Champions League draw 2013: Can Premier League clubs halt decline?
Champions League draw 2013: Ryan Bailey look at how the Premier League clubs could fare in the knockout stage draw
Just a few years ago, English clubs dominated Europe.
The Premier League has had more teams in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of the Champions League than any other country.
However, Chelsea’s triumph in Munich two years ago only masked a worrying trend as England’s elite have been eclipsed by their continental counterparts.
12 months ago, the Blues and Manchester City failed to even qualify from their respective groups while Arsenal and Manchester United’s progress was halted at the first knockout round – it was the first time their was no English representative in the quarter-finals since 1996.
This time around, all four clubs have safely negotiated the increasingly competitive group stage and are in the pot for Monday’s last 16 draw in Nyon.
The make-up of the draw may hint at continued domination for the Premier League sides but the other 12 sides involved reflects the changing face of the European game.
With floundering AC Milan the only Serie A representative, no Portuguese involvement and just Atletico Madrid joining La Liga’s two powerhouses in the pot, the traditional European hierarchy is shifting.
Money-bags Paris Saint Germain typify a modern approach to success with Turkish giants Galatasaray mirroring the formula adopted by the Ligue 1 champions by investing heavily in an attempt to re-establish their glory days of yesteryear.
Both sides take their place in the draw on Monday alongside Zenit St Petersburg and Olympiacos.
With half of the last 16 tasting success in this competition, there is an argument that this is the strongest line-up in recent years – that alone could be detrimental to the Premier League club’s chances.
Arsenal and City’s unseeded standing means they’ll face the prospect of being paired one of the pre-tournament favourites in Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund while an equally formidable draw with PSG or an ever-improving Atletico Madrid are the alternatives.
Both English sides are more than capable of toppling any of their prospective opponents but if their poor recent Champions League records are anything to go by, then their campaign could end sooner rather than later.
The importance of winning your group has seemingly been as important as ever this year. You only have to look at the possible opponents for Manchester United and Chelsea, who both topped the standings.
David Moyes’ misfiring side face the kindest possible match-up with Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray and AC Milan the only opponents that would pose any sort of problems for the three-time winners – or so we assume.
Chelsea’s options are almost identical to United’s, with the only difference being that Jose Mourinho’s side cannot draw Schalke, while the Red Devils cannot pull Bayer Leverkusen.
No-one will strike fear into United or Chelsea but both are enduring fluctuating fortunes of late and considering they’re enduring somewhat of a transitional period, any opponents could prove hazardous for the pair.
Not that either will be looking beyond the first knockout round, with no seedings for the latter stages of the competition, the quarter-finals are about the best either could hope for – unless the footballing gods are looking down on them during Monday’s draw.
Time for Spurs to join Europe’s top table
While the Champions League takes the spotlight away from Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League has enjoyed vast growth in recent years and is becoming a hugely competitive and valuable trophy to win.
Having seen his side win all their group games with minimal fuss, Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas has one reservation about Monday’s draw – he wants to avoid his former employers Porto so that the pair can meet in May’s final in Turin.
It underlines the ambition of the Spurs tactician in a competition that is so often ridiculed, undervalued and disrespected.
After all, it was in this very competition that Villas-Boas stepped out of the shadows of his former master and into the managerial limelight by leading Porto to the trophy in 2011.
Consequently, there is no surprise that the Europa League remains close to his heart and there is no reason why Tottenham shouldn’t be considered as serious contenders.
The draw for the round of 32 also involves the eight sides that finished third in each of the Champions League groups with the four unseeded teams possible opponents for the north London club.
However, Tottenham have little to worry about and should be targeting a lengthy run in a competition, which is likely to be their best chance of silverware this season.
Nonetheless, three sides that they’ll be eager to avoid will be Villas-Boas’s former employers Porto, Ajax and Italian supremos Juventus, after they were all eliminated from the Champions League as unseeded sides because of their inferior points tallies.
Even still, Spurs defeated traditionally strong continental clubs in Lyon, Lazio and Inter Milan on their way to the last eight last time around and won’t fear drawing anyone on Monday – after all, you have to beat the best at some stage if you want to lift the silverware.
Furthermore, the Europa League winner automatically qualifies for next season’s Champions League and with the competitiveness for the top four spots in the Premier League this season, it could be Spurs’ any hope of returning to the stage they graced under Harry Redknapp a couple of seasons ago.
The other Premier League club still involved in the Europa League are Swansea after scraping through the group stages by the skin of the teeth.
Michael Laudrup’s side started their debut European campaign in flying fashion but stuttered as the competition wore on and nearly paid for a series of substandard performances.
Nonetheless, they’re in the pot and as an unseeded club, face a potentially tricky tie come February.
Fiorentina and Napoli are two of the bigger names they can face while Sevilla, Lyon, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel are all traditionally strong clubs with vast European pedigree.
There are a couple of slightly easier opponents in the pot but the Swans should relish at tie with some of the competition’s big boys because you never know when they’ll next be in an European campaign.