Arsenal will be goners in Champions League
First the good news for Arsenal fans. The odds on Arsene Wenger's team lifting the title for the first time since the Invincibles shortened after the draw in Nyon, presumably on the grounds that they will be concentrating on the domestic campaign once Barcelona have repeated last season's despatch of the Gunners.
Then Barcelona tore Arsenal apart in the Nou Camp after a thrilling draw at the Emirates. If there is any shaft of light for Arsenal it is the hope that they will not be as depleted this time.
The team beaten 4-1 in the quarter-final second leg last year had Mikael Silvestre at centre-half and was without Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin. However, Barcelona look even better this season than last and have added David Villa to their attack.
Wenger had indicated he wanted to play Barcelona and, whether he meant it or not, his response was upbeat. “Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible [to knock them out]? Yes.
“Barcelona are favourites and a famous team, but they did not want us either because they know they will get a game. I think we are better than last year and we have a good opportunity to show that.”
- Sir Alex Ferguson will be reunited with one his former players with Manchester United up against Marseille.
It wasn’t a smooth parting of the ways between the Red Devils and Gabriel Heinze so the presence of the Argentine international should add a little more interest to a draw that Ferguson labelled ‘difficult’.
“Marseille are a handful at their own ground, their fantastic atmosphere and incredible support guarantees that,” said Ferguson.
“They've had a good change in fortunes in the last two or three years, after a dry spell, and I think it'll be a difficult tie.”
And Ferguson’s skipper Rio Ferdinand echoed his manager’s sentiments about the forthcoming trip to France.
“It will be a hard place to go,” Ferdinand said.
“This is the knockout stage and where you earn your pennies. It is not a league situation. There is no chance to make up ground.”
- The Stamford Bridge DJ must be tempted to play Danny Kaye singing ‘Wonderful, wonderful, Copenhagen' on Sunday such will have been the joy at Chelsea.
However, the first Danish team to make the last 16 held Barcelona in the group stage and have troubled both Manchester clubs in recent years.
“Copenhagen had good performances against Barcelona and are a good team but they don't have lots of experience in the Champions League and it is a good draw,” admitted Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, who conceded Europe was the focus at Chelsea this season.
“When you win the Barclays Premier League and the FA Cup the next step is to try to win the Champions League,” he said.
The pairing is given added spice by recent speculation linking Arkady Abramovich, son of Chelsea owner Roman, with purchasing Copenhagen.
- Tottenham gained scant reward for their heroics against the holders when they were paired with Internazionale's fellow tenants.
After several years in the doldrums, Milan — thanks to the contrasting threats of Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — look to be on the move again under bright young coach Massimiliano Allegri and currently lead Serie A by six points.
Given the way Spurs have approached their European campaign the tie could be more exciting, if less aesthetically pleasing, than Arsenal's.
“It's a tough draw but will be a great game and fantastic occasion,” said Harry Redknapp.
Allegri was relatively dismissive of the Champions League debutantes, saying: “Tottenham is probably a very good team but among the possible rivals we could have faced, they are in theory one of the less difficult sides.”
Spurs have already played at the San Siro this season, losing 4-3 after being 4-0 down, but Redknapp said that would be no advantage adding: “They are different players.”
Elsewhere, Internazionale beat Bayern Munich in some comfort to lift the Champions League but Louis van Gaal's team will fancy their chances of revenge against the holders who are struggling to match the heights of last season.
Should they do so the pressure on Rafael Benitez will rise even if his team, as expected, win the Fifa Club World Cup final against unexpected finalists TP Mazembe of DR Congo in Abu Dhabi today.
“We still have scores to settle with Inter Milan,” said Van Gaal. “Almost all the players who played in Madrid in May are still with Bayern.”
His predecessor, Jose Mourinho, faces Lyon; a relatively straight-forward task in theory, except Lyon knocked out Real Madrid at this stage last season.
Another former Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, takes Roma to play Shakhtar Donetsk, while the remaining tie pits Valencia against Schalke 04.