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  • Through four matchdays, only one team has assured itself of a place in the Champions League knockout stage, but many more are on deck ahead of this week's games. Here's a look at how the field of 32 stacks up before it's sliced in half.
By Avi Creditor
November 26, 2018

The UEFA Champions League group stage hits the home stretch beginning this week, with Matchday 5 separating the knockout stage sure things from the hopefuls and potentially putting some contenders to the very early sword. 

Through four games, only one team, Barcelona, has secured its berth to the knockout stage, though a couple handfuls of others are on deck and are all but assured of advancing to the round of 16. Once they've clinched, all eyes will turn to seeding and the preferred path for the group winners, but first things first: just get into the knockout stage and deal with the luck of the draw afterwards.

Here's a look through the tiers of contenders in the Champions League, with the field of 32 set to be chopped in half in a matter of weeks:

Safely through

Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde's side has had to battle some key injuries along the way, but it's through with two matches to spare. It'll still be wary of falling into second place and a tougher knockout draw, so its final matches against PSV and Tottenham still carry significance–and a chance for Ousmane Dembele to continue proving himself and quieting the critics given Luis Suarez's fresh injury worry and Rafinha's torn ACL.

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A matter of time

Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Porto, Manchester City, Roma, Real Madrid, Juventus, Ajax, Schalke

These 10 have done enough to make their top-two chances well within reach.

Dortmund and Atletico are playing for first in Group A, with both on nine points and five points clear of third, while Porto is six points clear of third with two games to go in Group D. Bayern, despite its struggles domestically, finds itself in the same exact position as Porto. Schalke and Ajax trail Porto and Bayern by two points in their respective groups, but they're also four points clear of third place, meaning they can clinch a top-two finish as early as this week.

Roma and Real Madrid, like Dortmund and Atletico, are both five points clear of third place. First in their Group G should come down to their head-to-head showdown in the Italian capital on Tuesday, with both coming off surprise losses in league play over the weekend.

Man City, meanwhile, leads its group by three points, is six points clear of third and looks to be in peak form under Pep Guardiola. Another competition favorite, Juventus–despite its uncharacteristic slip-up at home vs. Man United–still leads its group, is four points clear of third and can clinch its knockout spot with a home win over Valencia on Tuedsay.

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Getty Images (3)

Powers in potential peril

Napoli, PSG, Liverpool, Tottenham, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Valencia

One of Napoli, PSG and Liverpool won't go through. That was known before group play even began, and it's accentuated even more now that the three are separated by the finest of margins (Napoli, Liverpool on six points, PSG on five). The wildcard here is what if two of them don't go through? Red Star Belgrade is right on their heels despite succumbing to two blowout defeats in four games. It has been 1-0-1 at home, though, and still has its home game vs. PSG to go. There's a pathway to a knockout berth, however unlikely it may seem.

As for Tottenham, it kept its knockout hopes alive with a late Harry Kane double vs. PSV on Matchday 4, and its fate will likely come down to a showdown vs. Inter Milan at Wembley on Wednesday. A loss eliminates Spurs from contention, while a win or draw would push things to the group finale–where Tottenham has to travel to Barcelona while Inter hosts PSV. Regardless, there's a hill to climb, but it won't even be a question unless Tottenham gets a Matchday 5 result.

The other battle for second and third is in Group H, where Man United has life after its great escape vs. Juventus. Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. could do United a solid by beating Valencia on Tuesday, and if Jose Mourinho's side wins at home vs. Young Boys, as expected, then it'll be through with a game to spare (United has a two-point lead on Valencia after four matches). But there's enough recent evidence to dictate that neither result should be taken for granted, and if it goes down to the final day, then the Red Devils will need to get a result at La Mestalla, which is no easy task. 

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The potential spoilers

Red Star Belgrade, Lyon

As stated above, Red Star could be in position to cause last-day drama if the cards fall their way on Matchday 5–and even more so if it can nick a result at Napoli. As for Lyon, it's already beaten Man City once in group play, and they square off again on Tuesday in France. City is on a roll, but playing without Kevin De Bruyne–again–Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus all while facing a trip to hostile grounds, could it fall to Lyon and be forced into a race to the final day as to which one wins the group? It's not out of the question. 

Playing for third

Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Benfica, Hoffenheim, Shakhtar Donetsk, CSKA Moscow

These six are all technically alive in the hunt for the knockout stage, but claiming a berth in the Europa League's is a more likely and realistic outcome. Of the bunch, Hoffenheim, which has lost just once in its last eight matches in all competitions, has the best chance at squeaking into second, but it must beat Shakhtar at home Tuesday and hope Man City beats Lyon to have any shot of leapfrogging the French power into second place.

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Thanks for playing, period

Monaco, PSV, Lokomotiv Moscow, AEK Athens, Viktoria Plzen, Young Boys

Monaco is the tournament's most disappointing side, while Lokomotiv Moscow, if you remember, was actually in the seeded pot by virtue of winning Russia's domestic league title. PSV has shown glimpses of its quality but had the misfortune of being drawn into a brutal group. It still has hopes of pipping Tottenham to third place and a spot in the Europa League, but it's unlikely given the remaining competition. Every Champions League has its bottom rung. This is the 2018-19 edition.

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