Why every crew will, will not win

The break between the Champions League group stage and knockout rounds at all times feels a bit unusual. The competitors drives and dictates the European soccer season to the purpose the place we observe the top-four races within the high leagues as intently as we do the title races — or extra so, as a result of competitiveness of such races — however we sometimes take an roughly two-month break from the competitors within the winter months. This 12 months, stated break was 3½ months.

Lots’s gone on within the soccer world since Nov. 2, when RB Leipzig and AC Milan stomped Shakhtar Donetsk and Salzburg, respectively, to say the ultimate spots within the spherical of 16. Barcelona established full management of LaLiga’s title race … after getting eradicated from the Champions League. Arsenal maintained its edge on the sphere within the Premier League. Bayern Munich pulled away from the Bundesliga discipline, solely to get reeled again in a bit. Chelsea and Liverpool went from wobbly to worse. Manchester United launched its most well-known participant and instantly surged. Oh yeah, and the complete membership soccer world paused for weeks whereas Lionel Messi and Argentina received the World Cup.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & extra (U.S.)

But now the competitors’s again, and rattling if the pecking order does not appear a little bit blurry. From each betting and odds views, Manchester City and Bayern are the clear favorites, however the former has received simply three of its final six matches in all competitions, the latter one among 4. PSG has misplaced Kylian Mbappe to damage within the brief time period and has proven spotty highway type since returning to motion.

Real Madrid is banged up. Liverpool and Chelsea are enjoying like mid-table Premier League groups, which they’re. Benfica, adequate to high PSG in Group H final fall, misplaced its most fun younger participant (midfielder Enzo Fernandez) to a big-money switch in late January.

It’s all a little bit of a multitude. Of the highest seven or eight favorites heading into the spherical of 16, just one, Napoli, is enjoying all that properly. Will that result in some surprising outcomes over the following couple of weeks? Will the game’s sleepwalking large names use the Champions League as a shot within the arm and discover fifth gear once more? We’re about to search out out.

To brace ourselves for the midweek matches forward, let’s stroll by way of the remaining discipline. Who’s favored? Why may every crew win the competitors? What’s every crew’s most deadly flaw?

The motion begins on Tuesday in Milan (Tottenham Hotspur at AC Milan) and Paris (Bayern at PSG).

The favorites

Manchester City

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +170 (equal to 37%) and 19%, respectively
Round of 16 opponent: RB Leipzig (Feb. 22 and March 14)

Why they’ll win: They may nonetheless be the perfect crew in Europe. Erling Haaland has produced as anticipated (31 targets in 28 matches) since arriving final summer time. But putting in him on the high of City’s assault has in some methods stifled its circulate and creativity.

There have been simply sufficient iffy outcomes of late — a 2-0 loss to Southampton within the League Cup, latest one-goal defeats to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — to maintain the Sky Blues 5 factors again within the Premier League title race and immediate a collection of “Is City worse off with Haaland?” takes. In this identical iffy time interval, nevertheless, they’ve scored wins over Arsenal and Chelsea (twice), they usually’ve nonetheless averaged practically two targets per match in all competitions because the restart.

Caesars nonetheless lists them as overwhelming Champions League favorites. For all of their wonky type, they nonetheless have Haaland, World Cup hero Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and a number of the greatest and most artistic attacking expertise in Europe.

Why they will not: Pep’s in Tinker Mode. Pep Guardiola is looking for options to City’s stolidness in the meanwhile and with the items at hand, he’ll in all probability discover them. He hasn’t but, although, and his tinkering is taking City to bizarre locations. Joao Cancelo discovered himself out of favor and took a shock mortgage to Bayern. De Bruyne, City’s engine, began the Spurs loss on the bench for “tactical reasons.”

City’s formation towards Spurs was quite indecipherable — it was type of a 4-2-3-1, type of a 4-4-2, type of a 4-1-2-1-2, type of a 3-2-3-2 — and produced a passing map that would greatest be described as “What the hell is this?”

First-year City additions have typically taken some time to gel and regardless of his productiveness (which forces Guardiola to maintain him within the lineup always), Haaland isn’t any completely different. Guardiola will inevitably discover the solutions he is in search of, however Leipzig is catching the Sky Blues at a fairly weak time.

