With the field set for the last 16 of this season's Champions League, theScore ranks the remaining hopefuls for Europe's marquee club trophy, splitting the teams into three distinct tiers ahead of Monday's round of 16 draw.
"Pretenders" may be a little harsh, but the fact remains it would be an upset of gargantuan proportions if any of these clubs won the Champions League.
16. FC Schalke
Last season's surprising second-place finish in the Bundesliga already feels like a distant memory. Languishing in the bottom half of the table this year, Domenico Tedesco's side has been toothless in front of goal, mustering a meager 15 tallies in 14 domestic outings. That Schalke were able to reach the knockout stages of the tournament likely says more about the cupcake group they were handed than anything else.
15. FC Porto
Speaking of that favorable quartet, Group D, which also featured Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow, was topped by Porto. The Portuguese giants head into Monday's last-16 draw after collecting more points (16) than any other side in the opening round, and yet it still feels as though they are, by some margin, the weakest of the group winners. No disrespect to the scoring exploits of prolific Malian Moussa Marega, but every second-place side will be hoping to draw Sergio Conceicao's men.
14. AS Roma
Eusebio Di Francesco is on the hot seat. Coming off an inspiring run to the semifinals of last season's Champions League, the Roma manager has endured a miserable campaign thus far in 2018-19. Patchy performances and a handful of shocking results have the capital club sitting eighth in Serie A, and while its collection of young talent is impressive - Cengiz Under continues to turn heads - it's going to take something magical for Roma to reach the heights of last season's deep run.
Outstanding performances against Manchester City proved vital for Lyon, who squeaked into the knockout stage just ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk after earning a draw against the latter Wednesday. Their inconsistency is maddening, though. The likes of Nabil Fekir, Maxwel Cornet, and a reborn Memphis Depay can all be devastating, but as a team, it's been hit-or-miss of late from Les Gones, who have just two wins in all competitions since the start of November. If nothing else, you should take the opportunity to watch midfield prodigies Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele; both are destined for massive moves in the very near future.
12. Manchester United
Blargh. By now, you know the story. Jose Mourinho has the talent up front to make Manchester United one of Europe's more scintillating sides, but the beleaguered bench boss has put the shackles on his most creative players by opting for a sterile approach, forcing the viewing public to withstand one tedious performance after another. Now that Marouane Fellaini nixed his afro, even his eventful late cameos have lost some of their sheen.
Time is running out to get aboard the hype train. Despite fielding a side largely void of Champions League experience, Ajax showed how dangerous they can be in their frenetic 3-3 draw against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, taking over that contest for long stretches in the second half by swarming the German giants with their youthful exuberance and energy. Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt are on the verge of opulent transfers this summer, while a rejuvenated Dusan Tadic continues to shine up front. They're not a true threat to win the Champions League, but they might just be the most fun team to watch in the tournament.
Not quite amongst the European elite, but always lurking and, crucially, equipped with the necessary talent to topple the big boys.
A memorable night at the Camp Nou has Tottenham back from the dead. Tipped to cede second place in their group to Inter Milan after a woeful start to the competition, Spurs recovered, getting the results they needed to advance at the expense of the Italian club. Mauricio Pochettino's men have been wildly inconsistent this season, both in the league and on the continent, but that result in Barcelona is the kind that can inspire a turnaround heading into the new year.
9. Borussia Dortmund
Lucien Favre's collection of exhilarating youngsters - led by 18-year-old dribbling wizard Jadon Sancho - has made Borussia Dortmund must-see viewing this season. The Bundesliga leaders pipped Atletico Madrid to first place in Group A, and with a favorable draw, will fancy their chances of booking a spot in the quarterfinals. With Paco Alcacer showing off a Midas touch, Marco Reus back at his best, and a strong spine that's both experienced in midfield and versatile in defense, there's no reason why this high-octane side can't take down some of the perennial favorites.
8. Atletico Madrid
The Rodney Dangerfield of European football, Atletico Madrid continue to chug along the fringes of "true contender" status. An inconsistent season to date has featured some eyebrow-raising results - especially away from home - and Atleti will be kicking themselves over not securing top spot in their group and dropping to second on the final matchday. That said, their combination of experience, defensive fortitude, and quality up front makes Diego Simeone's side one that the respective group winners will want to avoid come Monday's draw.
One of these sides is almost certain to hoist the famous big-eared trophy come June in Madrid. But how do the heavyweights stack up?
7. Real Madrid
Real Madrid barely make the cut due to their pedigree. The reigning three-time European champions are a mess. Already on their second manager of the campaign, Madrid's defensive frailty is showing no signs of subsiding, and, unlike in previous campaigns, they haven't been able to outscore their problems. They could flip the switch come the knockout stages - it wouldn't be the first time - but at the moment, it certainly looks as though Los Blancos are destined to be unseated from their European perch.
It ended up being more nervy than Liverpool supporters would've liked - thank goodness for Alisson - but last season's finalists did ultimately book their ticket to the round of 16 with a wholly deserved win over Napoli. Jurgen Klopp's side continues to evolve, with the frenzied counter-pressing style of recent seasons giving way to a more sustainable approach that's built on the transitional game; Mohamed Salah is occupying a more central role this year, with the Reds often looking to hit opponents on the counterattack. Having emerged from the proverbial "Group of Death" while also sitting unbeaten atop the Premier League, it's hard to argue with the newfound approach.
5. Bayern Munich
The Bavarian ship has steadied somewhat of late. Bayern Munich, after a brutal start that had many calling for Niko Kovac's head, still look vulnerable defensively, but with Robert Lewandowski shaking off his post-World Cup malaise, the Bundesliga behemoth is slowly reverting to type as an attacking juggernaut. Still relying on the aging duo of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery for creativity out wide isn't ideal, but at full strength - which, in fairness, they haven't really been all season thanks to a litany of injuries - Bayern have the pieces to be a serious threat.
More than ever, the current version of Barcelona looks very much like Lionel Messi carrying 10 teammates on his back. The little Argentine is doing much of the heavy lifting for the Blaugrana, with intermittent contributions from Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele supplementing his brilliance. There are serious concerns about the backline - Gerard Pique's days as a top-tier defender are probably over - and the aging midfield shielding that group. How many deficiencies can Messi cover up on his own?
Cristiano Ronaldo was signed specifically with the Champions League in mind, as the Old Lady looks to capture the elusive title that's become nothing short of an obsession in Turin. The Portuguese forward's game-breaking ability gets much of the attention, but as a whole, Max Allegri is overseeing the most well-rounded squad he's ever had at Juve. Leonardo Bonucci and Joao Cancelo are huge upgrades from last season - the former with his pinpoint passing and the latter with his electrifying bursts down the wing - and Rodrigo Bentancur is blossoming into a midfield star. Can they finally put it all together?
2. Paris Saint-Germain
Having both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar should be illegal. The French teenager has made another leap up the rung of superstardom, producing otherworldly attacking numbers this season. Meanwhile, his Brazilian counterpart, despite his theatrics, remains one of the most talented footballers in the game. Together, they're devastating. Throw in Edinson Cavani, along with Thomas Tuchel's tactical nous, and maybe this is the year Paris Saint-Germain gets over the hump in Europe.
1. Manchester City
Still the cream of the Champions League crop. Manchester City remain the most talented side in Europe from front to back, and with Pep Guardiola masterminding that outrageous collection of superstars, it's tough to look past them as the front-runner for the crown. Yes, they looked pedestrian against Lyon in the group stage, but there's always the sense City can step on the throat of their opponents whenever they really need to. Oh, and they're getting Kevin De Bruyne back shortly, as if they needed more firepower.