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AFTR PRTY Champions League Power Rankings

Last time we were blessed with Europe’s greatest football competition, I was sitting on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic debating whether it was worth buying the $25 internet package to stream Liverpool vs. Atletico. Regrettably, I was too cheap and played Fifa with the bartender at the sports bar to get my soccer fix instead. I was completely oblivious to the impending doom that would shut down not only Champions League but most of the world. But now after a long 4 months, Champions League is BACK! This article will rank the remaining 12 teams on their current form and most recent performances. Since there are still games remaining in the round of 16, this is not a ranking of likelihood to win the tournament as seen by the odds* next to each team. Instead, this is a power ranking as if there were a new 12-team tournament starting this Friday. We’ll breakdown each team’s performance (or lack there-of) since European football has picked back up, and give a player to watch for each team.

*All Odds from Ceasar's Palace

TIER 1: The True Contenders🏆

1. Bayern Munich (+325)

This is my pick to win it all. You can call me a square for picking the Vegas co-favorite, but they’ve genuinely looked like the best team in European football this year. Bayern Munich has been absolutely dominant in Germany, winning their 8th Bundesliga title and 2nd German cup in a row. Under manager Hansi Flick, they are unbeaten in the past 20 games having last lost on December 7th to Borussia Mönchengladbach🧐. Please let me know if you figure out how to pronounce that. Moving David Alaba to center back and Alphonso Davies to left back has done wonders for the defense which allowed less than a goal a game in league play. They’re just fun to watch.

So far, they’ve extended their dominant form in Germany into Champions League play, going undefeated to finish on top of group B. In the round of 16, they are up 3-0 after the first leg against Chelsea, who they should handle in the second leg. The largest roadblock in the path of Bayern is their brutal draw for quarterfinal matchups and beyond. Their path to the final will likely include a matchup with Barcelona followed by one of Man City, Real Madrid, or Juventus. Real in particular knocked them out of the competition in 2017 and 2018 and could be a big mental hurdle for the team.

Player to Watch: Thomas Müller

Everybody knows about the Polish stud Robert Lewandowski, 25+ goal seasons are becoming routine for him. But the player that really makes Bayern go is the often-underappreciated Thomas Müller, who had a Bundesliga record 21 assists to go along with 8 goals. A large key to his success is his chemistry with Lewandowski, as he is great at finding pockets of space to work as defenses collapse on the striker. He has excellent vision and accuracy with his passes which often results in easy tap-ins for his teammates. If he keeps his current form, Bayern will be hard to stop.

2. Manchester City (+325)

To start, we have to mention this overturned ban, which I think everyone who’s not a City fan agrees is bullshit. It feels like Man City is turning into the Patriots of European soccer and I’m just waiting for Pep to show up wearing a cut-off hoody on the sideline. Anyway, Man City had a good-not-great Premier League season finishing 2nd to Liverpool. A bit of a let-down considering the past 2 year’s titles and dominance in England. To continue the disappointment, City recently lost 2-0 to an inconsistent Arsenal squad in the FA Cup semis. However, this is still one of the most talented and well-coached rosters left in the tournament. There’s a reason they’re the co-favorite despite a much tougher matchup than Bayern in the round of 16. It will hurt to not have Agüero available for 2nd leg against Real Madrid as he nurses a knee injury, but the attack will be just fine with options like Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, etc. It also helps to have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Ederson, who had 16 clean sheets in 24 league appearances. In the group stage, Man City finished on top of Group C despite tight draws with Atalanta and Shakhtar Donetsk. Now, they are up 2-1 on Real Madrid in the best remaining round of 16 games. This one will be a must-watch, but I think Man City will hold on with the advantage of 2 away goals.

Player to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne

The last team, I didn’t go with the most obvious choice, but this time I can’t resist. KDB makes soccer look so easy and is one of my favorite players to watch. This season he tied Theirry Henry’s Premier League record with 20 assists and was the engine of City’s offense being involved in 33 goals. He is an all-around attacking midfielder with basically no weaknesses to his game. If you haven’t seen it, go watch his goal against Norwich in the last game of the season and you’ll see why he’s considered one of the best in the world.

