UEFA Champions League Knockout Phase Power Rankings: Barcelona and The Last 16
The men have been separated from the boys.
The final round of Group Stage fixtures have been played in the UEFA Champions League and the Final 16 is set. There were no real surprises with who made the Knockout Rounds, only in the positioning, as Tottenham topped title-holders Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk finished above Arsenal. Despite their standing, all that matters, is that the best 16 teams in Europe are through to the Knockout Phase of the world's most elite competition.
Of course, that means that comparisons will now be drawn between the teams. This is a look at each club, ranking them from worst to best. All of these teams are fantastic and deserve to be one of Europe's 16 best, but who is the best?
After analyzing my power rankings, I would love to hear from others and hear what they have to say in terms of how they would power rank these 16 clubs.
16) FC Copenhagen (Denmark)
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Group D Position: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk
The Danish side did well to progress out of Group D behind Barcelona. They were able to knock off a feisty Rubin Kazan and Greek superpower Panathinaikos.
They proved to be a troublesome squad: forcing a draw against the Blaugrana, taking 10 of 16 possible points in the group and getting goals from players all over the pitch in the Champions League, with Dame N'Doye their leading scorer with three.
That said, Copenhagen will be lucky to progress to the quarterfinals as odds are, they will end up facing one of the superpowers in the next round.
Copenhagen are in the Knockout Rounds for the first time ever. This is a great experience for them, but unfortunately, it may very well end in the Last 16.
15) Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
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Group H Position: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, Milan
Despite a 5-1 loss to Arsenal early on, the 2009 UEFA Cup winners and Ukrainian giants topped Group H.
Led by former Gunner Eduardo, the Gimyky are back in the Knockout Rounds for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign. Shakhtar have never made it to the quarterfinals and I believe this year will be no different. Unfortunately for them, the most realistic way they could really make the quarterfinals would be to get drawn against Copenhagen.
Shakhtar are a great team, otherwise they would not be in the position they are now, but it would be a surprise to see them make the next round.
14) AS Roma (Italy)
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Position in Group E: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Roma are through to the Knockout Rounds after what was in all reality a very cut and dry group.
The Giallorossi join Bayern Munich in the Last 16 while FC Basel and CFR Cluj are eliminated from the tournament. The Italians have been very inconsistent this season. After beating Inter Milan, they failed to really impress anybody in Serie A, where they currently sit eighth with an unimpressive even goal difference.
They beat Inter and also Bayern Munich, but their showing overall in Italy has been poor. No one has really impressed this season, except maybe for Marco Boriello who leads the team in scoring on loan from Milan.
The road to the quarterfinals will be dangerous for the Romans. This once great club seems to be falling off a bit. I still think they are a solid squad, but compared to their opponents in the Champions League, Roma are not a giant. The Round of 16 may be their last time in the European spotlight this campaign.
13) FC Schalke 04 (Germany)
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Position in Group B: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, Milan, Arsenal
It seems that Schalke's main focus this year is the Champions and that they could care less about the Bundesliga.
They may have won Group B over Lyon, but Die Königsblauen are sitting two places above the drop zone in Germany. They played well against Lyon and Benfica, the other two teams with a real shot at the Last 16 (Lyon joins Schalke there), dropping only five points, the loss coming to Lyon, and allowing only three goals.
Schalke will have to get their act together to perform well in a pool that is ;oaded with phenomenal clubs. Or draw Copenhagen in the next round. The acquisitions of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul have not done everything Schalke hoped, as the club are not overwhelmingly consistent. They have helped, but it will be a tough path for the German club through the next round.
12) Olympique Marseille (France)
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Group F Position: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk
Marseille is a great club. They did well to hold off a talented Spartak Moscow side that is now relegated to the Europa League. Of course, that 7-0 thrashing of Zilina would have given them a goal difference edge anyways (they finished at +9).
They took 12 of the possible 18, losing only to Spartak at the Velodrome and Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge.
Their victory over the Blues shows that this could be a tricky underdog. As it is for all the unseeded teams, the Round of 16 will be extremely difficult, but Marseille has the capability of hanging with mostly anybody.
This team could pull off a surprise and play Champions League football into April.
11) Valencia CF (Spain)
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Position in Group C: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk
Valencia has done well without David Villa and David Silva this season. Els Taronja are back in the Knockout Rounds for the first time since their quarterfinal run in the 2006-07 tournament.
