So, following last week’s games we are down to eight teams left in Europe’s premier club competition:
Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Porto and Villarreal.
The draw on Friday essentially plots the route to the final for each team as the semi final draw will be made at the same time. There’s no country protection anymore so we get to potential rematches from last season between the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea. Let’s have a look at each team’s options.
How they qualified: Beat Roma 7-6 on penalties after drawing 1-1 on aggregate. Both sides won their home leg 1-0 but Arsenal held on despite going behind in the shootout. Convincing in the first leg, they rode their luck in the second but were missing key men like Fabregas and Adebayor.
Who they would like: Porto were beaten 4-0 at home in this season’s group stage and while the reserves played in the meaningless 2-0 away fixture. Villarreal were defeated in the 2006 semi finals while both Chelsea and Man Utd have been beaten in the league this year. Bayern Munich are much weaker than when the Gunners last faced them in 2005.
Who ITV/Sky would like them to get: Liverpool would provide the revenge angle following last season’s somewhat controversial defeat at the quarter final stage. Alex Hleb was denied a penalty in both legs and Arsenal were just six minutes away from going through before a softish penalty was given against Toure. Ex-captain and record goal scorer Thierry Henry has yet to face Arsenal since leaving for Barcelona (neither has Hleb but who cares) and he would certainly get an incredible reception at the Emirates. It could be argued Chelsea are still owed for the Wayne Bridge winner at Highbury in 2005. Bobby Pires is still plying his trade at Villarreal.
How they qualified: Edged out Juventus in a tight two legged affair. A 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge was taken to Turin and despite an early Juve goal, Essien’s away goal meant Chelsea were never in too much doubt. The Ghanaian’s return to fitness is incredibly important.
Who they would like: Any English team would probably be welcomed just from the point of view that they don’t have an away Champions League win since 4-0 Rosenborg in the group stage last season. Their record against the Big Four is not great this season but that was before Hiddink came in. I’m sure he would relish a tactical battle with Rafa. Beyond that, the usual suspects of Bayern and Porto would hold no fears. I would include Villarreal in that list but strangley I think they’re the kind of side that would cause Chelsea real problems.
Who ITV/Sky would like them to get: Barcelona have played them several times in past few years and there have always been lots of goals and lots of talking points. A lot had to do with The Special One but since Hiddink is a former Real Madrid manager I’m sure it would be quite tasty. They knocked out Liverpool in the semi’s last season so Benitez’s side will be out to avenge that one.
How they qualified: Smashed Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate inluding a 4-0 win at fortress Anfield. Real were shocking but once again Rafa got it tactically spot on.
Who they would like: Anyone except Barcelona I would say but even then he could probably find a way to negate their three goal a game attack. At this stage no one holds any fear and Benitez can out-think most of the other managers remaining in the competition. After ties against Chelsea and Arsenal, only Man Utd have yet to be faced in Europe. Having crushed them 4-1 at Old Trafford last week, Liverpool would love to knock them out of Europe is they can’t prevent the record equalling 18th title.
Who ITV/Sky would like them to get: Last season’s Arsenal factor has already been discussed above while another match against Chelsea would provide the fourth time they’ve faced each other in the knockout stages in the last five seasons, the other three all being semi finals. I’m sure Sky could make some kind of Rocky style montage previewing it. I wouldn’t like it if I were Abramovich though, I believe the Russian lost in Rocky IV.
How they qualified: The red nosed one beat the Special One. Man Utd dominated Inter at the San Siro but came back with a 0-0 draw. Despite being talked up by Jose, his Inter team were relatively comfortably beaten 2-0 in the return leg despite having some good chances.
Who they would like: Despite losing to Arsenal this year, Fergie would probably fancy beating them over two legs. He might want to put Rafa back in his place after the drubbing last week but I think United would be quite happy to avoid Liverpool for now. Bayern Munich would get soundly beaten I think and it would provide a chance for Ferguson to have a quiet word with Ribery about how great life at Old Trafford is. Porto would not provide too much of a test either.
Who ITV/Sky would like them to get: Barcelona would be the glamour tie but TV bosses would rather have that as the final I suspect. Barca will want to score against them this time round after being held twice in the semi’s last year. Bayern Munich would be out to avenge the defeat in 1999 while Villarreal drew 0-0 with them twice in the group stage. Hmm, that would probably indicate the TV guys would like them to avoid each other. Man Utd vs Liverpool would provide the short term stories in terms of the 4-1 defeat but also the long term with the quarter finals scheduled around the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. It would make for an interesting scenario if UEFA didn’t keep their promise and forced Liverpool to play on the day at Old Trafford say. Fingers crossed it won’t come to that, I’m sure United would do the right thing anyway.