3.Real Madrid (+2500)

Real has been absolutely on fire since La Liga restarted in June. They were unbeaten in 11 games since the restart, sneaking up on Barca (more on that dumpster fire later) to win their first La Liga title since 2017. Sergio Ramos in particular has been on a tear with 6 goals post restart as a CENTER BACK! Love him or hate him, he has to be the best goal-scoring defender in the world right now and is the heart of Real Madrid. Outside of Ramos, Real has depth and talent all over the field to the point that it’s hard to find a weak spot in the roster. Their midfield is probably the best left in the tournament with Tony Kroos, Isco, Modric, Casemiro, James Rodríguez, and the list goes on. The attack remains strong with Karim Benzema as the main goal-scoring threat. This club also has Champions League pedigree having won 4 out of 5 titles between 2013 and 2018. Granted, much of this success was with that handsome man Ronaldo at the lead, but they seem to be doing just fine without him. In this year’s rendition, Real Madrid has had some struggles, finishing second in a tough Group A to PSG. They now find themselves with a huge uphill battle behind 2-1 to Manchester City. However, if they somehow pull off the upset, they could become a quick favorite due to their history with Bayern.

Player to Watch: Eden Hazard

We talked about Sergio Ramos as the foundation already, but Eden Hazard is the x-factor that could really push Real Madrid over the edge. As most soccer fans know, Hazard has dealt with ankle injuries since November that has reduced him from a 100-million euro superstar to a non-factor for the majority of the season. However when healthy, he is still one of the best players in the world. His dribbling skills on the left-wing are incredible to watch and he easily makes space to cut inside and curl in shots or pick out passes across the box. He doesn’t usually do anything crazy, he’s just quicker and more agile than the guy defending him. Without his usual burst due to the bum ankle and other injuries, he has struggled this season with only 1 goal and 3 assists in La Liga. But if he’s healthy he could make the difference against Man City.

4. Juventus (+1400)

Another year, another Serie A title for Juventus. Make it 9 years in a row as the team--also known as "Piemonte Calcio" for you Fifa people--continues to dominate Italy. This year’s title race was tighter than most as the field in Serie A continues to improve (see Atalanta later). However, having Ronaldo will usually make your team better than the one you’re playing and Juventus were able to clinch the title with a win over Sampdoria in late July. Ronaldo continues to age like a fine wine with 31 goals and 4 assists in Serie A, and Paulo Dybala is a great secondary threat. At times, Juventus have struggled to find consistent attacking options behind those too. However, where I see true issues with this Juventus squad is in the midfield. Aaron Ramsey, Adrian Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi, Rodrigo Bentancur, and co. are all solid players, but none of them are truly stars.

As a group, they can often look lethargic and seem to disappear for large stretches off games. However in group play, they looked strong finishing on top of Group D, but now they find themselves in a precarious position down 1-0 to Lyon after the first leg. Still, at home with growing confidence after the Serie A title, you have to favor Juventus to move on into the quarterfinals. This is essentially the same squad that overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Atletico Madrid in last year’s round of 16, and Lyon isn’t nearly as good as Atleti. Beyond, the path immediately gets tougher with Real Madrid or Man City waiting so the quarterfinals may be the end of the road for Juventus. Overall, Juventus remain capable of beating anybody with their top-end talent, but the roster as a whole doesn’t have the depth of the top three.

Player to Watch: Matthijs de Ligt

Still feels weird seeing de Ligt in a Juventus jersey. You may remember his historic run last year as the captain of Ajax, scoring to beat his current club 3-2 in the quarter-final. If only that club stuck together. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Dutch center back after arriving as a marquee signing in last year’s summer transfer window. After an injury to Giorgio Chiellini early in the season, de Ligt was forced into the fire sooner than anticipated and struggled early. But over the span of this 10 month season, he has blossomed into one of Serie A’s best defenders. De Ligt is a physical presence and absolutely bodies people off the ball. If he was born in Texas he’d definitely be playing a different kind of football. But he’s not just strong, he has technical skills and looks confident on the ball from his youth history of playing midfield. I think de Ligt is a player to keep an eye on to see if can bring a little of last year’s Champions League magic to this year’s edition.

