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  • Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Man City are the easy favorites going into the knockout stage… but can other clubs cause them trouble? Plei App Champions League Power Rankings 🔢

Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Man City are the easy favorites going into the knockout stage… but can other clubs cause them trouble? Plei App Champions League Power Rankings 🔢


The last-ever UCL group stage came to a close 9 days ago, and it didn’t disappoint. 😅

Man City and Real Madrid managed perfect records; meanwhile Man United, Sevilla and Newcastle crashed out of Europe.

Who are the favorites and underdogs going into the Round of 16? We rank the remaining clubs in Europe’s most prestigious competition. 👇

On Wednesday, December 13, the last ever group stage of the UEFA Champions League as we know it came to a close.

Starting from next season, Europe’s most prestigious club competition is taking on a whole new look, one that will undoubtedly take some time to get used to. You can read all about this new format in Issue 023 of our newsletter. ⏬

The new system will not include a group stage phase, with a league table to replace it instead. Fortunately, the final group stage in UCL history did not disappoint, and with the way things are going, the knockout stage isn’t going to either.

It started off with a bang on Matchday 1. Bayern and United gave us goals upon goals in a 4-3 thriller. In their first UCL home game away from the Camp Nou, Barcelona schooled Antwerp in an emphatic 5-0 victory. Meanwhile, Arsenal proved to be too much for PSV at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners won 4-0.

We also can’t forget Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel’s 90+5’ equalizer against Atlético Madrid. Absolute scenes in the Stadio Olimpico.

Although it’s pretty hard to top the entertainment value of a last-minute goal by a goalkeeper to secure a point, later matchdays did not fail to amuse. From a fan perspective, it’s all we could really ask for.

In this 33rd edition of the Plei newsletter, I look back at some of the noteworthy action that took place in the group stage of this season’s Champions League, talk about what’s to come and then I finish by ranking all the teams that moved on to the Round of 16. 👇

🏆 The favorites

My first pick to go all the way in this season’s Champions League is Bayern Munich.

One of eight sides to go undefeated in the group stage, the German champions have had no trouble scoring goals this season. They lead the Bundesliga in goals scored thus far, and managed 12 goals across their first six UCL matches.

Their only blunder so far in the competition was a 0-0 draw at home against Copenhagen, and they conceded their fair share of goals, but it does little to take away from the talent that the Germans possess that makes them win games with ease.

One thing is clear about Bayern: as long as Harry Kane is fit and leading the line, and the likes of Jamal Musiala, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane are creating the chances and scoring goals of their own, don’t be surprised to see them absolutely cook a Lazio side that has been terrible in Serie A so far this season.

Up next is none other than Real Madrid, one of two sides to secure a perfect record of 18 points in the group stage.

We don’t need to dive into the insane impact that Jude Bellingham has had in this team. As long as he’s fit, Madrid is without a doubt a candidate to make it all the way to Wembley.

What Los Blancos have proved time and time again this season in all competitions is that when playing against them, it isn’t over until it’s over. Despite winning all six of their matches, they weren’t always fully convincing, but when has Madrid ever been known for dominating a match from start to finish? For them, it’s about securing the win at all costs, even if it means playing second fiddle for much of the 90 minutes.

I expect more of the same across the two legs against RB Leipzig, a side that boasts a lot of exciting young talent. The likes of Xavi Simons, Dani Olmo and Lois Openda will trouble them; nonetheless, Madrid should still come out on top.

A Man City that is still winning even without a flood of Haaland goals is an extremely scary sight.

That’s exactly what we witnessed throughout this season’s group stage. Yes, he did manage to score 5 goals in 5 games played, but the goals only came across 3 games. That’s 2 matchdays that he played and did not net, and a third matchday in which he didn’t play at all but a B-team City side still managed to come out victorious.

In fairness, he scored the same amount of goals in less games played in last season’s group stage.

What I’m trying to say with this is that, with or without Haaland scoring goals or in the lineup at all - and De Bruyne being absent due to injury for essentially the entire season thus far - this City side is still very, very dangerous.

Which is why I have to select them as favorites to win the trophy again.

A reigning champion is always going to be a tough competitor in any tournament, but what sets City apart is that they somehow find a way to win even when they experience setbacks.

I already mentioned Haaland occasionally misfiring, as well as De Bruyne’s long term injury. For City’s standards, they aren’t having a very good Premier League season at all, currently sitting at 4th place with Arsenal, Aston Villa and Liverpool all finding themselves above them.

The thing about City is that they have players that are willing to step up and define matches in the rare moments where they find themselves somewhat struggling. I’m talking about guys like Rico Lewis and Jeremy Doku, who have quickly gained plenty of trust from Pep Guardiola and are performing well when given the opportunity.

