UEFA rules set up Arsenal, Manchester City for tough Champions League Round of 16 draws

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Wednesday’s results left 16 teams soaring, those clubs having confirmed their place in the knockout round of UEFA Champions League. Come Monday? A few will be rue their knockout round draws, with two English clubs destined for nightmare match ups in the Round of 16.

By virtue of tough groups (and finishing just behind last year’s finalists, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund), Manchester City and Arsenal are in the runners-up pot – the pot that will be drawn against the eight winners from Champions League’s group stage. Those teams that were just good enough to make the final 16 but not good enough to win their groups? Yeah, Manchester City and Arsenal can’t draw them. They’ll be matched up against the best teams in Europe.

There are, however, two caveats. First, teams can’t be drawn against clubs they faced in group play. Been there, done that, moving on. Second, teams can’t be drawn against clubs from their own federations. If we are going to see rematches of games we see domestically (at least) twice a year, it’s going to be in the later rounds. Champions League’s exotic that way.

Unfortunately, come Monday, those rules will work against Arsenal and City. While each will be able to avoid one German team (Dortmund and Munich, respectively), they won’t be able to draw Manchester United in the Round of 16. They also won’t be able to raw Chelsea. Mileage will vary, but for many, those are the two easiest teams in the group winners pool. Not being able to draw them increases the odds City and Arsenal will be draw against one of the tournament’s true favorites.

Those favorites (in group order): Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona. Some may see PSG and Atlético as the lessors of that group, but results say otherwise. Between league and Champions League results, these are the six standout teams in Europe. The fact that Arsenal and City can only draw them (and not Manchester United or Chelsea) leaves UEFA’s rules are working against them.

Who would you rather get, if you’re Arsenal? Paris Saint-Germain? Or Manchester United? And if you’re City: Wouldn’t you take Chelsea over a draw that could land you Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Dortmund? The Blues are tough, but they’re not on that level.

For the rest of the group stage runners-up, life is only slightly easier. Though they could also draw Chelsea or Manchester United … well, they could draw Chelsea or Manchester United. Those clubs may not being performing to Bayern’s level, but they’re still likely favorites in the Round of 16. Especially of they can’t draw Arsenal or City.

Here are the eight group stage winners and who they could draw on Monday.*

Atlético Madrid (Group G) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Milan
Barcelona (Group H) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg
Bayern Munich (Group D) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Borussia Dortmund (Group F) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Chelsea (Group E) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Manchester United (Group A) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Schalke, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Paris Saint-Germin (Group C) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Peteresburg, Milan
Real Madrid (Group B) – Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan

* – Technically, it will be the runners up “drawing” the group winners. On Monday, the runners-up will be drawn at random, one-by-one. Then, the teams eligible to be matched up with them will be put into a bowl, with one name being drawn.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.