Roberto Saldodo has helped to fill the void left by the two departed superstars as he leads the Spanish club to the next round with his five goals in the Group Stage. Valencia as a team scored 15, eight more than first place Manchester United.The defense held strong, allowing only four goals in the six matches.
The talk about Spanish clubs fittingly revolves around Real Madrid and Barcelona, but watch out for Valencia. It will be difficult, but they can definitely make things difficult for one of the seeded teams in the Round of 16.
This team is a threat, there is a lot of talent on this team. Saldodo, Pablo Hernandez, Mata, David Navarro, and Vicente Rodriguez are only a few of the stars on Valencia. If they come out swinging and scoring from the start, the Bats can definitely reach the quarterfinals on an upset.
Odds are, however, they will barely miss out in an epic clash with one of the big boys.
10) Inter Milan (Italy)
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Position in Group A: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk
The defending champions are not playing like the defending champions, in Italy or Europe.
Inter failed to win Group A, missing out to newcomers Tottenham Hotspur. The thrashings handed to the Nerrazuri by Tottenham and Werder Bremen as well as their lazy draw at FC Twente have kept Inter out of top spot and this provides a problem for the club.
Inter have not done well against the big clubs this year losing to Tottenham, Roma, and AC Milan with their only other big club result being a scoreless draw against Juventus.
Injuries plague Inter. Walter Samuel is out for the year and everyone else is walking wounded. Rafa Benitez has had to dive into the youth ranks to fill the holes.
It has been a difficult start to the former Liverpool boss' time at the San Siro. Massimo Moratti is obviously very upset with his club and new manager. It will take a lot of work from Inter to reach the quarterfinals in hopes of reclaiming the trophy.
History is not on their side for this venture. No team has repeated as champions since their hated rivals AC Milan in 1988-89 and 1989-90.
9) Tottenham Hotspur (England)
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Position in Group A: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, Milan
Tottenham Hotspur have arrived in Europe at long last.
The North London side beat out Inter, in what proved to be a challenging Group A, by a single point. In the high scoring group, Tottenham led the way with an amazing 18 goals in six games.
The attack is solid, led by the rising superstar youngster Gareth Bale, the driving force behind the Spurs this year. Peter Crouch leads the Champions League scoring list for the club with six. Bale and Roman Pavlyuchenko each have four.
This team has done well, having to fight to get into the Champions League through the final Play-off Round. The play of the attackers as well as the strong defense led by Benoit Assou-Ekotto has proved to be strong.
It is not totally invulnerable, but this Tottenham team has drive and the first time Champions League squad can definitely be a tough team to play in the next round.
8) Olympique Lynnoais (France)
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Position in Group B: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk
Olympique Lyon make the top ten, all of whom I think have a shot at causing damage in this competition as it goes on.
With the likes of Jeremy Toulalan, Yoann Gourcuff, Hugo Lloris, Jimmy Briand, and Michel Bastos, the French side are a dangerous opponent for any of the seeded teams. This is a side that knocked out a loaded Real Madrid team last season and there is no reason to think they can't do it again.
They have many scoring threats up front, a solid back line, and one of the best up and coming young goalkeepers in the world. Make no mistake, Lyon can play spoiler to a seeded side in the Round of 16.
7) Bayern Munich (Germany)
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Position in Group E: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Marseille, Milan, Arsenal
Though things are not going so well in Germany, last year's Champions League runner-ups have done well so far, easily winning Group E.
Bayern, behind Tottenham, was the second highest scoring team in the Group Stage, finding the net 16 times. Mario Gomez led the way for the German giants with six.
This team is really doing well in Europe and has to be a favorite to continue on, especially since Arjen Robben is expected to return to action any time now. Things will only look up for them in Germany and the quarterfinals is a likely destination in Europe.
6) AC Milan (Italy)
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Position in Group G: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk
The Rossoneri are back, kind of.
Milan has been helped by summer acquisitions Kevin-Prince Boateng, Robinho, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they have resurrected their status as Italian giants. They sit above Lazio for top spot in Serie A.
