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Dust off your short-sleeved shirts, get that down jacket packed away because spring must be round the corner. You know why? Champions League is back! And with it comes the glorious possibility of what might be, the chance for 15 fanbases to dream of Wembley Stadium before their fantasies collide with the crushing reality of Manchester City.

There's 16 teams left in our field. Here's our pick of the one person who could win it for each of them. As always you can catch all the action across CBS, Paramount+, CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports Golazo Network.

Manchester City - Rodri

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ESP • M • #16
Premier League: 5 Goals, 3 Assists

We start with a team for whom the premise of this exercise hardly need apply. Which player could win the Champions League for Manchester City? Take your pick. The best scorer in the game? A revitalised Kevin De Bruyne? That muscular, assertive defense? Really the question for Pep Guardiola is whether there is any player who he cannot do without. 

It is one he will already know the answer to. It has been a year since City lost a competitive match in which Rodri started (they were defeated by Arsenal on penalties after drawing the 90 minutes of the Community Shield). Their seven matches without him this season have brought four defeats and wins over Young Boys, Crvena zvezda (just) and Huddersfield. All the more so now that Kalvin Phillips is gone, there is no one to step up for Rodri in the same way that Julian Alvarez could fill a De Bruyne or Erling Haaland-shaped hole in the City team. Quite often Guardiola has concluded his best option is 19-year-old Rico Lewis, an inverted fullback who has some way to go before establishing himself as an authoritative midfielder.

Make no mistake, this team could still win the Champions League at a canter without Rodri. His absence, however, might just make the field, and even the holders themselves, see the vulnerabilities in the City machine.

Bayern Munich - Harry Kane

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Harry Kane
ENG • F • #9
Bundesliga: Leads Germany with 24 goals

Surely Kane can't abandon Tottenham for Europe's great winning machine at the very moment that they let their hoards of silverware slip out of their grasp? A deeply diffident defense of their Bundesliga title would suggest that is a very real prospect and there was not a great deal to love from their progress out of a pretty favorable group before Christmas. All of the six goals they have conceded so far in the competition have been of a type, sloppy errors, a lack of focus when the ball is bouncing in the box. This is happening often enough under Thomas Tuchel that it can't be written off as mere coincidence. This team will concede goals that a European champion shouldn't.

Every shot taken by Harry Kane in the Bundesliga and Champions League this season, sized by xG value TruMedia

Bayern are probably going to have to shoot their way deep into this competition. Lucky then that they have the European Golden Boot front runner, a player who seems chronically incapable of spurning opportunities. He has had 18 shots worth more than 0.4 xG (two more than Manchester United in the Premier League season). He has scored 15 of them. That is the sort of scoring form he is going to need if he wants to end his first season outside England with the continent's greatest prize.

Real Madrid - Toni Kroos

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Toni Kroos
GER • M • #8
Champions League: Kroos has played 103 career UCL matches

Carlo Ancelotti's side return to European competition with at best one center back (Nacho) to choose from and their early season talisman Jude Bellingham facing a race against time to get back for the second leg against RB Leipzig. If they are to advance past their Bundesliga opponents, let alone deep into the competition, they will have to be able to throttle games with their possession play. Fortunate for them that they have a pass master in some of the best form of a garlanded career. No wonder Ancelotti is appealing to Mother Kroos to keep her son from retiring, the German international still looks like someone who can guide this young side through the stickiest moments.

Arsenal - William Saliba

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William Saliba
ARS • D • #2
Premier League: Arsenal lead EPL with fewest goals conceded at 22

Arsenal's attack might well have clicked into gear in recent weeks, but they still have the look of a team whose path to victory (which is not necessarily unlikely) starts with an elite level defense. When they click into gear Mikel Arteta's backline are not far off the Chelsea that won it all three years ago and they're doing that with a back four rather than a back five. For many opponents, the Arsenal penalty box is uncharted territory.

