B/R Experts' Champions League Last-16 Predictions

BR-UK StaffFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 25, 2017

B/R Experts' Champions League Last-16 Predictions

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    VI-Images/Getty Images

    We're one matchweek into the 2017/18 Champions League campaign, and that has given us some playing time to assess the candidates and push us towards picking the teams we think will make it out of the group stage.

    Our experts have been looking at where all the teams stand, how they are progressing and where they will end up.

    Read on for their views on how the group stage will play out.

Group A

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United look like the favourites to emerge here, with their comfortable win over Basel putting them in control after the opening round of fixtures.

    Winning the UEFA Europa League last term instilled a confidence and understanding within the squad, both of which have been galvanised by a strong summer transfer business and a lightning-fast start to 2017/18.

    Elsewhere, despite dropping points to CSKA Moscow, Benfica have an intrinsic knowledge of what it takes to negotiate this early setback, and it would be no surprise to see them join the English side in the last 16.

    Winner: Manchester United

    Runner-up: Benfica

                

    Dean Jones

    The way they have started this season, there is no way United are going to make a mess of this. The winning mentality is back, and they will be in the knockout stages.

    Winner: Manchester United

    Runner-up: Benfica

                 

    Karl Matchett

    This group isn't a test for United, more a warm-up for them to try out a different style in Europe if required and become accustomed to playing midweek games while still picking up league results—a dress rehearsal for in the new year. It's reasonably tight for the second qualification berth, but experience should win out.

    Winner: Manchester United

    Runner-up: Benfica

            

    Sam Tighe

    Manchester United received a bit of a dream draw for the group stage, and they're the clear strongest side, so they should nab top spot. In previous years, Benfica would be the go-to second, but the sheer amount of talent they sold off this summer—combined with the fact they lost their opener, at home to CSKA Moscow—means the Russians might well go through second.

    Winner: Manchester United

    Runner-up: CSKA Moscow

Group B

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    This is the easiest group to predict, as two genuine powerhouses of European football clash with two minnows who have already been left behind. Bayern Munich may not be having things their own way domestically, but they have too much to be troubled here by Anderlecht and Celtic.The two meetings between the Bavarian giants and Paris Saint-Germain will decide who finishes top of the group, while even disputes over who takes penalties will not be enough to halt the progress of the Ligue 1 outfit.

    The two meetings between the Bavarian giants and Paris Saint-Germain will decide who finishes top of the group, while even disputes over who takes penalties will not be enough to halt the progress of the Ligue 1 outfit.

    Winner: Bayern Munich

    Runner-up: PSG

              

    Dean Jones

    PSG bought Neymar and then added Kylian Mbappe for one simple reason: Champions League glory. Nothing else but the top spot is good enough for them.

    Winner: PSG

    Runner-up: Bayern Munich

                 

    Karl Matchett

    A battle of two giants always has the capacity to liven up the group stage, but you have to feel sorry for the other sides, who know they are just making up the numbers and will be hoping for Europa League involvement to prolong their season. There's no way either Anderlecht or Celtic can compete with the two bigger sides, who could feasibly use four of the six games as an opportunity to rotate and still come out with maximum points.

    Winner: PSG

    Runner-up: Bayern Munich

             

    Sam Tighe

    Anderlecht and Celtic will have been cursing when the draw was made. Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich? That's just downright unfortunate. Of the two elite teams in this group, favour Unai Emery's crop to top the group; they have settled into their rhythm quickly this season, whereas Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti is still extinguishing a few fires in Bavaria. The difference will show when they meet one another.

    Winner: PSG

    Runner-up: Bayern Munich

Group C

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    This group contains three teams with realistic hopes of advancing to the latter stages, but the inexperience of AS Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco might well cost the Italian club. Just as he did in guiding former side Sassuolo to a resounding victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League last term, the coach did well to earn a draw away at Atletico Madrid in the opening game, but Diego Simeone's men will surely bounce back.

    Chelsea have a deep squad—and the relentless Antonio Conte to guide them. Expect to see the Stamford Bridge side top the group, with Roma finishing third.

    Winner: Chelsea

    Runner-up: Atletico Madrid

           

    Dean Jones

    Atleti have become Champions League experts, and their experience from the past couple of years can help them pip Chelsea to top spot as the Blues adjust to life back in the competition.

