Champions League club-by-club profiles and key players as knockout stages arrive

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Written By Maya Cantina

The Champions League is back for the knockout stages, with both Arsenal and Manchester City hopeful of progressing.

The Gunners are up against Porto in the Last 16, while reigning champions City take on Copenhagen. The ties for the first phase of the knockouts will take place over the next four weeks across two legs.

The quarter-finals will then be held in April, before the semi-finals in June give us the two teams who will face off to win the trophy at Wembley Stadium. City will get the last 16 stage underway on Tuesday when they face Copenhagen in Denmark.

The Gunners will then travel to Porto a week on Wednesday to get their own knockout campaign started. Here Mirror Football profiles all 16 clubs in the knockout stages and their key players.

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Porto

The Portuguese side are Arsenal’s next opponents and, without doubt, one of the rank outsiders in the last 16. Brazilian striker Evanilson has been in good form – eight goals and two assists in 15 league games – and scored a hat trick in the Champions League against Royal Antwerp.

He has been on the radar of a few clubs as Porto is such a strong breeding ground. But, interestingly, Porto have been behind Benfica and Sporting Lisbon in the title race which tells its own story.

Key man: Evanilson

Borussia Dortmund






Marco Reus in action for Borussia Dortmund
Marco Reus will be Borussia Dortmund’s key man in the knockout stages
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Getty Images)

It has been a testing season for Dortmund as they are battling for Champions League football rather than the Bundesliga title. That is probably why they did a loan deal for Jason Sancho to give them a boost.

Having said all that, Dortmund qualified from the Group of Death with Newcastle, Paris Saint Germain and AC Milan. They are battle hardened in Europe and will be a threat. Marco Reus is a terrific player – even now.

Key man: Marco Reus

PSV Eindhoven

They have taken the Dutch league by storm this year and have blown Ajax away in the title race. Take them lightly at your peril. They qualified for the knock-out stages behind Arsenal and put out Sevilla in the process.

PSV are runaway leaders and in prolific striker Luuk de Jong they have a goal machine who is scoring for fun.

Key man: Luuk de Jong

Arsenal






LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: William Saliba of Arsenal FC celebrates with Gabriel Magalhaes after scoring opening goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal FC at London Stadium on February 11, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Arsenal are riding high heading into their clash with Porto
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Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

What a return to Europe’s top table for Mikel Arteta’s men and they face Porto in what should be a winnable path into the quarter finals.

After so many years at getting stuck at the last 16 stage, they can finally get to the quarters for the first time since 2009/10. Arteta has enjoyed the tactical battle of the Champions League and Gabriel Jesus – if he can stay fit – has been prolific in this competition.

Key man: Gabriel Jesus

RB Leipzig

The Germans remain Champions League novices – and need a minor miracle to overcome Rea Madrid in the last 16 to keep their European dream alive.

But Leipzig have been known to punch above their weight before, and made it all the way to the last four of the competition in 2020, before losing out to PSG. Marco Rose’s side, who finished runners-up in their group to Manchester City, know they have nothing to lose in the knockout stages and can play without pressure.

Key Player: Lois Openda

Real Madrid






Jude Bellingham of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the LaLiga EA Sports match between Real Madrid CF and Girona
Jude Bellingham will be looking to cap a dream debut season at Real Madrid
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Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

The Spanish giants remain the kings of Europe, having won the competition a record 14 times. And it would take a brave person to bet against them doing it again this season.

Cruised through their group and are feeding off the inspirational impact Englishman Jude Bellingham has made since arriving at the Bernabeu last summer. Carlo Ancelotti’s men will take some stopping – and winning this trophy is all the club is ever measured by.

Key Player: Vinicius Jnr

Inter Milan

Simone Inzaghi led Inter to the final last season, only to fall short against Treble winners Manchester City. And the Nerazzurri are impressing on the European stage again this time round, reaching the knockout stages with two games to spare.

Atletico Madrid will be a tough nut to crack in the last 16, but striker Lautaro Martinez is leading from the front as captain and is deadly in front of goal, while Marcus Thuram is also having a stand out season. This lot could be the dark horses.

Key Player: Lautaro Martinez

Bayern Munich






Harry Kane reacts to Bayern Munich's defeat to Bayer Leverkusen
Harry Kane is hoping to finally end his trophy hoodoo
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Getty Images)

Harry Kane ’s side face a battle for the Bundesliga with Xavi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen. But on the European front, the German giants beat Manchester United home and away in the group stage to maintain their status as perennial contenders for the Champions League.

