UEFA Champions League Rankings: Rating the Teams Left in the Round of 16
With deja vu aplenty in the last 16, the UEFA Champions League is back with a plethora of mouth-watering ties.
Arsenal take on Barcelona; Real Madrid face old enemy Lyon; Tottenham Hotspur go back to the San Siro for AC Milan; and Inter encounter Bayern Munich in a two-leg repeat of the 2010 Champions League Final.
At this stage of the competition, the intensity really heats up as the contenders for club football's most prestigious trophy put the league to one side for a moment in their quest for European glory.
There are of course still some teams left in the last 16 that just don't have a hope of making the quarterfinals, let alone winning the thing.
But there are quite a few others in with a chance. All the big giants in world football, the usual contenders, will be up there again, along with a revived Tottenham Hotspur.
Every team at this stage has already earned €3 million (£2.5 million) in prize money. Each club that makes it through to the quarters will receive an extra €3.3 million (£2.8 million).
The lucky team that wins the whole thing, from this stage until lifting the trophy, will stand to make €19.5 million (£16.4 million) in prize money, with €9 million awarded to the winner. Add that to the ticket sales, merchandise sales, TV revenue, increased sponsorship money, etc, and suddenly winning the Champions League becomes all the more important.
Especially with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules coming into effect soon enough, all the clubs left will be looking to make as much money from this tournament as they possibly can.
So, who has the best chance of winning? AC Milan? Barcelona? Chelsea? Real Madrid? Manchester United? FC Copenhagen?! Read on to find out.
16. FC Copenhagen
Let's be honest, it was pretty obvious which side would be bottom of the list.
Barcelona aside, FC Copenhagen took advantage of a fairly weak group, with Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos their two other competitors for that place in the knockout stages.
The Danish Superliga leaders played some efficient football in Group D, holding the mighty Barca at home, beating Panathinaikos home and away quite comprehensively, as well getting a home win against Rubin Kazan (who did famously shock Barca by winning at the Nou Camp last season).
So, overall it could be said their home ground (where England played Denmark recently), the 38,065 capacity Parken Stadium, is something of a fortress, both domestically and in Europe.
And with a somewhat out of sorts Chelsea taking on the Danes' top team, there could be some hope for Løverne (Copenhagen's nickname, The Lions).
They have some hope at home anyway. Even then nothing's guaranteed, coming up against Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole all in one team, with rocks like John Terry and Alex holding fort at the back.
To sum it up, any team that's chuffed just to be in the last 16 (this is the furthest FC Copenhagen have ever gone in Europe) isn't going to go any further.
15. Schalke 04
Schalke are one hell of a chopped-and-changed side this season, and it shows.
Felix Magath's men are playing with no consistency, sometimes lack belief and quite often, totally lack teamwork.
Which is not surprising, considering this summer 14 new players were drafted in and 15 left the club.
Add the six new arrivals in January and the further seven departures, and you can see this is a new team spending a whole season in the get-to-know-you stage.
Languishing 10th in the Bundesliga, it will be a miracle if Schalke creeps back into the Champions League next year, and likewise it will be a miracle if they make it to the quarterfinals.
They finished top of Group B however, beating the likes of Lyon and Benfica. Nonetheless, they're heavily inconsistent and their league position will haunt the players like a dark spectre lurking in the back of their minds.
And with the departures of Jermaine Jones and, more importantly Ivan Rakitic, the team is lacking a strong yet creative midfield. Iran legend Ali Karimi, along with one of Ghana's rising stars in Anthony Annan have been signed to help plug that gap along with the likes of Jose Jurado, but it just isn't working at the moment.
Schalke may have some top, experienced strikers and a world-class goalkeeper, but without the craftsmen and engineers in midfield, they're nothing.
They'll do extremely well indeed to beat Valencia, but it most probably won't happen.
As the current French champions and victors over Chelsea in the group stages, Marseille is a team who shouldn't be taken lightly in this tournament
They have a relatively tight and organised back line which doesn't exactly leak goals, and going forward they're not in a bad position either.