5. Atletico Madrid (+900)

Atletico is my pick to meet Bayern in the final in Lisbon. Yes, this largely has to do with their draw, avoiding all four teams we’ve mentioned above until the final, but don’t discredit the quality of this side. Diego Simeone is a high-intensity, disciplined coach, and his player play like it. For Atletico, it all starts on the defensive end where they smother teams with a compact, physical play style. With a goalie like Jan Oblak, they are more than happy to let opponents take pot shots from outside the box. Against better competition, they tend to concede possession but are very effective on the counter-attack as seen in their surprising defeat of defending champions Liverpool (fuck me for not buying the internet package for that second leg). This style has led the other team from Madrid to 20 games in a row without defeat in all competitions, and a 3rd place finish in La Liga.

In Champions League so far, they finished second to Juventus in Group D, including a disappointing loss to a lesser side in Bayern Leverkusen. Now in the quarter-finals, they face another German side, RB Leipzig, in a match that will not get the media attention it deserves. I believe Atletico is too well-coached to let Leipzig sneak up on them, but this game will be closer than one might expect. Atletico’s potential downfall is their overall lack of attacking depth and talent. Diego Costa is still a handful for defenders and a general pain in the ass, but he’s not the same player that dominated in the 2014 Champions League. João Félix shows the flashes of brilliance you’d expect from a 126 million euro signing yet continues to struggle with injuries and consistency. We’ll have to see if the whole defense wins championships thing applies to both kinds of football.

Player to Watch: Thomas Partey

This guy is a must-watch for multiple reasons. Most importantly, we may not be able to watch him at all. The midfielder picked up a thigh injury against Real Sociedad in the last game of the season and his status is up in the air for the match with Leipzig on August 13th. If he’s unable to play, it would be a huge blow to Atletico which leads us to the second reason. When healthy, Partey is a machine in midfield. He’s the definition of a box-to-box center mid who can run for days. He’s largely defensive-minded but has underrated passing skill transitioning the ball into attack. Which then leads us to the final reason to keep your eye on Partey, other clubs are already watching. He has been linked to the Premier League for months now, specifically Arsenal. Personally, I’m hoping he stays in Madrid, not about England poaching all the talent.

TIER 2: The Flawed Giants

6. Barcelona (+700)

Where do I even start with this Barça squad? Most people will probably be surprised to see Barcelona so low on this list. I mean, they have Messi! And normally they would not be, but this club continues to be managed like a shitty Taco Bell and it appears to be affecting the product on the pitch. When your superstar is saying “we’re a weak team who can be beaten” after letting the league title slip away to your arch-rival, you know there’s a serious problem. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that there’s a legitimate chance your superstar might leave for greener pastures next season. To add on top, the Arthur for Pjanic swap continues to look worse and worse, and the board of directors is an absolute mess. These distractions certainly played a part in their sloppy finish to the La Liga season and you have to worry it will continue into Champions League. Yes, Barcelona remains a supremely talented team, but this does not feel like their year.

Player to Watch: Ansu Fati

7. Paris Saint-Germain (+550)

In all honesty, I might be disrespecting PSG a bit here. If Mbappe were healthy going in I probably would have to rank them higher. But besides Mbappe’s ankle, PSG has other issues that make me question their ability to advance deep in the tournament. Their games since March - club friendlies against Le Havre and Celtic, and cup finals against St-Étienne and Lyon. Not exactly inspiring. You have to question their fitness and readiness to face high-level competition with no league season to stay in form. The Ligue 1 competition rarely challenges PSG to begin with which has certainly hurt them in the past. PSG has all the talent (and money) you could possibly need, but lack the team chemistry and intangibles of a championship squad. They’re basically the opposite of Atletico. Atalanta is going to be a huge hurdle for this team, but one that they should overcome. Still, PSG has never advanced past the semi-finals and I don’t think this is the year that changes.

