Glittering ties light way to Europe's biggest prize

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There are two months of winter to be endured first but football's glitterati were yesterday given a prospect to savour during the long dark nights when the Champions' League draw produced a series of lip-smacking ties.

There are two months of winter to be endured first but football's glitterati were yesterday given a prospect to savour during the long dark nights when the Champions' League draw produced a series of lip-smacking ties.

It is a measure of the collective quality that the four pairings pitting previous winners against one another were each overshadowed by that which paired the Premiership leaders with the La Liga front-runners.

But if Ronaldinho's magic, and Roman Abramovich's wealth made Barcelona versus Chelsea the pick of the draw, Manchester United v Milan and Real Madrid v Juventus were close behind. The other English clubs drew German opponents: Arsenal play the Bundesliga leaders and multiple winners Bayern Munich while Liverpool meet Bayer Leverkusen. This would appear the easiest task facing the Premiership quartet but having been defeated by Leverkusen in the 2002 quarter-final Liverpool will not be taking a place in the last eight for granted. Nevertheless, Rafael Benitez admitted: "Considering the other possibilities we faced, it's not the worst draw for us. Although they are a good team it's better to face a German team and not an Italian one. The Italian teams are more difficult to play against."

Given his record against German sides - one famous match apart - Sir Alex Ferguson might disagree. He was certainly looking on the positive side after, like Jose Mourinho with Barcelona, his prediction that United would meet Milan came true.

"We have never played against Milan while I've been manager," said Ferguson, "but if you look back over the years we've enjoyed some of our greatest moments against Italian opposition and we are really looking forward to it. They have had a fantastic spell under Carlo Ancelotti."

Ancelotti, who led Milan, the Italian champions, to their sixth European Cup at Old Trafford in 2003, beating Juventus in a penalty shootout, had the same script. "Old Trafford brought us good luck in the recent past," he said, "but Manchester United is a very strong team and Ferguson a very experienced coach."

The two clubs have met twice in the competition, both times in the semi-finals. In 1958 United's team, ravaged by the Munich disaster, managed to win at Old Trafford but were crushed in Milan. Eleven years later United, defending their European crown, narrowly failed to overturn a 0-2 first-leg deficit.

Arsenal's past ties with Bayern are limited to two group stage games but there are other interesting aspects. Munich tried to hire Arsène Wenger before Arsenal did; the Londoners are regularly linked with Bayern's England international Owen Hargreaves; and the match could be a face-off between bitter German goalkeeping rivals Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn - if Lehmann can win his place back.

"Jens and I instinctively knew we would have to face each other," said Kahn. Unusually self-effacing he added: "They will hype it into a big duel but it is not a match between Kahn and Lehmann. There are 10 more players as well."

The Real Madrid-Juventus match-up is a repeat of the 1998 final, which the Spanish side won. More relevantly it also reprises the 2003 semi-final which Juventus won, Pavel Nedved's inspirational display creating the first crack in the galactico philosophy.

The defending champions, Porto, face Internazionale, while Monaco, last season's runners-up, meet PSV Eindhoven. Dark horses Werder Bremen and Lyon make up the 16. Their's may be the least prestigious tie but with so many stellar names facing early elimination neither club should be ruled out.

The Draw

Round of 16 first leg: Tue 22 Feb: Bayern Munich (Ger) v Arsenal; Liverpool v Bayer Leverkusen (Ger); PSV Eindhoven (Neth) v Monaco (Fr); Real Madrid (Sp) v Juventus (It). Wed 23 Feb: Barcelona (Sp) v Chelsea; Werder Bremen (Ger) v Lyon (Fr); Manchester United v Milan (It); Porto (Por) v Internazionale (It). Second leg: Tue 8 March: Chelsea v Barcelona; Lyon v Werder Bremen; Milan v Manchester United. Wed 9 March: Arsenal v Bayern Munich; Juventus v Real Madrid; Bayer Leverkusen v Liverpool; Monaco v PSV Eindhoven. Tue 15 March: Internazionale v Porto.

Quarter-finals: First leg 5 & 6 April; second leg 12 & 13 April.

Semi-finals: First leg 26 & 27 April; second leg 3 & 4 May 2005.

