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Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Dodgy defence still a problem for Pep's City

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Atletico Madrid
How they qualified
It was trademark Atletico with only two goals conceded and one of those came in a 1-0 defeat at Bayern Munich when top spot had already been secured. Five of their six matches featured under 2.5 goals and a grand total of nine goals were scored. 

Form since
Barcelona knocked them out of the Copa del Rey 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals and a run of two wins in eight away games in all competitions is the major reason why Diego Simeone's side are in a scrap for the top four in La Liga.

Transfer action
Same again for Simeone.

Prospects
Runners-up in two of the last three years, Atletico are course and distance performers with a solid defence, compact midfield and a match-winning striker in Antoine Griezmann. The draw has been relatively kind against Bayer Leverkusen and, while others have a greater chance of success, Atletico are worthy of consideration at double-figure odds.


Juventus
How they qualified
Juve conceded only twice - equal-best with Atletico - but first place was in the balance after two home draws until a couple of late goals against ten-man Seville secured them top seeding in the last 16. 

Form since
Max Allegri, who is being linked with a summer switch to Arsenal, has seen his side open clear daylight at the top. Hard-fought 1-0 wins over Roma and Inter have been key to that advantage.

Transfer action
Patrice Evra and Hernanes left Turin, with tough midfielder Tomas Rincon signing from Genoa. Stephan Lichtsteiner was added to the Champions League squad.

Prospects
An experienced defence combined with a strike pairing of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala will strike fear into Europe's finest and a last-16 draw with Porto should allow Juve a comfortable path to the quarter-finals. However, Juve's midfield has failed to function particularly well and domestic away defeats to Milan, Inter and Fiorentina suggests bookmakers have priced the Old Lady correctly.


Leicester
How they qualified
The Foxes made a dream start on their Champions League debut, collecting 13 points from a possible 15 before a weakened side was stuffed 5-0 at Porto after top spot had been secured.

Form since
Leicester's form had not been great during their European adventure and it has gone only one way since with Claudio Ranieri's side dragged into a Premier League relegation battle. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been nowhere near the levels produced last season and the Foxes have not scored a league goal in 2017.

Transfer action
Midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and defender Molla Wague arrived at the King Power with back-ups Luis Hernandez and Jeffrey Schlupp among those to depart. 

Prospects
Seville's commitment to pouring men forward could suit the counter-attacking abilities of Leicester but another miracle is surely beyond the 5,000-1 Premier League champions who will do well just to keep the tie alive after the first leg in southern Spain.

Leverkusen
How they qualified
Leverkusen's Bundesliga problems were not evident in a competent group-stage campaign in which the pivotal points came against Tottenham. Unlucky to draw 0-0 at home, the Germans deservedly won 1-0 at Wembley to take second place behind Monaco.

Form since
Shocking - Leverkusen spent the weekend denying they were about to sack pressing professor Roger Schmidt before a crucial success over high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt. Defeats to Ingolstadt, Gladbach and Hamburg are not good enough for a talented squad, while Hakan Calhanoglu's season-ending suspension for a contract breach earlier in his career is also a massive blow.

Transfer action
Teenage demon dribbler Leon Bailey arrived from Genk and Robbie Kruse departed for China.

Prospects
There is quality in this side - Bernd Leno, Benjamin Henrichs, Jonathan Tah, Julian Brandt, Kevin Kampl, Karim Bellarabi and Javier Hernandez would cost a fortune in the transfer market - but something appears broken at Leverkusen.


Manchester City
How they qualified
Only two wins for Guardiola's side but one of those was a famous 3-1 victory against his former club Barcelona. That was revenge for a 4-0 loss at Camp Nou in a game where City actually played quite well for an hour.

Form since
City have been almost perfect at home but it's on the road where Guardiola's men have suffered some horrendous results with heavy defeats at Leicester and Everton as well as a 1-0 loss to Liverpool.

Transfer action
Teenage forward Gabriel Jesus has already made an immediate impact with the Citizens, displacing Sergio Aguero in the starting 11. Yaya Toure has also returned to the Champions League squad.

Prospects
It all depends which City team turn up. At their best Guardiola could guide them all the way but the last-16 tie with Monaco looks tougher than when the draw was made in December and a leap of faith is needed when it comes to trusting them defensively.


Monaco
How they qualified
With hindsight the 9-2 offered about Monaco beating Tottenham on matchday one was enormous. Monaco, 250-1 pokes in the outright market ante-post, defied 6-1 odds to top the group.  

Form since
Monaco have been magnificent, winning seven of their last eight games and drawing the other 1-1 at title rivals Paris St-Germain. They are the top scorers on the continent with 75 goals and their goal difference of plus 52 is significantly superior to anyone else in Europe's elite leagues.

Transfer action
Brazilian left-back Jorge reportedly turned down some of Europe's biggest club to head to the principality.

Prospects
The Ligue 1 leaders are defying expected goal stats to continually thrash opponents but their squad, brimming with potential and getting better every week, could still be seen as tournament dark horses.


Porto
How they qualified
The Portuguese side first came through a tough playoff against Roma but they failed to show that level of form for most of the group-stage campaign. Porto beat only awful Club Brugge (twice) and Leicester's reserves and they were lucky to face Copenhagen away when the Danes were hampered by an injury crisis.

Form since
Porto have got themselves in the title race with eight wins and a draw in their last nine league matches.

Transfer action
Forward Tiquinho has made a stunning start since arriving in late January from Vitoria Guimaraes. The Brazilian bagged both goals on his debut against Sporting and followed that with another goal against his former club on Saturday.

Prospects
Porto are a famous name on the European circuit and 21-year-old striker Andre Silva looks the part with 12 league goals but Nuno's men have probably reached the limit of their ability to get this far with Juventus set to prove too good in the knockout phase.


Seville
How they qualified
Second spot was always the aim with Juventus strong favourites to top the section and Seville did their job well with a gritty goalless stalemate in Turin on matchday one laying the qualification foundations. Coach Jorge Sampaoli isn't known for his defensive qualities but Seville kept five clean sheets and all three of the goals conceded came after Franco Vazquez was sent off at home to Juve.  

Form since
Ended Real Madrid's unbeaten run with a famous 2-1 win and looking good for a top-four spot in La Liga.

Transfer action
Stevan Jovetic scored the winner against Real and was the main arrival. Hiroshi Kiyotake and Timothee Kolodziejczak were among those to depart.

Prospects
Seville arguably have the easiest last-16 draw against Leicester and they have shown with wins over Real and Atletico Madrid this season that at home Sampaoli's side are a match for the very best. Not without an each-way shout but Seville are vulnerable on the road.

Guardiola could guide them all the way but the last-16 tie with Monaco looks tougher than when the draw was made in December and a leap of faith is needed when it comes to trusting them defensively
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