could Benfica finally end the “curse of Bela Guttman”, named after the European Cup-winning coach who stormed out in 1962? Unlikely.
Manager: Unai Emery – Key man: Gerard Moreno
The Spanish outfit contain a host of familiar names to Prem fans, including the ex-Tottenham trio of Giovani Lo Celso, Serge Aurier and Juan Foyth, while Arsenal supporters might be surprised to see Emery doing so well. That stuffing of Juventus was a shock, no doubt, but the Yellow Submarine has surfaced since it looked to be sinking at Christmas.
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6 Atletico Madrid
Manager: Diego Simeone – Key man: Joao Felix
Victory at Old Trafford in the last round was a trademark Simeone performance – rugged physicality, professionalism verging on gamesmanship and a moment of quality to break the spirit of his opponents. This might be the last hoorah of Simeone’s team but they will definitely not go down without a fight.
Manager: Thomas Tuchel – Key man; Kai Havertz
The holders would have been far from favourites to retain their title even without circumstances outside their control which have plunged the entire future of the club into question. Tuchel’s calm, sensible response has enhanced his reputation and Chelsea continue to grind out results, even if record signing Romelu Lukaku is festering on the bench.
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4 Real Madrid
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti – Key man: Karim Benzema
That comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain summed up what makes Madrid such a scalp and having overcome Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Co they are now eyeing an astonishing 14th Euro crown. Benzema’s brilliance illuminates but Real still have Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, the emerging Vinicius Junior and fellow Brazilian Casemiro. And they have that extra essence of Real.
3 Bayern Munich
Manager: Julian Nagelsmann – Key man: Robert Lewandowski
Bayern’s domestic form has been slightly wobbly since the winter break but the knowledge they cannot slip up at home will serve to make them sharper for the crunch games in Europe too. Lewandowski’s goal exploits are truly phenomenal but plenty of talent elsewhere in the squad.
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Manager: Jurgen Klopp – Key man: Mohamed Salah
Course and distance winners and also have a Paris triumph in their back pockets, from that win over Real Madrid back in 1981. Klopp’s men have momentum and a growing sense of destiny, with Salah the ace in the pack. Liverpool could, still, complete the ultimate Quadruple and nobody will really want to play them this early.
1 Manchester City
Manager: Pep Guardiola – Key man: Kevin De Bruyne
As the Prem table shows, there’s barely a hair’s breadth between City and Liverpool but perhaps Guadiola’s team have the slightest of edges. More critically, they have that burning desire to conquer Europe for the first time. That could be a blessing or a curse but maybe it just is their time.
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