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  • Writer's pictureSkyla Clarke

Which Teams are Most Likely to Become Champions League Finalists?

The UEFA Champions League is arguably the most prestigious football league in the world, with only the best teams from each of Europe’s top leagues qualifying. However, now that the group stage is over, only one half of the teams who initially qualified for the tournament remain. The winners of the round of 16 will then move on to the quarter finals, then the semis and finally the final, set to be held at Wembley on June 1st, which will determine the best club in Europe. Last season, Premier League winners Manchester City won the cup in Istanbul, but after a summer of transfers and a season that has kicked off with injuries, it’s likely that the result is going to be starkly different to the 22-23. 

The round of 16 was drawn last Monday, the winners of the groups in the group stage in one pot, the runners up in the other. These matches will occur in February, slashing half of the teams’ dreams of winning the trophy. Based on this draw, and the teams’ performance in the group stage and their local leagues, I have curated a list of the teams that I think are most likely to make it to the final in London next year. 

16. Lazio 

Lazio finished second in Group E this season, four points behind Atletico Madrid. They didn’t have a bad group stage campaign, winning three of their six played matches. However, it is unlikely that they are going to survive the round of 16, as they are set to play Bayern Munich who were undefeated in their group stage campaign. Bayern have a particularly strong side, having recently signed English striker Harry Kane, and had superstar goalkeeper Manuel Neuer return from injury. Lazio, on the other hand, have been struggling in Serie A, currently ninth with only 8 wins of 18 matches. They also received a red card in their final match of the Champions League group stage against Inter, meaning right-back Manuel Lazzari will be out of the match against Bayern in February. These factors all add up when it comes to facing a nearly full-strength side like Bayern, who often dominate this league. This means that it will be unlikely that Lazio make it to the quarter finals, making them the least likely team in the league to make it to the final. 

15. Porto 

Like Lazio, Porto also finished second in their group this season, with four wins in six matches. They finished behind Barcelona only on goal differential, showing their ability to match one of the best clubs in Europe. However, because of their second place finish in the group, they drew a team that finished first in their group for the round of 16, that team being recently revamped Arsenal. Arsenal had a wicked Premier League campaign last season, only falling just short towards the end to Manchester City. They are looking strong again this season, currently sitting fourth in the Premier League, with only four losses this season. Porto on the other hand are sitting third in Liga Portugal, behind Sporting and Benfica. This leads to the conclusion that Porto aren’t likely to beat Arsenal to progress further in the competition, making them the 15th most likely team to make it to the final. 

14. Copenhagen 

A feeling of doom is likely to overcome any team that is playing the defending Champions. Manchester City have proven to be very tough to crack, having won every match in the group stage this season. Copenhagen are also only third in the Superliga in Denmark, which is arguably one of the least competitive leagues in Europe. However, Copenhagen did have a relatively good group stage campaign. They finished second to Bayern, but were able to draw to them once, and beat Manchester United and Galatasaray to eliminate those teams from the group. So, Copenhagen do have a chance to put up a fight, but it’s also unlikely that they will beat the recent FIFA Club World Cup winners Manchester City in February. 

13. RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig have also got a difficult time ahead, set to play the 14-time Champions League winners Real Madrid. Leipzig have been a team to try and prove a point against the big clubs, scoring first against Manchester City in their second meeting, before City made a comeback to win 3-2. In the Bundesliga they have also put up a fight, recently drawing with Bayern and beating Dortmund. It will be interesting to see what RB Leipzig can bring to their two upcoming matches against Madrid, but it is unlikely that they will upset the team that is currently first place in La Liga. 

12. Real Sociedad 

This is Real Sociedad’s first season in the Champions league since 2014. To put this in perspective for you, Japanese right wing for the club Takefusa Kubo was only 12 years old at the time. The club also doesn’t have a sparkling history in other European competitions, including the UEFA Europa League, in which they have qualified for three times in a row between 2020 and 2023. However, their best recent finish was only the round of 16 last year, where they fell short to Roma in March. This doesn’t make the outlook seem bright for a team that is freshly entering the more prestigious league in Europe. However, when the group stage rolled around later in the year, Sociedad fell undefeated, and in a relatively competitive group at that. They played Portuguese champions Benfica, Austrian champions RB Salzburg, and last season’s Champions League finalists Inter Milan, and remained undefeated. This group stage performance is very contrasting to that of PSG, who I wouldn’t necessarily describe as deserving of a spot in the round of 16. They won only two of their games, and only out-qualified AC Milan by goal difference. Kylian Mbappe’s team were wasted by Newcastle United at St James’ Park, and only drew with the same club in their second encounter because of a disgracefully-awarded penalty. In saying this, PSG’s league performance is definitely better than that of Sociedad, without taking into account the competitiveness of each league. PSG have only one loss of 17 games in their league this season, after taking the top spot for the last couple of years. Sociedad, however, currently sit sixth on the table due to a series of draws causing them to often drop points. In fact, three of their five most recent matches have been draws. Looking at this form, it might be hard for Real Sociedad to beat their opponents PSG in the Round of 16 next February. This is why I personally think it will be hard (not impossible) for Real Sociedad to even reach the quarter finals, let alone the grand final. 

