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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Barcelona may deny Premier League's famous five Champions League glory

Messi and Suarez are lethal

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates with Luis Suarez
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It has been a barren time for Premier League teams in the Champions League with no finalists since Chelsea lifted the trophy in Munich six years ago.

But the challenge is strong heading into this season's knockout stage with England's famous five aiming to take the treasure on a trip to Kiev in June.

Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City head the market and rightly so after producing the best football in Europe this season, while a last-16 tie with Basel is about as easy as it gets at this level.

City's domestic dominance is undeniable but in hunting down an unprecedented quadruple could they run out of steam? The relentless Pep Guardiola refuses to ease up in any competition but the quest for a clean sweep may be denied in an ultra-competitive field.

Liverpool and Manchester United are 16-1 shots and not without a hope following decent draws against Porto and Sevilla respectively.

On their day Liverpool are the closest side to City in the Premier League, however, they followed the recent win over the champions-elect with defeats at Swansea and West Brom. Inconsistency like that won't be good enough at the highest level.

United's form has tailed off, just like their title challenge, but the January signing of Alexis Sanchez was a clear signal of intent and coach Jose Mourinho is a proven course and distance winner.

Can you, though, make a case for their defence? Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young started Sunday's defeat at Newcastle - we know goalkeeper David de Gea is good but he needs to be given the lack of protection in front of him.

Tottenham, still relative newbies on the scene and buzzing after finishing top of a group which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, can field Europe's finest goalscorer this season in Harry Kane.

Their first problem is that they must find a way past a Juventus side who were runners-up in two of the past three years and who go into their mouthwatering tie with 15 clean sheets in their last 16 fixtures.

Spurs still have a better chance of progressing than Chelsea, who were punished for not topping their section with a draw against Barcelona in the last 16.

Racing Post football writers' verdicts

A victory over Barca could yet turn Antonio Conte's campaign around at Stamford Bridge but the Catalans have not lost a La Liga game this term and ran riot in a 3-0 win at Real Madrid in December.

Guardiola reckons Barca are tournament favourites. "Who does Messi play for?" was his response when asked to expand on that view and the City boss may well have identified this season's winners.

Losing Neymar was a huge embarrassment last summer but manager Ernesto Valverde's calm and pragmatic approach has been perfect.

Barca play 4-4-2 these days with Lionel Messi alongside Luis Suarez. They are compact in midfield and defensively Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique can lay claim to be Europe's best centre-back pairing.

Having selected Bayern Munich ante-post it was wonderful to see them drawn against Besiktas and they remain strong contenders, while the other two up for consideration meet in a probable death match between Real Madrid and Paris St-Germain.

Coaches Unai Emery and Zinedine Zidane should be aware there won't be a job for them at their current clubs at the end of the season and if the betting is correct the first vacancy will arise at the Bernabeu.

PSG have Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani, while Real Madrid possess Cristiano Ronaldo and a record in this competition that is superior to anyone else's.

They have been European champions 12 times, including in each of the last two years but Real could finally kiss goodbye to the trophy and it may end up heading to their arch-rivals.

1pt 6-1 BetBright, BoyleSports, Paddy Power

Advised on September 12, 2017
Bayern Munich
1pt 7-1 general
Napoli (eliminated)
0.5pt each-way 35-1 Paddy Power

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Real could finally kiss goodbye to the trophy and it may end up heading to their arch-rivals
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