CL: Possible Opponents - The Lowdown
United await tomorrow's Champions League draw and most fans contemplate the possible adversaries. Vital United have a look at all of them, in alphabetical order.
Arsenal: Well, we know them quite well. We are locked in an exciting title race with them that looks set to go the wire so a clash in the Champions League would add even more flavour to it. We've met them twice this season, a Gallas equaliser denying us in the last minute at the Emirates but they were powerless to resist at Old Trafford in the FA Cup and were demolished 4-0.
They have the smallest squad of all the English teams so they should pray to avoid Premiership opponents as the games against them are physically gruelling. Though I think it would be better to avoid them because a triple clash in April is not desirable, they are not the worst bet.
Barcelona: And it takes us neatly to the very worst possibility. I do not want to suggest that Barcelona are invincible. Actually, they are rather mediocre this season, falling 8 points behind a not exactly awe-inspiring Real Madrid in the Primera Division. However, they are a technically gifted (supremely) continental side and Fergie does not trust his team against these oppositions, always tries to stifle them and ends up stifling his own team.
If we could take the game to the team we could expose their vulnerable defence which is made up of big names who don't really deliver. Up front, Henry and Ronaldinho are out of form and Messi will probably miss the quarter-finals with injury so if we have to play them, than play them now. But it would be even better if someone knocked them out for us.
Chelsea: Another well-known team. Chelsea are still pushing for the title but as they lost just about every important game under poor old Avram they are not among the most feared sides. They still have a great squad with quality players and I want to avoid them for two reasons: it would be a physically exhausting tie and I don't want to meet them three times in April...
Fenerbahce: Dream scenario number one. Though playing in front of 40,000 screaming fanatics is not a desirable experience (as our own players could tell you after our 3-0 loss there in 2004) they are feeble away from home and though have plenty of Brazilians, they are short on quality. Their keeper Volkan Demirel saved three penalties against Sevilla but in the game itself he was unbelievably poor. It's a minor miracle they've got thus far and a duel with the English champions would surely spell their end.
Liverpool: I have a gut feeling that we will get them. This would be a mystery tie. If Fergie's league hold over Benitez extends to the Champions League, too then the outcome is certain - a United victory. However, Liverpool seem galvanised by the Champions League anthem whereas Fergie is always uncertain when he has to prepare his team for standing near the great flag with all the stars on it.
On quality, we have a better team as our preview before the league game have already stated. But you never know... Surely, it would be gruelling both mentally and physically. Both side, both sets of supporters loath to think about losing to the other in a Champions League quarter-final - but what a wonderful feeling it would be to knock the Scousers out! If we can take Torres off the pitch the way we did it at Anfield in the league, then they will be in trouble.
Roma: Oh no, not again. The Italians are in great form and showed back in September that the 7-1 drubbing they received here does not haunt them. However, the point is that they still lost and I think United would be obvious favourites to go through.
Their squad did not change a lot since last season, in fact, there are only two major alterations: Brazilian defender Juan replaced Christian Chivu who signed for Inter and another samba man, Cicinho often gets the nod over Christian Panucci at right-back. I can't see why we would not beat them again... Their long-range shooting needs watching though, Francesco Totti, Amantino Mancini, Daniele de Rossi and Alberto Aquilani all capable of scoring from real piledrivers.
Schalke: The dream of all dreams. They rode their luck against ten-man Porto and have serious problems with scoring. On the domestic front they are not in form either and their squad possess very little genuine quality. The Arena AufSchalke is one of the most magnificent stadia in Europe and no visiting fans have to fear of getting stabbed, unlike in a case of a trip to Fenerbahce or Roma.
Their main threats would be Kevin Kuranyi who is a mediocre striker at best, up-and-coming talent Ivan Rakitic who has a powerful shot and right-back Rafinha who is courted by top European sides. But I think they'd have only a nominal chance of knocking United out.
So, what do you think?
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