They were, however, inconsistent at best in the Group Stage of the Champions League. Much of the problem was new manager Massimiliano Allegri not finding his true squad until after the Real Madrid away fixture at the end of October. The decisions to include Mathieu Flamini and Kevin-Prince Boateng and drop players like Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo to the bench has significantly improved Milan's performance.
Before the change in tactics, Milan had suffered a draw at Ajax and a horrifying loss at Real Madrid that took a toll on the squad despite their near victory against Real Madrid two weeks later, but a Pedro Leon stoppage time goal forced them to share the spoils.
Milan's only two wins came against Auxerre, but it was enough to allow them to take the foot off the pedal and play players who had not seen the field much lately and rest stars like Ibrahimovic in a 2-0 loss to Ajax.
Milan have dominated lately in Serie A. In November, they took 13 of a possible 15 points and have lost only four times in all competition all year. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has to be considered an outside contender for World Player of the Year next time around.
Reinforcements are expected in the winter which will only help Milan. Pato is also expected to return which will help take some pressure off Ibrahimovic. It has been a while since Milan escaped the Last 16, 2006-07 to be exact, which is also the last time they won the competition. I would not consider them favorites to win this year, but the Italians have a chance at progressing to at least the quarterfinals.
5) Chelsea FC (England)
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Position in Group F: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, Milan
Chelsea came into this season a favorite for trophies. While their form has dipped recently in England, they plowed through the Group Stage with ease, slipping up only against Marseille.
The Blues have struggled lately, but that is nothing the winter recess will not help. Carlo Ancelotti's men will come back recharged, ready to recover lost ground in England, and ready to strike in Europe.
At this point, I do not see Chelsea winning the Champions League, but semifinals are not out of the question as long as they get their act together.
Nicolas Anelka is leading the charge in Europe. While Florent Malouda is impressing, especially in England, Anelka has hit the net five times in the Champions League. Didier Drogba will need to start firing into the net if the London club are going succeed against some of the best defenses in the world.
It is strange to see Chelsea struggling against clubs like Sunderland and Newcastle, but Europe is a whole different ballgame. I think Chelsea will be fine. We will probably see the typical Chelsea implosion in the semifinals. They are known to get unlucky at that point (2007, 2008 Final, 2009 semifinals).
4) Arsenal FC (England)
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Position in Group H: Second
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Schalke, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid
The Gunners are cruising as they are now top in the Premier League. The healthy, talented club are proving a menace in the world's most powerful league.
Despite their high scoring numbers and a 5-1 victory over Shakhtar, Arsenal finished second in Group H. That's fine though for the Gunners. They are still a threat to go deep into this competition.
The only weakness for Arsenal is their possible opponents. The two German sides Schalke and Bayern Munich join the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid as possible opponents. That said, Arsenal still has a shot.
One of the beauties of Arsene Wegner's side is their ability to get goals from anybody. Marouane Chamkah and Cesc Fabregas each have three goals while Carlos Vela, Samir Nasri, Theo Wolcott, and Andrei Arshavin each have two. The play on defense by stars such as Gael Clichy and Sebastien Squillaci has made for a difficult time for attackers. Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is proving to be a great replacement to Manuel Almunia.
The North London club have played well in all competition all year. If they keep up their current form, and should Robbie van Persie remain healthy, this squad could be a contender. They feel confident for sure. When Robbie van Persie was asked about playing one of the Spanish giants in the next round, he responded" "bring them on!"
3) Real Madrid CF (Spain)
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Position in Group G: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, Arsenal
Real Madrid doubled second place AC Milan's eight points in the Group Stage to secure top spot in the group and a seed in the Last 16.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been a super human in front of goal this year. He has 16 goals in La Liga and four in the Champions League. Karim Benzema also has four in Europe.
The only negative performance for Madrid came in El Clasico on November 29th, when Barcelona handed them a 5-0 whooping at the Camp Nou.
Aside from that one hiccup, Jose Mourinho's men have been fantastic. The loss to Barcelona is their only one and the only faltering in the Champions League came at the San Siro, when Pedro Leon's last minute equalizer squandered any hope of AC Milan getting a comeback victory that night.
Madrid did well in the summer to acquire the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Angel di Maria, and Mesut Ozil have really helped the club for the better. Last year's big signing besides Ronaldo and Benzema, Kaka, is expected back soon. The Brazilian has missed the entire season thus far thanks to a leg injury. When he comes back, he will be one of Mourinho's favorites.
