With the Champions League Round of 16 set to begin in mid February, three Italian clubs remain in the running for Europe’s biggest prize. Napoli has advanced and will face a tough matchup against Barcelona; Atalanta made it through with an astounding comeback and will have a chance to upend Valencia; and Juventus is in it as expected, not among the top-tier favorites but with a chance to win it all and a favorable matchup with Lyon to start the knock-outs.
It’s an interesting draw for the Italian clubs, and it leaves open a realistic possibility for two Italian teams in the final eight this season. One interesting thing about the Round of 16 draw, however, is that with three Italian clubs and four English clubs remaining, none will face each other. Naturally the Premier League has fielded a few contenders, as usual, and the way the draw materialized, it’s fair to wonder if some of these contenders will represent the chief obstacles to the remaining Italian clubs. Because the English and Italian teams are spread out, it’s likely enough that some will face one another in the later rounds. So, before we reach the beginning of knock-out action, we’re checking in on how the English contenders are being valued this season on the domestic and international fronts.
This season, Liverpool is the runaway leader in the Premier League. The latest football betting odds out of the UK favor the club as a near-lock to win the Premier League, with 1/50 odds (indicating it would be nearly miraculous for the Reds to fall short at this point). So, on the domestic front, there’s little debate about which is the top English side this season.
On the Champions League front, however, things are more complicated. There isn’t currently a strong consensus among bookmakers, but Liverpool is largely portrayed as one of the favorites rather than a clear top club, largely due to its matchup. The Reds will be taking on Atlético Madrid in the Round of 16 – a team that can do as much as any to stifle the Liverpool attack, and which has a legitimate shot at the upset. That said, should Liverpool advance, it would be a very dangerous team for Juventus or Atalanta to run into.
We’ve grown used to Manchester City being a heavyweight on the same tier as Barcelona and Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich a few years back. The club isn’t quite as strong this year as it’s been of late, having dropped well behind Liverpool in the EPL tables already. However, Man City is still the second-best Premier League club in most people’s estimation, and is the club, with 75/1 odds at a domestic title, most likely to finish as runner-up in England.
The way we’ve seen the Champions League go in the past, there’s actually some logic to the idea that City’s second-best position in the EPL makes it a more dangerous side in the Champions League. While Liverpool might be strong enough to divert its focus to international play and still win the Premier League, we’ve seen historically that a club can benefit on the Champions League front when it’s out of the running domestically. It’s for this reason (as well as the pure quality of the club) that Manchester City is some oddsmakers’ pick for the Champions League title.
Tottenham Hotspur has had a disappointing season in England, and is well out of the running and in fact unlikely to finish in a position to qualify for the 2020-21 Champions League. The Spurs have struggled defensively in particular and have yet to put together a lengthy stretch of consistent play. However, we saw this side cruise all the way to the final last year, which leaves a lingering feeling that anything is possible.
Incidentally, the Spurs have one of the most fascinating Round of 16 matchups in the field. They’ll take on RB Leipzig, which has been described as a rising force after a meteoric rise from the fifth division to the Champions League knock-outs. Tottenham will be favored, and should thus be on Italian fans’ radar for potential quarter-final pairings. But this will be a fun matchup to keep an eye on regardless.
Chelsea’s position is not unlike that of Manchester City. It’s well out of the running in the Premier League, with negligible odds to win domestically, yet it’s still be one of the stronger clubs in England beneath Liverpool. Also like Manchester City, Chelsea is still viewed as a deadly side on the international front, even if the last few seasons have been turbulent for the Blues.
That said, the road ahead is tricky, which is why most bookmakers are rather low on Chelsea’s Champions League chances. The club will take on Bayern Munich in the Round of 16, and may be too busy seeking to retain a top-four finish in the Premier League (and thus 2020-21 Champions League qualification) to devote its full attention to the tournament. Bayern won’t be a prohibitive favorite, but we’d be surprised to see any Italian club that makes it through facing Chelsea.
It should be an exciting round as always, and the remaining Italian clubs will have their hands full with their current matchups. Should one or two advance though, we’re looking forward to potential tilts against the best of the EPL.