Opponent possession bins in Premier League and Champions League games against Arsenal -- the nearer the shade to white, the fewer touches in that area TruMedia

There is a case to be made for Declan Rice as Arsenal's most valuable player what with his magnetic attraction to opponents' line breaking passes across the field. Perhaps Gabriel too, whose set piece prowess is unrivalled in the Premier League. It is, though, when William Saliba is in this team that they become a true powerhouse at the back. Not only does he dictate the game from the center of the in possession back three but his recovery pace has been enough to quell any forward he has come up against.

Paris Saint-Germain - Kylian Mbappe

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Kylian Mbappé
FRA • F • #10
Champions League: 43 goals is 16th all time

That PSG even rank among bookmakers' top five potential winners of the tournament tells us two things. One, this is a deeply ordinary year among the European superpowers, and two, Mbappe's game-changing brilliance is priced in right now. Warren Zaire-Emery aside, the midfield looks nothing special and none of the youthful forwards brought in for the post-superstar age look like they could develop into the sort of truly elite talent this club used to deploy at the top of the field. Still any eminently valid concerns you might have about PSG can fade in an instant once Mbappe gets isolated against a defender.

Barcelona - Joao Cancelo

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Joao Cancelo
BAR • D • #2
La Liga: Cancelo is second on Barcelona with 4.67 expected assists

Yikes. Here's a team paying back its debt to the gods of xG in one lump sum. Where last season Barcelona's red hot league form came thanks to Marc-Andre ter Stegen's hot hands in goal, now they seem chronically incapable of keeping a clean sheet without dropping far too many men behind the ball. Xavi is crying out for balance across his side, if anyone can offer him that it must be Cancelo, a full back on both flanks this season, a winger in big games, an enigma that this team is yet to answer. Get to a position where he is a plus defender and somewhere near his creative zenith and Barcelona have a chance of at least making a deep run.

Inter - Lautaro Martinez

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Lautaro Martínez
ARG • F • #22
Serie A: 19 goals leads the league by seven

If it weren't for the rather tricky test they will face against Atletico Madrid, there might be a case for making Inter second favorites for this competition. They tick even more potential winners boxes then they did 12 months ago. They have a goalkeeper in top form, exceptional defensive organization and their depth from 12th man to 18th-ish is formidable. There is a reason they are blitzing all comers on their way to the Scudetto.

It helps no end that Lautaro Martinez could call it a season now and still be firmly in the mix to be Capocannoniere. He is averaging 0.97 goals per 90 league minutes and even if his output regresses towards the mean, there is little reason to doubt a player averaging a non-penalty expected goal per 90 in the Champions League group stage. Indeed these months ahead might just be the time when Martinez establishes himself as one of the best strikers in the game.

Atletico Madrid - Antoine Griezmann

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Antoine Griezmann
ATM • F • #7
La Liga: Griezmann and Morata have combined for 24 goals

This was supposed to be where I waxed lyrical about Alvaro Morata, a man who has quelled no end of skepticism in his long-term ability to hit the net as consistently as he ought to with a run of 19 goals in 33 games this season. No one in Europe's top four leagues can match his 3.96 xG from headers and he is not too shabby on the deck either. Not for nothing did Diego Simeone say late last year that his No.19 is "on a par with Erling Haaland".

Then came a knee injury that while not as significant as might have been feared looks likely to rule Morata out for the two legs against Inter. How ever will they cope? Not too badly when Griezmann is still in the side, the Indian summer that began at the World Cup rolling pleasantly into year two. In the unlikely event that something happens to City early in this competition and Atletico see off Inter, look out for the Frenchman as a potential Golden Boot winner.

Borussia Dortmund - Jadon Sancho

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Jadon Sancho
BVB • F • #10
Bundesliga: Since returning to Germany, Sancho is averaging 0.5 assists per game

Now we're firmly in the mass of teams that realistically aren't going to win the Champions League. Actually we entered that a while ago, before briefly popping our head out to examine Inter and maybe Atletico. Still, results are picking up at Dortmund, who are favorites to overcome PSV in what might be one of the more tightly contested round of 16 ties. If you were looking for an X factor to take Dortmund further, you'd be after some sort of potentially elite talent that they'd picked up on the January scrapheap, one with experience at this club and a track record for delivering in Europe. Oh look, Jadon Sancho is averaging 0.51 expected assists and 0.48 actual assists.