They have considerable quality in their attack with the likes of Andre Gignac, Brandao and Loic Remy, who are all lethal finishers at club level.
In midfield they have a good level of energy and creativity, with the likes of Lucho Gonzalez, Mathieu Valbuena, Andre Ayew, and players such as Stephane M'Bia protecting the defence.
However, Marseille are nothing spectacular. They sit third in the league, haven't scored a flurry of goals, don't have a standout player when the going gets tough and they face Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League.
They're a good team, Marseille. But "good" isn't enough to make it into the quarters.
13. Shaktar Donetsk
They beat Arsenal at home and finished top of Group H ahead of the Gunners, Braga and Partizan Belgrade winning five out of their six group matches.
They sit top of their league at the moment, have the likes of Eduardo da Silva and former Barcelona man Dmytro Chygrynskiy on their team, and most importantly, they know what it's like winning European titles, having lifted the Europa League trophy in 2009.
It could be said to be quite harsh placing Shaktar Donetsk as low as 13th on this list, a team thatmhave played some great football this season, and at times have scored goals for fun, both in the league and in Europe.
But in terms of winning potential, it has to be agreed, Shaktar don't have a chance.
Their one big test in the group stages was Arsenal, who they beat fairly unconvincingly at home, but then got demolished 5-1 at the Emirates.
In the knockout stages they face AS Roma, a team who can be masters of catenaccio on their day, and that's something Shaktar haven't faced this season.
After beating the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid to reach the semifinals last season, Lyon once again proved they are a more than capable team in the UEFA Champions League.
They finished second in Ligue 1, and showed the world they are big force in France yet again.
However, this season is all rather different. They languish at fourth in the table, seven points off the leaders, and struggled at times against the likes of Schalke (who sit 10th in the Bundsliga), Benfica and even Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Dumped out of both cup competitions, they only have the league and Champions League to concentrate on now. But it's a demoralising task for Claude Puel's men when you have a seven-point gap to overturn, and in the last 16 in Europe you face Real Madrid.
Not just any Real Madrid, but Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. It's a tough task. Los Galacticos may still be in the shadow of Barcelona, but Mourinho's men are the best RM has looked in years.
With demoralising situations domestically and on the continent, Lyon's Champions League journey probably won't go any further than the round of 16.
11. AS Roma
It may seem strange knocking Shaktar Donetsk's chances in this competition as they face AS Roma, then only placing the team from Rome two places higher, but the Serie A club aren't the team anyone can really see winning the trophy.
They have enough quality, experience and right style of play to overcome the Ukranians, but if they get into the quarter-finals, they'll be playing a different kettle of fish altogether.
Having not won in the league in four matches, Roma will be more than fired up for the match against Shaktar, forgetting the distractions of Serie A for a while and being more than determined to right the wrongs of their season so far.
And a good statistic for Roma is that they have won 10 of their last 12 European home games and five of their last six in the Champions League.
10. Valencia CF
Just like in the picture, Valencia easily has the potential to upend their opponents, Schalke, in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Sitting third in La Liga, Los Che are exactly where they want to be in the league right now given the strength of the two teams above them, meaning Unai Emery can completely focus his players on their European exploits.
And against a down-and-out team from Germany, with all the energy, creativity and downright quality in their midfield and attack, Valencia should sail into the last 16.
The likes of Juan Mata, Joaquin, Vicente, Ever Banega, Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz, can all be lethal when presented with the right opportunity, giving the Mestalla outfit all the goals they need.
Valencia aren't great defensively, however, leaking a few silly goals here and there. Also, they've lost four of their last seven at the Mestalla in the Champions League.
Although they should be more than fine against Schalke, it's highly unlikely they'll progress past the quarterfinals.
9. Tottenham Hotspur
Now this is where the big boys come into the fold. Tottenham Hotspur have come into the Champions League as newcomers and taken it by storm.
