Rafael Benitez predicts Champions League winner will come from among heavyweight clubs


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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez insists the winners of the Champions League will be one of Europe's traditional heavyweight clubs.

The draw for the last-16 stage takes place in Nyon this morning, with Manchester United and Arsenal the two Barclays Premier League clubs left in the competition.

Benitez, interim manager of ousted holders Chelsea, refuses to consider rising forces such as Shakhtar Donetsk and Paris St Germain as genuine contenders.

"Barcelona, Real Madrid, the English teams, Bayern Munich and Juventus are strong teams," said Benitez, winner of the competition with Liverpool in 2005.

"Obviously they're the big names and they'll be there again, it won't change too much.

"You can find a surprise in some seasons but because those teams are so strong, I don't see there being any surprises this year."

The possibilities facing Arsenal after finishing as group runners-up are alarming, with Barcelona, PSG, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Bayern Munich their potential opponents.

United will want to avoid the competition's second favourites Real Madrid most of all, but they can also draw Porto, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia or Celtic.

Celtic defied all expectations to qualify as group runners-up behind Barcelona and will face one of United, Malaga, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke or PSG.

Chelsea are second favourites behind Atletico Madrid to win the Europa League - their reward for finishing third in their Champions League group - with the draw for the second tier of European football also being held this morning.

The Blues are joined in the last 32 by Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle, although none of the Premier League rivals are able to face each other at this stage.

Atletico are possible opponents for Chelsea and Liverpool, while big names such as Inter Milan, Napoli, Benfica and Ajax remain in the competition.