Bayern Munich

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +600 (equal to 14%) and 22%
Round of 16 opponent: PSG (Feb. 14 and March 8)

Why they’ll win: They nonetheless have probably the most attacking upside on the earth. When Bayern started its restart with a trio of 1-1 attracts and quite a lot of contenders inched nearer to the 10-time defending Bundesliga champions on the high of the desk, we overreacted as we at all times do to temporary runs of mortal type. They miss Robert Lewandowski an excessive amount of! The crew chemistry is terrible! Julian Nagelsmann goes to get canned in the event that they lose to PSG!

Granted, that final half may nonetheless be on the desk, however Bayern responded to this full and utter collapse by torching Mainz and Wolfsburg by a mixed 8-2. Their consideration span waned towards Wolfsburg they usually virtually let their opponents again within the match, however Jamal Musiala put issues away with an otherworldly one-man present.

For all of Bayern’s supposed struggles, Musiala nonetheless has 14 targets and 9 assists in all competitions, whereas Serge Gnabry has 10 and 10 and three different gamers have mixed double-digit targets with at the least 4 assists. (None of them are Thomas Muller or Kingsley Coman, who mixed for 3 of the targets towards Wolfsburg.)

This won’t be 2020-level Bayern, however in a sea of contenders performing beneath their full capabilities, the German champs stay absurdly harmful. (They have Cancelo now, too, who already has two assists in simply 149 minutes.) And they need to get the injured Sadio Mane again by the point the second leg towards PSG rolls round.

Why they will not: Opponents take higher pictures. This crew boasts a number of the most spectacular ending ability on the earth, however with out Lewandowski as a middle of gravity up entrance, Bayern’s uncooked shot high quality has suffered a bit. While they nonetheless try much more pictures than anybody within the Bundesliga (0.20 per possession), their 0.11 xG per shot ranks solely Tenth within the Bundesliga; league opponents, in the meantime, are averaging 0.12 xG per shot (14th).

Is that an enormous distinction? No, however with Leo Messi, Neymar and (for the second leg, at the least) Kylian Mbappe on deck, shot high quality may rapidly turn out to be an enormous situation in Bayern’s quest for a seventh European crown.

The hopefuls

Paris Saint-Germain

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +700 (equal to 13%) and 5%
Round of 16 opponent: Bayern Munich (February 14 and March 8)

Why they’ll win: The sum of the components remains to be overwhelming. Messi. Neymar. Mbappe (ultimately). Achraf Hakimi. Gianluigi Donnarumma. Marco Verratti. You get the purpose. When PSG ignite, it is fairly jaw-dropping.

They started the season outscoring their first six league opponents by a mixed 24-4. Despite lengthy battles with an iffy consideration span — plus accidents and an extended easing-in course of for stars following the World Cup — they’ve nonetheless scored 85 targets and allowed simply 27 in 32 matches. The three stars up entrance have 57 targets and 35 assists between them. The complete by no means appears to match the sum of the components, however that does not imply the sum is not immense.

Why they will not: We’ve been down this highway earlier than. There’s a fairly dependable script for a way a crew with this many stars falls aside on the improper time. First, due to accidents and cargo administration (amongst different issues) the three scorers aren’t all on the sphere collectively a lot: Mbappe, Messi and Neymar have all performed in simply 17 of 32 matches. Second, the midfield’s duties turn out to be overwhelming with the absence of any urgent presence up entrance. Third, the depth of expertise nonetheless is not what different golf equipment can boast, and ageing veterans like Sergio Ramos (36), Verratti (30) and Juan Bernat (29) are being requested to play heavy minutes.

PSG introduced in no new blood within the winter switch window, whereas Marquinhos, Ramos and defender Presnel Kimpembe have all been in iffy type of late. They have solely the third-best xG differential in Ligue 1 because the restart, they’ve misplaced to Lens, Rennes and Marseille on the highway since Jan. 1, and whereas Mbappe will return for the second leg towards Bayern, his absence within the residence leg may put them in a nasty place heading to Munich.

