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The break between the Champions League group stage and knockout rounds always feels a bit strange. The competition drives and dictates the European soccer season to the point where we follow the top-four races in the top leagues as closely as we do the title races — or more so, due to the competitiveness of such races — but we typically take an approximately two-month break from the competition in the winter months. This year, said break was 3½ months.A lot’s gone on in the soccer world since Nov. 2, when RB Leipzig and AC Milan stomped Shakhtar Donetsk and Salzburg, respectively, to claim the final spots in the round of 16. Barcelona established full control of LaLiga’s title race … after getting eliminated from the Champions League. Arsenal maintained its edge on the field in the Premier League. Bayern Munich pulled away from the Bundesliga field, only to get reeled back in a bit. Chelsea and Liverpool went from wobbly to worse. Manchester United released its most famous player and immediately surged. Oh yeah, and the entire club soccer world paused for weeks while Lionel Messi and Argentina won the World Cup.- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)But now the competition’s back, and damn if the pecking order doesn’t seem a little blurry. From both betting and odds perspectives, Manchester City and Bayern are the clear favorites, but the former has won just three of its last six matches in all competitions, the latter one of four. PSG has lost Kylian Mbappe to injury in the short term and has shown spotty road form since returning to action.Editor’s Picks2 RelatedReal Madrid is banged up. Liverpool and Chelsea are playing like mid-table Premier League teams, which they are. Benfica, good enough to top PSG in Group H last fall, lost its most exciting young player (midfielder Enzo Fernandez) to a big-money transfer in late January.It’s all a bit of a mess. Of the top seven or eight favorites heading into the round of 16, only one, Napoli, is playing all that well. Will that lead to some shocking results over the next couple of weeks? Will the sport’s sleepwalking big names use the Champions League as a shot in the arm and find fifth gear again? We’re about to find out.To brace ourselves for the midweek matches ahead, let’s walk through the remaining field. Who’s favored? Why might each team win the competition? What’s each team’s most fatal flaw?The action begins on Tuesday in Milan (Tottenham Hotspur at AC Milan) and Paris (Bayern at PSG).The favoritesManchester CityCaesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +170 (equivalent to 37%) and 19%, respectivelyRound of 16 opponent: RB Leipzig (Feb. 22 and March 14)Why they will win: They might still be the best team in Europe. Erling Haaland has produced as expected (31 goals in 28 matches) since arriving last summer. But installing him at the top of City’s attack has in some ways stifled its flow and creativity.There have been just enough iffy results of late — a 2-0 loss to Southampton in the League Cup, recent one-goal defeats to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — to keep the Sky Blues five points back in the Premier League title race and prompt a series of “Is City worse off with Haaland?” takes. In this same iffy time period, however, they’ve scored wins over Arsenal and Chelsea (twice), and they’ve still averaged nearly two goals per match in all competitions since the restart.Man City boss Pep Guardiola is still chasing his first Champions League title with the club. Will this be their year? Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty ImagesCaesars still lists them as overwhelming Champions League favorites. For all of their wonky form, they still have Haaland, World Cup hero Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and some of the best and most creative attacking talent in Europe.Why they won’t: Pep’s in Tinker Mode. Pep Guardiola is searching for solutions to City’s stolidness at the moment and with the pieces to hand, he’ll probably find them. He hasn’t yet, though, and his tinkering is taking City to weird places. Joao Cancelo found himself out of favor and took a surprise loan to Bayern. De Bruyne, City’s engine, started the Spurs loss on the bench for “tactical reasons.”City’s formation against Spurs was rather indecipherable — it was kind of a 4-2-3-1, kind of a 4-4-2, kind of a 4-1-2-1-2, kind of a 3-2-3-2 — and produced a passing map that could best be described as “What the hell is this?”First-year City additions have often taken a while to gel and despite his productivity (which forces Guardiola to keep him in the lineup at all times), Haaland is no different. Guardiola will inevitably find the answers he’s looking for, but Leipzig is catching the Sky Blues at a pretty vulnerable time.Bayern MunichCaesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +600 (equivalent to 14%) and 22%Round of 16 opponent: PSG (Feb. 14 and March 8)Why they will win: They still have the most attacking upside in the world. When Bayern began its restart with a trio of 1-1 draws and a number of contenders inched closer to the 10-time defending Bundesliga champions at the top of the table, we overreacted as we always do to brief runs of mortal form. They miss Robert Lewandowski too much! The team chemistry is awful! Julian Nagelsmann is going to get canned if they lose to PSG!Granted, that last part might still be on the table, but Bayern responded to this complete and utter collapse by torching Mainz and Wolfsburg by a combined 8-2. Their attention span waned against Wolfsburg and they almost let their opponents back in the match, but Jamal Musiala put things away with an otherworldly one-man show.MUSIALA ALL BY HIMSELF 🤯🔥 pic.twitter.com/dCSuFF0hb4— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 5, 2023 For all of Bayern’s supposed struggles, Musiala still has 14 goals and nine assists in all competitions, while Serge Gnabry has 10 and 10 and three other players have combined double-digit goals with at least four assists. (None of them are Thomas Muller or Kingsley Coman, who combined for three of the goals against Wolfsburg.)This might not be 2020-level Bayern, but in a sea of contenders performing beneath their full capabilities, the German champs remain absurdly dangerous. (They have Cancelo now, too, who already has two assists in just 149 minutes.) And they should get the injured Sadio Mane back by the time the second leg against PSG rolls around.Why they won’t: Opponents take better shots. This team boasts some of the most impressive finishing skill in the world, but without Lewandowski as a center of gravity up front, Bayern’s raw shot quality has suffered a bit. While they still attempt far more shots than anyone in the Bundesliga (0.20 per possession), their 0.11 xG per shot ranks only 10th in the Bundesliga; league opponents, meanwhile, are averaging 0.12 xG per shot (14th).Is that a huge difference? No, but with Leo Messi, Neymar and (for the second leg, at least) Kylian Mbappe on deck, shot quality could quickly become a massive issue in Bayern’s quest for a seventh European crown.The hopefulsParis Saint-GermainCaesars and FiveThirtyEight odds: +700 (equivalent to 13%) and 5%Round of 16 opponent: Bayern Munich (February 14 and March 8)Why they will win: The sum of the parts is still overwhelming. Messi. Neymar. Mbappe (eventually). Achraf Hakimi. Gianluigi Donnarumma. Marco Verratti. You get the point. When PSG ignite, it’s pretty jaw-dropping.They began the season outscoring their first six league opponents by a combined 24-4. Despite long battles with an iffy attention span — plus injuries and a long easing-in process for stars following the World Cup — they’ve still scored 85 goals and allowed just 27 in 32 matches. The three stars up front have 57 goals and 35 assists between them. The whole never seems to match the sum of the parts, but that doesn’t mean the sum isn’t immense.Why they won’t: We’ve been down this road before. There’s a pretty reliable script for how a team with this many stars falls apart at the wrong time. First, because of injuries and load management (among other things) the three scorers aren’t all on the field together much: Mbappe, Messi and Neymar have all played in just 17 of 32 matches. Second, the midfield’s duties become overwhelming with the absence of any pressing presence up front. Third, the depth of talent still isn’t what…

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