11. PSV 

PSV are currently top of Eredivisie, with no losses in the league this season. They are even ten points ahead of second place Feyenoord, who were eliminated from the Champions League by Athelitco Madrid and Lazio. In saying this, PSV haven’t featured in the Champions League since the 2018-19 season, so the lack of experience might hurt them in entering the round of 16. However, they had a notable group stage campaign, losing only one of the six matches played, and coming second in the group to Arsenal. Dortmund is their next challenge, a club who not only managed to survive the group of death, but managed to win it over AC Milan, PSG and Newcastle. However, Dortmund haven’t exactly been on fire in the Bundesliga, fifth place and 15 points away from the lead. They have also lost many of their star players to larger clubs over the past couple of years, Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid this summer, Erling Haaland and Maneul Akanji to Manchester City last summer, and Jadon Sancho the summer before that. This has led to a much weaker Dortmund team than we have seen before, so there is a chance that PSV could crack them, but PSV’s lack of experience may prove to haunt them in the games that await. 

10. Napoli 

Napoli was all the talk during last year’s Champions League season. Headlines screamed about Napoli’s sensational season in Serie A, and many claimed that they could take out the Champions League title in that same season. Unfortunately for them, while they did win the Serie A for the first time since Diego Maradona played for the club, they got eliminated for the Champions League in the quarter final by Serie A club AC Milan. And, it also seems that that season for Napoli was kind of like “Ice Ice Baby” for Vanilla Ice—a one-hit wonder. Their Serie-A campaign this year is laughable compared to their last, sitting 8th with only 8 wins of 18 games this season. Oh and they also have the same amount of draws and losses so far this season as they had for the entirety of last season. This is likely due to manager Luciano Spalletti’s departure this season, the man who was able to bring the club to glory after only two years there. After his resignation, club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis replaced him with Rudi Garcia, a French manager with similar tactics to Spalletti who had recently been sacked by Al-Nassr. He brought the tactics, but was never able to bring the same dressing-room bonds that Spalletti brought before. The results began to get worse and worse, and defending their title began to look impossible. Garcia got sacked in November, with former manager Walter Mazzari returning for a second stint at the club. It hasn’t been long enough to tell whether Mazzari will be good for the club or not, but the fans better hope he is going into the round of 16 against a somewhat on-form Barcelona. 

9. Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have been doing quite well recently, in the Champions League and beyond. They were undefeated in the group stage, drawing only twice. And in La Liga they are currently third behind Girona and Real Madrid, pulling some pretty big results in the past couple of months, with just four losses in 18 games. However, the club has drawn Inter Milan in the round of 16, a team that was fantastic in the Champions League last season, only one goal by Manchester City preventing them from lifting the trophy. With Inter Milan’s form this season in Serie A and last season in all competitions, it’s going to be a challenge for Athletico to defeat them to reach the next stage. However, I predict relatively close games between the two sides, which could potentially end in penalties which will be exciting for fans of both sides to watch. 

8. Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain have recently been all the hype with their previously star-studded squad, including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donarumma, Marquinhos, Marco Veratti and more. Of these players, only Mbappe, Hakimi, Donarumma and Marquinhos remain at the club, each of them being of interest to other clubs, meaning that their time at PSG may come to an end soon. I would almost describe it as a lack of interest from the players, and a lack of passion for the club which is causing their downfall. Yes, they have taken out the Ligue 1 title plenty of times in recent years, but they have never touched the Champions League trophy. Even last year where they had possibly the best team in history on paper, they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Bayern Munich. Something was missing. And when the team travelled to Newcastle I would like to think they figured out what that something was. That burning desire to make your club proud, to please your most loyal fans, to win at home. Passion is what most would describe it as, but it is more than that. It brought Newcastle to beat PSG 4-1 that day, and brought them to a draw in their second encounter. PSG’s entry to the round of 16 this season to me could only be described as luck, as any team in that group could’ve easily taken it away from them on that final day. So even though PSG have drawn a relatively ‘easy’ team when it comes to Real Sociedad for the round of 16, I don’t think they have much of a shot getting past the quarter finals, especially not if they draw any team that cares about passion more than money. 

7. Barcelona

Barcelona are one of the most fantastic European teams in history, having a great history in both La Liga and the Champions League. They won the La Liga title 10 points clear of Real Madrid last season, despite getting eliminated from both the Champions and Europa leagues. In fact Barcelona haven’t been the headline act in European football since 2015, which was the last time that they reached the final. So, their recent form has been relatively complicated, with success in some areas and failure in others. However, if we focus just on the past couple of months, it’s impossible to look past the impact that injuries have had on the team. Ter Stegen, Gavi and Pedri are the most notable on the list, with only Pedri expected to return before their round of 16 face-off against Napoli. They have a good chance of beating Napoli, having brought some good results in La Liga, but it’s undetermined how far they will reach past the quarter finals, especially with the form of some of the other teams in the competition. 

6. Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund not only survived the group of death, but they conquered it. They lost only one of their matches in the group stage, pushing PSG, AC Milan and Newcastle away from the top spot in the group. Their performance made their future in the competition look very promising, they are set to play PSV in the round of 16, who they will likely beat, and so the team has a good shot of making it past many of the knockout stages. In saying this, we can’t solely rely on their Champions League performance to determine their form. In the Bundesliga, Dortmund have only won one of their last six matches. They currently sit fifth on the table, which is disappointing compared to their performance last season, which saw them only place second to Bayern Munich in goal difference. And so, despite having a relatively easy ride in the round of 16, it’s going to be challenging for Dortmund to reach the final this season. 

5. Arsenal  

Last season’s Arsenal were a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. They sat on the top of the table for 93% of the 22/23 season, with some fantastic results throughout the period. However, it only came to the last few games with poor results to allow Manchester City to claim the top position, allowing them to take the title and later on the treble. This was one of the most professional “bottle-jobs” in history, the team being mocked all over social media. However, they seem to have recovered, still remaining in decent form as they enter the round of 16 as top of Group B. They also sit fourth in what is proving to be a very competitive Premier League season, with new arrivals Declan Rice, Kai Havertez and David Raya making a large impact. Porto should be a simple team for Arsenal to take on in February, but after their downfall at the very end of last season, the expectations aren’t too high, and another “bottle-job” is somewhat expected by the majority of fans. 

4. Inter Milan

Only the Spanish centre-defensive midfielder’s screamer stopped Inter Milan from lifting the highly-sought after trophy last season. Inter certainly put up a good fight against Manchester City, but it just wasn’t quite enough. However, this season they are back, and better than ever? They currently sit at the top of the table in Serie A, with only one loss all season. They came second to Real Sociedad in the Champions League group stage only by goal difference, and were also undefeated in the six games. This on-form side should be able to beat Atletico Madrid, who they have drawn in the round of 16, but it will definitely be a close game, which is why they aren’t higher in the predictions list.

3. Bayern Munich 

Bayern Munich have always been a competitive side in European competition. They have won the Champions League/European Champions’ Clubs Cup six times in their history, and have won the Bundesliga what seems like every year ever. However, this year they have been met with some great competition, Leverkusen currently sitting at the top of the table four points ahead of Bayern. Last season their Champions League campaign fell short after a defeat to Manchester City in the quarter final, where City, somewhat heroically slipped four goals past them last April. However, Bayern slid through the group stages with ease, winning five games out of six. They have also drawn perhaps the most generous of round of 16 opponents, Lazio, who are very unlikely to beat the German giants. With the club’s dominating tendencies, they have a good chance of making it to the final, especially with the recent signings of superstars Harry Kane and Kim Min-jae. However, like every other club at the moment, Bayern are also affected by injuries, with Noussair Mazraoui, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman out for a number of weeks with various issues. This, and the club’s seemingly poor performance in the Bundesliga could mean that Bayern could find defeat on their way to Wembley. 

2. Manchester City 

Nobody expected Manchester City to beat RB Leipzig 7-0 in the round of 16. Or Bayern Munich by 3-0. Or Real Madrid 4-0. Or win the title for the first time in the club’s history. Manchester City finally earned the trophy that every European club dreams of, and did so in a way that left crowds, particularly at the Etihad, in awe. The team was perfect, a precise striker who broke records on his own, quick and skillful wingers, multiple midfield maestros, strong and resilient defenders and a keeper who could save for days. Each player deserved to win that title, and they all deserved to win it together. The team has changed a bit since that night in Istanbul, with the departure of Cole Palmer, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan, and the arrival of Josko Gvardiol, Matheus Nunes, Jeremy Doku, and Mateo Kovacic. However, many factors have stumped the team a bit this season in the Premier League, lousy red cards leading to consecutive losses, injuries such as that of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland haunting the team, and poor team performance leading to a period where all City could seem to do was draw. Either way, City haven’t been at the top of their game this season, meaning that points have been dropped here and there, and so City currently sit 3rd on the table with a game to spare. However, it is also important to note that City have recently won the FIFA Club World Cup, and so are coming off a high when they play in the round of 16 in a month’s time. So, it should be simple for City to beat Copenhagen and make it to the quarters, it just depends on how Pep Guardiola manages his team’s discipline, injuries and strategies that will see if they can make it to the final again. 

1. Real Madrid

Real Madrid are considered the team to beat in European football. They have 14 Champions League titles, double that of AC Milan, who have the second highest number of titles. The club attracts all of the best players in the world, this season taking young Brit Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund for the low low price of €103 million. It was definitely a small price to pay for Madrid, who have been top of their game all season under Bellingham’s influence. Madrid has lost just once all season, so sit top of the league. Jude Bellingham is currently the front runner for the golden boot with 13 goals—as a midfielder. And despite the fact that the injuries list seems to keep stacking up for the team, losing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and centre-backs Eder Militao and David Alaba for at least another two months, left winger Vinicius Junior for a month and midfielder Eduaro Camavinga for a few weeks. Despite this, Carlo Ancelotti has seemingly been able to find suitable replacements for the time being, it will just depend on whether these key players will be match-fit for the more important games after the round of 16, if Real Madrid defeat RB Leipzig. 

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