The draw for the first knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League was conducted Friday morning in Nyon,Switzerland . As is the case at this stage of every tournament , some of the matches create some intriguing possibilities.
The draw is as follows :
Inter Milan v Chelsea
Lyon v Real Madrid
AC Milan v Man Utd
Olympiakos v Bordeaux
FC Porto v Arsenal
CSKA Moscow v Sevilla
Stuttgart v Barcelona
Bayern Munich v Fiorentina
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the ties of the round , especially if you happen to be English or Italian . Inter Milan vs Chelsea sends Jose Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge to face his old club Chelsea and sparring partner Carlo Ancelotti , whose previous job was on the other side of the San Siro with AC Milan .
The other interesting clash is the AC Milan vs Man Utd match up which has the potential to see David Beckham return to Old Trafford for his first competitive club fixture since joining Real Madrid back in 2003 .
Before examining both of these fixtures , I should clarify that both of the personalities mentioned above were highly revered and respected at their previous clubs . Both of them were loved by the fans and were highly successful during their time and these games will be emotional if nothing else.
Jose Mourinho , sometimes known as the “Special One” , was one of the most successful managers in Premier League history . He won the Premier league title twice , the FA Cup once , the League Cup twice , and the FA Community Shield once . Not a bad resume considering he was only at the club for three and a half years . Despite his success , his failing was that in the eyes of his owner , Roman Abramovich , he did not bring home the “Big One” , the Champions League Title . During his tenure at Chelsea , he was initially seen as being abrasive , choosing at times to verbally tangle with other managers such as Ferguson and Benitez , but as the media and fanbase got to know him a little better , he was regarded with much affection . His tactical knowledge is second to none .His motivational skills are excellent even though rumors did circulate after his firing that some of the players ( John Terry and Frank Lampard ) , were the cause of his demise.
To add to the intrigue with this match-up , Chelsea’s new manager Carlo Ancelotti and Mourinho had somewhat of a testy relationship whilst Ancelotti was at AC Milan . Apparently , Mourinho had been questioned repeatedly about his interest in the manager’s job at AC Milan , and Ancelotti , who usually keeps quiet about stuff like this , stated that he didn’t think Mourinho was a good enough footballer to manage the club . Mourinho fired back by mentioning that Carlo Saatchi , AC Milan’s iconic manager from the 60′s was not much of a player either . The balloon then went up and the media had their head games.
Looking at the clash , I think Chelsea will be way too strong for Inter Milan over two legs . I predict a 4-2 aggregate score to Chelsea , who are my eventual Champions League winners. Mourinho will definitely get an ovation at Stamford Bridge and he is known for unorthodox tactics when his back is against the wall so wath out , it should be a great tie.
Needless to say , David Beckham pops up again in the AC Milan vs Man Utd tie . However , he is not definitely sure to play . He has yet to be added to their Champions League squad since he only completes his move from the Galaxy on Dec 28th . Once the paperwork is done , it remains to be seen whether AC Milan coach Leonardo feels that Beckham will be match fit enough for the type of competitive play that you need in these games. Milan are not blessed with riches in terms of talented players . A lot of their squad is made up of older veterans mixed in with some younger talent and at one point there was talk of Beckham having to play at full back . That in my view would be suicide . He doesn’t have anywhere near the pace to play at that position and you would be nullifying his passing ability by playing him there . I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson would love to see that.
Man Utd are currently trying to work their way out of an injury crisis , the likes of which I haven’t seen before in over 40 years following this team . They have been forced into putting out a defensive back line of midfielders and reserve team players to try to cope with the injuries . It seems they have worked through it all and should have everybody back to full fitness ready for the Champions League . A full strength United side will have too much firepower for an aging Milan team which although sitting currently in second place in Serie A , have not scared anyone during the Group stages . Like Mourinho , Beckham will receive a warm welcome at Old Trafford whether he plays or not but I think his visit will be a disappointing one. I have United taking this one 3-1 on aggregate.
One consideration to not lose sight of , is how the teams have been drawn . The teams pulled out of the hat second , play the second leg at home which is considered to be a huge advantage . Some of these games could well be decided on the away goal rule.
So what about the other ties . Here are my picks for the quarter-final stages :
Chelsea , Real Madrid , Man Utd , Bordeaux , FC Porto , Sevilla , Barcelona , Fiorentina .
My two picks for the final are Chelsea and Bordeaux but it’s impossible to be accurate as it depends on how the teams are drawn out of the hat . These two teams could well be drawn to play each other in the quarter-finals. Bordeaux are my dark horse team to win this year . They have an astute coach in Laurent Blanc who was a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and he has assembled a talented squad who won their Group with relative ease. He has even been mentioned as a possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson when he finally decides to retire at Old Trafford.
Top class fixtures certainly waiting in the New Year . If only FoxSoccer Channel hadn’t conned UEFA with its purchase of the broadcast right in the US . Not being able to see these games on HD is criminal.
But thats’ another story……………………………………..