The UEFA champions league first legs in 2011 will be played on February 15 and 16 and February 22 and 23 with the return legs on March 8 and 9 and March 15 and 16. The final will be at Wembley Stadium on May 28.
Barcelona attracts Arsenal with alarming regularity in this tournament, and they even give them a hiding with the same consistancy. The reason is simple. Barcelona has men and Arsenal boys. Will we see boys turning to men? Not in our life-time. The Gunners can only go a gear up with a new set of players or a new manager. Barca blasted Gunners 6-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals last season and gunned them in the 2006 final. It was nice having Arsenal in the Champions League. There is still another season, next year, hoping Lionel Messi will not be eligible for the encounter then.The same can be said of Tottenham Hotspur. They had an amazing run in the Champions League so far and my prayers were always that they draw a tough team to play. They had fantastic trips to the San Siro for the memorable encounter with holders, Inter Milan and now return there for a date with seven time champions, AC Milan. As an after thought, AC are better than Inter for now, and that is the tonic Harry Redknapp needs. I feel for the San Siro crowd. Gareth Bale will haunt them for life.
Manchester United will spend much of their Champions League preparation time doing work for the Barclays Premier League. This ensures they regain the championship, but drawing Olympique Marseille, those who think they know, will tell you it is a plate of chips. This Manchester United is the worst side ever to take on Europe. While they has been praise of how well they began to defend and getting result without playing well, that is coming to an end. Marseille are a hard nut and it will be sad to lose for champions in such an easy fashion but like the Gunners, they will be concentrating on the league.
Chelsea are to play rookies, FC Copenhagen. Chelsea will make light work of the former Swiss heavy weights who have become very ordinary in recent years. Such teams make good prey for the ‘men at work’ attitude of The Blues, who are seeking a comeback. Copenhagen will suffer the indignity of meeting the team that will be ruthless in atorning for it’s recent dismal performances. Didier Drogba started the season playing a blinder after blinder without scoring but providing essential supply for Nicolas Anelka. No one has tried to return the favour and the team is badly suffering. The bosses did not help with firing the first team trainer, but that has now been water under Stanford Bridge.
European champions Inter Milan drew Bayern Munich. Bayern will seek to revenge the loss at the last season's final. Inter buried Bayern 2-0 in the final that was played in Madrid. Diego Milito was the double scorer in what turned out to be a simple workout for Inter to clinch their first European crown for 45 years. As it turns out, Inter struggled under Rafa Benitez and their qualification was an anti climax for the defending champions as they came second to Spurs. Bayern’s fortunes were different, as they ran rampant with their 5/6 win group stage record, and they will surely made a light meal of the Italians.
The real deal is the Real Madrid versus Olympique Lyon. Real have a good reputation in this tournament, lifting it 9 times winners. They have never been the same side that made it their annual habit to house the Cup with the big ears. Jose Mourihno has been trying to break all records, including winning this cup with 4 different clubs. The Special One lifted the Cup in Portugal with FC Porto, England with Chelsea and Italy with Inter Milan.
All eyes are on him after he transformed Madrid to a fluid playing side, though not to the level of Barcelona. Mourinho is smarting from the embarassment he suffered from the UEFA suspensions and fines for issues concerning evading player suspensions when he ‘ordered’ Xavi and Ramos to receive silly yellow cards to miss the dead rubber of qualification stages. Barcelaona hammered him for 5 and I pity Olympique Lyon, as hell hath no fury like Jose scorned.
AS Roma had a soft opponent in Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine. Shakhtar are a gifted side without a doubt, but they are easy meat and ready for the taking. I had prayed for teams like Spurs not to draw them as the attitudes would sink and the English would struggle against them. Arsene Wenger knows what I am talking about. It must be said that Roma are not the side of years back, but they have been dishing out some decent football and one can only hope they were not flattering to deceive.
Finally, Valencia gave Man U a torrid time and showed that they real mean business this season. They will play Schalke 04 of Germany and betting against them will be ill-advice for any invester and by that, it does not mean Schalke will give it up easy. It does not necessarily mean putting United on the back foot in the group stages is a licence to advance, given United were not upto scratch in technical terms, but psychologically, they are on cloud nine and they are the last opponents to draw at this stage.
Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Valencia v Schalke 04
Internazionale v Bayern Munich
Lyon v Real Madrid
Arsenal v Barcelona
Marseille v Manchester United
Copenhagen v Chelsea
Tell us, where is it gonna go?