    Winner: Atletico Madrid

    Runner-up: Chelsea

                     

    Karl Matchett

    This is one of the closer groups to predict. One big side is going to be disappointed come December, and it might be that defensive acumen is the deciding factor in the matches between them all. If that's the case, Atletico should go through by default given their approach, experience and resilience, so the head-to-heads between Chelsea and Roma will be critical. It could go any way. Expect Qarabag to take zero points.

    Winner: Chelsea

    Runner-up: Atletico Madrid

                

    Sam Tighe

    Group C is interesting on so many levels. From the Chelsea-Atletico-Diego Costa triangle to long away trips to Azerbaijan to the Monchi-powered Roma's attempt to elbow their way to the top, it's got it all.

    Real Madrid aside, no team has played more Champions League games in the past three years than Atletico, and that's because they're damn good in this competition. They will top the group, with Chelsea a comfortable second.

    Winner: Atletico Madrid

    Runner-up: Chelsea

Group D

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    VI-Images/Getty Images

    Adam Digby

    Having already made amends for last season's elimination at the hands of Juventus, it seems Barcelona are already in a strong position to top Group D. Their 3-0 triumph over the Bianconeri at the Camp Nou ahead of matches with Sporting CP and Olympiakos bodes well for their chances of dominating here, while the latter two sides can expect a tough experience throughout.

    Juve have a number of players returning to full fitness and will surely have too much for their rivals, particularly given the form of rising star Paulo Dybala.

    Winner: Barcelona

    Runner-up: Juventus

                          

    Dean Jones

    It's been an impressive start to the campaign for Barca, and that opening win over Juve was a big statement. The Italians are not the same beast that reached last year's final.

    Winner: Barcelona

    Runner-up: Juventus

                 

    Karl Matchett

    The first round of matches didn't show Juventus in the greatest light, but there is no need for panic among fans. A single bad result—especially on the road—isn't at all damaging in the group stage. It's another group wherein the two favourites will surge through with relative ease. A reasonable battle for the Europa League spot will ensue.

    Winner: Barcelona

    Runner-up: Juventus

                   

    Sam Tighe

    Barcelona's emphatic victory over Juventus in Gameweek 1 set the tone for this one. The Old Lady will recover and finish second—they are far better than Sporting CP and Olympiakos, after all—but there's a distance between themselves and this Barca side that have, against all odds, hit their stride.

    Winner: Barcelona

    Runner-up: Juventus

Group E

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    Adam Digby

    All four teams in this group sit on one point, but it is difficult to see Spartak Moscow or Maribor progressing. Spanish side Sevilla might not be as strong as in recent seasons, but they remain well-placed to advance here, with Liverpool likely to join them as they lean on manager Jurgen Klopp's vast Champions League experience.

    Winner: Sevilla

    Runner-up: Liverpool

                   

    Dean Jones

    Liverpool missed the chance to make their mark in the group on Matchday 1, and Sevilla will be buoyed by the draw they collected at Anfield. It could cost Klopp's side the top spot.

    Winner: Sevilla

    Runner-up: Liverpool

                 

    Karl Matchett

    All tied on a point apiece after the opening games, Liverpool and Sevilla should be seen as favourites, but both have their weaknesses—defence and a clinical attack, respectively. Away fixtures will be key in ensuring both go through. Spartak should prove to have enough to beat Maribor on home soil, but if they surprise either the English or Spanish side, then they could also have a run at second.

    Winner: Sevilla

    Runner-up: Liverpool

             

    Sam Tighe

    There's no doubt Liverpool have the strongest side in this group on paper, but as the opening round showed, they are poor defensively. That's a huge problem in continental football. Sevilla already have the away draw at Anfield, and a win over the Reds at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium will, in all likelihood, seal the top spot.

    Winner: Sevilla

    Runner-up: Liverpool

Group F

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    Peter Dejong/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    Manchester City should dominate proceedings here, possessing far too many weapons for their rivals in Group F. Demolishing Feyenoord 4-0 away from home in the opening gameweek underlined the quality of Pep Guardiola's squad. Only their visit to Napoli looks likely to trouble them.

    For their part, the Italian side have it all to do after surprisingly losing to Shakhtar Donetsk, but Maurizio Sarri's team have been together long enough to overcome such a setback and should finish as runners-up behind City.

