Real Madrid, with a Cristiano Ronaldo brace didn’t have too hard of a time against CSKA in the second leg, while the Chelsea old guard had a heroic night at Stamford Bridge, making an improbable comeback en route to a 4-1 win over Napoli in extra time. Still, despite trailing behind Real Madrid in the league, Lionel Messi and Barcelona are the favorites to win the Champions League, with Real Madrid, Bayern and Milan not too far behind.
Number 1 – Barcelona
They’re not first in the Spanish La Liga, about to lose their champions crown for the first time in the Guardiola era, but it doesn’t really matter. There are two clear favorites to win the title this season, just like last year. In head to head with Real, Barca have shown that they’re currently the better team. Pep may be tinkering a bit with his defense, trying to figure out what’s going on with Pique, but as long as the front 5-6 are healthy and well, this is the best team in Europe. The 7-1 against Leverkusen and Messi’s incredible form (50 goals so far this season) should be sufficient proof.
Number 2 – Real Madrid
Real have won 7 of their 8 matches this season in the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring easy and hard (42 goals so far) and they’ve scored 88(!!) goals so far just in the La Liga. This team steamrolls everyone, but we saw that against a more tactically astute opposition like CSKA, things weren’t so easy, especially away from home. Things will only get harder from here, unless they meet APOEL or Marseille.
Number 3 – AC Milan
Zlatan is back, and so are Milan. Finally gotten over the annual English hump, although they almost dug themselves an impossible hole to climb out of in the second leg against Arsenal. I’m willing to back that we saw the truer rossoneri in their 4-0 win over Arsenal and not their complacent first half in London. Juventus have made it clear they aren’t planning on stopping Milan winning consecutive league titles for the first time since 1994. Basically, it all depends on Ibrahimovic and his mind set. If he’s focused, Milan are better than most and can make a match and more against Barca-Real.
Number 4 – Bayern Munich
On one hand, losing to Basel while slipping in the Bundesliga without Bastian Schweinsteiger. On the other hand, two 7 goal matches back-to-back, Mario Gomez joining the four goal club in the Champions League, and Schweini is back. Their German midfielder, along with Ribery and Robben, dictates how far this team will go. I was willing to put my money on Bayern earlier this season for Champions League winners, but if teams play aggressively and correctly against those 3 players, I don’t see them making their home final.
Number 5 – Benfica
Unlike Chelsea, there’s a balance to Benfica. They play great football at home, but do not lose their wits when playing away, keeping it solid. Not too reckless, but never too defensive, as their performance at the Old Trafford earlier this season showed us. Oscar Cardozo isn’t a world class striker, but he’s a very troubling figure for defenses, while Benfica seem to have a horde of creative midfielders who can take the game to you. Don’t seem to be a bi-polar and unstable team as a couple of sides below us.
Number 6 – Chelsea
The Old Guard showed us it was all AVB’s fault. Roberto Di Matteo has to get the credit for something, and that’s restoring order in Chelsea. He’s not a miracle worker – he can’t get Fernando Torres to actually score, but Chelsea have looked confident and aggressive, the two defining characteristics about this club since Abramovich took over in 2003. The Lampard-Terry-Drogba triangle still has plenty to give, but their consistency has yet to be proven.
Number 7 – Marseille
How much luck can one team have? I mean it’s character as well, just like Didier Deschamps, but Inter are on the ropes anyhow. Marseille played badly during both legs, but just had enough belief and good fortunes to make it through. Without Steve Mandanda, Marseille need a lot of luck with their quarter final draw. And even so, APOEL already knocked out a French team, and Lyon are arguably a better side than Marseille.
Number 8 – APOEL Nicosia
Lets just hope they don’t get Real, Bayern or Barcelona. They can cause real problems for the rest of the teams, and unlike other Cinderella teams over the years, don’t uglify the game to get results.