The European Cup returns to action this week with the start of the knockout phase. With both of the Old Firm taking their usual seat on the sidelines at this point, the action is left to English football’s leading lights. The draw has given us some interesting ties.
Tomorrow both Arsenal and Manchester United are in action against Italian sides. Arsenal are at home to Roma, a tough tie for Arsenal. I would not be surprised to see them exit the competition at this point. Manchester United face the champions of Italy, Inter Milan. 12 months ago, Inter were out thought by Liverpool. This year, they come into the knockout stages in a commanding position in Serie A, having beaten city rivals AC Milan a week or so ago. Of course Inter are now being coached by one Jose Mouriniho. His main target is European glory, something which has evaded Inter in this competition since 1965. This tie is perhaps the closes to call, but again I would not be surprised to see Inter triumph. On top of Mouriniho having previous here, knocking United out at this stage 5 years ago while with Porto, the defending champions have failed to make it past this stage for the past 4 years, Porto, Liverpool, Barcelona and AC Milan have all fallen at this stage.
On Wednesday, the England V Italy vibe continues when Claudio Ranieri takes his Juventus side to Chelsea. Before the removal of Scolari, Juventus looked like they might win this one. However with the abeit temporary appointment of Guus Hiddink, Chelsea will pull together and win.
This leaves us with the tie which pits 9 times winners Real Madrid against 5 timers Liverpool. Their only European meeting was in the final 28 years ago, with Liverpool winning 1-0 in Paris. Reading interviews of some of the now coaches, who took part in the match (Camachio and Del Bosque) it still rankles. When the draw was made, Liverpool were clear favourites. Real Madrid were in disarray, while Liverpool were riding high at the top of the Premiership. Now Real have gone under a run under their new coach Ramos (sacked in October from Tottenham) and are making La Liga not as much of a foregone conclusion it was weeks ago. Liverpool have lost form, and were deposed from the top of the Premiership a couple of weeks ago. Their 1-1 home draw to Manchester City at the weekend may have marked the end of the championship chase, they are now 7 points behind Manchester United. This is an intriguing tie, and one which may go a long way to deciding silverware other than the European Cup come May.