Real Madrid

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1100 (equal to eight%) and 9%
Round of 16 opponent: Liverpool (Feb. 21 and March 15)

Why they’ll win: Come on, they’re Real Madrid. If any crew on this competitors will get the good thing about the doubt, it is the defending (and 14-time) champions. The Blancos have been waylaid by damage of late; defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez and (in fact) midfielder Eden Hazard are out, whereas each ahead (and reigning Ballon d’Or winner) Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois have missed important time. They needed to jet to Morocco for the Club World Cup — they beat Al Ahly on Wednesday and can face shock finalist Al-Hilal on Saturday — and their go to to Liverpool on Feb. 21 can be their thirty seventh match of the season already. (Real Madrid gamers additionally topped 3,500 mixed minutes on the World Cup.)

But … they’re Real Madrid! When they’ve to indicate up, they nonetheless present up in power. Benzema is rounding into type — he has two targets and two assists in his previous 4 matches — and whereas they had been solely the third- or fourth-best crew on paper in final 12 months’s Champions League, they beat PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in succession, at all times placing collectively a cost when a cost was required. Until they do not, let’s assume they nonetheless will.



Why Vinicius Jr. is so essential to Real Madrid proper now

Alejandro Moreno and Shaka Hislop focus on Vinicius Jr.’s efficiency vs. Mallorca.

Why they will not: There is a wear-and-tear restrict right here. Read that first paragraph once more. This crew is getting pushed round by age, damage and quantity. They’re scoring lower than they did final season, and their close-game magic has dissipated. Before leaving for Morocco, that they had received simply three of their final 9 matches in Spain. Vinicius Junior is the one regular presence within the lineup, and he is getting fouled and abused greater than anybody within the sport. This is lots, even for Real Madrid.


Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1100 (equal to eight%) and eight%
Round of 16 opponent: Eintracht Frankfurt (Feb. 21 and March 15)

Why they’ll win: Who’s enjoying higher proper now? They lead Serie A by 13 factors, having scored 10 extra targets than anybody else whereas permitting the fewest. They outscored their first 5 Champions League opponents, together with Liverpool and Ajax (twice), by a mixed 20-4. Victor Osimhen has 20 targets and 17 assists in 21 matches, and revelatory 21-year previous winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has 10 and 12 in 22.

Luciano Spalletti’s squad tilts the sphere and dominates possession like a Champions League contender is meant to do, however they have been practically invulnerable to counter-attacks. They dominate set items, too.

Looking solely at manufacturing ranges and never Transfermarkt participant values, you may fairly simply conclude that that is, at worst, one of many two or three greatest groups in Europe. And whereas they’ve confronted little or no adversity this season, they’ve responded properly to what they’ve confronted: Their aim differential when trailing in league play is +4.2 per 90 possessions, pretty much as good as you may ever see, and after dropping to Inter of their first sport after the World Cup break, they proceeded to destroy Juventus 5-1 and win 5 straight league matches.

This crew is a wrecking ball, and whereas it is at all times honest to marvel if Cinderella’s carriage will flip right into a pumpkin in some unspecified time in the future, they’ve given us no cause to doubt them but.

Why they will not: Schedule power. With AC Milan’s latest collapse, Napoli have performed solely 5 matches this season towards groups within the present high 20 of FiveThirtyEight’s SPI scores. They received their first three in resounding vogue — 4-1 over No. 8 Liverpool, then 6-1 and 4-2 over No. 15 Ajax — however Liverpool bought revenge with a 2-0 win within the group stage finale, and No. 18 Inter certainly beat them 1-0 on Jan. 4. Their assault is drastically reliant on two gamers, and because the schedule power will increase, they may discover their alternatives to attain dwindling rapidly.


Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +900 (equal to 10%) and 5%
Round of 16 opponent: Real Madrid (Feb. 21 and March 15)

Why they’ll win: They nonetheless try much more pictures than you (and regression to the imply is actual). Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are struggling some severe points proper now, points that transcend struggling some unhealthy breaks right here and there.

They have suffered a few unhealthy breaks, although. They’re sixth within the Premier League in xG differential (solely decimal factors out of fourth), they usually nonetheless have the third-best assault within the league. They’ll probably end the season larger within the desk than they at the moment are.

– O’Hanlon: Why Liverpool’s newest struggles really feel completely different (E+)

Since the season started, Liverpool has overwhelmed Manchester City (twice), Napoli, Newcastle, Spurs and Ajax (twice). The upside is there, even when they don’t seem to be exhibiting it as a lot, and regardless of their strain numbers struggling as they battle damage and midfield age and break in key new items up entrance, they nonetheless overwhelm you from a quantity perspective: In Premier League play, they’ve tried 0.17 pictures per possession (third within the league) and allowed solely 0.10 (third). That’s six to seven extra pictures per match.

