Danger! Barcelona Schalke: the best hope?
The draw for the second round of the Champions League: Inter, Milan and Roma, who all finished second in their groups, will not be among the top seeds in Nyon next Friday. It’s unlikely that the draw will be favourable to the Italian sides. Apart from Schalke and Shakhtar, danger looms in the form of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich
MILAN, 9 December 2010 – The three Italian clubs left in the Champions League almost seem cut adrift like the characters from “Lost”: without a compass and surrounded by fearsome enemies lurking on the horizon. Milan will probably have the easiest of it, for the simple reason that they will avoid Real Madrid, but all the same there’s little to smile about among Barça, Chelsea, United, Bayern and Tottenham. Don’t be surprised, however: if you can’t win your group you can’t claim to be among the best. All three will be hoping for Shakhtar or Schalke, but shouldn’t count too much on getting them, since in recent draws things have gone even worse than feared.
Barça alert! — Now that Mourinho isn’t there to convince Inter that they can do it, it’s difficult to see how an Italian side could blunt Barcelona, champions in 2009 and semi-finalists last year and 2008. Guardiola’s team already play the best football in the world, so who knows how good they’ll be in February. However Rubin Kazan and Copenhagen, not to mention Alicante – who beat them in the league – faced up to them and survived: almost as if the Catalans struggle most with the weakest. Hopefully that will help.
Real-Chelsea-United — Little changes with Madrid, Chelsea and United. Inter v Mourinho’s Real should be banned, just like matches between teams from the same group, even if it would most likely be an incredible match. We should remember however the downward spiral the Spanish side have been on the last few years: Champions in 2002, semi-finalists in 2003, quarter-finalists in 2004, and since 2005 always being knocked out in the second round. Then we have the two big English clubs remaining: Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea, who will still be strong despite recent difficulties, and Manchester United, who have reached at least the quarter-finals for the last four seasons. It’s difficult to choose. It would probably be better to draw Bayern (who are unconvincing in the Bundesliga, and who threw away a two-goal lead to lose at Roma), or Gareth Bale’s Tottenham, even though they took Inter apart with a particularly English eagerness. Better still would be Shakhtar Donetsk or Schalke 04.
Five Nations — Ukraine (Shakhtar) and Denmark (Copenhagen) are the only intruders among the usual five nations that will take part in the second round: England (four clubs), Italy and Spain (three) and Germany and France (two). Paradoxically, though the quality of this Champions League seems lower than in recent years, with many “minor” teams participating, it’s the “big 5″ who dominate whereas last year Russian, Portuguese and Greek teams went through.
Europa League — On Friday 17 December the draw for the next round of the Europa League will also be held. Since Juve, Samp and Palermo are all out, only Napoli have any hope of participating. No need to ask why Italy will only have three places in the Champions League from 2012-13 onwards.