Along with Real Madrid, Bayern are the biggest obstacle to Manchester City retaining the title. Kane’s goals have provided a focal point while the January signing of Eric Dier has added more depth to the squad as they seek a first Champions League triumph since 2020.

Key player: Harry Kane

Atletico Madrid

The likes of Joao Felix have gone, but Atletico remain a force in Europe. The team no-one wants to face. Living in the shadow of Real gives Diego Simeone’s men a chip on their shoulders, which makes them hard to beat.

Atletico have lost just five games all season, remain unbeaten at home and reached the knockout stages without losing a group game, while conceding only six goals in the process. And the experienced Simeone knows how to succeed in this competition, having led his side to the final in 2014 and then again in 2016.

Key Player: Arthur Vermeeren

Barcelona






Xavi
Xavi will be looking to end his time as Barcelona manager on a high in the Champions League
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Getty Images)

A Champions League triumph is now the only realistic way for Xavi Hernandez to finish his final season in charge at the Camp Nou with silverware. The former midfielder announced his decision to quit last month after successive heavy defeats in the Copa del Rey and La Liga.

The Catalan giants are in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in three years despite shedding high earners such as Sergio Busquets, Ousmane Dembele and Gerard Pique. They remain £1bn in debt and have the pressure of needing to beat Napoli and reach the quarter finals to break even this season.

Key player: Robert Lewandowski

Napoli

The southern club have suffered a giant hangover since winning the scudetto for the first time since the days of Diego Maradona. Head coach Luciano Spalletti left in the summer and his replacement Rudi Garcia lasted 16 games.

Former Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has now returned to Napoli with the task of lifting them up the table and back into European contention for next season. After selling Kim Mae-Jin last summer, the reigning Serie A champions also face a battle to keep stars Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Key player: Victor Osimhen

Manchester City






Rodri lifts the Champions League trophy
City will be looking to retain their title
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Getty Images)

Pep Guardiola’s men are timing their season to perfection again and are on course to defend their Champions League title. They’ve won ten in a row. Top scorer Erling Haaland is banging goals in again after injury.

Kevin De Bruyne is back and fit enough to start games again and the pair were on the pitch with key defender John Stones for the first time at the weekend since the final last season. Pep says he is almost certain the treble is not possible again, but they should breeze through to the last 8 in Europe.

Key man: Erling Haaland

Lazio

Maurizio Sarri’s third season in Rome is set to be his last with his side languishing in mid-table and angry fans calling for the ex-Chelsea coach to be sacked. So far he has been protected by embattled president Claudio Lottito.

Sarri has to work with a very ordinary squad including former Premier League players Luis Alberto, Pedro, Felipe Anderson and on-loan Matteo Guendouzi. Ciro Immobile, now 33, has scored only once since November. Lazio came through a weak Champions League group where they beat Celtic home and away and lost at Feyenoord.

Key player: Ciro Immobile

PSG






PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 3: Kylian Mbappe #7 of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates his goal during the Trophy of Champions match between Paris Saint-Germain and Toulouse FC at Parc des Princes on January 3, 2024 in Paris, France(Photo by Christian Liewig - Corbis/Getty Images)
Kylian Mbappe will be hoping to finally win the Champions League with PSG
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Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

Kylian Mbappe had a rest at the weekend, unused on the bench, as PSG beat Lille 1-0 to go 11 points clear in the French league. He’ll be “100 percent” recovered from an ankle injury to play, Luis Enrique says, desperate to keep alive the French club’s elusive quest to be European champions.

Will Mbappe win more than a one sided league at PSG? A controversial 96th minute penalty claim against Newcastle saved the French side from an early exit in November, but they dug out the points they needed and are formidable at home.

Key man: Kylian Mbappe

Copenhagen

Man City’s next opponents come with a health warning. They unexpectedly won through to the knockout stage from a fiesty group containing Man U, Bayern Munich and Galatasaray. Coach Jacob Neestrup is just 35 and on this progress will be on the radar of Premier League clubs.

And there’s an element of Manc rivalry to their squad. Oscar and Emil Højlund, the younger brothers of Manchester United’s Rasmus Højlund, in his first-team squad. City should catch them cold. Denmark has a two month winter break and this is their first game of 2024.

Key man: Rooney Bardghji

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Real Sociedad

This is their first Champions League campaign for a decade and the Basques have achieved their aim of getting out of the group stage. Imanol Alguacil’s side are unbeaten in Europe this season, but have not won in four games domestically.

They boast 11 home grown players, and play with an intensity that could shock PSG who can look shaky when pressured. They tend to score early, press high, and will look to emulate Newcastle’s blueprint when they beat PSG 4-1.

Key player: Martin Zubimendi

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