Power Ranking the Defences of the Champions League Last 16

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

Power Ranking the Defences of the Champions League Last 16

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    The Champions League is back in play next week, with thoughts already turning toward just who will lift the famous trophy in Lisbon in May.

    But which teams are best set up defensively to earn the crown?

    Obviously we are usually drawn to discussing the attacking talents of the teams involved in the competition, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery all capable of winning matches for their teams in an instant. But what about the men behind them?

    Here we take a look at the defences of the teams left in the Champions League and rank them from No. 16 to No. 1:

16. Schalke

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    Schalke conceded three goals both home and away to Chelsea in the group stages, and also four at home to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga earlier this season.

    That suggests that they are going to have a tough time dealing with Real Madrid in their last-16 clash, where they'll surely need to earn a lead in their first leg in Gelsenkirchen to stand any chance of earning a shock victory.

    The likes of Atsuto Uchida, Felipe Santana and Joel Matip all have their individual talents, but they'll need to work as a team to keep out Cristiano Ronaldo and co.

15. Zenit St. Petersburg

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    Zenit have conceded over a goal a game in the Russian Premier League this season and shipped four goals to the minnows of Austria Vienna in their final Champions League group game.

    The Russians can boast the likes of captain Nicolas Lombaerts, Domenico Criscito and Cristian Ansaldi, but all of them will have to be on form to keep out the often relentless attacking play of Borussia Dortmund in their last-16 tie.

    Zenit have never made it past this stage of the competition, and there won't be many betting that they can do so this time. 

14. AC Milan

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    Languishing in 11th place in Serie A, Milan have conceded 35 goals in their 23 league matches this season, while losing more games than they've won.

    After edging past Ajax and Celtic to qualify from their group behind Barcelona, Milan will now take on Atletico Madrid in a last-16 tie that new boss Clarence Seedorf isn't likely to be relishing.

    Philippe Mexes is regarded as the leader of this defence, and he'll need to be at his best to stop Atletico's prolific scorer, Diego Costa.

13. Manchester United

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    Enduring a miserable season under David Moyes, Manchester United have now lost six of their 10 games in 2014, winning just two.

    Defensive frailties were exposed in the recent home draw to Fulham, and although they have been handed a somewhat kind last-16 draw against the Greek side Olympiakos, there won't be many backing them to keep a couple of clean sheets in the tie.

    With Nemanja Vidic having already announced that he'll leave the club in the summer and the 32-year-old Patrice Evra ageing, United are in need of an overhaul at the back and also need their younger defenders to step forward.

12. Galatasaray

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    Although defending impressively in the Turkish Super Lig this season, Galatasaray's main contribution to European football this season, perhaps bar their win over Juventus, was conceding six goals at home to Real Madrid on Matchday 1 of the Champions League.

    They shipped four at the Bernabeu too, and as they take on Jose Mourinho's clinical Chelsea team, they'll need to tighten up at the back.

    Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera can be an impressive performer at times, but Roberto Mancini's No. 1 is likely to need to be on top of his game against the Blues.

11. Bayer Leverkusen

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    Although managed by a fine former defender in Sami Hyypia, Bayer Leverkusen shipped nine goals in their two matches against Manchester United in the group stages.

    Bosnian defender Emir Spahic leads a defence that has conceded 20 times in its 20 Bundesliga matches this season, but he'll have a tough job in trying to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet in his side's last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain.

    Leverkusen will need a good result in Germany to stand a chance of progress, and Spahic will be key in trying to earn that.

10. Olympiakos

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    This is a surprisingly high ranking for the Greeks perhaps, but it is borne out from the staggering fact that they've only conceded seven goals in their 24 league games this season.

    That leaves them 17 points clear at the top of the Greek Super League, and whilst the level of competition there might not be too great, they also kept two clean sheets in their Champions League group stage to qualify behind PSG.

    The likes of Gaetan Bong will make it tough for Manchester United to break them down in the last 16, and this could be one of the more interesting ties.

9. Borussia Dortmund

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Last year's finalists play an open, attacking game that often leaves defending near the bottom of their priorities list.

    Their last Bundesliga clean sheet came 11 games ago in October, whilst they kept just one against bottom club Marseille in their six Champions League group games.

