The draw for the Champions League first knockout round was made on Monday morning and with it brought mixed fortunes for the English clubs left in the competition: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
PSG vs Chelsea
As a Chelsea fan, I’m relatively happy with the draw. For the second successive year (albeit a round earlier), Chelsea meet French champions PSG. Chelsea’s reward for winning the group means that they travel to Paris for the first leg, with the return leg three weeks later at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have a far stronger squad this season and, without sounding too confident, I can’t see them making the same mistakes as they did last season when they lost the first leg 3-1 in Paris. The first leg will be a tighter affair this time around and I think that a score draw will be enough for Chelsea to then win the tie at Stamford Bridge in front of their own fans. It will be a close game whatever happens but I think Chelsea will have what it takes to secure their place in the quarter-final.
The way Chelsea have performed this season, both in Europe and in the Premier League, has, at times, been breathtaking. Jose Mourinho has once again instilled a swagger of confidence and belief amongst the players and the team look relentless in their pursuit of glory. That being said, a great team can’t be judged on half a season and only time will tell if this Mourinho team can be considered one of the greatest. Despite everything that the Portuguese manager has achieved in the game there is one thing missing from his decorated CV, Champions League glory with Chelsea.
If Chelsea are to go on and win the Champions League this season, they will have to navigate their way past the French Champions PSG and summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa could prove the difference. Costa’s battle against former Chelsea defender David Luiz will be intriguing and although PSG have the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in their ranks, both have failed to impress on previous visits to Stamford Bridge.
Verdict: I’m predicting a tight game but Chelsea’s Champions League experience will prevail and the tie will be won in the second leg at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea sealing their place in the Quarter Finals.
Arsenal v Monaco
Arsenal, for once, will be very happy with their draw for the Champions League knockout stages. They will play against a Monaco side that only scored 4 goals in six games to qualify. For that reason, Arsenal must be confident of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008. Arsene Wenger will return to his former club and, on paper, you could argue that finishing second in the group has given Arsenal an easier draw than London rivals Chelsea, who finished first. In recent weeks Arsene Wenger’s future at the club has been called into question but by avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Wenger will have a chance to silence his critics.
There is a long way to go of course but Arsenal will be confident of reaching the Quarterfinals and then, who knows far they can go? With the first leg at the Emirates stadium, it will be important for Arsenal to start well and they will be looking to take at least a two-goal lead with them to France, to help protect them in the second leg. Arsenal have real quality going forward this season and Alexis Sanchez will relish the opportunity to play against an ageing Monaco defence.
Verdict: If Arsenal can reproduce anything like the performance they did against Galatasaray in Matchday Six against Monaco then there will only be one outcome in this tie. Arsenal will comfortably progress to the next round.
Man City vs Barcelona
It’s a case of deja vu for Manchester City fans, as they prepare for another Champions League meeting with Barcelona. Last time Barcelona won 2-0 at the Etihad, and then 2-1 in the Nou Camp. However, with another years’ experience under their belts, can Manchester City make it through to the Quarter Finals for the first time?
There is something about Man City and the Champions League, which conjures up the feeling that it’s just not meant to be. For 10 years I had the same feeling – Chelsea came so close to winning the Champions League but always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. But then, when they did finally win it, it was in the most dramatic of circumstances.
I’m not saying that Manchester City are going to win the Champions League this season or even beat Barcelona but the manner in which they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to make it this far in the first place must give them hope that, even when the odds are stacked against them, they can beat the best teams in Europe. Whether Manchester City prevail and knockout Messi, Suarez, Neymar and co will depend to a great extent on the fitness of Sergio Aguero. The Argentine striker is currently out with a knee injury and is expected to be fit with time to spare before the two games against Barcelona, but without him, City lack that cutting edge. The likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, all playing at the top of their games give City hope but I just can’t see them beating Barcelona in the Nou Camp where the second leg will be played.
Verdict: Manchester City will be buoyed by the way they beat Bayern Munich and Roma to qualify for the knockout stages. But Barcelona have a wealth of attacking talent, arguably the best front three in the world and whilst it will be closer than last year’s tie, Barcelona will be Manchester City’s Champions League nemesis once again.