Player to Watch: Mauro Icardi

TIER 3: The Sneaky Threats

8. Atalanta (+900)

Atalanta scores goals. This is the team you need to show your “soccer is boring” friend. They may not have household names, but Atalanta led Serie A averaging 2.58 goals per game. The attacking options are plentiful, highlighted by Papu Gómez, Duván Zapata, and Josip Ilicic who have great chemistry operating together upfront. Also, have to give a ton of credit to manager Gian Piero Gasperini whose system emphasizes positional rotation and fluidity over a rigid shape. The defense was solid in league play, but I definitely have questions about their ability to stand up against the top-level competition - see their earlier 5-0 loss to Man City. This quarterfinal matchup is going to be a great one, but I think PSG has too many threats. Expect a shootout, we will see if the defense can hold out.

Player to Watch: Robin Gosens

9. RB Leipzig (+1400)

Well, see ya later Timo Werner. The star striker who carried Leipzig to a 3rd place Bundesliga finish with 28 league goals will not be playing in Champions League anticipating his move to Chelsea next season. And that’s pretty much the whole story for Leipzig ahead of their matchup with Atletico Madrid. Werner is such a critical piece of the squad, will they be able to replace his production and presence? Against most competition, my answer would probably be yes, but Atletico is not regular league competition. Marcel Sabitzer, Christopher Nkunku, and Yussuf Poulsen are all highly capable of attacking players, but they will need to play some of their best football to beat the Atletico defense without the threat of Werner. Leipzig has a strong defense in their own right, finishing 2nd in Bundesliga goals against, so expect a low scoring, grinding match. Leipzig is dangerous, but I think they’ll be missing Timo a little too much.

Player to Watch: Marcel Sabitzer

10. Napoli (+6600)

Can Napoli capitalize on Barcelona’s apparent weakness? This could be a huge opportunity for Napoli to reclaim some of their former glory from the ’80s with the legend Maradona. Unfortunately for Napoli supporters, this year’s squad looks like one of the weakest in recent memory, finishing 7th in Serie A after four straight years of top 3 finishes. This team is just so inconsistent, they seem capable of playing with the very best but will play down to the level of worse competition. This was encapsulated by their performance in Group E: a win and a draw against Liverpool, but two terrible draws against RB Salzburg and Genk that prevented them from winning the group. Maybe this means Napoli will step up and to the challenge of Barça in this second leg, but both teams are inconsistent and it’s hard to bet on the less talented of the two.

Player to Watch: Hirving Lozano

TIER 4: The Long Shots

11. Chelsea (+20000)

Unfortunately for Chelsea, this year’s Champions League campaign will likely end after Saturday’s second leg against Bayern. A 3-0 deficit against the hottest team in the world is not a recipe for success. It’s been a very up and down season for Chelsea, perfectly highlighted by their recent FA Cup performance - an excellent victory over Man United followed by a disappointing loss against Arsenal in the final. More importantly, though they secured their spot in next year’s competition by finishing top-four in the Premier League. This is a young squad who will only get better with the addition of the aforementioned Timo Werner and maybe more? Looking at you Kai Havertz. Look out for the Blues next year.

Player to Watch: Christian Pulisic

12. Olympique Lyonnais (+8000)

Definitely feels weird putting a team with a 1-0 lead over Juventus at the bottom of the rankings. But Lyon faces many of the same concerns as PSG, i.e. no Ligue 1 season to keep them in form and ready to face to Champions League competition. And Lyon’s ramp-up games were even less inspiring than PSG’s, especially a 2-0 loss to Rangers. Inevitably, when Lyon pull off the upset over Juventus I will look like a complete dumbass for putting them at 12th, but until then I’m not sure this team has the talent for a deep run. If they are to pull it off, they will need to lean heavily on the trio of Memphis Depay, Moussa Dembélé, and Houssem Aouar. These three are clearly the best players on the pitch for Lyon, but there’s not much to note behind them.

Player to Watch: Memphis Depay

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