This year’s draw for the knockout stages of both the Champions League and Europa league have not been kind to the remaining British sides taking part. In the Champions League, Manchester City faces a familiar foe in Barcelona in the last 16. The pair were drawn against each other last season with the Catalan giants coming out on top, winning 4-1 on aggregate. The task of slaying Luis Enrique’s side will be any easier this year as City reeling from the loss of inform striker Sergio Aguero struggle to find the correct gear both domestically and in Europe. One glimmer of hope is that Barcelona of late have been struggling in La Liga dropping seven points in their last seven games. Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Getafe left Barcelona four points off of leaders Real Madrid and allowed defending champions Atletico Madrid in third to close the gap to three points. However in Europe, Barcelona have been in good form, losing only once (a narrow 3-2 defeat to PSG) since being knocked out of last year’s tournament by Atletico.
On route to dispatching Barcelona, Atletico knocked out Chelsea who were going through a transformation phase under returning manager, Jose Mourinho. Having successfully rebuilt his side and rediscovered the balls that he felt they lacked last year, Chelsea look like a far more capable side than last season. Currently topping the Premiership with new striker Diego Costa firing on all cylinders, Mourinho’s side will be looking to advance to the quarter finals when the tournament restarts in February. Standing in their way are PSG, with Brazilian defender David Luiz coming up against his former employers. Seen as unreliable in Mourinho’s eyes, Luiz was sold for £50 million during the summer and will be keen to prove his former boss wrong by stopping Chelsea in their tracks.
Meanwhile across London, Arsenal’s chances of progressing in the Champions League were given a boost by drawing French side Monaco. The club from the tiny principality has been out of sorts this season despite the wealth of riches at their disposal. Having strangely allowed star striker Falcao to leave for Manchester United on a season long loan, Monaco have struggled to score goals with 33 year old Dimitar Berbatov their only real goal scoring threat so far with five goals. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will not fear a trip to Monaco and a ground he knows all too well having coached there in the past. The Frenchman spent seven seasons in the south of France in the late eighties before eventually winding up at Arsenal after a short stint in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight. With Alexis Sanchez on form and Theo Walcott returning from injury in the next few weeks, Arsenal should have enough firepower to progress.
In the Europa League, Celtic were hoping for an easier passage into the next round but instead got one of the worst draws possible in the shape of inform Inter Milan. Still unbeaten under new boss Roberto Mancini, the Italians will be formidable opponents for Ronny Delia’s team and it will take a special atmosphere inside Celtic Park to rattle them. Also up against Italian opposition are Tottenham who drew Fiorentina with Micah Richards in their ranks. The Manchester City player is spending the season on loan at the Serie A club but has only made a few select appearances so may have to make do with a spot on the bench. Spurs haven’t started the season as well as they would have hoped but will likely strengthen in the January transfer window in advance of the Fiorentina clash.
Liverpool are another team looking to strengthen in January after a very disappointing start to the new campaign. Out of the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers side now face Turkish side Besiktas sparking memories of the stunning 8-0 victory that they managed the last time the two sides met. The Europa League may be the only way for Liverpool to secure a Champions League place for next season so beating the current Super Lig leaders may be essential for Rodgers keeping his job. Across the city, Everton face Young Boys with manager Roberto Martinez confident of his side progressing having escaped out of a difficult group containing Lille, Wolfsburg and Krasnodar. However the Swiss side is unlikely to roll over easily and will prove a tricky test for Everton as they too look to cement their place in the last 16.
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