A Gareth Bale hat-trick saw them only narrowly lose 4-3 at the San Siro against reigning champions Inter Milan, after being 4-0 and a man down inside the first half.
Another Bale-inspired performance saw them then beat Inter 3-1 at White Hart Lane on a memorable night in which more than 34,000 people were willing to call a '"Taxi for Maicon!"
In between that were wins over Werder Bremen and FC Twente, as the Spurs proved they're more than capable on the big stage, being top scorers of any team in the group stages with 18 goals.
Harry Redknapp's men now travel back to the San Siro to face AC Milan in an encounter they realistically shouldn't win.
However, this is a special Tottenham team with players like Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric who have all played at world-class levels this season.
Then again, they are up against the Serie A leaders, who boast the likes of Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahomovic, players the North London club could only dream of signing at the moment.
Tottenham might go on a run in this tournament, but it's unlikely.
8. Inter Milan
The current UEFA Champions League champions have endured a nightmare campaign so far this season.
Rafael Benitez's tenure ended in complete disarray and a once unbeatable team filled with star-studded quality suddenly lost its aura.
Finishing second behind the Champions League newcomers added further salt to the Inter wounds, as the club desperately needed a new, fresh approach.
Leonardo stepped in and things have looked brighter. Inter are up to fourth now in Serie A and have a game in hand on third-place Lazio who are just a point better off.
They've won seven of their last nine matches, and look a more resurgent team with the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o able to find their stride again.
However, they're still struggling against the big teams, having lost to Juventus and slipping up against Udinese.
Their opponents Bayern Munich are also having trouble in the league, but with Borussia Dortmund running away with that title, Bayern can afford to put more focus on Europe than Inter, especially with star players Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery returning from injury.
With that in mind, Inter might just struggle to get into the quarterfinals, let alone retain their European crown.
7. Bayern Munich
Inter's rivals Bayern Munich are also struggling at the moment. Like Inter, they have been fairly consistent recently, but lack conviction when it matters most.
They can be considered favourites to beat the current European champions and progress into the quarterfinals, but they probably won't be like last season when they were able to roll up to places such as Old Trafford and completely trash the likes of Manchester United.
Mario Gomez has been a bright spark for Bayern this season, with Thomas Muller progressing steadily following his stellar World Cup campaign.
And toward the latter part of the season, star duo Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery should really light up the stage for Bayern.
However, besides those four, it's been quite average from all the other players with Germany's most celebrated club looking highly unlikely to add to their European silverware this year.
If there's one thing that will keep the man pictured in his job after June 2011, it's the UEFA Champions League.
Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea team have largely failed their Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich this season, falling well out of the Premier League title race and only just limping into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
It's not the club image Abramovich had in mind after investing over £800 million in the team from West London.
But in Europe's premier competition, Ancelotti and Abramovich have an escape route, and boy do the players know it!
Chelsea should easily overcome FC Copenhagen in the round of 16, but as the pressure heats up in the quarterfinals, with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal and AC Milan as possible opponents, Ancelotti and his players will really be feeling it.
Add to that the intensity and competitiveness of the Premier League in which six teams are potentially able to claim a top-four spot, and it becomes evident there is a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off at Stamford Bridge.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea players, and most importantly Roman Abramovich, all massively need to win the UEFA Champions League. So much pressure on the club to win the trophy, coupled with the league demands, means they probably will fail in their objective.
Can Chelsea win the Champions League? Never say never in football, but in this case, it'll never happen this season.
Unlike their West London counterparts, things are looking quite rosy in one certain part of Islington, North London.
Arsenal are enjoying themselves this season. On their day, they've proven they can beat anyone. They're second in the league, and look well-placed to challenge for the title. They're still in the FA Cup and have a League Cup final at Wembley to play soon.