    Winner: Manchester City

    Runner-up: Napoli

                

    Dean Jones

    We are fast approaching peak Guardiola at Manchester City. The team are producing incredible possession football and have added a ruthless streak that will help them top the group.

    Winner: Manchester City

    Runner-up: Napoli

               

    Karl Matchett

    Manchester City should waltz through this group, and despite a setback on Matchday 1, Napoli's attacking threat should be enough to win the points needed to join them in the knockout stages. Shakhtar will rely on home form to get results, but unless they produce an unexpectedly strong defensive showing or two on the road, this group will get predictable fast.

    Winner: Manchester City

    Runner-up: Napoli

               

    Sam Tighe

    Napoli's opening-gameweek loss to Shakhtar has created an overwhelming expectation that the path for Manchester City to win this group has cleared, and they should be trusted to walk it. The two games against Napoli are going to be incredibly tough, and they likely won't win both. But they will do enough to pip them to first.

    Winner: Manchester City

    Runner-up: Napoli

Group G

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    This group is difficult to predict, with its four teams all close together in terms of quality and experience. However, Turkish side Besiktas have collected some veteran players who thrive on this stage in recent years, something they already underlined with a superb 3-1 victory away at FC Porto. AS Monaco obviously lost a lot of talent over the summer but still appear to be competitive, and that should be enough to see them pip RB Leipzig to second place.

    Winner: Besiktas

    Runner-up: Monaco

                        

    Dean Jones

    This group looks likely to be tight until the end, but Monaco have the goal power to get them over the line ahead of Besiktas.

    Winner: Monaco

    Runner-up: Besiktas

              

    Karl Matchett

    This is the tightest group to call by far. All four teams are pretty well-matched, though they are different in their approaches and experience levels. RB Leipzig will have no fear despite being debutants, Porto have all the experience, Besiktas are a strong all-around side and Monaco retain plenty of quality despite summer sales.

    Consistency (or luck) across three or four games could be the decisive factor for one side, but perhaps Monaco's star quality—Radamel Falcao especially is on fire at the start of this season—could also prove vital.

    Winner: Monaco

    Runner-up: Besiktas

                 

    Sam Tighe

    Gameweek 1's 1-1 draw between RB Leipzig and Monaco featured the two sides who are most likely to clamber out of the tough Group G. Besiktas' win over FC Porto only shows how much weaker the Portuguese outfit are this season, and the overwhelming quality of Timo Werner and Radamel Falcao should seal their respective sides' progressions.

    Winner: Monaco

    Runner-up: RB Leipzig

Group H

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    Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    Adam Digby

    Like some of the other groups, this quartet seems relatively straightforward. Real Madrid may be struggling domestically, but their ability to shine in European competition remains as strong as ever. Tottenham Hotspur have begun to feel much more comfortable at Wembley Stadium, and that will give them a major boost. Borussia Dortmund have put themselves in early trouble after a tough 3-1 loss against the English club.

    Winner: Real Madrid

    Runner-up: Tottenham

           

    Dean Jones

    There is little chance of anyone but Real Madrid walking away with the top spot, and Spurs already laid down a marker in the bid for second place by beating Dortmund 3-1.

    Winner: Real Madrid

    Runner-up: Tottenham

            

    Karl Matchett

    Two from three again here, making the games between the Tottenham, Dortmund and Real Madrid all-important. To that end, the first-game win for Spurs was vital, but there's much more work to be done. As holders, Madrid will be favourites. Rightly so, but they haven't had the best of starts, and a lack of depth at centre-forward this season will harm them long-term. APOEL will struggle to muster even a point.

    Winner: Real Madrid

    Runner-up: Borussia Dortmund

            

    Sam Tighe

    The hardest call in the entire group stage is picking between Tottenham and Dortmund for second here. Spurs may have the working advantage, courtesy of their Wembley win in Gameweek 1, but you would back BVB to return the favour on their own patch. Then it might just come down to their records against one another.

    Winner: Real Madrid

    Runner-up: Borussia Dortmund

Knockout Stages and Beyond

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    Rui Vieira/Associated Press

    With the group-stage predictions in the bag, it's only right that our experts gaze into their crystal balls and take a look at what they think will happen when the Champions League gets to the business end of things.

