Getty Images

Champions League play returns next Tuesday with Copenhagen hosting Manchester City and RB Leipzig hosting Real Madrid as Europe's elite fight for one of the most prestigious trophies in soccer. But as the tournament reaches the business end during topsy-turvy league seasons that sees Girona in striking distance of the La Liga title, Juventus competing for the Scudetto and Bayer Leverkusen trying to lead the Bundesliga from end to end, it leads to an important question -- are the 16 teams left in the Champions League actually the 16 best teams in Europe currently?

This isn't meant to discredit what Copenhagen have done as the tie that sparked this idea is actually Barcelona facing Napoli. The winners of La Liga and Serie A squaring off in Champions Leauge should be a mouth-watering tie but Napoli aren't even in a European spot in Italy while Barcelona's season has been poor enough that Xavi Hernandez has decided to step down as manager at the end of the season.

Teams remaining in Champions League: Inter, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Copenhagen, Manchester City, Arsenal, PSV, Barcelona, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Porto, Paris Saint-Germain.

Now, let's see the best 16 teams in Europe:

Real Madrid

Los Blancos don't need much of an explanation. Among the top teams in Europe yearly, Real Madrid are among the contenders for the Champions League crown while also being locked in a battle with Girona for the La Liga title. They would've liked to still have been in the running for the Copa del Rey but having already secured the Spanish Super Cup, Los Blancos can still win a treble this season despite numerous injuries.


After making the Champions League final last season, Inter are showing that they're here to stay, now leading Serie A. Lautaro Martinez is establishing himself as one of the top forwards in the world and even with turnover from last season to this one, there has been no slowing the Italian side down.

Manchester City

The reigning Champions League holders, City are picking up where they left off. There may be a title race in the Premier League but that's more due to other teams stepping things up than it is about City taking a step back. Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland missing time hasn't led to losses for Pep Guardiola's men and City will have a chance to repeat as champs again.

Atletico Madrid

Alvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann have been in top form this season leading Atletico Madrid to deep runs in cup competitions and into a European spot in La Liga. It still may not be enough to win silverware but it's another season where Diego Simeone has his team among the top sides in the world.


This is a moment to see how high standards are at Barcelona. Still in Copa del Rey and Champions League, Barcelona are only off the pace for the La Liga title, but falling behind there while struggling to win away from home. That has been enough to lead to a coaching change next season. While Barcelona won't be the only team on this list to change coaches next season, they are among those having the poorest season currently en route to that, yet they have enough quality to fall within the top 16.


With more rumors swirling about Kylian Mbappe's future, this might be PSG's best chance to win Champions League for the foreseeable future. Already squandering Neymar and Lionel Messi, if this is the last season of Mbappe in Paris, it's a time to go out with a bang to cement their status as one of the top clubs in Europe.

Bayern Munich 

Bayern's Bundesliga dominance could come to a close this season thanks to the performance of a team that we'll get to later but that doesn't mean that the German giants have slipped from their status as one of the top teams in Europe. Harry Kane is on a historic scoring pace after joining from Tottenham and that's more than enough to keep Bayern with Europe's elite.


It can be hard to judge performances from leagues outside the top five in Europe but PSV have made things pretty easy by dominating the Eredivisie, only dropping four points all season as they're still unbeaten in league play and atop the league by 10 points. Averaging over three goals scored per game, this is a dangerous team that shouldn't be underestimated in Champions League play.


In the thick of a Premier League title race for the second season running, it's safe to say that Arsenal are back. They may not win the Champions League this season but they deserve to be in this stage of the competition and with how young Mikel Arteta's side is, they'll be in this conversation for years to come.


Blink and it's another year of Porto in the last 16 of the Champions League. Closing out the final entry in this list of teams that are currently in Champions League, Pepe has been more than enough to keep the Portuguese side rolling. While they may be lower in the table than Benfica, their rivals gets dinged for crashing out of the Champions League.


Every year, there is a team that comes out of the blue to compete for a league title, and this year's surprise has been Girona in La Liga. Only promoted to the league ahead of last season, Girona have now risen from 10th, which was already admirable, to now being in a clash with Real Madrid. One of only two sides in this list not in European competition, Girona have earned their spot the hard way.


The Europa League features a few of the best teams in the world as you can't name the best sides in Europe without including the current Premier League leaders. Looking to see Jurgen Klopp off with a bang, Liverpool have been among the most consistent sides in the world this season.

Bayer Leverkusen

Undefeated atop the Bundesliga and among the trio of Europa League sides to make this list. Under Xabi Alonso, Leverkusen's improvement has been dramatic and if they can end Bayern's 11 seasons of dominance, it will become one of the best stories in all of European soccer overnight. It has been a balanced team attack but only allowing 14 goals in 20 league matches played has made the attack's job much easier. 

Sporting CP

Sporting have a real chance to win the Portuguese league this season, just two points off the pace with a game in hand. Like PSV, Sporting are a team that's scoring almost three goals per game and brushing off opposition with ease. Viktor Gyokeres already has 15 goals in league play after joining from Coventry City and could be pushing Sporting to multiple trophies this season.


Not able to compete in Europe due to their financial breaches, Juventus have been using the lower number of games to push up the Serie A table. Their title charge took a hit in losing to Inter but it seems like, at worst, Juventus will mark their return back to the Champions League next season.

Aston Villa

Under Unai Emery, Aston Villa are improving by the second. In a good position to make Champions League next season, Villa can also win the Europa Conference League to have a European trophy in order to have a marker of their improvement. Behind Ollie Watkins and John McGinn, all things are possible.

While the Champions League is a good representation of the best teams from the previous season, only 10 of the teams currently in the competition were able to crack the top 16 teams in Europe. All of them are on track for making Europe's elite competition next season but from this list, eyes should be kept on Europa League as some of the best teams in the world will be vying for that trophy this season.