Life got no easier second time around for England’s Champions League representatives after UEFA was forced into an embarrassing re-drawing of the fixtures for the round of 16.
Manchester United must go to Atletico Madrid, Liverpool will face Inter Milan, and Manchester City will tackle Sporting Lisbon in the knockout stages while Chelsea will continue their title defence against Lille – the only repeat fixture from the voided draw completed earlier in the day.
UEFA was left red-faced after a series of errors first time around forced them to go again, and there was bad news for several clubs in the afternoon as their assignments began to look much more difficult.
Liverpool had initially been drawn against Salzburg, the first Austrian club to make it to the round of 16 in the Champions League, but must now head to Milan to take on the Serie A leaders, while Real Madrid swapped a tie with Benfica for a meeting with Paris St Germain.
It seemed somehow fitting that United should be drawn against Atletico given what had happened in the morning. After first being erroneously paired with Villarreal, a side they had already faced in Group F, United were mistakenly left out of the pot of possible opponents for Diego Simeone’s side.
The debacle led to an apology from UEFA, who blamed the problems on “the software of an external service provider” which had given officials the wrong information on which clubs were eligible to face one another based on seedings, previous meetings and nationality.
Confusion began when United were paired with Villarreal – the side they beat to the top of their group by a single point.
UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti apologised for the “technical issue our draw is experiencing” before asking former Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin to try again, and this time it was neighbours Manchester City who were paired with the Yellow Submarine.
But the problems did not stop there.
When Atletico were the next side to be drawn, Marchetti said: “For Atletico Madrid, the possibility are all [teams] except for Liverpool, who was in the same group, and Manchester United as they were already drawn.”
As a result of this, the draw has been declared void and will be entirely redone at 1500 CET.— UEFA (@UEFA)
But as United’s drawing was a mistake, they should still have been potential opponents for Atletico. UEFA’s head of club competitions Michael Heselschwerdt began collecting balls to put in the pot, but compounded the error by appearing to take a ball from Liverpool’s pot rather than United’s.
Atletico were ultimately paired with Bayern Munich, but considering the series of errors, UEFA had no choice but to declare the draw void.
When they returned to the room to try again three hours later, Marchetti began with an apology.
“As many of you will have noticed there were some errors made in the original draw caused by a malfunction of the software which went through an outside provider to tell us which teams are eligible to be drawn against each other,” he said.
“After the draw the external independent auditor couldn’t guarantee the problem with the IT did not exist from the start and as a result the full draw needs to be redone.”
This time the draw was checked in real time to avoid a repeat.
United had initially been given a mouth-watering tie against PSG, a match which would have reignited the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and brought Mauricio Pochettino – a man known to be interested in the Old Trafford job permanently – back to Manchester.
A tie against Simeone’s Atletico looks just as difficult to negotiate – though there is little history to go on given their only previous meetings were in the Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1991.
Atletico were originally drawn to face Bayern Munich, who will now instead make the relatively short trip to Salzburg.
Benfica will take on Ajax while Villarreal are paired with Juventus.
The first legs of the ties are due to be played in the second half of February with the return fixtures in March.