Final: 25 May (Istanbul).

England expects the task ahead

Barcelona V ChelseaM


Founded: 1899

Ground: Nou Camp, 98,600

Coach: Frank Rijkaard

Domestic league

position: Primera Liga - 1st

European Cup/Champions' League best performance: Winners: 1992

Head-to-head record:

Played: 5 Wins: Barcelona 3, Chelsea 2

How do they beat Chelsea? The creativity of Ronaldinho and Deco, coupled with speed of Samuel Eto'o, means the Catalans are a fearsome attacking force. With Xavi shielding the back four, Barça are more balanced side than in recent seasons.

How do Chelsea beat them? The defence has been hit by injury, most notably to the Brazilian centre-back Edmilson. Carles Puyol does not convince at the heart of the defence.

Key man? Ronaldinho (below) is the side's fulcrum and the conduit for Barcelona's attacking play. Since his arrival, the Brazilian has matured into a player widely regarded as the best in the world.

Any familiar faces? Silvinho spent two years at Arsenal before leaving in 2001. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst left Rangers for Highbury in the same year, joining Barça in 2003. The injured Henrik Larsson enjoyed success at Celtic.

Man Utd V Milan


Founded: 1899

Ground: San Siro, 82,955

Coach: Carlo Ancelotti

Current domestic status: Serie A - 2nd

European Cup/Champions' League best performance: Winners: 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003

Head-to-head record:

Played: 4 Wins: Milan 2, Man Utd 2

How do they beat Man United? Patient build-up transforming into rapid, incisive attack. The midfield oozes class; Kaka, Andrea Pirlo (right), Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso provide the perfect balance of aggression and skill. In attack Milan have Andrei Shevchenko's pace, Hernan Crespo's aerial power, Kaka's dribbling and Seedorf's long-range shooting.

How do Man United beat them? Milan have struggled defensively with set-pieces. Celtic's aerial threat of John Hartson and Chris Sutton unsettled their ageing backline.

Key man? Occupying a roaming role in front of the back four, Pirlo's vision is key to Milan's attacking play.

Any familiar faces? Hernan Crespo, on loan from Chelsea and Rangers' former ball winner Gennaro Gattuso. Ex-Newcastle striker Jon Dahl Tomasson is expected to return in January.

Bayern Munich V Arsenal

Bayern Munich

Founded: 1900

Ground: Olympic Stadium, 63,000

Coach: Felix Magath

Current domestic status: Bundesliga - 1st

European Cup/Champions' League best performance: Winners: 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001

Head-to-head record:

Played: 2 Wins: Bayern 1 Draws: 1

How do they beat Arsenal? Bayern have a combative but technically gifted midfield reminiscent of Premiership teams. The central midfielders pressurise the ball early, allowing the wide men to break quickly and cross for striker Roy Makaay.

How do Arsenal beat them? Psychologically they appear to suffer from an inferiority complex against Europe's élite. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn has looked erratic.

Key man? Michael Ballack (below) is their most influential player. Ballack's aerial ability and late runs into the area pose the greatest threat.

Any familiar faces? Owen Hargreaves, 23, is an England international. He has played his entire career at Bayern and is the last Englishman to win a Champions' League winners' medal.

Liverpool V B Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen

Founded: 1904

Ground: BayArena, 22,500

Coach: Klaus Augenthaler

Domestic league position: Bundesliga - 8th

European Cup/Champions' League best performance: Runners-up: 2002

Head-to-head record:

Played: 2 Wins: Leverkusen 1, Liverpool 1

How do they beat Liverpool? A very physical side who have built a reputation on hard tackling, Bayer press opponents and counter attack using the pace and flair of Andriy Voronin, Robson Ponte, Jacek Krzynowek and Dimitar Berbatov.

How do Liverpool beat them? They suffer from inconsistency away from home, compounded by the occasional disciplinary lapse. They had 21 players booked in the group stages.

Key player? Carsten Ramelow (below) symbolises the team ethic. Strong, tall and a rugged competitor, he allows his creative team-mates the opportunity to express themselves.

Any familiar faces? Teddy Lucic (Aug 2002-May 2003) and Roque Junior (Sep 2003-Jan 2004) had brief loan spells at Leeds.