James Maw (Deputy Editor, @JamesMawFFT)
Not only have Pep’s side been handed a relatively favourable draw in the last 16 (Schalke came second in the weakest group, and are struggling in the Bundesliga), they’re also the most prolific goalscorers in European football – enough to strike fear into the hearts of any rival.
They’ve only gone further than this stage twice in eight attempts, but this is their best and most experienced team yet. With bogey side Liverpool potentially more focused on the Premier League title race, there shouldn’t be too much to fear in Europe. Their biggest worry will be their tendency to suffer the odd defensive lapse.
Andrew Murray (Staff Writer, @Andy_MurrayFFT)
Always fear the ravenous dog. True, it’s only been four years since Barça’s last Champions League triumph, but it feels like an eternity when Real Madrid are clearing up in their stead.
That comeback against PSG in 2016/17 was a mere stay of execution, and last season’s capitulation to Roma brought untold soul searching in Catalonia. They remain flawed – Messidependencia is still very much a thing – but the signs of a European stirring have returned.
In Ousmane Dembele they have the sort of direct player they’ve craved since Neymar’s departure, plus a goalkeeper at the top of his game in Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Get through the next round, when they’ll be without Xavi-Iniesta heir Arthur to injury, and they’ll be tough to beat.
Chris Flanagan (Staff Writer, @CFlanaganFFT)
There are two clubs I fancy more than others: Barcelona and Juventus. The Cristiano Ronaldo influence could be powerful for Juve, but right now I’d go for Barcelona.
It’s been six years since anyone other than Barça or Real Madrid won the Champions League – they just know how to get it done. It’s difficult to back Madrid now they’ve lost Ronaldo, but their biggest rivals and Lionel Messi have a point to prove. The manner of last year’s 3-0 loss at Roma hurt them badly. They won’t be so complacent again.
Joe Brewin (UK Digital Editor, @JoeBrewinFFT)
Surely… finally? The Old Lady have made it to two finals in the last four seasons, only to be beaten on both occasions – expectedly so, it must be said – against an MSN-propelled Barcelona and history-making Real Madrid.
But this time they’ve got Cristiano up their sleeves. Max Allegri has long been able to rely upon an ultra-organised and defensively resilient team to make it past some stern foe (most notably Madrid in 2014/15 and Barcelona the following season), but it’s star power at the sharp end they’ve lacked to make it all the way.
Not this time: a 34-year-old Ronaldo joint-leads the Serie A scoring charts and might even love this competition more than his own reflection. He’s the finishing touch for a team nobody will want to face.
Hunter Godson (Staff Writer, @HunterGodson)
Three consecutive Champions League trophies seemed to be quite enough for the competition’s most successful team during the first exchanges of the season. With Ronaldo upping and leaving for Turin, Madrid quickly found themselves unravelling. Defeats to a handful of La Liga’s whipping boys led to the sacking of Julen Lopetegui, and smacked of a team lacking the motivation to go the distance once again.
Enter ex-Madridista Santiago Solari. After a(nother) humbling defeat to CSKA in the Champions League, Los Blancos have begun to click into gear. A 3-1 triumph in the Madrid derby means Real now find themselves six points behind Barça in the league, and it would seem the serial winners have finally awoken from their footballing siesta.
They might not have Ronny this time around, but Sergio Ramos & Co. have a penchant for trophy-hoovering and turning up on the big occasions. Couple that with the discovery that Vinicius Junior is actually quite good at football and it feels like Madrid might just bloody win it all over again.
Conor Pope (Digital Features Editor, @ConorPope)
The biggest argument against Jurgen Klopp taking his side one step further and winning the thing this year is the fact they are in a genuine title race.
But if anything, domestic form should go in their favour: Liverpool are the only Premier League team unbeaten at home this season, Mohamed Salah leads the goals and assists charts, and their recent wobble amounted to two draws, a month after a single defeat.
The prospect of a European night at Anfield sparks fear into every team on the continent. And don’t expect them to go out due to goalkeeping errors this time.
Gregg Davies (Chief Sub, @GreggDavies)
Always the bridesmaids. After agonising final defeats to Bayern Munich in 1974, then Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, there can be no greater motivation for Diego Simeone’s men than ending the hoodoo in their own (new) stadium on June 1.
While not quite the stubborn force of recent seasons – shipping four goals at Dortmund in the group stage was a record loss for El Cholo – Los Rojiblancos certainly know how to negotiate a knockout round tie: over the past decade, Rubin Kazan and Real Madrid are the only sides to beat Atleti over two legs in Europe.
Frustrate Juventus – and old foe Cristiano Ronaldo – in the last 16, and they’ll fancy their chances of finally going all the way.