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.