They do not create sufficient high-quality appears they usually provide you with too many, however in the event you do not convert these possibilities, they’re going to nonetheless take you down. That turns into doubly true if or when key attackers snap out of ending slumps — Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and newcomer Cody Gakpo have mixed to attain simply 4 targets from pictures value 8.3 xG because the restart. That will not final.



Hislop: Klopp has to get the perfect out of Liverpool

Shaka Hislop thinks Jurgen Klopp must strive different formations to get the perfect out of his crew.

Why they will not: No good crew has worse transition protection in the meanwhile. Okay, they do not simply provide you with too many beauty, they provide you too many nice appears. Of the groups within the present SPI high 20, nobody comes near the 0.14 xG per shot that Liverpool permits in league play, and nobody permits as many targets in what I name “transition possessions” — possessions that begin outdoors the attacking third and final fewer than 20 seconds.

As was the case two seasons in the past throughout a run of center-back accidents, Liverpool is simply getting shredded in transition. Not even shot amount benefits can overcome that.


Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1400 (equal to 7%) and 5%
Round of 16 opponent: Borussia Dortmund (Feb. 15 and March 7)

Why they’ll win: They’re unscoutable? In their first match after the winter switch window closed, a 0-0 draw with Fulham, Graham Potter deployed 16 gamers, together with substitutes. Five of them had been added to the roster in January (Enzo Fernandez, Benoit Badiashile, Mykhaylo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, David Datro Fofana), two extra had been added in the summertime (Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling) and one returned from mortgage over the summer time (Conor Gallagher). Two extra newcomers (Kalidou Koulibaly, Carney Chukwuemeka) sat on the bench, and 4 others have recorded at the least 300 minutes this season.

This is as new a crew as you may ever see within the Champions League knockout levels. That they made it right here with ease — after an preliminary upset loss to Dinamo Zagreb (which led to Thomas Tuchel’s firing), they did not lose once more within the group stage — is a reminder of their upside, as is the truth that they nonetheless have lots of the gamers from 2021’s Champions League title run.

Things clearly have not clicked for Potter, and this overwhelming newness hasn’t helped in that regard, however it is going to be awfully arduous to scout and predict what Chelsea will do transferring ahead, and in the event that they ever discover a rhythm, they may make an sudden run.

Why they will not: They’re the Tenth-best crew in England. Chelsea is ninth within the EPL desk and Tenth in each aim differential and xG differential. They’ve overwhelmed solely Bournemouth and Crystal Palace because the restart, and wins by 2-1 over Salzburg and 2-1 over West Ham are their solely victories towards groups ranked in even the SPI high 35 this season. They’ve performed six matches towards the present Premier League high 4, they usually’ve taken a single level whereas getting outscored 10-1.

This is not an out-of-rhythm crew that is hinted at large upside this season; it is only a plain previous midtable Premier League crew. Why would that immediately change subsequent week?


Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1800 (equal to five%) and seven%
Round of 16 opponent: Club Brugge (Feb. 15 and March 7)

Why they’ll win: Roger Schmidt has what he wants. We’re used to the perfect groups in Portugal faring fairly properly within the Champions League. At least one Portuguese crew has reached the spherical of 16 in seven of the previous eight seasons (two did in 2021-22), and at the least one has reached the quarterfinals in three of the previous 4. Porto got here achingly near the semis in 2021, and now Benfica is favored to advance over Club Brugge.

However, that offers brief shrift to how good Benfica has been this season. They rolled unbeaten by way of Group H, drawing twice with PSG and beating Juventus twice within the course of. (Their superior highway aim whole gave them first place over PSG.) In the Primeira Liga, they misplaced to Braga of their first post-World Cup match, however have in any other case dropped simply 4 whole factors. Porto has completed little or no improper this season, however trails Benfica by eight factors all the identical.

First-year supervisor Roger Schmidt has been in a position to set up his ball-dominant philosophy with none bumps, and even after dropping Darwin Nunez to Liverpool over the summer time, they’ve boasted simply probably the most potent assault within the league. Three gamers have scored double-digit targets in all competitions (led by 21-year previous Goncalo Ramos’ 17), and three have at the least eight assists. This is a gorgeous crew to observe, and the battles with PSG proved they’ve the upside to commerce blows with the massive boys on this competitors.

