Paris Saint-Germain can take the trophy to France
Didi Hamann joins the RP football writers to give their verdicts
Top tip: Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain are the best side in Europe at the moment – they were my fancies before the group stage and I’m not changing my mind going into the last 16.
The Champions League is a competition the French powers have been learning about in recent seasons and now they are perfectly equipped to go all the way.
Spending fortunes on the best players has to help and that’s why they can batter anyone and everyone. Real Madrid will give them a massive test but it’s one that they can pass with flying colours.
Top tip: Barcelona
Manchester City have been brilliant all season but they’ve never got to the Champions League final and, at the prices, they’re worth taking on even if Pep Guardiola has the opportunity to fire all his considerable resources at the competition.
They’re not the only team in Europe who already have a strong grip on their domestic league and Barcelona, despite not having a point-margin the size of City, are my pick to regain the Champions League at juicier odds than their former boss’s charges.
Ernesto Valverde has done a wonderful job of solidifying a previously shaky defence in his first few months at Camp Nou. They’ve conceded just 11 goals in La Liga this season and in attack they boast arguably the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi.
His poor record against Chelsea is a statistical anomaly which the Argentinian will be determined to change. The Blues are in disarray and Barca should comfortably progress to the quarter-finals.
Top tip: Barcelona
La Liga has produced six of the last eight Champions League finalists and Spanish dominance of the competition may continue with Barcelona looking strong contenders to lift the trophy.
Manchester City should have few problems getting past Basel in the round of 16 but they have picked up injuries to key attackers Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane and the physical nature of English football may count against them.
The rest of the Premier League teams are not quite at elite European level.
Chelsea look the weakest of the English contingent and could be embarrassed by Barca if the Catalans play to their potential.
Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid are possible winners but it is hard to have a strong fancy for either since they were drawn to face each other.
Bayern Munich are dominant again in Germany but looked well short of the level required when losing 3-0 to PSG in the group stage.
Top tip: Bayern Munich
I like the look of Bayern Munich, who are unrecognisable from the side who started the season under Carlo Ancelotti.
He’s gone and Jupp Heynckes is back. It was an appointment that got a lukewarm reaction at the time but he has turned them around.
Heynckes is a no-nonsense operator who has got shape and discipline back into the team, has somehow managed to transform James Rodriguez when others couldn’t and Robert Lewandowski just won’t stop scoring.
This squad is at the peak of its powers and with the Bundesliga wrapped up they can put all their energy into conquering Europe.
Top tip: Barcelona
It’s a fascinating competition and the fact that only Juventus are involved in a serious domestic title battle means that Europe’s big hitters will be even more focused than usual on winning the Champions League.
The last-16 draw couldn’t have worked out much better for Manchester City and they are worthy favourites but Barcelona appeal to me.
Without gung-ho outfits such as Napoli, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund in the field, I’m expecting the knockout games to be less expansive than last season and Barcelona’s improved defence make them an attractive bet.
They’ve conceded 11 goals in 23 games in La Liga, in which they are seven points clear and 17 ahead of rivals Real Madrid, and they were breached only once in six group matches.
A last-16 tie with Chelsea doesn’t look so tough now and, although Philippe Coutinho is ineligible, Ousmane Dembele’s return to fitness is a boost for the second half of the season.
Top tip: Manchester City
The Champions League winners probably will be whichever of the best six or seven teams is luckiest, or happens to hit top form between now and May – which is also a matter of luck, whatever the sports scientists say.
One of the paradoxes of sport is that near the end of a competition, as the average skill level of survivors rises, results become more likely to be decided by chance – a small number of moments that will be analysed endlessly on video but really are accidental in the sense that they could as easily not have happened, or happened some other day.
I cannot see any odds in the outright market at this stage that seem seriously wrong. Perhaps there is a small edge with Manchester City, who must be one of the best three or four teams and have a draw that gives them a high chance of reaching the last eight.
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