Chelsea face Spanish inquisition in Champions League knock-out stage
Chelsea and Tottenham have both been provided tricky opposition in the draw for the round of 16. Chelsea have drawn Spanish giants Barcelona and Tottenham face Italian champions Juventus in the knock-out stages of the competition which resumes in February.
The draw was kinder to the other English teams involved. Current Premier League leaders Manchester City will face Basel, neighbours United face Sevilla and Liverpool take on Portugal’s Porto.
Current Premier League champions Chelsea appear to have been harshly punished for their failure to top their Champions League group. Chelsea had already been guaranteed to qualify from Group C but a win against Atletico Madrid in the final group match would have seen them finish as group winners facing Shakhtar Donestk.
However, a 1-1 draw with Atletico meant Chelsea were the only English team not to top their group and face five-times winners Barcelona. This has left Chelsea with a nightmare run of fixtures.
On February 20th Chelsea host Barcelona in a Tuesday night fixture, this is then followed up with a trip to Old Trafford to meet Manchester United in the league. They could face an FA cup clash mid-week before a daunting trip to the Etihad to face league runaway leaders Manchester City.
Italian champions matched with English runners-up
Chelsea are not the only English team to face tough opposition with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham drawn with Italian champions Juventus. Spurs exceeded expectations in the group stage when they finished top of their group, even beating the current Champions League holders Real Madrid 3-1 in the process.
Juventus were the beaten finalists last year and have been the nearly men in Europe in recent times having been beaten in the final an astonishing five times. In form striker Paulo Dybala will be one to watch up front and Tottenham are unlikely to score with ease as Juventus have the living legend Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks.
Pre-draw, Pochettino was quick to point out that being drawn against one of Europe’s powerhouses wasn’t something that daunted him and he relished locking horns with the one of the footballing elite and feels that these types of fixtures are easier than lower ranked opposition. He said:
Motivation is massive for these games and you could see that against Real Madrid. I prefer to play against a team that will motivate everyone rather than a team everybody says you should beat easily. That is when it gets complicated.– Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham manager
Easier games… On paper
The rest of the English contingent received – on paper at least – an easier passage through to the quarter-finals.
Manchester City will be confident about beating Basel, despite City losing their first game of the season in their Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk. Basel themselves caused a surprise when they beat Manchester United in group stage but City should have too much quality and firepower over the two legs.
Porto take on England’s most successful team in Europe when they face Liverpool. Porto famously won the Champions League with José Mourinho in 2004 but since then have only qualified for the last eight twice.
Liverpool, despite their tendency to be brilliant one moment (two 7-0 wins), self-imploding the next (three draws), will be delighted with this draw and will expect to progress.
This year sees Manchester United reach the knock-out stages for the first time since 2014 and they have the Europa League to thank for their shot at the top prize.
Therefore, it is quite ironic that they face the masters of the Europa League, Sevilla. Sevilla won the Europa League three seasons in a row (2014, 2015 and 2016) but have never progressed past the first knock-out stage. This could be a tricky tie but the Red Devils will believe they can qualify.
The draw has also thrown up some highly-anticipated matches that don’t involve the English clubs. Champions Real Madrid taking on PSG should be a fantastic match for the neutrals. Exiting the competition will be unacceptable for either club so it should provide an entertaining spectacle with so much attacking talent at both clubs.
Champions League last-16 draw in full
Juventus v Tottenham (13th February and 7th March)
Basel v Manchester City (13th February and 7th March)
Porto v Liverpool (14th February and 6th March)
Sevilla v Manchester United (21st February and 13th March)
Real Madrid v PSG (14th February and 6th March)
Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma (21st February and 13th March)
Chelsea v Barcelona (20th February and 14th March)
Bayern Munich v Besiktas (20th February and 14th March)