Date:Thursday December 7 2006
United finished top of their group in the Champions League after beating Benfica 3-1 on the final day. The group stage is now over so we have a look at the possible opponents.
You may keep in mind that the Reds can only be drawn with a team that finished as runner-up in the group stage. Teams from the same national association can't be paired in this round but it dones't matter now as all English clubs topped their respective groups.
So, here we go, with groups A, B, C and D.
Group A: Barcelona
The holders found life difficult in the so-called group of death. They needed a last-minute goal to equalize in Bremen and managed to scrape a measly point in two encounters versus Chelsea. Still, they turned on the style in their last, crucial group game, beating Werder 2-0. Come February, injured stars like Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi will be back so they will be an even deadlier force. They play fast, attacking football like United but I must conclude, albeit regretfully, that they are the better team.
Verdict: PLEASE NO!!
Group B: Inter
The star-studded Italian team started awfully then they pulled themselves together and sealed qualification with three straight victories. Their squad is clearly stronger than ours but this is the team that failed to perform regardless of their observed strength. I'd say our style would compensate for our lack in depth so we'd have a chance. They seem to have no rivals for the domestic title this time and that might work in their favour.
Verdict: I'd rather have them at the quarter-finals.
Group C: PSV Eindhoven
Liverpool easily disposed of them, do I need to say anything else? Well, they were impressive in 2005 but the great Guss Hiddink has departed, just like the even greater Park Ji-sung. They're definitely a weaker team though they're going to win the Dutch league easily again. I expect their style of play would suit us fine.
Verdict: They would be my second choice.
Group D: AS Roma
They entered the competition in spite of their insufficient league achievements. Of course, they are strong, with Francesco Totti orchestrating an attacking formation including Taddei, Mancini and Perrotta. Finished second behind Valencia, their form was (and still is) erratic. Their players are prone to injuries and they lack cover in key positions. Roma could surely cause some nasty surprises in the competition but they are not serious contenders for the great prize.
Verdict: I'd be optimistic but they'd have an outside chance to progress against us.
Group E: Real Madrid
Who could forget those epic ties of 1957, 1968, 2000 or 2003? Unfortunately, we prevailed over them only once. Real are much stronger than last year, although Lyon defeated them easily. I fear that Fabio Capello's organising work might reach fruition by February and I'd not like to be on the receiving end of a Real-revival. On the other hand, it'd be nice to greet Ruud and Becks at Old Trafford. I could do without Ronaldo though. Their defence is still a liability but that can be put right, especially if Cannavaro finds his form and the midfield acquired some steel by the arrival of Diarra and Emerson.
Verdict: No thanks. I'd wait until the semi-final to meet them.
Group G: Porto
No Mourinho, no Deco, no goals scored against Arsenal: do we have to fear them? Yes, they are a decent Portuguese side and you can never know what to expect of those. Players like Lucho Gonzalez or Ronaldo's ex-mate Ricardo Quaresma can flourish in the most elevated company but they are seriously inconsistent. The main positive would be that we could avenge 2004's sickening exit and thus turn the season into a revenge mission against annoying Portuguese men.
Verdict: Should dismiss them comfortably but you can never know. I'd be happy with them despite my fears.
Group H: Lille
We have plenty to put right against them. Lille managed to claim a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford with a fantastic amount of time-wasting, injury-feigning and ugly fouls then beat us 1-0 in France, in what was United's worst performance last season. (Yes, I remember the tonking at Boro). The Reds were thought to be after two of their midfielders, Makoun and Bertod. Claude Puel kept his side intact, they still do not have stars but work together very well. Do not have the slightest chance to win the French league in the shadow of Lyon but they are determined to impress after struggling in the most ridiculous of the groups.
Verdict: First Benfica, then Lille: it'd be fitting, so YES, PLEASE, YES!!!!
The draw will take place at Nyon, on the 15th of December, 11 a.m.
Date:Thursday December 7 2006
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