Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Champions League draw...yawn

Okay okay, I am being a little facetus, but my interest in the European club competition has been less than enthusiastic for many years now. I have made my view clear that I miss the days when the Champions League was really that...a competition for the clubs that had won their championships! And when the Cup winners Cup and the UEFA Cup both had significance. And yes I realize that genie has long left the bottle and we cannot unring that bell. But I am awaiting the day we have a time machine so we can go back and correct this ill. So let us look at what we do have for this year's version:

  • Manchester City–Barcelona: This is a mouth watering match up, the highlight of this round. Much will hinge on the health of Manchester City's Aguero who picked up a calf injury in his sides 6-3 dismantling of Arsenal (serves him right). They have a decent back up in Dzeko but not sure the big Bosnian striker can replicate the form of the Argentine. This match up will be an interesting confrontation between a team that wants to possess - Barcelona and one that is happy to sit back and hit on the counter - Manchester City. The key will be how former Barcelona midfielder Toure does against the likes of Iniesta, Cesc, Xavi et al. If Manchester City can absorb the pressure and hit on the counter this is shaping up to be a titanic battle. If Aguero is healthy I think Manchester City get through...otherwise I will go with the Catalan giants.
  • Olympiacos–Manchester United: Probably the best news an embattled Moyes could get. His team should be able to find a way past the Greek side. It will be interesting to see Carroll back at Old Trafford, maybe he finds a way to will the Greek side to defeat his old club...probably not. Manchester United should find a way through.
  • AC Milan–Atletico Madrid: An interesting match up between two teams that have flown under the radar in Europe. Atletico is overshadowed by its city rival Real. But with the likes of Villa and the turn coat Costa, they offer a powerful offensive punch that any side in Europe would fear. Milan will of course come in with their expected Italian defensive flair, but they also have their own offensive jewel in the mercurial Balotelli. They also bring to the table other Manchester City outcasts like Robinho as well as former Real Madrid player Kaka. Add to this youth like Niang and you realize that this Milan team has an interesting mix of experience and youth. I think Milan will surprise a few this year. Look for them to get past Atletico.
  • Bayer Leverkusen–Paris Saint-Germain: I have read some reports stating PSG will win the Champions League...let's not get to far ahead of ourselves. First this is not your father's Bayer, no Ballack to turn to, but the German side remains dangerous and should not be underestimated. PSG come with a comfortable lead in Ligue 1 and apparently clicking on all cylinders with Cavani and Zlatan both taking turns to score braces for the French club. PSG's form of late should make them a favorite to get through this tie. I think a motivated Zlatan has the potential of carrying the club very far. I am sure he is still grumpy about Sweden missing out on the World Cup.
  • Galatasaray–Chelsea: Never easy playing the Turkish giant, especially in Istanbul! Chelsea has been hot and cold this season. Just look at their recent form in the EPL. Losing to Stoke on Dec 7 and drawing with West Brom. Not exactly results you expect from a side with title aspirations. The Special One, however, is usually at his best in these types of situations. Of course he will he going up against a player most associated with his success at Chelsea - Drogba. I am sure the Ivory Coast captain will be highly motivated for this tie. Add to the mix the creativity of Sneijder and I see a very hotly contested match up. I think Chelsea will get through, but barely.
  • Schalke–Real Madrid: Not a friendly draw for the last of the Spanish clubs. The German club from the industrial region will face off against the glamor boys of Real. Too bad Raul no longer plays for the German giants, otherwise that would be the main story line. Regardless it should be a tougher match up than Real had wished for. In the end I think the mini-Galaticos will be too much for Huntelaar and company. Look for the pretty boys of Bale, Ramos, Ronaldo etc to come of out of this tie.
  • Zenit St. Petersburg–Borussia Dortmund: Last year's runner up got the second easiest draw, after Manchester United. The question is whether or not the German giants can hold on to their players during the January transfer window with the likes of Reus and Lewandowski both having major transfer rumors swirling around them. If the squad stays intact for the season, then I cannot see how Hulk and his Russian mates can bring down the German giant. Of course all bets are off if Borussia sell off some of their talent - but I would be surprised with Champions League games on the books for this season.
  • Arsenal–Bayern Munich: Ouch ouch ouch. Tough draw for the Gunners. Had to go up against the same side last year and ended up losing a tough tie. So what has changed since then? Well Bayern has added to their trophy case and Arsenal...well they have not. Granted the Gunners are sitting in first place in England, but how tenuous is that lead??? Oh and Bayern has added the likes of Gotze...wait wasn't he a Wenger target...oh right he was, another player Arsenal missed out on. So the Gunners have the challenge of facing a Bayern side that is clicking on all cylinders and that has improved from last season. Ouch. I think this is where Arsenal's lack of quality depth will rear its ugly head. I just cannot envisage the Gunners keeping the Bavarian giants at bay. Arsenal drop out of yet another Champions League...well at least that will allow them to focus on the EPL!
Let the games begin!

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