Manchester City face a daunting tie with Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last-16, but there was good news for Arsenal.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side looked to be on the brink of elimination at the group stage when they lost 2-1 to CSKA Moscow in early November, but they bounced back in sensational style to beat Bayern Munich 3-2, courtesy of a Sergio Aguero hat-trick, before securing qualification with a 2-0 win against Roma in the Italian capital. They will now almost certainly have to produce another impressing showing, this time over the two legs, as they have been pitched against Barcelona in the first knockout stage.
The two teams met at the same stage last term, when the Catalan giants won 4-1 on aggregate. But Etihad Stadium director of football Txiki Begiristain, who used to play for Barca and also had the same director role at the club, said: “We have plenty of confidence. We have improved our squad since last season, we are more solid and stronger at the back. We have more confidence for this game.”
There was better news – at last – for Arsene Wenger. Having drawn Bayern Munich at the last 16 in both of the last two seasons, Arsenal have this time been paired with Monaco, who remarkably topped their qualifying group despite scoring just four goals. The Gunners coach spent seven years in charge of the French club, and must consider the draw a favourable one considering the alternatives.
Arsenal secretary David Miles said: “As the draw progressed, it was evident a lot of the big teams had gone. We have picked the biggest teams in last five years, but we are taking nothing for granted. Monaco earned the right to be here, the same as we have. It will be the first time we have played Monaco in a competitive match, so Arsene will be delighted to go back to one of his former teams.”
With Liverpool failing to progress from their group, Chelsea are the only other English candidates at the second round stage. As group winners Jose Mourinho would have fancied his side’s chances against whoever they were paired against, but they have perhaps been given one of the toughest possible assignments in Paris Saint Germain, who signed David Luiz from the Blues in the summer.
Chelsea secretary David Bernard said: “No matter who we got, they are all there by merit. PSG are known to us and, of course, they have David Luiz. Jose said before the draw that he wanted PSG for the supporters and travel logistics, and he was right. We have an advantage by being away from home first, so, from our point of view, the draw would have been the same whoever we got.”
The Stamford Bridge club knocked the French champions out at the quarter-final stage last season, but it was certainly no easy task as they progressed on the away-goal rule after the two teams were tied at 3-3 on aggregate. Bernstein added: “Last season is in the past. Each match is a different scenario, so we would have taken PSG right from the start. Jose is right to take each competition as it comes along.”
Current holders Real Madrid have been drawn with Schalke, whilst their city neighbours Atletico – who they defeated in the final last season – also face German opposition in Bayer Leverkusen, as do Italian champions Juventus who will take on Borussia Dortmund. The Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, meanwhile, play Shakhtar Donetsk, and Liverpool’s conquerors Basle face Porto.
Can City get the better of Barcelona this time round, and do Arsenal or Chelsea have anything to worry about? Let us know what you think by joining in the discussion below.