The Contenders, Dark Horses and Outsiders in the Champions League Last 16

The field of 16 for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage is set, and after the group stage, there's a clear tier of favorites to lift Europe's biggest trophy in Madrid on June 1.
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And with that, the Champions League field is down to 16.

A superb goal from Nabil Fekir sealed Lyon’s progress at the expense of Shakhtar Donetsk as the last club to cement its berth in the knockout stage, doing so on the last day of action in the group phase.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Manchester City, Bayern and Juventus all ensured they would top their groups, with a descending degree of impressiveness. Juventus, in fact, was one of three giants, along with Real Madrid and Manchester United to suffer humbling defeats.

Lyon needed only a draw against Shakhtar, in a game played in Kiev because of the declaration of martial law in certain parts of Ukraine, to progress. It fell behind in the first half as Junior Moraes turned on an Ismaily cross to finish, but Fekir’s precise shot from the edge of the box secured the vital point.

It was City, though that topped the group. It fell behind for the seventh time in its last nine Champions League matches, with Andrej Kramaric giving Hoffenheim the lead from the penalty spot, but two goals from Leroy Sane–a 30-yard free kick and a neat finish on the break–gave City the win.

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Bayern ensured it would finish above Ajax with a chaotic 3-3 draw in Amsterdam. Robert Lewandowski and Dusan Tadic each scored two, with a penalty apiece. There was also a red card for each side, with Maximilian Wober and Thomas Muller each sent off for dreadful challenges, before Kingsley Coman scored what looked a brilliant winner. A late Nicolas Tagliafico goal leveled the score again, but Bayern just needed a point to top the group.

In the dead rubber in the group's other game, AEK became the 21st side to finish a group stage pointless, going down 1-0 to Benfica.

Manchester United could have nicked the top spot in Group H with a win, but it went down 2-1 at Valencia. A crisp finish from Carlos Soler and a Phil Jones own goal put Valencia ahead before Marcus Rashford pulled one back late. That loss proved costly as Young Boys stunned Juventus, with Guillerme Hoarau scoring twice–the first on a penalty–to secure a consolation win.

Finally, Real Madrid wound up topping its group, but it was booed off the field after a 3-0 home defeat to CSKA Moscow, who became the first away side other than Barcelona to score three at the Bernabeu.

Taking six points off Madrid, though, wasn’t enough to keep CSKA off the bottom of the group, as Viktoria Plzen took third place and the Europa League knockout slot that comes with it with a 2-1 victory over Roma.

So how does the field look going forward? Ahead of Monday's last-16 draw, here's how each of the teams that made it to the knockout stage stack up in terms of chances of lifting the trophy in Madrid on June 1:



The Bundesliga leaders qualified in style, losing only once and keeping three clean sheets in a row. Under Lucien Favre it has pace and purpose. Paco Alcacer has been prolific in the Bundesliga, supported by Marco Reus, while Jadon Sancho, still only 18 and still largely confined to a substitute role, is a serious talent.

Knockout stage status: Dark horses


There’s been a sense for a while that Barcelona is defensively vulnerable, lacking the pace to combat teams who can counter with speed of their own, but the club still tops La Liga and qualified with two games to spare. The draw at home to Tottenham, though–albeit with a weakened side–highlighted those issues, but with Lionel Messi anything remains possible.

Knockout stage status:Major contenders


PSG topped its group and in the first half of its home game against Liverpool, it played with more tactical nous than it has since Neymar arrived. It was fortunate, though, to get away with draws in the two games against Napoli and should have lost far more heavily than 3-2 in the opener at Anfield. Thomas Tuchel is slowly imposing his will, but a lack of cohesion between midfield and forward line could still cost the club against the best.

Knockout stage status: Contenders


Porto qualified unbeaten with a goal-difference of +15 but that perhaps says more about the rest of the group than about its quality. Mousa Marega, though, is a forward of real quality and links well with the Mexican duo of Hector Herrera and Jesus Corona.