    An injury to Mats Hummels hasn't helped Dortmund's defending recently, and whilst they should have enough to get past Zenit St. Petersburg and qualify for the quarter-finals, they are likely to concede.

8. Manchester City

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    Manchester City have impressed many in the Premier League this season, but amidst their terrific goalscoring has been some defensive uncertainty, too.

    Injury to Vincent Kompany and a loss of form for Joe Hart earlier in the season saw the personnel change at the back far more than was ideal, with Manuel Pellegrini now often choosing to pick the ageing and uncertain Martin Demichelis alongside Kompany.

    The last 16-tie with Barcelona has the potential to be two of the matches of the season, but City will have to tighten up at the back to succeed.

7. Arsenal

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    Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have impressed plenty of onlookers as Arsenal's central defensive partnership this season—until the 5-1 hammering at Liverpool last Saturday.

    They can't let that result dwell on their minds ahead of meeting the mighty Bayern Munich in the last 16 though, but the Gunners did keep clean sheets against all three of their opponents in their Champions League group stages, including an impressive 1-0 win at Borussia Dortmund.

    The Gunners defence will come under huge scrutiny following that Liverpool loss, with their season potentially depending on how they respond.

6. Atletico Madrid

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    After impressing many this season, Atletico Madrid have now lost each of their last three games, scoring no goals and conceding seven.

    The likes of Diego Godin can still boast the best defensive record in La Liga this season, with one fewer goal conceded than Barcelona, but right now they are starting to struggle at the back somewhat.

    They'll hope that their frequently prolific attack can get them through their last-16 tie against AC Milan, but Diego Simeone will certainly be worried about the recent slip in standards.

5. Paris Saint-Germain

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    Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

    Only Lille have conceded fewer goals than Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 this season, with the likes of Thiago Silva and Alex frequently providing a formidable barrier at the back.

    The Parisians might be better known for the attacking quality provided the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League's last 16 they'll be required to keep things tight at the back.

    They can certainly do that, and it would be a surprise if Laurent Blanc's side didn't make their way into the quarter-finals.

4. Barcelona

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    Although perhaps not the clinical, cohesive unit it once was under Pep Guardiola, Barca are still able to keep things tight at the back and have conceded just one more goal than La Liga's tightest defence in Atletico Madrid.

    Gerard Martino might still not be to everyone's tastes at the Nou Camp, but in full-backs Jordi Alba and Dani Alves he possesses two of the finest exponents of their art in the world, whilst Gerard Pique has grown into one of the best defenders on the planet and Javier Mascherano is a fine organiser.

    Heading into their game with the attack-minded Manchester City, Barca will know that a strong defence is likely to pave the way for Lionel Messi and friends to win the tie further forward.

3. Real Madrid

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    Real Madrid recently broke a club record by failing to concede a goal throughout the entire month of January, a run that took in eight matches in total.

    Although their concession of 24 goals in La Liga this season is noticeably more than their two title rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, they have certainly tightened up at the back to the delight of manager Carlo Ancelotti.

    They made it through to the Copa del Rey final by keeping eight consecutive clean sheets, and that kind of form in the Champions League will give them a real chance of securing a 10th crown.

2. Chelsea

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    With just 21 goals conceded, Chelsea possess comfortably the best defensive record in the Premier League, whilst only FC Basel breached them during a Champions League group stage in which they kept four clean sheets.

    As witnessed in the recent 1-0 win at Manchester City, Jose Mourinho can often be a master of restricting the opposition's chances during big matches, and that will come in hugely handy in the latter stages of this competition.

    John Terry has recaptured previous form during this season, whilst Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta have all been putting in strong displays too, with the Blues expecting to beat Galatasaray in the last 16.

1. Bayern Munich

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    Sitting 13 points clear at the top of Bundesliga table, Bayern Munich have conceded just nine goals in their 20 league games this season, during which they've remained unbeaten.

    Bayern kept three clean sheets in their Champions League group stage too, and heading into their last 16 tie against Arsenal they are considered by many as huge favourites to beat the English side.

    Full-backs David Alaba and Philipp Lahm are such a huge part of the way that Pep Guardiola's side play, and if they were to become the first side in Champions League history to win the trophy back-to-back, then few would be surprised.