Liverpool v PSV
Chelsea v Valencia
Man Utd v AS Roma
AC Milan v Bayern Munich
The draw for the rest of the Champions League took place this morning, with the quarterfinal match-ups shown above. The semifinals will be the winners of first and second games, and the winners of the third and fourth games.
I am about to throw a hex here, but I have to say, I’m more than pleased with the draw. Not so much because Liverpool will face a team they beat and drew in the group stage, although that doesn’t hurt, but more because all three English teams have been kept apart, at least for this round. And also simply because of the tastiness of all four contests.
I’ll admit it, I was absolutely dreading a match-up with the Mancs. I may be in the minority; I read a fair bit about Liverpool fans wanting United for revenge, much like the 5th round of the FA Cup victory over United last year and Chelsea in the CL semis in 2005 after losing in the League Cup Final. But honestly, I’ve seen enough of them for the season. And the point of European competition is to play teams that aren’t a few minutes down the M62 and your biggest rivals. Liverpool can’t face United unless both reach the final. Which would probably lead to the apocalypse. Or at least a full-scale riot. Probably smart to start praying for the Athenian police now, just in case.
But I really do believe that all four games should be decent ties. Milan and Munich are European mainstays, but both have been under par in their domestic campaigns, although Milan did have to cope with an 8-point deduction. An 8-point penalty doesn’t explain 30 points behind the league leaders, however, while Bayern still surprisingly sit in 4th in the Bundesliga, 6 points behind Schalke. Neither are used to being in those positions in their leagues, but both are more than familiar with this stage of the competition, and each other, having met in the round of 16 last season, where Milan won 5-2 on aggregate.
United will face an attacking team that could give them problems in Roma. In Totti, Mancini, and De Rossi, among others, Roma have players who can summon that moment of brilliance to turn a game, much like Ronaldo, Rooney or Scholes. There should be goals galore in this one, and honestly, despite United’s excellent season and the Roma’s manager’s wariness, I really can see this one going either way.
In the other half of the bracket (sorry, broke into American speak there), Chelsea will face Valencia. Of course, if Valencia are allowed to remain in the tournament after the fracas following the Inter Milan game, but I imagine we won’t see a similar situation to Tottenham’s bye through the UEFA Cup following Feyenoord’s dismissal for crowd trouble. I hate to look ahead, because Chelsea should be odds on favorites for this match-up and Liverpool still must get past PSV, but how entertaining would it be for Benitez to meet his old team in the Champions League semis? The media could be ever lazier than usual, with their narrative already completely written for them. I hope that Valencia can turn over the Blues, partly out of spite, partly hopeful for the semifinal match-up, but with all the money spent that I described yesterday, I can’t see Chelsea going out at this stage.
And there will be no underestimation of PSV, despite Liverpool probably being happy with the draw. Not only did PSV prevent Liverpool from making any real headway when they met at the Phillips Stadion, but Eindhoven’s manager, Ronald Koeman, will delight in the chance to face Benitez again, as he led Benfica last season, when they unceremoniously dumped out the reigning European champions. Mind you, Liverpool was probably happy with last year’s draw against Benfica as well. But I find it hard to believe the team could go into this match complacent, especially after the enormous win over Barcelona, and the fact that this is the last chance for a trophy this season.
The first leg of the round will take place April 3rd or 4th, with the return legs the following week.