Looking at the final group games in last night’s Champions League, the competition that seems incapable of throwing up a surprise lived up to all expectations. In all honesty, if you wanted a TV show linked back to football, watching the Apprentice with former-Tottenham chairman Alan Sugar was a much more exciting proposition. It’s like watching the US-version but with more aggression and less Trump swagger.
Last night’s action saw Arsenal struggle at home to Partizan Belgrade, eventually winning 3-1 courtesy of Robin van Persie, and Theo Walcott, with the third goal and man of the match award going to Samir Nasri. Although Chelsea had already clinched the group, a 1-0 loss in Marseille will have done nothing to dispel the rumours surrounding the impending departure of manager Carlo Ancelotti.
The fact that all of the recognized names in world football made it through to the second round is about as much of a surprise as your favourite band of the 90s reforming for a comeback tour. Of the eight who made it through to the last 16 in February, the only real surprises are that Inter and Arsenal didn’t win their groups and may face tough trips to England or Spain respectively. Which would be the ties that we’d want to see though?
I hope that jumping out from the pot together is the tie that had everyone salivating last season between Arsenal and Barcelona. The good news: we’ve got another chance to see it this season, and the even better news is that Arsenal’s defence is still pretty awful. Samir Nasri has rejuvenated their midfield this season, but after seeing perhaps the best ever performance in my lifetime by a club side, it’s difficult to look past the side from Catalunya.
However, it might be more interesting to look at the scenarios that could face “the Special One” and his all-conquering, unless you’re called Barcelona, Real Madrid. Jose could already face one of his nemesis’s from his time with Chelsea, Rafael Benitez. The Spanish waiter that masquerades as a top-level football manager is now boss at Mourinho’s former employers Inter Milan, and is making quite the pig’s ear of the situation.
It would be disheartening to see his Madrid dismantle Inter, but the final nail in the coffin of Senor Benitez might be too good an opportunity to pass up. Real could also book a last-16 clash with Arsenal and given the fact Mourinho and Wenger don’t get on we could see Jose celebrating on the pitch at the Emirates as he enjoys doing every so often.
As for the other three English sides (Chelsea, Man Utd, and Spurs), if you miss out to looming spectre of Inter Milan, Italy’s other two sides are also possibilities in the last-16. AC Milan will be the team that everyone wants to keep away from. An in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not someone any defence will want to come up against at this stage of the competition. Tottenham will feel they can take on anyone right now, but if Chelsea’s problems are still around by then it could be quite the education from the Swede.
A mention should be given to the German group winners, Schalke and Bayern, but to see them match up against Arsenal or AC Milan would very likely see them exit the competition. Bayern might have made the final last year, but in order to make that stage and avoid Real, Barca, or Spurs along the way they’ll need a huge slice of luck.
The draw takes place in Nyon, Switzerland, next Friday (17th), and we can only cross every part of the body that is flexible enough so that Arsenal draws out Barcelona.