Why they will not: Schmidt does not have Enzo anymore. Chelsea ultimately made a suggestion that Benfica could not refuse, and Fernandez moved to the Premier League on a €121 million switch on Jan. 31. While he contributed a modest 4 targets and 6 assists in all competitions, he was the table-setter, offering regular deep progressions whereas fulfilling all the key transition roles a defensive midfielder should fulfill.

Benfica beat Casa Pia 3-0 in its first post-Enzo match, however this nonetheless is not the Benfica crew we noticed within the fall. That’s a rattling disgrace.


Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +1600 (equal to six%) and 5%
Round of 16 opponent: AC Milan (Feb. 14 and March 8)

Why they’ll win: They soak up strain. The eight groups talked about above Spurs right here common a possession price of 62% in league play, occupy 65% of the attacking-third touches of their matches and common 6.9 passes per possession between them. They aren’t equivalent, however there are extra similarities than variations among the many group; the richest and greatest European membership groups all play the possession sport.

If you are in search of a crew from the backside half of this listing that’s significantly well-suited to make a Champions League run, would you search for others that play that fashion (however won’t be pretty much as good at it)? Or would you search for somebody who absorbs opponents’ possession and appears for counter-attacking alternatives?



The distinction between Hugo Lloris and Fraser Forster

Shaka Hislop explains the variations between Tottenham goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Fraser Forster and the significance of the crew understanding their positions.

Antonio Conte’s Spurs get pleasure from only a 50.1% possession price in league play, and opponents occupy 56% of the whole touches within the attacking third, sometimes towards a packed-in Tottenham protection. Of the groups remaining on this discipline, nobody is extra devoted to successful with out the ball, and virtually nobody permits fewer high-quality scoring possibilities. They have been inconsistent this season, however they’ve proven sufficient upside to rank fifth within the Premier League (one level outdoors the highest 4), win their Champions League group and rating a latest win over Manchester City.

Harry Kane has been glorious as at all times (19 targets, plus a team-leading 49 possibilities created in 30 matches), Son Heung-Min appears to be rounding into type, and in the event you’re in search of a curveball crew on this listing, then Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur.

Why they will not: Shouldn’t they be higher in transition? For a pressure-absorbing crew, Spurs definitely do not dominate within the counter-attacking division. In the transition possessions outlined above, they’re averaging simply 0.3 targets per sport (thirteenth within the Premier League) and permitting 0.4 (Tenth). Is this a powerful anti-possession crew, or a crew battling identification points?

The longshots

Inter Milan

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +2500 (equal to 4%) and three%
Round of 16 opponent: Porto (Feb. 22 and March 14)

Why they’ll win: They do not have a transparent, damning weak spot. Inter is piecing collectively the last word Deceptively Awesome Year in the meanwhile. They’re second in Serie A, forward of Jose Mourinho’s Roma and derby rival AC Milan amongst others. They completed second of their Champions League group, ushering Barcelona from the competitors with a 1-0 residence win and a wild 3-3 highway draw. They’re into the semifinals of the Coppa Italia, they usually crushed AC Milan to win the Supercoppa Italiana.

They’ve additionally gotten virtually no assist from new additions — headliner Romelu Lukaku has contributed solely two targets and 471 injury-plagued minutes, and the one newcomers to have topped 1,000 minutes to this point are 34-year olds (midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and defender Francesco Acerbi). But they’ve overwhelmed Barca and Napoli, and have a squad with no apparent weakest hyperlinks. In assault, they’re second in pictures per possession, sixth in xG per shot and fourth in common postshot xG for pictures on track; in protection, they’re seventh, second and fifth. They’ve bought a constructive aim differential in each set items and transition possessions. They’re simply good.

Are they the perfect in Europe? No, however they’re undoubtedly adequate to win any given tie they face.

Why they will not: They additionally do not have a transparent, elite power. Lautaro Martinez and Milan Skriniar are superior, however there are higher forwards and defenders, respectively, on this match. Their assault is sweet, however most on this discipline are pretty much as good or higher. Their protection is best than Liverpool’s and a lot of the Bundesliga groups left within the discipline, nevertheless it’s not wonderful.

