Who’s in? Ranking the eight teams that have survived into UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals

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The field for UEFA’s Champions League quarterfinals is set, with all eight group winners advancing to the tournament’s next round. Yet as the struggles of Manchester United show, not all quarterfinalists are created equal.

Eight-to-one, here’s a rundown of the last clubs standing in pursuit of this year’s European title, with last year’s winners still setting the pace in this year’s Champions League:

source: AP8. Manchester United

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group A ahead of Bayer Leverkusen; defeated Olympiakos 3-2 in the Round of 16.

League standing: Eighth place in the English Premier League.

Chances:

(Warning: If you’re a celebrating United fan, skip this part.)

Whether you judge by how they’ve played in Europe or the struggles they’ve had in England, the Red Devils are the last eight’s weakest link. Three goals from Robin van Persie gave Manchester United an impressive Wednesday result, but the team was also facing one of the least-talented teams in the Round of 16. That United cut things so close speaks to its chances of advancing past the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Van Persie treble hands Manchester United incredible Champions League comeback win over Olympiakos)

source: Getty Images

7. Atlético Madrid

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group G ahead of Zenit St. Petersburg; defeated AC Milan 5-1 in the Round of 16.

League standingSecond place in the Spanish Primera Division.

Chances: 

At their best, Atlético can compete with anybody, as its peak performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid have shown. As organized and hard-working as anybody in Europe, Atleti present the type of counter attacking and or set piece execution that could even trouble Bayern Munich. Unfortunately, that tenacious, almost impenetrable team that dominated the season’s first half has been more inconsistent this winter. Right now, they look mortal.

(MORE: Two from Diego Costa help Atlético Madrid cruise past Milan in Champions League, 4-1 (5-1, agg.))

source: AP6. Chelsea

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group E ahead of Schalke; defeated Galatasaray 3-1 in the Round of 16.

League standingFirst place in the English Premier League.

Chances: 

Between what its core showed in 2011-12 and the presence of José Mourinho, Chelsea has the components for another run. While it may not play with Atlético’s tenacity or have a scoring presence like Diego Costa, Chelsea is still a team others would avoid if given the choice to play AtletiAnd whereas Diego Simeone’s team has proven vulnerable this winter, Chelsea continues to make steady, incremental improvements (albeit with some stumbles).

(MORE: Chelsea cruise past Galatasaray, as Blues make UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with 2-0 win (3-1, Agg.))

source: Reuters5. Borussia Dortmund

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group F ahead of Arsenal; defeated Zenit St. Petersburg in the Round of 16.

League standingSecond in German Bundesliga.

Chances: 

Teams would still likely prefer a meeting Chelsea or Atlético than deal with the potential Roberto Lewandowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marco Reus bring to a matchup. Last year’s run to the final proved what Jurgen Klopp’s team can do, with the Round of 16’s first game in St. Petersburg showing that form is never far away. Where as Chelsea can grind you down, BVB can play you off the park, if you’re not careful.

(MORE: Hulk goal, Zenit win can’t keep Borussia Dortmund from Champions League’s quarterfinals)

source: AP4. Barcelona

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group H ahead of Milan; defeated Manchester City 4-1 in the Round of 16.

League standingThird place in Spain’s Primera Division.

Chances: 

Their handling of the Citizens may have been the round’s most impressive result, but Barcelona have proved, particularly in league. Recent losses to Real Soceidad and Real Valladolid have made Gerardo Martino’s future the subject of tabloid speculation. And memories of Barcelona being worn down by the time they faced Bayern Munich in last year’s semis? They linger, with this year’s quad yet to prove its depth has improved over the thin team Guaridola took to titles.

(MORE: FC Barcelona edge out Manchester City 2-1, as Spaniards reach UEFA Champions League quarterfinal (4-1, agg.))

source: AP3. Paris Saint-Germain

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group C ahead of Olympiakos; defeated Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 in the Round of 16.

League standingFirst in France’s Ligue 1.

Chances: 

Depth is no problem for a team that went out of last year’s quarters on away goals to Barça. Since then, the team has added Edinson Cavani up top, Marquinhos at the back, and Yohan Cabaye in the middle. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having become the first player in PSG history to eclipse 40 goals, appears as good as ever, while last year’s experience should serve as both motivation and validation if they draw another titan.

The only question is their coach. Laurent Blanc is a fine manager, but seeing what Carlo Ancelotti’s done this year with Real Madrid, you can’t help but wonder if almost any club would be worse off for having lost the Champions League-winner.

(MORE: Marquinhos, Lavezzi goals see PSG cruise into Champions League quarterfinals)

source: AP

2. Real Madrid

Path to quarterfinals: Won Group B ahead of Galatasaray; defeated Schalke 9-2 in the Round of 16.