Knockout stage status: Outsiders


Man City has not been as impressive in Europe this season as it has been in the Premier League. There was the defeat to Lyon in the opener–perhaps significantly with Pep Guardiola suspended and in the stands rather than guiding from the touchline–and a flat draw against the Ligue 1 side. But there were also two devastating wins over Shakhtar. Guardiola knows this is the trophy he was appointed to win, and City looks well placed–but that brings pressure.

Knockout stage status: Major contenders


This is an aging Bayern, out of sorts and seemingly uncomfortable with its manager, Niko Kovac, but the switch to a system with two holding midfielders three weeks ago seems to have given it a greater solidity. It remains, though, very reliant on Robert Lewandowski for goals and very nearly slipped into second in the group.

Knockout stage status: Contenders


This has been a miserable season so far for Madrid, with five defeats in the league already and a distinct sense of missing Cristiano Ronaldo after three straight Champions League crowns and four in five seasons. Manager Julen Lopetegui has gone, replaced by Santiago Solari, and yet the club is only five points off the top of the league. Real Madrid may have lost twice to CSKA Moscow, but in a straightforward group, it was never really in danger. And Madrid often does this, following up a slow start with an explosive finish.

Knockout stage status: Major contenders


Ronaldo was bought to win Juventus the Champions League, and he has started very impressively–at least once he got his red card against Valencia out of the way. Even Juventus’s one defeat in the competition so far was freakish, as it leaked two late goals against Manchester United–although that did perhaps hint at issues at the heart of the defense.

Knockout stage status: Major contenders

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There’s probably a mild sense of irritation at Atletico that it hasn’t taken greater advantage of the difficulties of the big two in Spain this season, but it is only three points off the top. A 4-0 defeat in Dortmund raises some questions, but this is a settled squad with an experienced and gifted front two.

Knockout stage status: Dark horses


This has been an almost incomprehensible start to the season from Tottenham. On the one hand, it has been almost unforgivably sloppy in losing away to Inter and drawing away to PSV; but on the other, it has found late goals in each of its last three Champions League games and is finally starting to play well in the Premier League, where results had been outstripping performance.

Knockout stage status: Dark horses


Over the past week or two, there has just been a sense of Liverpool putting its foot down. The pressing had not been as intense as it was last season, as Jurgen Klopp sought to spare his players, but when it needed a heavy-metal performance against Napoli, it produced one. Away form in Europe, though, remains a concern.

Knockout stage status: Contenders


Schalke has struggled to live up to its achievements from last season, sitting 13th in the Bundelsiga. A relatively simple group has helped the club progress to the last 16, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it misses Leon Goretzka, who left for Bayern on a free transfer last summer. 

Knockout stage status: Outsiders


Ajax sits second in the Dutch league, but only two points behind the leader PSV. It is unbeaten at home in both domestic league and Champions League, and it showed against Bayern just how good it can be in possession. It remains, though, essentially a mix of young players and Premier League returnees.

Knockout stage status: Outsiders


Lyon took four points off Manchester City and produced a series of comebacks to get the results it needed in the two games against Shakhtar, but it sits fourth in the French league, 16 points behind first-place PSG. On their day, the likes of Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and Maxwell Cornet can trouble any side, but they are far from consistent.

Knockout stage status: Outsiders


Eusebio Di Francesco is under pressure with Roma down in eighth in Serie A, but aside from the away defeat to Real Madrid (and to Viktoria Plzen after qualification had been secured), performances in Europe have been good, and his side was a little unfortunate to lose at home to the defending champion. Still, a repeat of last season’s semifinal is unlikely.

Knockout stage status: Outsiders


If Valencia had enjoyed a better start to the season, progress might have been trickier for United, which bundled its way through on the back of a pair of cameos from Marouane Fellaini, away to Juventus and at home to Young Boys. Jose Mourinho has the experience to drag an underperforming squad all the way, but whether he has the zest and imagination, or even the respect of his players, to do it is unclear.

Knockout stage status: Dark horses