Tough Champions league draw for Chelsea, Arsenal
PARIS: England’s two surviving representatives in the Champions League, Chelsea and Arsenal, were handed tough ties against Italian opposition in Friday’s draw for the last 16, while holders Barcelona will come up against Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen.
Chelsea will take on Napoli, while Arsenal will meet reigning Serie A champions AC Milan, with both Premier League clubs travelling to Italy first.
Chelsea have never previously faced Napoli, but they will know not to take Walter Mazzarri’s side lightly after they qualified for the last 16 at the expense of Manchester City.
The 2008 beaten finalists have also only ever won once in Italy in seven attempts.
“I think that at this stage we can come up with the cliches about it being difficult, and it will be difficult because we’ve seen that Napoli were in the same group as Manchester City, so that reflects on the quality of Napoli,”Chelsea secretary David Barnard said.
For Arsenal, meanwhile, the clash with Milan is a repeat of their meeting at the same stage in 2007-08.
On that occasion the Gunners won 2-0 on aggregate, with Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor scoring late goals in the second-leg at the San Siro after a goalless first-leg.
“It’s going to be a fantastic two games,” Arsenal club secretary David Miles told Sky Sports after the draw, before admitting: “If I’m being honest there are probably some other teams we may have preferred.”
Nevertheless, Milan have also been eliminated by English clubs in the round of 16 in each of the last two campaigns, losing to Tottenham last season, and to Manchester United in 2010.
Barcelona will go to Germany first to face the 2002 runners-up Leverkusen, who qualified from Group E behind Chelsea.
There is history between the clubs, as Leverkusen beat Barca in the 1987-88 UEFA Cup quarter-finals, on their way to winning their only European trophy to date.
However, the Catalans will fancy their chances of gaining revenge this time as they aim to become the first club to win the Champions League in successive seasons.
“We have got Bayer Leverkusen! That’s not a bad draw! I have always enjoyed playing in Germany. The atmosphere is always great there,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said on Twitter from Japan, where Pep Guardiola’s side are currently preparing for Sunday’s Club World Cup final against Santos.
Real Madrid, who romped through the group stage winning all six games in Group D, will be heavy favourites to beat CSKA Moscow, although their Director of Institutional Relations Emilio Butragueno told Eurosport that the Spaniards will not be taking the tie lightly.
“In football you never know. CSKA won at Inter in the group stages and will not be an easy team to play against,” he said.
“They will be really up for it. It will be very very cold there in February and it will be a difficult surface (CSKA play on artificial turf).
“We are a great team, of course. The level of performance so far this season has been very good but it is tough to win this competition so we just need to make sure we produce the best performance we can possibly muster.”
Meanwhile Bayern Munich, who are hoping to reach the final at their own Allianz Arena, will meet Manchester United’s conquerors Basel.
“The team will be motivated because the objective is to reach the final in Munich,” said Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
“Of course, we will be favourites. If the team plays to its best then we have a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals.”
Marseille will take on 2010 winners Inter Milan in a tie that sees Claudio Ranieri once again come up against Didier Deschamps.
Ranieri was in charge of Chelsea when they lost to Deschamps’ Monaco in the semi-finals of the competition in 2004.
Benfica meet Zenit St Petersburg, while Lyon will face the tournament outsiders APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus.
“They are probably the weakest team left in the competition, but that doesn’t mean we will not have to do really well if we are to go through,” said Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas.
“APOEL have done brilliantly, especially away from home, although this is one of the kindest draws we have had in recent years.”