Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta’s goals ensured that Manchester City took their place in last 16 draw next Monday in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night. In doing so, becoming the 3rd English side to qualify, alongside Chelsea and Arsenal. Unfortunately it wasn’t a full house for the Premier League though, as Liverpool crashed out of the competition on Tuesday after a 1-1 draw v Basel.
Since Chelsea’s triumph in 2012, English sides have struggled in Europe. 4 teams made the knock-out stages last year but Manchester City and Arsenal dropped out in the last 16 to Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively. Manchester United succumbed to Bayern in the quarter-finals, before the semis proved a bridge to far for the Mourinho’s Blues. Losing at the hands of Atletico Madrid. However there seems to be more optimism this year that a Premier League side could potentially win and we look at the chances of all 3 remaining teams this time round and a list of potential last 16 opponents…
Possible last 16 opponents: Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen, PSG, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Without a doubt the Premier League side with the greatest odds of winning at this stage. Chelsea have started the domestic season like a house on fire, appearing well ahead of all opponents. In Europe they have been equally impressive. Recovering from an opening match day 1-1 draw with Schalke, to top the group and finish top scorers in the group-stages. Mourinho’s side play great football nowadays and have evolved from a well organised, defensive outfit. When it comes to the Champions League they can be very cute and clever – a key component to their success in recent years.
Obviously the Blues would love to draw either Basel, Leverkusen or Shakhtar. PSG and Juventus stand out as ‘the sharks in the draw’ that Mourinho talked about but I believe his side can put in a team effort to beat anybody in the tournament in a two legged tie. They will fear no one and have the best Champions League pedigree of all English teams in recent years. They have been one of this seasons outstanding teams so far and are displaying the potential to even go all the way.
Costa and Fabregas were perfect additions to the squad and they now look the complete package. Chelsea are perhaps more of a ‘team’ than any side in the competition. Both defensively and offensively they look superb, so they should be amongst the favourites to win. However, I don’t feel they have the firepower of Bayern Munich or Real Madrid but the team ethic instilled by Jose Mourinho may well be a leveler.
Possible last 16 opponents: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Monaco, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Porto.
This season has been a similar tale for Arsenal fans in the Champions League. They always seem to qualify out of their groups but also in the dreaded second place. This year they finished runners-up behind Dortmund, despite showing decent form at times. However, their failure to hold on to a 3-0 lead against Anderlecht, ultimately cost them and now they are very much in line to face one of the tournaments big boys once again. Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid all loom large in the list of potential opposition. On Monday Wenger will be desperately hoping to draw FC Porto or his old club Monaco, if they are to avoid a highly daunting tie.
The Gunners poor form in general this season, has seen the Frenchman under increasing pressure from the fans to resign. Summer signing, Alexis Sanchez, has been superb but the overall standard of the team has not improved greatly. They still have some highly talented players and the potential to cause anybody a problem on their day but too often in the big games we have seen them disintegrate. Surely they don’t have the consistency or metal to win the Champions League? Don’t get me wrong they can be dangerous but are usually a weak touch for Europe’s elite to face. If handed decent draws, a semi-final berth may be the best Arsenal can hope for this season.
They can play some lovely football and have been known to challenge some of the elite teams in the latter rounds. However unlike Chelsea, they aren’t very good at the uglier aspects of the game. Defending, extensive tactical planning and handling immense pressure – are not qualities instilled in Wenger’s side. Therefore, I believe that Arsenal could conceivably have a decent run but winning the whole thing would be a virtual impossibility, unless they improve dramatically.
Possible last 16 opponents: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Porto.
Having had a far rockier ride into the last 16 than the 2 before mentioned clubs, City will be somewhat of an unknown quantity in the knock-out stages. They undoubtedly have some world class players but they just don’t seem to transform their league form into European competition. The victories over Bayern Munich and Roma may give them that belief that they can be a force in Europe. Perhaps profiting in the face of adversity will finally help City kick start in the Champions League.
The champions of England have some fantastic players on their books and can play some high quality football as a team. Until now though, something hasn’t quite clicked for them in the Champions League and poor performances have plagued their past 3 European campaigns. However against Roma, they put in the perfect European away performance and that may well be a spring board for them. City’s strength as a team means that if they do turn up, they could cause any of the very best problems. The club has previously seemed disillusioned and not placed a lot of importance on the competition due to their ‘we’re just happy to be here’ attitude. When it was do or die in their last two group stage games, they found that motivation and looked a very capable team.
As of yet, City haven’t reached the heights of last season, placing pressure on Manuel Pellegrini’s shoulders. Although a run of victories and a couple of stutters from Chelsea, have ensured that they are now 3 points off the Premier League’s summit. The extra belief of having miraculously qualified for the Champions League knock-out stages, may well set them off in what could another trophy laden campaign. Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva are their stars. They will certainly need them if they are to reach the latter stages of Europe’s elite competition. Unfortunately I still don’t think they are ready to win it, as the way 10 man Bayern gave them the run around at times in their fortuitous 3-2 win at the Etihad this season, would suggest they aren’t anywhere near that level yet. That is the benchmark though and I believe that if the stars align for City, they could well make the semi-finals.