Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan
PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal
Lille v Manchester United
Roma v Lyon
Barcelona v Liverpool
Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Inter Milan v Valencia
Well, Liverpool’s drawn Barcelona. Can’t claim to be surprised, but certainly am disappointed. Along with Real Madrid, Barca was the toughest ask of all the second-place teams, and Liverpool will rue not avoiding a trip to Spain.
However, it’s not as if Rafa is unfamiliar with Spanish teams, and 2004-05 proved that Liverpool can beat any European team on their day. European competition has been far different from the play in the Prem, but Liverpool will have to play solid defense for 180 minutes. No silly mistakes, or Barca will surely profit.
But I do firmly believe Liverpool has enough in the locker to take Barcelona head on. It will take two excellent performances, but they will travel to Catalonia thinking a draw will suffice knowing how strong the team is at Anfield.
I just can’t get the UEFA Cup semifinal from 2001 out of my head, when Houllier’s defensive (ugly, negative, pick your derogatory synonym) style got Liverpool the requited 0-0 at the Nou Camp before a 1-0 win at Anfield.
The other English teams got off slightly easier. United returns to one of the many scenes of the crime from last season, having lost at Lille in the group stages of last year’s Champions League (also, the game at Old Trafford ended 0-0). It’s just like United to draw the team most consider the easiest opponent of the round, but hopefully, the French side can repeat last year’s efforts.
Chelsea will face a side they’re fairly familiar with, Jose Mourinho’s old team, Porto. Granted, there’s been player turnover since the Special One managed them to the CL Final, as Deco and others have moved on, but Mourinho will have his side ready and motivated to play in Portugal, and they have to be favorites to progress.
Arsenal should match up well against PSV. They should have the time on the ball that they like to have to pass and move, and I don’t know if PSV has enough up front to trouble Toure et al.
Celtic will have a tough go of it against AC Milan. The two sides were matched up against each other in the group stages of the CL than Liverpool won, when Milan won 3-0 at home and battled to a 0-0 draw in Glasgow. Celtic will have to make good use of the first leg, at Parkhead, where their European form has been excellent, if they want to have any chance when the tie moves to Italy.
Aside from Liverpool/Barca, which I’d think was the pick of the round whether or not I rooted for Liverpool, Real v Bayern and Roma v Lyon are also tasty looking match-ups. Lyon may be the favorites due to league and European form (it is still very hard to write that about a Houllier-managed team), but do not sleep on Bayern. I have a feeling their matches against Real will be quality, and that we’ll see Bayern move on, where they'll be a tough out for any of the remaining teams.
Ties will take place at the end of February and the beginning of March. The team listed first above, as second place in their group, will host the first leg. Closer to the matches, I’ll probably do predictions for all matches, save Liverpool naturally.