Out go the groups, in comes the knockout stage. The UEFA Champions League is the jewel of European football, and Monday’s draw has only solidified this rendition’s guaranteed to be dramatic.
As is the nature of random draws, some teams are in great positions and others have drawn the short end of the stick. Here ensues the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League Rd. of 16 “Winners & Losers.”
Manchester United: Drawing Olympiakos, while not a simple, was one of the easier tasks the draw offered. David Moyes needed a bit of luck; avoiding AC Milan was probably the best thing to happen to the Red Devils thus far into their new regime. You think Sir Alex made a call?
Paris Saint-German: Avoiding Manchester City, Arsenal and AC Milan might just give the French Champions the impetus to progress further into the competition. If PSG can put the clamps on Bayern Leverkusen goal pipeline Gonzalo Castro, things should be looking up in the French capital.
Real Madrid: Also avoiding Manchester City, Arsenal and AC Milan, Carlo Ancelotti’s men will be absolutely ecstatic with drawing FC Schalke. A demolition in the first leg might allow the Spanish contingent to rest a few players in the second leg, and focus on closing gaps in their domestic objectives.
Chelsea: Of the five teams that were possible to draw, Galatasaray was the one Chelsea supporters and José Mourinho wanted – and got. The return of Didier Drogba to Stamford Bridge is going to be one of the moments of this footballing year. Not to be overlooked, facing Roberto Mancini & Co. in Istanbul won’t be easy to negotiate, but the opportunity to welcome the Ivorian legend back to West London outweighs all of that.
Arsenal: For the second year in a row it looks like Arsenal will be at the mercy of the Bavarian super force. Bayern Munich, who won’t be over-the-moon about this draw, will know their game translates against any team on the continent. Arsenal fans on the other hand will be gutted. Arséne Wenger should be preaching: “damage control” to his side for the first leg, and hopefully steal a result against the holders in the second leg. Much, much easier said than done though.
Manchester City: Up 3-2 with about 20 minutes left, City had the chance to avoid Barcelona by scoring one more goal in Munich last week, but apparently math isn’t that big of a deal on the blue side of Manchester. This draw is torture. Juggling the competitive Premier League, FA Cup and now two matches against Barcelona will be a true test of both Manuel Pellegrini’s management skills and the players willingness to win on three different levels.
Atletico Madrid & AC Milan: While the Arsenal v. Bayern and Manchester City v. Barcelona fixtures look the most intriguing, Atletico v. Milan may be the hardest to parse. Their domestic form hasn’t been great, but the Italian giants still have quality, and as long as Mario Balotelli keeps his head -- they’re capable of anything. Atletico is still an unknown variable. Their performance in La Liga the past three years has been impressive, but it’s interesting to see if they can perform when many will be choosing them to progress.
All in all the fixtures should provide some mouth-watering football for the neutral, and some eye-watering moments for the support. It’s all you can ask for.