With the Champions League knockout draw looming, CFCnet provides a run-down of the other sides still left in the competition, and our potential opponents once the tournament kicks off again in 2011. The winter break acts as a sort of gap between the relative comfort of the group stages and the inevitable pain of the knockouts; imagine the immediate moment just after stubbing your toe, and the numb void before the unstoppable pain arrives. We have until February at the least before the bruises start to form.
There are only six possible teams we can draw once Friday’s overlong and over-extravagant event takes place in Nyon, Switzerland where FIFA’s headquarters are based.
Internazionale, Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma and AC Milan are all potential opponents for the Blues. Our conquerors in the first knockout stage last season, Inter can no longer boast José Mourinho as their boss, with ex-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez now at the helm and reportedly under pressure after an underwhelming Serie A season so far for Nerazzurri. Thirteen points off the pace, Inter sit seventh, and were even beaten to top spot in Group A of the Champions League by Spurs. Although unbeaten at home in the group stages, Benitez’s side fell to defeats at Spurs and Werder Bremen. Key men include Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito, and – as always – Samuel Eto’o.
Lyon finished second to Schalke 04 in Group B, but comfortably clear of third placed Benfica. They have gone three European games without a win however, after a 4-3 defeat against the Portuguese side, followed by a 3-0 crushing at Schalke and a 2-2 home draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv. Lyon are currently the third-placed team in Ligue 1, just two points behind leaders Lille. Michel Bastos is the French side’s top scorer in European competition, with three goals so far.
Valencia finished their Group C campaign with an impressive +11 goal difference, albeit three points behind winners Manchester United. Los Che held United to a last-matchday draw at Old Trafford having fallen to a 1-0 defeat on their own home ground, but it was their matches against Turkish side Bursaspor which caught the eye – a 4-0 away win followed later in the tournament by a 6-1 thrashing. Roberto Soldado has bagged five goals so far for Unai Emery’s team, meaning the former Real Madrid striker sits a couple of goals behind Eto’o (seven) in the race for the Golden Boot, where Soldado is joined by Nicolas Anelka. Fifth place in La Liga, Valencia are a hefty fifteen points behind leaders Barcelona, and do feature an ex-Blue in their squad in the form of Asier del Horno, although he is currently out on loan at Levante.
Runners-up in Barcelona’s group, with a tight defence and fairly profligate attack, FC Copenhagen are an attractive draw for Chelsea. Boasting the talents of Jesper Gronkjaer, the Danes are just over half-way through their domestic campaign and currently lead the Superliga by nineteen points, having not lost a single game so far. In the Champions League, they earned a hard-fought point by holding Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at home, but have otherwise been fairly unspectacular.
Roma progressed to the knockout stages despite a goal difference of -1. In a fairly strong group, featuring Bayern Munich, Basel and our old friends CFR Cluj, Giallorossi were involved in four games which featured at least three goals. Marco Borriello has managed four goals so far for the club, while talisman Francesco Totti still creaks on at the age of 34, having made twenty appearances so far in all competitions this season. John Arne Riise is bound to score if we end up meeting Roma, although it’s anyone’s guess as to which end he scores it at. Sixth in Serie A, Claudio Ranieri’s side are always a dangerous prospect, not least because of their fairly mental fans.
Finally, Serie A leaders Milan joined Real Madrid in progressing from the so-called Group of Death, where they left Ajax to the delights of the Europa League, and Auxerre to focus on their domestic game once again. Milan only just scraped through however, with a solitary point between themselves and the fading Dutch club. An inconsistent campaign saw two wins, two draws and two defeats, including a 2-0 home loss at the hands of Ajax. With the often lethargic Zlatan Ibrahimovich leading the line, Massimiliano Allegri’s side still feature a host of big names in world football, including rumoured one-time Chelsea targets Alexandre Pato, Gennaro Gattuso, and Andrea Pirlo, as well as former Pompey midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who, in his last appearance against Chelsea, injured Michael Ballack and missed a penalty in the FA Cup Final back in May.
Due to UEFA’s seeding rules, we cannot face the other nine teams left in the draw. Instead, Tottenham, Schalke, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Marseille, Real Madrid, Shakhtar and Arsenal await for another day.