Los Blancos have to be a favorite this year, despite not winning the competition since 2002. Actually, they have not coming close.
This is the best team they have fielded in several seasons. There is no reason to think that Real Madrid cannot become the first team to win 10 Champions League trophies.
2) Manchester United FC (Engalnd)
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Position in Group C: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, Milan
Manchester United look set to compete for a second title in four years when the Knockout Rounds start.
After taking 14 of a possible 18 from the Group Stage, Manchester United have to be a favorite, as they go in with a favorable draw for the Round of 16.
The defense with the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, and Rafael as well as always fantastic goalkeeper Edwin Van der Saar, United allowed only one goal.
I have always loved the Red Devils' incredible balance in the attack. In the Group Stage, seven players combined for the club's seven goals. Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, Anderson, Bebe, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Nani, and Gabriel Obertan have all found the net for United.
Sir Alex Ferguson is excellent at moving players in and out of the lineup. He can rest his stars on Premier League matches in light of a Champions League fixture and still take all three points easily. United will always have a healthy, fit squad for a Champions League match.
The defense will need to remain strong. All six of United's possible opponents can cause trouble in the attack should they bend.
The attack is the primary reason why United can easily win any fixture in this competition. We saw it with the thrashing they handed Milan in last year's Last 16. With the added firepower of Chicharito to Rooney, Nani, Berbatov should he find the net in Europe (he has 12 total goals this year), and the always deadly midfielders, United could be a favorite to play at Wembley in May.
1) FC Barcelona (Spain)
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Position in Group D: First
Possible Last 16 Opponents: Inter, Lyon, Roma, Marseille, Milan, Arsenal
There is no arguing this. FC Barcelona are the best team on the face of the Earth.
I was going to say Barcelona anyways, but the 5-0 thrashing they gave arch-rival Real Madrid in El Clasico only furthers the argument.
How many teams are winning like Barcelona with a similar amount of homegrown talent? Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes, Puyol, Pedro, Bojan, and many more have been brought up through the ranks at Barcelona, from the youth clubs, up through Bacelona B, and now into the best squad on the planet.
Even Pep Guardiola, who is rapidly making a case for being the best manager in the world (once Sir Alex Ferguson retires), is Barcelona grown.
Of course, there are those outside additions that are making the team all the better. David Villa has been a star for the club. Along with Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Bojan, Pedro, and company, no one has a better offense in the game than the Blaugrana.
The midfield combination in the center of Xavi and Iniesta is no doubt the greatest in the world. Fittingly, both Xavi and Iniesta, along with teammate Lionel Messi, are the three finalists for FIFA World Player of the Year 2010.
Victor Valdes may not be the "best" goalie in the world, but he is right there at the top and showing that he is at least a consideration.
I could go on forever about most if not all of the clubs in this list, but the point is that Barcelona are, bar none, the greatest team in the world and definitely of these 16 finalists in the Champions League.
It would take a huge upset from any of these teams to keep Barcelona from heading to London for the Final.
Besides the FIFA World Cup and an Olympic gold medal, it is the greatest prize of any sport and any competition, the European Cup.
One of the 16 teams previously mentioned will lift the prestigious trophy.
This is the UEFA Champions League and anything can happen. The Miracle of Istanbul, Milan's incredible performance in the second leg of the 2007 semifinal, John Terry's slip in penalties in Moscow, Iniesta's firecracker at Stamford Bridge. All examples of recent incredible moments that prove the match is never over until the final whistle so to speak.
Anything can happen at this stage. It's the March Madness of soccer. These power rankings, however, are a fair assessment of how the teams compare to each other. Of course, it is very difficult to compare who has a chance and who does not until we see the final bracket introduced on the 17th of December. From there, we can make an educated guess as to who will meet center stage in London on May 28, 2011.
In the end, all 16 teams are great clubs and deserve to be here. It will be a fun Knockout Phase. Then again, its the UEFA Champions League. Everything about this competition is fun!
This time around will be real special. This is a loaded Last 16 and there are going to be some powers going home early if the draw works out where we will get some real excitement in the first knockout round.
Until then, I would love to hear others' assessment of these 16 teams and how you would rank them 1-16, or 16-1 as I have. Please feel free to present your power rankings in the comments.