At Christmas thoughts turn to reunions and today's draw for the first knock-out round of the Champions League is unlikely to be different. The eight ties, to be determined at a doubtless snowy Uefa headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, at 11am British time, could feature a series of intriguing pairings.
David Beckham, who will soon be back on loan at Milan, could face Manchester United for the first time since leaving Old Trafford in 2003. Jose Mourinho could head back to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his abrupt departure two years ago – assuming he survives at Internazionale until February, when the ties will be played. Or Chelsea could draw Milan, which would mean an equally evocative, but much more amicable return for Carlo Ancelotti.
There could also be a return to Arsenal for Jens Lehmann and Alex Hleb, now at Stuttgart. This is one reunion which should be unreservedly welcomed by the Gunners because Stuttgart represent the best possible draw. The German club are to be respected, but, with Olympiakos and CSKA Moscow they fall into the group of weaker possible opponents. Arsenal cannot draw the Greeks as they were in the same group and they will not fancy a trip to Moscow to play on the Luzhniki Stadium's plastic surface in mid-February. Thus Stuttgart, who appointed former Tottenham manager Christian Gross as coach earlier this month, should be the preferred option.
Not that Lehmann would mind. Now 40, the German keeper said: "I'd love to come up against Arsenal, I don't mind if that's in the next round or later in the competition."
As well as not being able to face clubs previously met in the group stage, teams cannot meet another from the same country, though this does not affect the English trio as, having won their groups, they are all seeded.
Of the other clubs English teams can face there is little to choose between Lyons (who put out Liverpool), Bayern Munich (who rescued a faltering campaign with a spectacular 4-1 win over Juventus in Turin), Milan, Inter and Porto. Chelsea beat the latter home and away in the group stages but did so narrowly, Nicolas Anelka scoring the only goal in each game. Ray Wilkins, Chelsea's assistant manager told Sky viewers they were a "good side". He said this three times, without elucidating as to why this was.
For those who read the statistical runes, Bordeaux, the lowest-ranked surviving club in Uefa's co-efficients, garnered most points (16) and conceded least goals (two) in the group stages despite being in a tough section that included Bayern and Juventus. Real Madrid scored most goals (15), with Cristiano Ronaldo the leading individual scorer (six).
The last 16 largely represent, somewhat disappointingly given the attempts at rebellion from Rubin Kazan and Unirea Urziceni, the usual suspects. Juventus and Liverpool may have missed out but seven previous European Cup winners made it. The big three leagues – the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A – provide nine entrants. Olympiakos are the only survivor of the clubs given a helping hand in qualifying by Michel Platini's controversial reforms, and CSKA are the only team from the old Eastern Bloc, even though there is a strong argument that the Moscow side should have been expelled after Sergei Ignashevich and Alexei Berezutsky tested positive for banned stimulants after the 3-3 draw at Manchester United.
Picking winners is tricky, as form will fluctuate in the next two months and players will be injured. Clubs are able to add two players to their squad in the January transfer window – though to be eligible they must not have played in European competition this season. Arsène Wenger has put a striker on his Yuletide wish-list at Arsenal following Robin van Persie's injury; so has Mourinho but he has been told by Inter president Massimo Moratti he will not be receiving one. Perhaps he will get an all-expenses paid trip to west London instead.
The last 16: Who the English trio might face
Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all qualified for today's draw as group winners, along with Bordeaux, Real Madrid, Fiorentina, Barcelona and Seville. They will all face a runner-up, with the second leg at home, although each side cannot be drawn against a team from their qualification group.
Bordeaux, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Barcelona, Seville, Arsenal.
Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Milan, Porto, Lyon, Internazionale, Stuttgart, Olympiakos.
* First legs on 16/17 and 23/24 February; second legs on 9/10 and 16/17 March
Once again running away with their domestic league and boast Champions League winning pedigree in striker Samuel Eto'o and manager Jose Mourinho. A return to Stamford Bridge for the Portuguese would surely be the highlight of the round.
Winners of the competition in 2007, they stuttered initially under new manager Leonardo but came through a tricky group alongside Real Madrid. Incoming David Beckham hopes for a draw with former employers Manchester United.
As usual, promise much but deliver little on the European stage. Still missing Karim Benzema, who left for Real Madrid in the summer, but recruited wisely in £20 Argentine Lisandro López.
Offered little resistance to Chelsea in the group stage – or to United in last year's quarter-finals – yet possess tricky striker in Hulk.
A dark horse. Perennial underachievers in the competition recently, but inflicted a record defeat on Juventus to seal qualification. They have creativity coursing through the team but star turn Franck Ribéry may well be elsewhere by February.
Struggled to beat Arsenal's kids earlier this month and Zico's side will not be fancied to pose anyone serious questions in the next round. Dispatched 4-0 at the Emirates and lost heavily at Chelsea two seasons ago.
Ambling just above the relegation zone in the Bundesliga, the Germans sacked their manager, the former Liverpool player Markus Babbel, this month. Irksome goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and midfielder Alex Hleb will long for a crack at former employers Arsenal.
Tasted European glory as recently as 2005 in the Uefa Cup. They do, though, travel badly and are in the knock-out stages for the first time. Sacked Juande Ramos after just nine games this season.
Seasons since the Champions League last eight failed to feature an English team.Reuse content