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Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

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Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.

Transfer news: Arsenal agree Auba, Willian contracts; Soyuncu to Barcelona

Arsenal transfer news
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The latest Arsenal transfer news and rumors: the Gunners have reportedly agreed to contract terms with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and free agent-to-be Willian.

Meanwhile, Barcelona are in hot pursuit of Leicester City’s Caglar Soyuncu; Liverpool have a hurdle to clear in their pursuit of Thiago Alcantara; and Edinson Cavani could be headed to a few different continents…

[ MORE: League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap ]

Arsenal agree contract terms with Aubameyang, Willian

According to multiple reports out of the UK, Arsenal are set to retain star striker Aubameyang by way of a new three-year contract which would keep him at the club until the summer of 2023. The new pact will reportedly pay the Gabonese international more than $325,000 per week.

In slightly less expensive Arsenal transfer news, Willian has reportedly accepted a three-year contract offer of $130,000 per week. The Brazilian, who will turn 32 on Sunday, will likely be announced as an incoming Arsenal player upon Chelsea’s exit from the Champions League.

Barcelona to bid for Soyuncu

A report out of Turkey claims that star Leicester defender Soyuncu will be the subject of a $47-million bid from Barcelona. The 24-year-old has been nothing short of a star for the Foxes in his two seasons at the club, but that means clubs around the Premier League and Europe will have certainly taken notice.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Thiago pursuing Liverpool?

Thiago is said to be desperate for a move to Liverpool this summer, but the Reds will have to sell at least one player to raise the funds to sign the 29-year-old Spanish midfielder, provided the interest is mutual. The squad is full of sellable assets, no doubt about that, but ones that Jurgen Klopp is willing to let go as he prepares to defend the PL title? That could be a different story.

Cavani has offers all over the world

Free agent Cavani has reportedly already received contract offers from PL-bound Leeds United, MLS side Inter Miami and Portugal’s Benfica. Now, you can add Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro to the 33-year-old Uruguayan’s list of suitors.

Man City demanding $40 million for Barcelona target Eric Garcia

Barcelona target Eric Garcia
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Barcelona target Eric Garcia is expected to leave Manchester City this month with just one year remaining on his current deal, but the Premier League side is said to want nearly $40 million for the 19-year-old center back.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Garcia, who joined Man City at the age of 16 in 2017 after 10 years in the Barcelona academy, has refused to sign a new contract in a presumed attempt to force a move away from the Etihad Stadium. Alas, City have no intentions of letting Garcia go for a massively discounted transfer fee.

“He told us that he doesn’t want to extend his contract with Manchester City, so he has one more year,” manager Pep Guardiola said this week. “We wanted it, but he doesn’t want to extend. I imagine he wants to play in another place.”

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Barcelona are likely seeking their long-term replacement for Gerard Pique, who is now 33 years old and has just two years remaining on his contract. Coincidentally, Pique also left the Barcelona setup at an early age, 17, and moved to Manchester — United, that is — for a few years to kickstart his professional career. After playing sparingly during his four seasons at the club, Barca came in for the then-21-year-old. The rest has, of course, been a highly decorated career full of the game’s most important trophies.