Date:Thursday December 20 2007
Always exciting times, these. Before a tough-looking game against Everton, we have a little Champions League draw to distract us from our everyday worries.
I appreciate how good it is to support an English team that topped its group. Especially that the team in question is Manchester United. As it is, we will avoid the two toughest second-placed teams, Arsenal and Liverpool - not that I'd fear either. And of course we won't get Roma as we have finished ahead them in the group stage.
Playing the second leg at home is obviously an advantage and I think we will exploit it fully against whoever we get. Let's look at the possibilities!
Lyon: The toughest nut. They sold, again, some of their best players in the summer, most notably Florent Malouda. With Alain Perrin taking over, things looked bleak at the start: his training sessions were disliked by the players because of his attitude: he often stopped training and talked at great length about every minor mistake. His 4-4-2 did not yield results and several stars expressed their desire to leave.
However, Perrin settled down, accepted that he won't make a revolution at a club which won the last six French titles. He switched back to the successful 4-3-3 and aided by Karim Benzema's impressive form, they stormed to the top of Ligue 1 and advanced in the Champions League after a horrendous start. Men for men they do not even compare to United but could cause surprises as they are a very able team.
Olympiakos: Phrases like 'mystery' and 'dark horse' spring irresistibly to my mind. They were the laughing stock of Europe away from home, not winning for more than 30 matches but this season they shrugged it off winning at Bremen and giving Real Madrid a very hard time at the Bernabeu.
They still have Rivaldo (no, they don't as Lindy pointed out. Call me ignorant but the truth is worse: I'm apparently senile, having forgotten his transfer) but he's way past his prime now (That's still true though it does not concern us in the slightest so it's not the squad that worries me. It is that their home support is notoriously fiery, and travelling fans could even find themselves in the same trouble as Roma. Their chances of elimination are very low: should they secure a decent result at home, they should still be whipped senseless at Old Trafford as it happened in 2003 when we also won in Athens (3-2 and 4-0).
Celtic: Made the knock-out stages two seasons in a row now which is one impressive achievement given the Scottish clubs' dreadful Champions League record. We met them last season of course and on the basis of those results they would progress now.
However, Nakamura is no longer in his last season form and they face much greater competition from Rangers on the domestic front than last season. They are often struggling for goals in Europe with few quality strikers on the books but I still have a bad feeling about drawing them. There's always the chance of a dull 1-0 home win at Celtic Park while a 10-men-behind the ball effort and a bit of luck could secure them a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford to send them through.
Fenerbahce: Improved beyond measure since last season. They beat in-form Inter deservedly at home and though they were no match for them in the San Siro, they should still be approached with caution. It would be interesting to see Ronaldo lining up against Roberto Carlos, especially that the Brazilian even in his prime wasn't famed for his fantastic defending.
However, Istanbul is not a pleasant place for visiting teams and visiting fans. Remember the Galatasaray v Leeds game in 2000? I think none of us wants such an experience, Rome was more than enough...
Schalke 04: Oh, the best. A beautiful stadium with an honest, trying but mediocre team. They put on a spirited showing against Chelsea but could not score a goal to save their lives - and that's why they are my pick of the bunch.
Simply, Schalke are not creative enough and do not have classy finishers. They are a solid, compact team with little creativity and United should have no trouble with keeping a clean sheet against them. The rest should be left to Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and co.
So, that's it. My conclusion is that Schalke would be the best but we do not need to fear anyone as we have vastly better playing squad than any of the above. and with the second leg played at Old Trafford, we should have no worries.
The draw will be at eleven a.m. tomorrow and we will of course bring you the results as soon as they come out!
Date:Thursday December 20 2007
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