Inter’s good at just about all the pieces and nice at nothing, and I do not know the way you win 4 rounds of this competitors with no particular participant or trait to lean on. You have to face out indirectly over the course of 180 minutes, proper?

FC Porto

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +6000 (equal to 2%) and 5%
Round of 16 opponent: Inter Milan (Feb. 22 and March 14)

Why they’ll win: They’ve been Benfica’s equal of late. If Benfica has extra upside than the standard round-of-16 crew from Portugal this season, it is simple to view Porto because the extra customary Portuguese crew, one which advances to the knockouts solely to bow out quietly. But since a 1-0 loss to Benfica in October, it certain looks as if they have been greater than that. Sergio Conceicao’s squad has dropped solely two factors from its final eight league matches, has already received Portugal’s Taca da Liga and received its final 4 Champions League group matches by a mixed 11-1. Top xG differentials in Primeira Liga play because the restart: Benfica at +1.76 per match and Porto at an almost equal +1.71.

Read also  New names on the leaderboard forward of Round 2 at TPC Sawgrass

After stuttering following the summer time departures of Fabio Vieira (to Arsenal) and Vitinha (to PSG), they’ve constructed an excellent rhythm round largely 25-and-older veterans. Forward Mehdi Taremi and left winger/midfielder Galeno have mixed for 26 targets and 10 assists in all competitions, and the center-back trio of Fabio Cardoso (28), Ivan Marcano (35) and the immortal Pepe (39) nonetheless will get the job completed.

Why they will not: We do not know how they’re going to fare towards high groups as a result of they have not performed any. They received their Champions League group by topping Atletico Madrid (now twenty first in SPI), Bayer Leverkusen (thirty fourth) and Club Brugge (99th). Their solely match towards a top-20 crew was the aforementioned loss to Benfica, by which they had been doubled up by way of each possession (Benfica 69%) and xG worth (Benfica 1.9, Porto 0.9). Now, they had been coping with an early pink card in that match, and it certain looks as if they’ve improved since, however till they high a high-level crew, we do not know that they will. That certain looks as if one thing that should have been crossed off the to-do earlier than February.

RB Leipzig

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +6000 (equal to 2%) and 4%
Round of 16 opponent: Manchester City (Feb. 22 and March 14)

Why they’ll win: How many groups are actually enjoying higher proper now? If RB Leipzig is ready to upset Manchester City, eliminating the supposed greatest crew remaining within the Champions League to advance to the quarterfinals, inform me why they can not go all the way in which?

Since the restart, RBL has gone unbeaten in 5 matches, drawing 1-1 with Bayern (in a match that noticed them generate extra pictures and xG, no much less) and outscoring 4 different opponents by a mixed 11-3. The veteran center-forward duo of Andre Silva and Timo Werner has discovered a stunning rhythm, and the midfield duo of Dominik Szoboszlai and Konrad Laimer has been at its artistic greatest. Summer addition Xaver Schlager has been a ball recoveries machine in defensive midfield, and the center-back duo of Willi Orban and Josko Gvardiol has saved strain off of goalkeeper Janis Blaswich.

This crew has reached its highest ebb since hiring Marco Rose in September, and it is completed so regardless of accidents to goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi (out for the season), attacking midfielder Dani Olmo (out for a couple of weeks) and, oh yeah, defending Bundesliga participant of the 12 months Christopher Nkunku.

The France star scored 17 targets in 23 matches earlier than the World Cup break, however has missed motion ever since with a knee damage; the newest updates counsel he might be again by the point City visits on February 22.

Why they will not: They solely quit good pictures. RBL permits solely 0.10 pictures per possession in league play, solely barely greater than Bayern or Manchester City however lower than a lot of the groups within the spherical of 16. But 10.1% of these pictures have been value at the least 0.3 xG; solely Liverpool has been worse in that regard. Now, the Red Bulls’ personal shot high quality tends to be fairly excessive, too, however you solely must ask Liverpool what can occur in the event you give your opponents one too many high-quality possibilities.

Borussia Dortmund

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +4000 (equal to 2%) and three%
Round of 16 opponent: Chelsea (Feb. 15 and March 7)

Why they’ll win: They’re robust now! For years, Borussia Dortmund has tried to fill its squad with ridiculously high-upside younger gamers whereas supplementing the lineup with the correct amount of veteran-osity. For each Erling Haaland or Jude Bellingham, there’s been a Mats Hummels or Emre Can. That steadiness has been extraordinarily tough to realize: BVB is at all times good, however by no means fairly as nice because it hopes.