You’re also getting endless quality from Julian Alvarez, who’s there to finish off chances in case Haaland can’t.

Despite the fact that they went six for six in the group stage, they only managed one clean sheet, so they’ll have to tidy it up in the back if they want to become two-time champs.

But a known fact about City is that they always turn up the heat in the second half of the season. With De Bruyne coming back in the early months of the new year, I’m willing to bet that the Cityzens are going to end the season on a high note once again.

For them, it starts with a fairly easy draw against Copenhagen, but don’t rule the Danish club out just yet.

👀 Ones to watch

If there’s anything football continuously teaches us with each passing season, it’s that rankings and predictions mean nothing. Once two teams take the pitch and the first whistle blows, it’s anyone’s game to win.

Fortunately, we’re witnessing a really exciting Champions League season, with scintillating talent pouring out of every club still in the tournament.

It won’t be easy fixtures for Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as much as the odds may tell you otherwise. Copenhagen, for example, should not be underestimated at all, having finished second in a group that also had Man United and Galatasaray.

To score four against the Red Devils is hardly a fluke, especially when they backed it up by holding Bayern to a draw at Allianz Arena the following fixture and only losing by 1 goal in their first meeting with the German champions. Overall, the Danish club should by no means be ruled out just because they’re up against City.

We witness a fairy tale run nearly every season, and Copenhagen’s group stage performances fit that description.

Speaking of fairy tale underdogs, another candidate for that status has to be Porto. They finished second, level on points with an inconsistent, yet first place Barcelona. Although they lost on both occasions against the Catalan club, they were solid in their other fixtures, so much so that they won all four of them.

They’re up against a fiery Arsenal side that has qualified to the UCL knockout stage for the first time since the 2016/17 season, which was also the last time the Gunners were in the competition at all. Porto will want to capitalize on the knockout stage inexperience of Mikel Arteta’s men.

We already spoke of RB Leipzig, but it would be disrespectful to not keep mentioning them, despite their unlucky matchup against perfect Real Madrid. A team that was able to trouble the best team in the world  - having been up 2–0 at halftime in their second meeting with City before conceding 3 in the second half - is a team that can hold their own against anyone.

Sure, they may have lost on both attempts against City, but similar to Porto in their group, they won all of their other four matches. In their six appearances in the UCL, the furthest Leipzig has managed to go is the semifinals, and there would be no better way to try to replicate that than to take down a giant and make a statement.

Both sides are experiencing lackluster seasons compared to their achievements the previous year, but that’s exactly what makes Napoli vs. Barcelona an exciting matchup.

History would presume that Barcelona comes away victorious. The only problem with that is that the Blaugrana haven’t been living up to their magical history in the UCL. The first two seasons after Messi’s departure saw them drop down to the Europa League, and they’re finally back in the knockout stage after topping Group H.

Napoli, meanwhile, are the reigning Serie A champions and went on a convincing run in the UCL last season - that is, until they hit a roadblock in AC Milan.

Neither team is playing magical football at the moment, so it’s hard to say who takes the cake in this one. However, the Italians did trouble Real Madrid in both meetings, so it’s possible that they’ll be going into the tie as the favorites if Barca can’t discover consistent winning form in time.

From face value, you’d expect PSG to run into no issues against Real Sociedad. The thing is, the Spanish club boasts the best defensive record so far in the tournament, having only conceded twice across six matches to finish first in their group.

The problem is, they haven’t really found the back of the net much, either. Along with Dortmund, they are the team with the least amount of goals scored among all qualified clubs with 7. PSG haven’t been the most formidable in defense, which is exactly why Sociedad shouldn’t be underestimated.

Even if Sociedad’s first Champions League appearance in a decade ends in the Round of 16, it’s safe to say that their run was already worthy of fairy tale status.

🔢 All 16 remaining clubs, ranked

Now to put it all into one big list. Here are the Plei App’s Official Power Rankings for the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season going into the knockout stage of the competition.

16: Lazio 🇮🇹

15: FC Copenhagen 🇩🇰

14: PSV 🇳🇱

13: Porto 🇵🇹

12: Napoli 🇮🇹

11: RB Leipzig 🇩🇪

10: Inter Milan 🇮🇹

9: Barcelona 🇪🇸

8: Real Sociedad 🇪🇸

7: Atletico Madrid 🇪🇸

6: PSG 🇫🇷

5: Dortmund 🇩🇪

4: Arsenal 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

3: Bayern Munich 🇩🇪

2: Real Madrid 🇪🇸

1: Manchester City 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

That’s it for the 33rd edition of our newsletter! 😅
How did you like it? Let me know by messaging me via email at [email protected] or by sending us a text. 📲
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