The road to Istanbul is set and perhaps for the first time we have a clear sense of who could lift the trophy in June (remember you can catch all the action on Paramount+). The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals is below, scroll down to see our favorites for the tournament.
- Real Madrid vs Chelsea
- Inter Milan vs SL Benfica
- Manchester City vs Bayern Munich
- Milan vs Napoli
- AC Milan or Napoli vs Inter Milan or SL Benfica
- Real Madrid or Chelsea vs Manchester City or Bayern Munich
The upper level: Title or bust
These teams will have to be disappointed with anything less than a semi-final spot and frankly even that might not be enough, such is their talent profile.
1. Napoli (+2)
There is a sense of destiny around Naples at the moment. Serie A is in the bag and suddenly the road to the final is wide open, a fairly ordinary domestic opponent in the last eight and then the winner of Inter and Benfica. A season that has stalled for Argentina to win the World Cup since Diego Maradona led them could end with the city where they achieved the iconic position celebrating European glory. Not that Napoli needed a favorable tie in first place.
With the caveat of variable difficulty factors in the group stages, the expected goals (xG) table for the tournament so far offers a clear sense of where Napoli should sit in the European pantheon. A fair way ahead is City, then comes Napoli followed by another significant gap to the rest of the field. That’s something one could argue that Luciano Spalletti’s side haven’t really faced a bad team, unless he’s tough on Rangers. Everyone they have met, at home and abroad, has simply been taken to the cleaners. It’s hard to see anyone stopping them from reaching the final.
2. Real Madrid (+2)
The semi-finals will provide an almighty test for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who are showing precious little in La Liga to convince you they are European champions-in-waiting, but can be extremely confident of getting that far with Chelsea first. But perhaps that simply reflects a team that picks and chooses its moments, that will use its home minutes to rotate and renew.
Besides, they look very, very good in Europe. There’s a case to be made that their second-leg win over Liverpool was actually more impressive than their first, a game where for 70 minutes every ricochet, hit and hope and 50-50 duel seemed to favor Madrid. At the Santiago Bernabeu, however, the holders understood what kind of game they needed to play to maximize their chances of qualification. Aided by the absence of Liverpool’s counterparts, Madrid’s midfield limited the game, keeping the tempo of the game at a more relaxed level while retaining the right to strike for a goal at a moment’s notice. Perhaps more than any match on their way to the title last year, this felt like a dominant display from one of the best teams in Europe.
3. Manchester City (-2)
First, it’s worth noting that Manchester City may have the most impressive star left on the pitch, a player who has exceeded his xG for so long that even a significant regression would make him one of the best finishers who has ever seen the game. Erling Haaland may have brought tactical intricacies to light in the Premier League but, as he proved against RB Leipzig, makes City an even more formidable Champions League contender.
However, this being the Champions League, the door is open to random opportunities on the European stage and perhaps this season once again Rodrigo or Moussa Dembele it happens. This is a neon-lit, flashing “something crazy is about to happen” draw. Will Pep Guardiola go rogue on his return to Munich? Which Madrid player could overturn the tie in the final minute?
Serious contenders: If things are going well, why not us?
It is certainly not beyond the realm of imagination that any of these teams could lift the European Cup in Istanbul in June, although it may take a few lucky breaks to get the tournament going.
4. Bayern Munich (-2)
If Julian Nagelsmann’s side are the chaotic scoring and volume-conceding side that they often appear to be in the Bundesliga, then there is almost no way they can charm a move away from Manchester City, possibly Real Madrid and possibly Napoli. The authority with which they controlled their last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain was the exception, but then again their domestic set-up is not set up for the kind of perceived possession football that suits them.
Last season Bayern had the underlying metrics of a potential champion, this year there has been a decline. The scoring deficit, from 2.6 xG per game to 1.6, was probably expected when Robert Lewandowski left, but they’ve already given up more xG to their opposition in eight Champions League games this season than in the last 10. The stadium has arguably taken a step back since 2021-22, but so has Munich.
Dark horses: Unlikely contenders, but contenders all the same
This team is an unlikely champion, but so was Real Madrid right now in 2022. It may need a change in circumstances or a new tactical plan or simply Karim Benzema having the time of his life, but it is possible. Certainly not likely, but stranger things have happened.
5. Benfica (–)
We are still in the dark about how good a team Benfica is. Unless you feel particularly strongly about PSG, it seems fair to say that they simply haven’t been tested. Their obscurity is what really marks them for dark horse status. their thrashing of Club Brugge was impressive in the extreme and there are talents young and old in Goncalo Ramos, Joao Mario and David Neres. That combined with top-tier opposition is extremely out of reach for a while yet, but a favorable draw means they should be considered possible semi-finalists. Beyond that, who knows?
Well done for making it this far
Perhaps the draw has not been kind to these teams. Perhaps they have reached the upper limits of their talent. Either way the end is fast approaching for these teams.
6. Inter Milan (+1)
Their 1-0 aggregate win over Porto will go on so soon that even as I write this I’m starting to wonder if maybe it was Sporting that Inter beat? Maybe Deportivo La Coruna, actually? Porto, really, are you sure? And did Romelu Lukaku score the goal? If you say so, captain… If there was any talking point from the second leg, it would be how long Simone Inzaghi’s side managed to keep their opposition at arm’s length, not until late strikes from Mehdi Taremi and Marco Grujic really tested Andre Onanas. They serve ok defense and ok attack and that might be enough if Benfica is not as good as it seems. It seems unlikely though.
7. Milan (+1)
Milan were much better than Tottenham over both legs and Stefano Pioli’s back three did a good job of shutting out Kane, but the kid made things difficult for himself at the other end. Given their ground control and possession, they should have had a lot more than the 23 shots they took over the two legs, not that it could have made much of a difference, such was their cowardly finishing. That continued in Serie A, where they drew 1-1 with Salernitana on Monday. Milan gave Napoli some headaches when they met earlier in the season before losing to a Giovani Simeone goal. Since then, the Serie A leaders have gone ahead, the Scudetto holders have taken a step back. The end of the road is in sight, you suspect.
8. Chelsea (-2)
Slowly but surely, things are improving at Chelsea, better results falling short of improved performances but coming just before the pressure on Graham Potter becomes unbearable. Now the Blues look like a team whose mold could give them a puncher’s chance with a good draw, their manager’s cautious approach to possession meaning they have one of the Premier League’s best defensive records since the World Cup . The thing is, they have anything but a good draw. They are getting better, but they are far from the level of their rivals.