Since the restart, nevertheless, BVB has received all 5 of its matches in 2023, outscoring opponents 15-6 and transferring to inside three factors of Bayern within the Bundesliga desk. Bellingham, fellow children Karim Adeyemi and Gio Reyna and veterans Julian Brandt and Raphael Guerreiro have all been superior, nevertheless it’s tough to not discover the toughness infusion they appear to have gotten from the additions of Sebastien Haller up entrance and Julian Ryerson at fullback.

Haller, 29, was supposed to be a ready-made Haaland alternative, however missed the autumn and winter whereas battling testicular most cancers; he is again, and he scored towards Freiburg over the weekend. Ryerson got here to Dortmund from Union Berlin and has added a transparent and apparent shot of Union-ness, reducing off transitions with aplomb and pushing the tempo with progressive carries. Captain Marco Reus has been dialed in since getting back from damage, too.

Bellingham, Adeyemi, Reyna, Youssoufa Moukoko, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and others give BVB all of the youthful upside they may need, and the veteran-osity is off the charts. Is the steadiness lastly proper?

Why they will not: Worst transition crew within the discipline. For all their upside and willingness to push the tempo, BVB has averaged simply 0.26 targets per match in transition possessions this season; of these within the spherical of 16, solely Chelsea, their round-of-16 opponent, has averaged fewer. Meanwhile, they’ve allowed 0.47 such targets per match, second-most behind solely Liverpool. That offers them by far the worst aim differential within the spherical of 16. They push for a fairly open match, and it very often backfires. Maybe it will not towards the Blues, nevertheless it in all probability will ultimately.

AC Milan

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +3500 (equal to three%) and <1%
Round of 16 opponent: Tottenham Hotspur (Feb. 14 and March 8)

Why they’ll win: Nothing like continental play to offer you a pleasant shot within the arm. A soccer season is a marathon, and over the course of greater than 9 months, nearly any crew should take care of a dip in type. Stefano Pioli’s Rossoneri have misplaced 4 straight matches by a mixed 13-2, they usually have not received since their first post-restart match on January 4. The assault has regressed, and the protection has cratered with out injured defender Fikayo Tomori and goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

The defending Scudetto winners are in horrendous type in the meanwhile. But type modifications! And Milan’s full-season averages nonetheless present us an aggressive crew — fourth in pictures per possession in Serie A, second in passes allowed per defensive motion (PPDA, a standard measure of defensive assertiveness) — that generates much more touches within the field than it permits. Maignan is certainly out for the primary Spurs match, and that is an apparent hindrance. But fading groups have used the Champions League as a shot within the arm earlier than, and if Milan can get its head proper, the crew nonetheless has lots to supply, from Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud up entrance to the active-as-hell duo of Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer (getting back from damage quickly) in midfield.

Why they will not: Have you seen them play recently? Was that final paragraph convincing? I’m unsure it was. Good groups take care of dips in type, however that is an outright collapse. Getting gamers like Bennacer and Tomori again will assist, however Milan was already struggling earlier than they bought harm, and … once more … they’ve allowed 13 targets of their final 4 matches! Leao remains to be attempting to make issues occur, and there is nonetheless apparent expertise on the pitch, however issues are genuinely dire in the meanwhile.

Eintracht Frankfurt

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +10000 (equal to 1%) and 1%
Round of 16 opponent: Napoli (Feb. 21 and March 15)

Why they’ll win: They might need the perfect participant in Europe proper now. Yep, Randall Kolo Muani is that good.

Why they will not: The discipline is tilted towards them. Getting the worst draw for the final 16 is not their fault, however it’s their drawback.

The longest lengthy pictures

Club Brugge

Caesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +15000 (equal to 0.7%) and <1%
Round of 16 opponent: Benfica (Feb. 15 and March 7)

Why they’ll win: Super enjoyable younger guys with nothing to lose. (And Simon Mignolet’s been superhuman between the posts.) This is “house money” territory and that fearlessness could be an asset when attempting to spring a shock.

Why they will not: They’re the fourth-best crew in Belgium. And that is not nice preparation for the highest European competitors.