               

    Adam Digby

    Biggest Flop: Edin Dzeko (AS Roma)

    Top scorer in Serie A last season, Edin Dzeko is a player whose struggles in front of goal have been masked by the sheer volume of chances AS Roma have created for him. However, the Champions League has often revealed the true qualities of players, with some big names struggling to perform on such a stage.

    With former team-mate Mohamed Salah now at Anfield, Dzeko's lack of accuracy could well harm Roma, and his inability to convert regularly might be the difference between the Giallorossi's progression or another failure.

              

    Surprise Package: Elseid Hysaj (Napoli)

    This past summer saw a plethora of top clubs linked with Napoli's biggest stars. Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens need little introduction, with their names featuring in numerous transfer rumours before they opted to stay and fight for the Serie A title once again.

    Yet for all the Partenopei lean upon their bright attacking stars, it is the incredible cohesion behind them that makes them such a formidable force. Right-back Elseid Hysaj plays a major role at both ends of the pitch.

    His defensive diligence, slick passing, tireless engine and accurate crossing make the Albania international a high-class player, and with full-backs in demand, he could make an impact this term.

             

    Winner: Bayern Munich

    Picking a winner for the competition at this early stage seems difficult, but it could well be the year Bayern Munich finally recapture Europe's most prestigious honour. The domestic title races in England, Italy and Spain appear set to be far closer this term, leaving the door open for the German giants.

    A quality squad hungry for success, it is in midfield where the strength of this team lies, as Corentin Tolisso, James Rodriguez, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara provide ammunition for Robert Lewandowski. Add the presence of Carlo Ancelotti on the bench, and Bayern's path to glory is impossible to ignore.

             

    Dean Jones

    Biggest Flop: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

    His best chance of winning this competition has passed him by, and Gianluigi Buffon will not be able to enjoy this European campaign because his job has become much more difficult. He's already conceded more in one group game this season than he did in six group games last term.

              

    Surprise package: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

    He's already become a hero to United fans, and he could prove himself to a wider audience. He loves making big statements, so expect him to come up with some magic moments for Manchester United.

             

    Winner: PSG

    PSG will walk away with Ligue 1 and have it in the bag well before the end of the season. That will allow star players to be rested and firing for the big European nights and see the club lift the trophy for the first time.

             

    Karl Matchett

    Biggest Flop: Douglas Costa (Juventus)

    A whole host of players will be letdowns at this level—although we already know they aren't that good. But for one who could have a big impact on his side (and probably will in future seasons), Douglas Costa might end up as a flop for Juventus.

    Juan Cuadrado is reliable and more hardworking, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic could feasibly play either side of Gonzalo Higuain, and there are only so many systems Costa fits in properly. He needs better consistency to demand a guaranteed starting role at Juve, and for all he could bring to the side, they won’t see it enough on the elite stage.

             

    Surprise package: Radamel Falcao (Monaco)

    Once a monster of a striker, then a faded force and now back to his best. Falcao is a formidable physical presence, sharp and hungry in the penalty box and a focal point for Monaco's attack. He can score the goals that not only send his side through to the last 16 but also beyond that past one or two of the more favoured sides.

             

    Winner: Manchester United

    Unless Real Madrid buy a top forward in January, they won't be retaining the trophy this year, even as complete as they are otherwise.

    Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain are three teams who look as if they have the all-around quality and power to win it this year, but the only one of those who have both the depth in key attacking areas and a manager who knows how to perform in Europe is the English side.

    Manchester United to win and kick-start a period of impressive performance, even prolonged dominance, from English sides.

            

    Sam Tighe

    Biggest Flop: Edinson Cavani (PSG)

    He may be scoring freely this season already, but Edinson Cavani is also still the guy who needs six chances to score one goal. That's been evident in PSG's early games, as he's teed up time after time and responded with misses. Top teams won't give Cavani the six chances that Guingamp and Strasbourg do.

         

    Surprise package: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)

    When it comes to RB Leipzig, much of the focus is on Naby Keita because of Liverpool's summer-long pursuit of him. He's fantastic, but striker Timo Werner's growth means we might soon see him giving Keita a run for the honour of the club's best player.

    Winner: Real Madrid

    Don't be too deterred by Real Madrid's slow start in La Liga; this is still the best collection of players in the world, with the perfect manager to keep them in check. With two successive Champions League triumphs under their belt, why not fancy them for a hat-trick?