On Wednesday the 13th of December 2023, the final group-stage games of the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League (UCL) were completed. We now know which 16 sides will progress to the knockout phase, which teams will be dropping into the Europa League and which eight teams have exited European competition altogether.
In this article we provide all that information, take a look at how the British sides got on, detail what happens next in terms of the knockout phase and assess which sides have the best chance of lifting the trophy.
Which Teams Have Qualified for the Last 16?
The group phase featured eight groups of four, the top two from each progressing to the knockout stage. The teams that qualified are as follows:
Spanish teams have had a very strong competition thus far, with four topping their group (although a fifth, Sevilla, finished bottom of their quartet). The other four group winners were split evenly between England and Germany. Italian teams didn’t do especially well, although three have progressed, which is one more team that the Premier League will be providing in the last 16. Porto, Leipzig and especially Danish outfit FC Copenhagen will be thrilled to have reached the knockout phase.
This is just the second time the Danes have made it this far, the last coming in 2010/11. Moreover, they came through what appeared a tough group, ahead of Galatasaray and Man United.
How Did the British Sides do?
It was a mixed bag with the five British sides that were in the group stage. As shown above, two topped their groups, Arsenal earning 13 points in Group B and Man City boasting a perfect six-wins-from-six and 18 points in Group G. However, Celtic, Man United and Newcastle United all failed to make it to the last 16.
Of those, it is undoubtedly the Red Devils that will be most disappointed. Celtic simply do not have the budget to compete with the top European sides and although finishing bottom of Group E was not what they wanted, it was hardly a shock. As for the Magpies, they had the toughest group of the round, being up against PSG, Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
In one sense that was a glamour draw that gave the fans some terrific occasions, both home and away. But on the other, escaping the group was always going to be tough. It went to the wire though and whilst Newcastle ended up bottom of the pile, they were in with a great chance of making it to the last 16 even in the last stages of the final round of games. Sadly it wasn’t to be and there is no doubt that they struggled in part due to their terrible injury list.
Man United, however, were simply dreadful. Whilst individual errors by their keeper cost them several points, to finish beneath both Copenhagen and Galatasaray was a woeful outcome. United were last in Group A and picked up just four points from the 18 available. They will not be playing European football in the New Year, whilst their finances have been badly hit by their failure to make the knockout stage of the UCL. They managed just one win and conceded 15 goals in their six clashes, with only Antwerp being more defensively inept than the three-time winners of this competition.
When Does the Knockout Phase of the Champions League Start?
The Champions League and other European competitions take a break for Christmas and return in 2024. The last 16 gets underway on the 13th of February and the draw takes place on the 18th of December, with the eight group winners seeded and set to face one of the runners-up. After the last 16, another draw is made which determines the quarters and then semis, those games taking place in early/mid-April and late April/early May respectively. The final, which is to be held at Wembley this season, takes place on the 1st of June and is the only remaining clash in the competition that is not played over two legs (home and away).
Who Will Win the 2023/24 Champions League?
Ah, if we knew that we’d be cashing in our savings and heading to the bookies. Sadly, we don’t know, but defending champions City are currently the bookmakers’ favourites. Pep’s side are priced at 2/1, with Harry Kane’s Bayern Munich, who won five and drew one in the group phase, next in the betting at odds of 4/1. Real Madrid and Arsenal are joint third in line at 11/2, with all the rest at 14/1 or more.
Manchester City are probably worthy favourites but they are stuttering domestically and at the time of writing are fourth in the Premier League. Of course, all teams generally have a bad patch at some stage and City do have a habit of ending the season strongly. They will be better for their experience of winning this competition last year and there is always the chance they will bolster their squad in January. Plus the return of Kevin De Bruyne will be a big boost, especially if he is fresh in the latter stages of the UCL.
Bayern also look very strong, but they too are being eclipsed domestically. Kane is thriving in Germany and his goals give them a real chance but there are concerns that in this competition they perhaps suffer through having it too easy in the Bundesliga. That is not the case this term though, as they trail surprise package Baer Leverkusen, so it will be interesting to see if they rise to the challenge.
Real Madrid can never be written off in this tournament and given the incredible form of Jude Bellingham and the class in their squad, they may prove the value pick of the odds. Whatever happens between now and June though, we are sure of a brilliant and exciting finale to the 2023/24 Champions League and we can’t wait – although we’ll have to, until February!