You can get odds of 14-1 that this season’s Champions League final will be between two sides from the Premier League but a more likely scenario as that at least one English club will be eliminated in the round of the last 16. Manchester United and Chelsea are the winners from the lottery for the draw for the first elimination round while Arsenal and Manchester City are odds on not to reach the quarter finals.
Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini in particular tried to talk down the gaffe in not realising they needed one more goal to overtake Bayern Munich at the top of their group. The upshot was a runners-up spot which meant a draw against a group winner which in this instance is Barcelona. United’s reward for winning their group is a tie with Olympiakos, the overall outsiders for the Champions League.
There has been some talk that Barcelona are in decline and this is the right time for City to play them. In view of City’s devastating form at home I could see this tie going either way but the stress would have been reduced if City had won their group and then drawn more beatable opposition. Manchester City are 1-2 to lose the tie but I see it being much closer than those odds suggest.
I was fortunate to be in Barcelona on business earlier this year. The trip coincided with a match at Camp Nou against Valladolid. This is a Category 2 game which means thousands of tickets not being used by season ticket holders are freed up for general sale. You can buy tickets for the match at every official tourist booth in the town and the ordering process is slick.
The Camp Nou experience is part of the tourist trail in Barcelona. You get a real feeling of pride in their city and club in Barcelona. I think they’ve realised that with the Spanish economy in such a bad way tourism is massively important and in the history of their football club they have a valuable attraction. The slogan “mas que un club” is so appropriate as FCB are the embodiment of the Catalonian fight to be independent from the rest of Spain.
It must be one of the best experiences for a sports spectator to hear the Barcelona anthem as the players walk onto the pitch. The anthem climaxes with three massive chants of “Barca, Barca, Barca” which inspires the players to give their best. You can hear the same anthem at the end of the match but only when Barcelona have won, which is just about every match at Camp Nou.
In the match against Valladolid Barcelona conceded the first goal. However, at no time did the players panic and everyone assumed Barcelona would come back to win the mach. In the absence of Lionel Messi through injury Neymar and Alexis Sanchez took control but Barcelona struggled to break through after an almost immediate equaliser.
The crown are loyal but will let the players know if they feel let down. I wouldn’t say Barcelona were booed off the field at half time but there was no great ovation after the first half. The second half epitomised the Barcelona philosophy of football. It was just pass, pass, pass and on three occasions the intricate moves ended with a goal. Tika, tika football is still alive and well in the capital city of Cataluña.
Manchester City play a similar game with players like David Silva and Samir Nasri setting the tone for intricate passages of play. These moves often lead to a goal, especially at home where City are now supremely confident of outscoring the opposition. City were awesome against Arsenal. Silva tired the opposition and then in the last quarter Yaya Toure began to take control with those powerful runs through the midfield.
Sergio Aguero is on a great run of scoring but is now likely to be absent for up to eight weeks. That makes him doubtful for the tie with Barcelona and his injury could be key in determining the outcome of these matches. Edin Dzeko is a proven scorer and could be the main beneficiary of Aguero’s injury but the side is weaker without the striker from Argentina scoring his regular quota of goals.
Arsenal could also have won their group but eventually were just one goal away from elimination. Their group contained three potential winners and relative results against each other determined the final placings. If Arsenal had conceded one more goal away to Napoli they would have been out but they still had to settle for second place and the draw has not been kind.
Arsenal have been drawn to play Bayern Munich in the last 16, with the first leg at home. The two sides met in the group stage last season. Bayern were awesome at the Emirates and although Arsenal won the away leg, this was a dead rubber with nothing but pride to play for. More indicate of the German side’s ability is the 7-0 drubbing of Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Bayern Munich are potentially better then they were twelve months ago. The treble winning squad has been strengthened and they are big favourites to win the Bundesliga again. No side has ever won the Champions League in successive seasons but this Bayern side have the ability and temperament to do just that. Arsenal would head into the next round confident of beating any other side but the Germans look too strong to be eliminated so early in the knockout phase of the competition.
Manchester United and Chelsea have shortened in the outright betting after drawing sides they are odds-on to eliminate. Olympiakos and Galatasaray respectively should not prove to be difficult opponents which means there will be at least two English sides in the draw for the quarter finals. However, the odds suggest it will be no more than two as Manchester City and Arsenal have paid for not winning their respective groups.