The draws for the knockout stages of the Champions and Europa Leagues have been made, and they have served up a contrasting set of fortunes for the English clubs involved.
For Chelsea and Arsenal things couldn’t have turned out much worse in the Champions League last 16, although Manchester City will be secretly pleased with their outcome. In the Europa League, meanwhile, the three English sides involved – Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool – should progress to the quarter finals without breaking sweat.
With the matches to be played in February, let’s take a look at some early betting value.
Paris St-Germain v Chelsea
It is almost impossible to back Chelsea in this one. Their problems at domestic level have been somewhat masked by a series of decent performances in the Champions League, but if the likes of Bournemouth (no disrespect) can expose the Blues’ complete lack of defensive stability at the moment, then surely PSG – who remain the only unbeaten club in European football’s top five divisions this term – can do a whole host of damage.
The French champions have scored 2.5 goals per game on average this season, so can Chelsea realistically prevent them from improving that record? It’s highly unlikely the way things are going, and so the most interesting bet to come out of this fixture will be Chelsea Stage of Elimination – Last 16 at 8/13.
Arsenal v Barcelona
It’s the draw that every team wanted to avoid in truth, and a task made all the harder for Arsenal knowing that they will need to keep a clean sheet in this first leg ideally to have a chance of subsequent progression.
To be fair, Barcelona probably weren’t enamoured with the draw either – they could have faced a lot easier assignments than this in the last 16 – and it should be the tie of the round for the neutral.
Barca’s price of 11/13 to win the first leg at the Emirates – a match that the Gunners will need to win to have any chance of making the last eight – looks decent value.
Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City
The fact that Chelsea took four points off this Dynamo Kiev side in their group encounters will fill Manchester City with hope, and with question marks over Manuel Pellegrini’s side defensively this draw couldn’t have been much kinder.
Perhaps the best bet here is to back Manchester City to make it through this tie but lose in the quarter finals. Who are they likely to play in the last eight? It could be Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, Real Madrid….or possibly Zenit St Petersburg, Wolfsburg or Atletico. So it really is the luck of the draw, but at 11/8 it still looks a value punt.
Fiorentina v Tottenham
It’s fair to say that Spurs have taken Europa League competition seriously so far this term, and depending on their Premier League progress you could imagine that trend continuing. The only concern is that their squad looks a little thin, so if Mauricio Pochettino was to rest some of his stars from European action then the quality of team he puts out will lessen accordingly.
Fiorentina are going well in Serie A at the moment, and presuming that they stay in the mix for honours then surely their Europa League campaign will take a back seat. Indeed, they needed a final day 1-0 win over Belenenses to even progress to this stage.
Fortune favours the brave, and for that reason Spurs should progress to the next stage of the competition.
FC Midtjylland v Man United
It’s fair to say that FC Midtjylland rather blundered their way to this stage of the competition – they didn’t win any of their last four group games, and somehow a final day 1-1 draw with Club Bruges was enough to see them through. They’ve hardly set the Danish Superligaen alight either this season, and so the Red Devils’ task couldn’t be much more straightforward.
It’s an awkward time to be a Manchester United supporter, although Louis Van Gall – privately at least – must be thinking that lifting the Europa League trophy might paper over some of the cracks of his side’s Premier League form. Superficially, at least.
You couldn’t imagine FC Midtjylland being much more than a mid table side in England’s top flight, and so United should progress handsomely.
Augsburg v Liverpool
Up until a fortnight ago, Augsburg were in the relegation zone in the German Bundesliga having scraped through their Europa League group as runners up by virtue of a better goal difference than third-placed Partizan Belgrade.
You would think that Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool have nothing to fear then, although their inconsistency will be a worry. The good news is that they have plenty of strength in depth in their squad, and should Klopp decide to ring the changes in Europe they could still put out a handy team. Backing the Reds to win both legs – starting with the away leg here at 7/5 – is smart.