Skip to main content
Menu
How The Champions League Draw Changed Each Club’s Odds Of Moving On

The UEFA Champions League knockout stage draw happened today. Sixteen teams found out their next opponent on the road to the final. How pot-holed of a road did your club draw? Here’s what FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index thinks of the Round of 16 matchups.

A lot has changed at Real Madrid since they won the 2018 UCL final. Cristiano Ronaldo left the club and moved to Turin, and French legend Zinedine Zidane stepped down as manager. The transition hasn’t been smooth: Despite winning their group, Los Blancos are scoring fewer goals per 90 minutes than they did in any of their previous three Champions League campaigns (all of which they won), and they managed to lose two matches to CSKA Moscow, who currently sit in third place in the mediocre Russian Premier League.

The Champions League knockout stage draw didn’t do Real any favors, placing them against Ajax. The Dutch squad boasts the world’s best young player at the back and a reinvigorated Dusan Tadic leading their attack. Fans at the Bernabéu shouldn’t panic just yet: Our model gives Real a 44 percent chance of advancing to the quarters. But even if they get past Ajax, it should come as no surprise if Real fails to win its fourth consecutive title: Our model gives them just a 5 percent chance of raising the trophy.

Which club got the best draw?

Chances of making the UCL quarterfinals, before and after the Round of 16 draw, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index

Team Pre-draw post-draw Change
Roma 24% 46% +22
Porto 39 54 +15
Manchester City 78 90 +12
Tottenham 45 56 +10
Barcelona 74 84 +10
Ajax 50 56 +6
Paris Saint-Germain 70 75 +6
Atletico Madrid 38 38 0
Schalke 04 14 10 -4
Juventus 67 62 -5
Dortmund 50 44 -5
Manchester United 31 25 -6
Lyon 25 16 -9
Liverpool 61 48 -12
Real Madrid 62 44 -18
Bayern Munich 72 52 -21

A lot has changed with Liverpool since that ill-fated final, too. For starters, the team found a keeper whose hands function the way a keeper’s hands should function (i.e. not like this). And while the Reds struggled away from home during the group stage — they managed just one goal and five shots on target in 270 minutes of gameplay — their home stadium at Anfield was predictably a fortress. Liverpool won all three of their home matches, including a dominant, do-or-die performance in their last group match against a strong Napoli team.

A week ago, Liverpool’s chances of merely reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League were about as good as their chances of correctly predicting the outcome of the ceremonial coin toss that precedes each match. Now, our model gives Liverpool the sixth-best chances of winning the whole thing — they have an 18 percent chance of reaching the final and a 9 percent chance of winning the trophy, according to SPI. But before they can think about playing in their second final in as many years, they’ll have to deal with the small problem of squaring off against German juggernauts Bayern Munich in the first round of the knockout stage.

Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski scored at an obscene rate in the group stage, and Liverpool will be without the suspended defensive stalwart Virgil Van Dijk for the first leg. Lucky for the Reds, that first leg is at Anfield. And no team wants to see a front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in a two leg knockout situation. This is likely to be the highlight fixture of the Round of 16, and Bayern fans must be feeling a little hard done by: Liverpool is the biggest hurdle they could have drawn. That’s reflected in our forecast: Bayern is only the slightest of favorites, with a 52 percent chance of moving past the Reds. Bayern’s odds of making the quarterfinals before the draw were 72 percent — that’s the biggest decline between pre-draw and post-draw chances of advancing in the field of 16..

The team Liverpool is battling atop the English Premier League table, Manchester City, should be much, much happier about its draw. They will face Schalke 04, the competition’s weakest remaining team, per SPI. According to our model, the German team’s chances of winning the Champions League are less than 1 percent. On the other hand, the Citizens have the best chances of winning the title (19 percent), which would be the first in club history. Only two teams, Roma and FC Porto, saw a bigger improvement in their chances of reaching the quarterfinals before the draw and after (Man. City went from 78 percent to 90 percent).

Pep Guardiola’s squad ran into a couple of roadblocks in the group stage — a home loss to Olympique Lyonnais being the most notable — but they still managed to score the second-most goals per 90 minutes. Schalke 04, who scored the fewest goals per 90 minutes among teams that advanced to the knockout stage, will hope their defensive record holds up — they conceded the fourth-fewest goals per 90 minutes during the knockout stage. But defending against Porto, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow is one thing; defending against City’s pass-happy brand of soccer is a different thing altogether. Kevin De Bruyne’s recent return from injury won’t help matters for Schalke 04. So far, City’s path is clear. They’ll just have to hope they don’t run into Liverpool again.

Unlike their Mancunian rivals, Manchester United drew the competition’s most potent offense: Paris Saint-Germain. Les Parisiens scored 2.63 goals per 90 minutes en route to topping a group that included Liverpool and Napoli.1 United have been better in Europe than they have been domestically, but Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani must be salivating at the prospects of running at the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof. SPI puts PSG has 3 in 4 favorites against Man U.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Champion League hopes were on a knife’s edge a week ago, just like Liverpool’s. But a crucial draw with Barcelona — and some help from Internazionale — saw them through. To advance any further, Spurs will have to figure out a way to unlock what’s been a nearly impenetrable Borussia Dortmund defense.2

And because it’s the Champions League, all eyes will be on the two players who’ve dominated European club soccer for the past decade: Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Even though Ronaldo hasn’t hit the heights he’s used to hitting in the Champions League yet for Juventus — he was sent off in his opening match against Valencia, and has scored just one goal in the competition so far — the Italian champions comfortably topped their group. Our model gives them a 10 percent chance to win the Champions League — good for fourth best (tied with Bayern).

But to do so, they’ll have to get past perennial contenders Atletico Madrid first. Both teams are known for the defensive prowess, but Atletico conceded at a higher rate per 90 minutes during the group stage than they have in previous years. If Ronaldo finds his scoring touch, Atletico could be in deep trouble.

Finally, Barcelona may not have the best chances to win the title — our model gives them the second-best chances at 14 percent — but Manchester City doesn’t have Messi, either. Hilariously, Messi finished fifth in the Ballon d’Or voting this year. Fitting payback for the snub would be to lead Barcelona to their first Champions League victory since 2015. Four years may not seem like a long wait for such a trophy, but when your bitter rivals are the team that won each of the intervening titles, it creates some urgency. Messi scored 1.67 goals per 90 minutes during the group stage and assisted on another .28. Olympique Lyonnais were a pain in Manchester City’s side during the group stage, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t cause Barcelona fits. But our model gives Barcelona an 84 percent chance of advancing — Lyon is the second-worst rated team remaining — and if the Messi that shredded opponents in the group stage shows up to play, Olympique Lyonnais won’t stand a chance. Nor will anybody else, for that matter.

Footnotes

  1. It was the group of death, to be sure.

  2. They’ve given up the fewest goals per 90 minutes in the competition so far.

Terrence Doyle is a writer based in Boston, where he obsesses over pizza and hockey.

Comments