Napoli - Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

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Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
Serie A: 0.42 xG per 90 minutes

They haven't been anywhere near as bad as the table might have you believe, but last season's title triumph does not look like the launching pad for a European dynasty in Campania. Victor Osimhen has been available too infrequently and no one has really stepped up to marshal the defense now that Min-Jae Kim is excelling for Bayern Munich. If anyone has typified the on paper collapse of Napoli it is Kvaratskhelia. This time a year ago he had nine goals and nine assists in a side romping to the title, now he has six and four.

Kvaratskhelia's performance on key attacking metrics in Serie A this season TruMedia

The curious thing, however, is that there is much less evidence that his performances have dropped off, just his output. With Osimhen more infrequently, Kvarastkhelia is less of a creator and much more of a shot threat, the sort who could really probe deficiencies in Barcelona right back Jules Kounde, a player who generally feels more at home at center back.

RB Leipzig - Xavi Simons

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Xavi Simons

This has already been a breakout season for Simons in the Champions League and it might get even better. Certainly the thought of him running at a patchwork Madrid defense will entice all neutrals while the youngster himself seems determined to excel under the Champions League lights. "It's the biggest stage and you have to go and you have to try to win," he said ahead of Tuesday's game. "That's it. First of all, you have to respect Real Madrid, everyone knows that. But I would say for me personally, these are the games that a player wants to play in and enjoy."

Real Sociedad - Martin Zubimendi

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Martin Zubimendi

On Champions League form alone, Real Sociedad's clash with PSG ought to be the tie of the round. The Basques pipped Inter to top spot in their group and looked like a real force. In La Liga, meanwhile, they sit seventh, a return to this competition almost certainly beyond them. If they're going to make a big impact before they go, it is fair to suspect that it will be their defensive work that carries them. They have given up the fourth fewest goals in La Liga and the third lowest xG. That did carry into the Champions League, where they conceded only twice and matched Arsenal before the best xG against figure.

Crucial to quelling PSG will be the midfield duels and it is there, along with his possession skills, that Zubimendi excels. He ranks in the top three among those still in the Champions League for ball recoveries, winning back play on 31 occasions in the middle third of the pitch. His 55 percent success rate in duels, a number that rockets when the ball is in the air, compares very favorably to other defensive midfielders too.

PSV Eindhoven - Johan Bakayoko

Whether they last long or not, PSV are sure to be one of the competition's most engaging spectacles. Peter Bosz's high-octane side only dropped their first points of the Eredivisie season when they drew at Utrecht late last month and showed no fear in the battle for second place behind Arsenal back in the group stages. Their young forwards have not seen a position in the final third that they won't shoot from, Bakayoko turning his 18 shots into just 0.75 xG. That's a top 10 mark for the competition in terms of total shots, a top 137 mark in terms of shot value.

Shots taken by Bakayoko in the 2023-24 Champions League TruMedia

Those bubbles above are sized by xG, I promise. And maybe if a few of them start flying in then something remarkable could happen to PSV.

Porto - Pepe

How are Porto going to beat Arsenal? The same way they've beaten so many supposed Champions League contenders, stunning last line defending that drives their opponents to make stupid errors at decisive moments. Luckily for them they have football's greatest troll. Pepe, your time is now.

Lazio - Ivan Provedel

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Ivan Provedel
LAZ • G • #94

There's absolutely nothing about Lazio that I can point to that makes me think this team might actually win the Champions League.

*walks away*

*Oh, just one more thing*

Their goalkeeper does score goals though.

Copenhagen - An interventionist god

Nothing would delight me more than if in a few months' time I am being roasted on social media for saying Copenhagen have no chance of winning the Champions League. How joyously out of keeping with modern football it would be if this team somehow packed Manchester City's bags for them, let alone went all the way in this most stratified of tournaments.

But look if that does happen I'm not going to be looking for any tactical quirks or breakthrough young stars to explain it all. No, it'll be time to ask questions like what role Loki has played in Copenhagen's unlikely run to European glory.