Robin Van Persie has been in sensational form and looks to have put his injury nightmare behind him, young Jack Wilshere is gaining tons of plaudits every minute, Samir Nasri has been brilliant this season and overall, Arsenal are functioning extremely well both on and off the pitch.
Yes, they face the mighty FC Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, the team they lost to last season, but they go into the tie with no pressure anywhere. From the stands to the boardroom to the national newspapers, nobody is placing pressure on the Gunners to beat Barca.
Which means Arsene Wenger's men can go out and enjoy their football. And that in turn means if there's any team who can beat Barcelona, it's Arsenal.
However, it's still a tall order. A very tall order.
4. AC Milan
Top of the table, unbeaten in eight matches, having lost three all season in the league and well on course for the Scudetto, AC Milan are flying high this season.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in fine form with 18 goals in all competitions this season while Robinho has been virtually a new player since his move from Manchester City.
Alexandre Pato and Antonio Cassano have both proven they're capable as well, while the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Mathieu Flamini have been influential in midfield.
The Rossoneri also have the best defensive record in Serie A, showing just how brilliant they have been at catenaccio this season.
And as bitter rivals Inter proved last season, if you can master catenaccio, you can win anything.
With the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva and Massimo Oddo providing a watertight defence to go with that brilliant midfield and star-studded and effective attack, AC Milan could be a good bet to emulate the achievements of their arch-enemies in 2009/10.
3. Manchester United
Like AC Milan, Manchester United are top of the table, still on course in the main cup competition and have a relatively easy match in the last 16 of the Champions League.
It's been well documented that Sir Alex Ferguson's men "haven't been playing well all season", yet they're still four points clear in the league, unbeaten in the Champions League and still going in the FA Cup this season having seen off Liverpool.
They've beaten Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur this season, boast the Premier League's top goalscorer, and have their most important player hitting form at the right time.
They have a manager who has won the Champions League twice already with this club, and steered them to the final twice in a row, with most of the players in the team having already won the Champions League with Manchester United.
If there's any team from England that'll lift that glorious trophy at the nation's home of football, Wembley Stadium, come May this year, it surely has to be Manchester United.
Their players and coaches tick all the boxes. Capable? Yes. Enough overall quality? Yes. Strong attack? Yes. Strong Defence? Yes. Done it before? Yes.
2. Real Madrid
If there's any team in the world most like Chelsea, it's Real Madrid. Colossal expenditure, superstar players, very high profile manager, unworldly expectation; all things both clubs have in common.
The difference is, Real have players who have already won the trophy and a manager who won it only last season.
Sitting second in the league five points off the top, with the Copa Del Rey final to play and an easy route into the last 16 against Lyon, Los Galacticos are in a much better position to push on and win the Champions League than Chelsea could ever dream of being in.
With proven quality, including 2010 World Cup winners, all throughout the team from the goalkeeper to the strikers, Madrid have the starting materials necessary to make it to Wembley.
In Jose Mourinho, as he's proven this season, they have the know-how to beat most teams across Europe and overcome many different styles of play.
A master tactician but also a brilliant man-manager at the helm, combined with the world-class players all easily able to carry out instructions, is something no other team apart from one in Europe fully has, meaning Real Madrid are in the driving seat in the race to Wembley.
They are in the driving seat, but not the one in pole position. Everybody knows who that seat belongs to.
1. FC Barcelona
The greatest team in the world right now, and deservedly so, there is no looking past FC Barcelona when you think of the favourites to win the 2011 UEFA Champions League.
Five points clear in La Liga, a Copa Del Rey final to come against the team they thrashed 5-0, the best player in the world in their team, eight World Cup winners in their team, with other players who have already won the Champions League twice before in the past five years.
Put into perspective with all clear, unbiased thinking done, it's evident to see that yes, this team deserves all its plaudits.
In the Champions League last season, the world watched as catenaccio won the war of football styles.
This season, it's tiki-taka, or nada nada. It'll be Barcelona or nothing in the Champions League this campaign, and considering one team has to win, it just has to be La Blaugrana.