Manchester City was straight forward, Manchester United missed out on top spot, while Liverpool and Spurs progressed on a dramatic final day.
How will they all fare in the knockout stages next week?
Schalke v Manchester City
Prior to their defeat to Newcastle at the back end of January, City went on a remarkable run of eight straight wins and 30 goals scored, without conceding any. At the time of writing, they sit five points behind Liverpool in the title race and they’ve been known to show powers of recovery late in the season. The addition of Riyad Mahrez may not have had the immediate desired effect, but the continuous progression of Leroy Sane and the constant threat of Sergio Aguero, Pep Guardiola’s side will remain the formidable opposition.
Europe must be fading by the week. Goals have proved to be their problem all season; midfielder Daniel Caligiuri’s four is the most of any of their players domestically. They did well to progress through a group that included Galatasaray and Porto, but this stage is surely where it’ll end. They’ll push city across the two legs, but the English champions will have too much.
Man City One to watch: Kevin de Bruyne
Atletico Madrid v Juventus
Struggling for goals with a former Chelsea striker? So just bring in another that needed to get away from Stamford Bridge. Alvaro Morata will certainly add pressure to Diego Costa’s season as he looks for a regular spot alongside Antoine Griezmann. The experienced front line is one thing, but their youthful midfield has impressed domestically and in Europe this term. Thomas Lemar’s addition in the summer has been a key one and its little surprise right now they’re the closest challengers to Barcelona. The thrashing by Borussia Dortmund aside, they made it through the group relatively easily, just the head to head record kept them in second spot behind Dortmund.
are still fresh in the mind but they’ll still be tipped by a few for the title this year. Of all the last-16 ties, I’d say this is the toughest to call – but I will go with the Italian champions, and Ronaldo will again haunt the city rivals of his former club.
Manchester United v Paris St-Germain
Manchester with a point to prove. Despite their improvement under Solsjaker, United’s defensive frailties are all too evident, and while PSG may have lost on their previous visit to England this season, they’ve got the tools under Thomas Tuchel to prevent that happening again. United’s failure to top their group will ultimately return to haunt them.
Tottenham v Borussia Dortmund
Mauricio Pochettino immense bravery is shown, relying on last season’s squad for an entire season; no panic buying, and no new additions across two transfer windows. Crazy? Maybe. I certainly don’t agree there wasn’t a single player out there, and potentially available, that wouldn’t have improved the squad. But that’s the hand Spurs supporters have been dealt – and considering how their league campaign has gone it’s very difficult to argue. Domestic cups are out the picture for this season, and I can’t see their European campaign going much further than this – and that’s taking their incredible progression into account.
Dortmund have been magnificent this campaign, and despite what you see over here it’s not completely been about Jadon Sancho. Marco Reus has rediscovered his best form, Paco Alcacer has slipped into the void left by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang with ease, while Axel Witsel returned to European football with little fuss following two years in the Chinese Super League. One defeat in the Bundesliga so far this season and the way they’ve been performing, they could be an outside bet for the Champions League too.
Lyon v Barcelona
Share the load at Lyon – none of their marksmen have made it into double figures yet this season. Not to say they have a shortage of goals though. Dembele, Depay, Fekir and Traore have all been among the goals at key moments for Bruno Genesio’s side this season – and the fact Fekir and Depay are still with the club shows their intent in the long term, but 13 points behind PSG and a tie against Barcelona in this competition, it looks like the Coupe de France is their only chance of silverware this season.
Barcelona One to watch: Luis Suarez
Roma v Porto
Lucky for Roma they got the job done before the last two games in the group, as ultimately their final two defeats didn’t prove costly. While on the domestic front, their bid to get back into Europe’s elite for next season sees them currently occupy a space outside of the top four. But as another team whose strikers are currently struggling for goals it may perhaps be little surprise.
Porto, their story is slightly different. Five straight group wins helped their progression while again they occupy top spot in the Primera Liga. Tiquinho’s nine goals from 15 appearances indicates a striker in good form, while having former Real Madrid pair Iker Casillas and Pepe signals the regard their still held in, even if both those players are in the back ends of their career. However, picking a winner for this one still appears a little straight forward. The Serie A side might not be flying, but they’re still a side littered with quality and experience, and even though Patrick Kluivert has had his struggles, he will surely perform well.
Ajax v Real Madrid
And we thought there was a cloud over Manchester United? Real Madrid’s season has been nothing short of a nightmare. Julen Lopetegui found it difficult to get going – maybe failing to replace Cristiano Ronaldo played an enormous role in that. But the Champions League holder just didn’t appear to settle. Even now, under Santiago Solari, there are still too many question marks over one of the greatest names in world football. After Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, their leading goal-scorer this season is Sergio Ramos – that should say it all. Their six La Liga defeats is a separate story altogether.
Ajax off. They went unbeaten in their group which had Bayern Munich and Benfica. Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s been backed up by Dusan Tadic, Hakim Ziyech and Kasper Dolberg throughout the campaign, and the addition of Daly Blind has proved to be a shrewd one. Despite Huntelaar wanting to prove a point against one of his old teams, and the obvious struggles Madrid have had this season, they are still the competition holders and, after they proved many wrong after being written off 12 months ago after finishing second in a group that included Tottenham, I expect them to do similar this time and progress to the last eight…just.
Madrid One to watch: Gareth Bale
Liverpool v Bayern Munich
Liverpool has looked a different team this season. Spending big money on a goalkeeper certainly has aided their cause but it’s the subtler changes that have impressed me more about their possible charge to the Premier League title. Yes, Salah is still their top goal-scorer, but it’s no longer as reliant on him as it was this time 12 months ago. Roberto Firminho’s continuous improvement is making him more important to the Anfield cause, they’ve got plenty of options to be out a very capable midfield, while Virgil van Dijk’s leadership qualities at the heat of defence have made them all the more robust. Can they go all the way in Europe?
Bayern Munich’s difficult league campaign should lead them being written off in this tie. Seven points off Borussia Dortmund may seem like a tall order in the Bundesliga, but they still score goals for fun. However, conceding 23 in their first 20 league games will cause Niko Kovac huge concern, particularly against a Liverpool side that don’t struggle to create chances. The once young, exciting Bundesliga squad fall in the ‘experienced’ bracket now, and they may just handle the pace of Liverpool too much to handle.
Prediction: Liverpool One to watch: Roberto Firminho