Cristiano Ronaldo. A goal-scoring machine. Thirty-three goals for club and country. And it’s December.
Oh, and that £ 86- million Gareth Bale chap isn’t too bad either. Nor is the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who twice won the UEFA Champions League with AC Milan.
The most successful club in the history of the competition, having won the European Cup nine times. But by next May, it will be 12 years since Real last won the competition, or even reached the final. La Decima is the obsession in the Spanish capital.
Ronaldo, of course. He has 15 goals in his last eight matches, including three hat-tricks. He must be a shoo-in for the Ballon D’Or. A Bale return to England would be compelling viewing, particularly at Arsenal.
And Luka Modric would receive an equally generous welcome from the Emirates crowd. The best in the competition. Sixteen points from 18 and a +20 goal difference. They went to Hell and ended up in Heaven, thrashing six past Galatasaray in Istanbul. Also overcame Juventus at the Bernabeu.
The 10th Champions League has become such an obsession in Madrid that the pressure is now huge on the players to deliver. They have been unable to for over a decade. And there are question marks defensively, with Sergio Ramos perhaps heading for the exit door next summer.
In Catalonia, they bristle at suggestions this Barcelona team is approaching the end of their cycle of dominance. The 7-0 aggregate defeat by Bayern in last season’s semi-finals will have stung – we expect a response and a fourth Champions League trophy in nine years would be the perfect riposte.
Perhaps a surprise that a club of Barcelona’s size only have four Champions League titles, three having come in the last decade.
Lionel Messi’s return from injury will be pivotal, but Neymar isn’t doing too badly in his absence, netting three against Celtic on Wednesday. He will hope to score more consistently in the second-half of the campaign. Andres Iniesta, as ever, will look to pass the other side off the park. Not as invincible as previous years, and have come unstuck away from home.
Defeat at Ajax, draw at Milan. Just a 1-0 victory at Celtic. At the Camp Nou, it’s a different story, with 13 goals in their three home matches. Tata Martino is inexperienced in the Champions League – perhaps this may be exposed in the latter stages of the competition.
Can also be defensively vulnerable, but that has always been the case with this Barcelona team – you just need to get the ball off them, first...
Some might suggest Atletico to be the easiest of the possible draws for City or Arsenal. Their form suggests otherwise. Level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga, Atletico have strolled through to the knockout round of the Champions League – and this is despite selling Falcao last summer.
After two Europa League triumphs in the last four years, Atletico are now staking their claim in the elite competition. Runnerup in the 1974 European Cup final, where they were beaten by Bayern Munich.
Diego Costa has scored in all but three of the matches in which he has appeared this season, netting 19 goals in 18 appearances. David Villa adds quality and experience, while young midfielder Koke is attracting the attention of Manchester United. Oh, and manager Diego Simeone knows a thing or two about upsetting English opposition. A points haul only matched by Real Madrid, after five wins and one draw rewarded Atletico with 16 points and top spot in Group G.
Perhaps an over-reliance on Diego Costa but make no mistake, this would be an immensely tricky assignment for any side, let alone the English sides.
Moneybags PSG continue to grow as a European force and they continue to add quality to their squad. Top of the French League, easily through the group stages – and they have Zlatan.
A UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and an Intertoto Cup in the late 90s and early Noughties is the extent of PSG’s European success. That should soon improve.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 25 goals for club and country this season, while Edinson Cavani has made an inspired start to his time in France, already scoring 15.
Thiago Silva is a centre-half of real authority at the back. A breathtaking start, with three wins in a row and 12 goals in their opening matches at home to Benfica, away to Olympiakos and away to Anderlecht.
Since then, it’s slipped a little, with defeat to Benfica this week, but the hard work had
already been done. the quality of Ligue 1, week in, week out, sufficient to prepare PSG for the latter stages of this competition? And what happens if Zlatan has one of those sulky nights?
(Available to Arsenal only – Manchester City cannot draw them as they were in the same group as the German side)
European Champions, treble winners and now they have arguably the best coach in the world. Unbeaten in the Bundesliga since October 2012.
Current holders of the UEFA Champions League and fivetime winners.
Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are the wizards of the wing, but quality and class ooze throughout this Bayern team. From the presence of Manuel Neuer, through to Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, Bayern are so strong. Immaculate –- until Manchester City came to town. Ten Bayern may have switched off but Arsenal went to Munich and won 2-0 in March in the second leg of the knockout round. Gave the Germans an almighty fright.
(Available to Manchester City only – Arsenal cannot draw as they were in the same group as the German side)
Runners-up last year and their pace and movement on the counterattack can be sensational. Demolished Real Madrid in last season’s semi-finals and continue to flourish in this competition despite high-profile sale of Mario Goetze.
Winners in 1997 but their return to prominence under Jurgen Klopp suggests they are here to stay.
Robert Lewandowski continues to fire the goals, with 15 this season, while Marco Reus, who is being monitored by Manchester United, has netted nine from the wing. Summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan has helped offset the loss of Gotze. Pushed all the way by Arsenal and Napoli, and only a late, late goal in Marseille confirmed qualification.
Ten points off the pace in the Bundesliga and defeat at home to Arsenal showed that Dortmund can be exposed. Manchester City may see the German side as a negotiable tie. – Daily Mail