Nightmare draw for English clubs
Italian tests for Arsenal and Chelsea...and it is also tough for Manchester pair
Conspiracy theorists may have suspected the hand of Michel Platini, the supposedly Anglophobic Uefa president, behind yesterday's draws for the first knockout rounds of the Champions League and Europa League. Jokers might suggest it was David Cameron.
Either way, the quintet of English survivors were presented with such devilishly difficult ties that Britain's footballers could be out of Europe by the end of the round. In the premier competition, Italian obstacles face both clubs. Arsenal play Milan, the Serie A champions and serial Champions League winners, while Chelsea have to succeed where Manchester City failed, and overcome Napoli. The junior competition, meanwhile, threw up ties worthy of the Champions League. In a clash of fallen giants, Manchester United will play fellow multiple European Cup winners Ajax; Manchester City meet the Europa League holders Porto, and the players, staff and fans of Stoke City should relish the opportunity to play in one of Europe's most evocative stadia – Valencia's La Mestalla – where Chelsea drew in the autumn.
With the Champions League draw also sending Real Madrid to Moscow in February, never an easy trip, Barcelona's status as favourites hardened significantly. They will play Bayer Leverkusen. "Perfect", said their president Sandro Rosell. It was not a sentiment his English counterparts echoed.
Napoli v Chelsea, Milan v Arsenal
Stoke City v Valencia, Porto v Man City, Ajax v Man United
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