The old adage according to which the Champions League becomes interesting only after the group stage might not necessarily be true, but one thing is certain – after today’s draw, very few people won’t be looking forward to February.
On their first appearance in the pot for the last 16 draw in the Champions League, Manchester City were treated to as hard a draw as they could have possibly expected, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side facing Barcelona.
As far as welcome parties into Europe’s elite go, City will have undoubtedly been happier without it, for if there’s a side that has embodied the Champions League’s charm and character in recent season, the Catalans are that side.
Having been dethroned – and taught a football lesson along the way – by Bayern Munich last season, Barca will be looking to bounce back this season and despite Lionel Messi’s fitness problems, they’ve so far been their usual, spectacular selves.
It’s impossible not to boil down this tie to a contest between Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, as both Argentinians have been superb for their sides, with the latter laying down a claim to be considered on par with the former and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, there’s a lot more to Barcelona and City than irresistible attacks – City have scored 47 goals in 16 league games, three more than Barcelona have managed over the same number of games – with Barcelona’s tiki-taka midfield maestros likely to be given a run for their money by the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and David Silva.
Vincent Kompany’s fitness could play a huge part in deciding the tie, given that City’s brilliance going forward isn’t matched by defensive solidity and Pellegrini’s men have conceded eight goals more than their Spanish counterparts at this time of the season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s knowledge of Spanish football will undoubtedly fill City with confidence and while Barca will go into the tie with a slight advantage, City will definitely fancy their chances.
The red half of Manchester will fancy their chances too, for out of the English clubs United have arguably got the easier draw.
Olympiacos finished runners-up to PSG in Group C and just edged out Benfica on goal difference, but United will undoubtedly be pleased with the draw, which gives the chance to reach the quarter finals for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Javier Saviola and Kostas Mitroglou are players to be wary of – the latter in particular – but if there’s one thing that United have shown throughout their erratic start to the season is that they’re hard to beat in Europe, and while the first leg in Athens is likely to be played in a cauldron of noise, United have enough experienced heads to negotiate their way through to the next round.
Speaking of cauldrons and feisty receptions, Chelsea will be in for a treat when they travel to Istanbul to face Galatasaray.
It was the tie Jose Mourinho wanted, as it gives Chelsea fans the chance to see Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge again, but while the Ivorian is likely to be treated to a hero reception in West London, his former side will not be afforded the same luxury in Istanbul.
Galatasaray fans, however, aren’t the only think Chelsea should be worried about, for in Drogba, perennial Manchester United target Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo, the Turkish giants have enough quality to cause teams troubles, as Juventus discovered.
Furthermore, Roberto Mancini knows Chelsea inside out from his days in the Premier League and he’d love nothing more settle the score with Mourinho – who replaced the Italian at Inter Milan – with the relationship between the two hardly amicable.
If Chelsea’s draw was the choice of romantics, Arsenal’s trip to Bayern Munich was as inevitable as day and night, after the Gunners failed to win their group yet again, thus leaving themselves exposed to a tough draw.
Bayern delivered a masterclass at the Emirates last season and while Arsenal responded admirably in Germany, Arsene Wenger’s men will again enter the round of 16 with the odds stacked against them, particularly considering the way Pep Guardiola’s men have swept teams aside so far.
Manchester City showed that the European champions can be beaten at home – a feat only achieved by Arsenal and City in the last 12 months – but the defeat against City is said to have sparked Guardiola’s anger, with the former Barca manager determined to straighten the record.
Arsenal’s splendid start to the season has somewhat slowed down in the last 10 days, with a draw against Everton followed by defeats at Napoli and Manchester City and with February normally the month when Arsenal’s season crumbles, Arsene Wenger’s men could have done without this draw.