The UEFA Champions League draw took place today in Nyon Switzerland. The pairings are set and we now know the 8 match ups to look forward to when the Champions League resumes in February with some mouthwatering ties.
Stand Out Tie
The game that stands out from the rest is Manchester United versus Real Madrid. Ferguson versus Mourinho, Ronaldo facing his former team for the first time. Two heavyweights of the game, two of the favourites for the competition, one of them will be gone in March. There are many interesting factors in this tie. United’s defence has been porous this season, a team that can score goals and with Ronaldo being a goal machine this will be an uncomfortable test for United at the back. A boost to United is the return of Nemanja Vidic, there is enough game time between now and then for the Serbian defender to get back to his imposing self. On the other side Manchester United have been goal machines themselves and in Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have one of the best strike forces in football. Going to form this tie could be a goal fest reminiscent of the last time these two teams met in the competition when Real Madrid progressed winning 6-5 over two legs with Ronaldo, Brazil’s Ronaldo, scored a hat-trick in the second leg at Old Trafford and was applauded from the pitch by the United faithful.
The pressure is more on Madrid in this tie. They currently lie 13 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and unless there is a massive collapse from Blaugrana, winning the Champions League is the only way to make this season a success at the Bernabeu. United on the other hand have a six point lead in the Premier League and will be heavily involved in the race for the title in England. As important a competition the Champions League is, United’s main goal this season is too wrestle the Premier League trophy back from derby rivals Manchester City.
It is ties like this that light up those midweek nights in February and whoever comes through this tie knows they have done so while knocking out one of their main challengers for the title.
Other Notable Ties
Barcelona versus AC Milan puts together another two European heavyweights in a notable tie. However it is history over current form that makes this tie appealing. AC Milan are a far cry from the sides that won Champions Leagues, this Barcelona side is arguably the best club side to ever take to the pitch and possess arguably the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi. Barcelona are favourites for the title and should overcome their Italian opponents.
Bayern Munich versus Arsenal sees last years beaten finalist, Bayern Munich, take on an Arsenal side that have struggled this season and have seen their standing in the English game fall to that of a perceived feeder club for bigger sides. The Gunners have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League for 13 straight season so they are no strangers to big ties like this. The Champions League has shown that a team struggling in their league,especially the Premier League, can still go on a run in the Champions League, Liverpool in 2005 and Chelsea in 2012 being examples of this. This Arsenal side can play some good football but the loss of van Persie is too big a hit to Arsenal to go deep in the Champions League. Bayern Munich are a cohesive unit that should be defending champions after somehow losing to Chelsea in last year’s final. Bayern have lost finals in 2010 and 2012 proving just how good they are and how close they have been to success. They will be motivated to go one step further this year and should have too much for Arsenal.
The Rest Of The Draw
Celtic’s Champions League campaign continues against Juventus. Celtic are the only team to have beaten Barcelona this season and are always a tough opponent to beat at home. Juventus were Italy Invincibles last season going unbeaten to win Serie A. Juve are dominating again in Italy this year and have impressed in this years Champions League. In Pirlo they have one of the world’s best passers and should see of Celtic’s challenge.
Paris St Germain will take on Valencia in the round of 16. PSG have spent a lot of money on this team and have aspirations of winning the Champions League this season. PSG won 5 of their 6 games in their group. Valencia finishedlevel on points with Bayern Munich in their group and will be a difficult opponent for PSG but Ibrahimovic and Co should do enough to get through.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund is an interesting tie. Alex Ferguson has made no secret of his admiration for the German side, Peter Schmeichel has tipped them to win the competition. They topped the “Group of Death”, going unbeaten in a group that also contained Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester City. They also won all 3 home games. Shakhtar came through their group behind Juventus and edging out defending champions Chelsea on their head to head record. A trip to Ukraine in February is a tough assignment where temperatures will be well below freezing. This could be the best tie of the perceived less notable ties and should see the German champions progress.
Porto and Malaga sees an Iberian derby. This is Malaga’s first Champions League campaign and they have taken too it superbly, winning their group ahead of European heavyweights AC Milan. They sit 4th in La Liga and have shown themselves to be a side taken seriously. Porto finished runners up to PSG and have a good history in the Champions League, winning the tournament in 2004. This tie is a tough one to call but Malaga should do just enough to keep their European adventure going at least a round longer.
The last tie see Galatasary take on Schalke . Galatasary have a notable victory over Manchester United in their group but if you look deeper at the result you will find that United did not play their full strength side. Playing in Istanbul is never easy for any visiting side with an intimidating atmosphere to overcome. The Turks have depended heavily on Burak Yilmaz who scored 6 or their 7 goals in Group H, the striker was named the best player in the Champions League group stage. Schalke pipped Arsenal to top spot in their group going unbeaten in the process. The winner of this tie will likely be the team everyone would like to draw in the quarter final, that team will probably be Schalke.
So there we are,16 team, 8 ties and lost of drama and excitement to come.