League standingFirst in Spain’s Primera Division.

Chances: 

The Merengues are Europe’s clear number two. They’ve won seven of eight in Champions League, have climbed to the top of La Liga, and are in the Copa del Rey final. The only thing they can do to knock Bayern off its perch is beat them, a matchup we’ll hopefully be spared in the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Ronaldo brace, Jesé injury highlight Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Schalke)

source: Getty Images

1. Bayern Munich

Path to quarterfinals: Beat everybody, all the time, at everything, ever. (First in Group D ahead of Manchester City; defeated Arsenal 3-1 in the Round of 16.)

League standingSee “Path.” (First in Germany.)

Chances: 

Champions League matches against Manchester City and Arsenal showed Bayern isn’t quite as imperious as their numbers imply, but given the low stakes of those matches, it’s safe to assume they’re close to untouchable. Real Madrid’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation could help the Merengues in a potential matchup, but there’s also the possibility that Pep Guardiola hasn’t shown his hand. Who knows what tricks Bayern’s boss has in store, should his team finally be tested?

(MORE: Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.))

Watford 2-0 West Ham: No dream start for Moyes

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  • Unhappy debut for Moyes
  • Hart, Gomes make wild saves
  • Hughes scores early
  • Richarlison adds insurance

Will Hughes and Richarlison scored on either side of half time to lift Watford to a 2-0 win over visiting West Ham on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

It’s a debut loss for new Irons boss David Moyes, whose club remains in the Premier League’s 18th position.

Watford rises to eighth, with 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Ham looked bright and industrious in the first 10 minutes, yet Watford had a lead in the 11th.

Andre Gray whiffed on a shot, and the ball bobbled to Hughes for an advantageous finish.

Watford was on the back foot for much of the latter stages in the first half. A slick one-touch endeavor ended with Heurelho Gomes getting a piece of Cheikhou Kouyate‘s low shot.

Gomes then twice denied Marko Arnautovic, the first an incredible leg save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kouyate and Abdoulaye Doucoure traded chances early in the second half, with neither on frame.

Andre Gray and Doucoure worked a fine 58th minute chance, with Winston Reid‘s slight deflection stopping Gray from curling inside the far post. Joe Hart made a terrific save as Watford then pressed off the ensuing corner kick.

Richarlison put it away, essentially, with a 64th minute goal. Hughes handled the ball in the run-up, but the Brazilian’s finish was electrifying.

It’s Richarlison’s fifth PL goal of the season, matching his half-season total with Fluminese.

Christian Kabasele blocked a Lanzini rip off the line in the 74th minute as the Irons kept battling for an unlikely comeback.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

McKennie impresses again as Schalke goes second

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Schalke will enter the Revierderby in the Bundesliga’s second place after a 2-0 win over Hamburg on Sunday.

Franco Di Santo and Guido Burgstaller scored for Schalke, but those getting their eyes on USMNT teen Weston McKennie following his debut international goal got another promising feast for the eyes.

[ MORE: PST’s McKennie profile ]

Consider:

— McKennie, 19, covered 12.51 kilometers in the match, more than any other player by nearly a half km (Aaron Hunt of Hamburg ran 12.07).

— Only Burgstaller (94) recorded more individual runs than McKennie’s 91.

— His three attempts on goal were also a match-high. One was a flub, but another was barely redirected out for a corner.

— He’s now started five-straight matches when fit.

A win over Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund on Nov. 25 would put Schalke’s rivals six points in the rear view. And McKennie’s played a far bigger role than even we suspected during our preseason chat.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 12 9 2 1 30 8 22 5-1-0 4-1-1 29
 FC Schalke 04 12 7 2 3 16 10 6 4-2-1 3-0-2 23
 RB Leipzig 12 7 2 3 20 15 5 4-1-0 3-1-3 23
 Mönchengladbach 12 6 3 3 21 21 0 3-1-2 3-2-1 21
 Borussia Dortmund 12 6 2 4 29 16 13 3-0-2 3-2-2 20

Rashford’s childhood hero played for USMNT (Take one guess)

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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But can he grow a beard?

Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford is known for his darting runs and clever finishes, but he grew up begging to get between the sticks with a lot of love for an American.

“Howard was my idol. I used to have a little Tim Howard shirt.”

[ MORE: Dempsey still wants USMNT role ]

Rashford said he’d ask his youth coach to allow him to play goal so he could mimic his hero, who at the time was the Manchester United backstop and now USMNT legend.

The 20-year-old was nine when Howard left Old Trafford, but it hasn’t changed his enjoyment for tending goal. Rashford joked that he’s got to be the choice to replace David De Gea in case of a post-sub emergency.