- Luke Shaw-shank Redemption!
- Road to Cardiff: Last and Curious 8
- Dirty Sanchez: Wenger set to lose another Weapon from his Arsenal?
- Ibriana Jones: Red Devils of the Lost Ark!
- Chelsea set to win Title at a Kante!
- Leicester face tough choices as losses compile
- The Year of the Roo-ster!
- Marvel at the latest Craven Cottage arrival: Fulham Sign Thanos!
- Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record is a rare piece of Manchester United history. Take notice.
- MOTD: Ibrahimovic salvages United point against Liverpool
No Pot Luck for Pep! Analyzing the 2016 UCL Draw
Some things in this world are inevitable, like Arsenal finishing above Tottenham in the league or Chelsea’s Diego Costa crossing the line (and I am not just talking about the white line!) more times than Bear from the Celebrity Big Brother Final. That said, Manchester City supporters might have maintained a slimmer of hope that this was the year things would change for them in late August and they would not be placed in a deadly Champions League group.
Of course, there was not a chance of that happening — if anything, their Champions League draw may even harder than last season! They had to overcome Italian champions Juventus and Europa League winners Sevilla twelve months ago and this time, they were put in Group C — where the Eastlands side (Pot 2) were drawn against opposition including Barcelona (Pot 1), Borussia Monchengladbach (Pot 3) and Celtic (Pot 4).
Plane Sailing for Sky Blues Up Until Now!
City managed to reach the Champions League semi-finals in the last season and secured their group stage place this time around with a Plane sailing 6-0 aggregate victory over Romanians Steaua Bucharest in the playoff round, with midfielder Fabian Delph finally using his head at the Etihad. However, new Sky Blues manager Pep Guardiola was probably not hoping for a return to the Nou Camp with his current club when the UCL Group Stage draw took place in Monaco. Guardiola is not the only City man coming up against their former employers, as players including new £15.4 million Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Spain winger Nolito and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure all used to play for Barca as well. If anyone knows how to beat Luis Enrique’s men, it’s Pep Guardiola and the former players of that highly decorated Catalan club. For Barca, though, the game is an opportunity to prove that they have even improved and moved on from their tiki-taka style of several years ago.
Pep will certainly know a lot about the players and fans already, but, then again, he is not on the pitch. While he may be a great tactician and manager and know all about the strengths and weaknesses of one of the best teams in the competition,all the homework in the world may not be enough if he is forced to play inexperienced defenders against ‘MSN’ (Messi, Suarez and Neymar). Guardiola will surely train the City players until they are so tired they will end up joining Jeremy Corbyn resting on that Virgin carriage floor, but the Spanish side have beaten City twice in the Round of 16 in recent years. And guess what? Exiled England goalkeeper Joe Hart kept the score down for the Sky Blues in both of those ties.
Toure de Face-Off as City experience Close Encounters!
The Barcelona matches will not be the only time former friends (and even family!) do battle in the Uefa Champions League group stages. The last team drawn in Monaco were Scottish champions Celtic, who could only go from Pot 4 straight into the last remaining open spot in Group C. This means Brendan Rodgers’ side will face a tricky group to get out of and may have to settle for a battle between themselves and Germans Gladbach for the third place Europa League spot. However, Celtic famously won 2-1 at home against Barca, when Tony Watt (Say Watt?!) scored the winner in Glasgow during the last Olympic year – could that be an omen that history could potentially repeat itself four years on? (I doubt it, but, then again, Leicester did win the league!). There seems more chance of former politician Ed Balls (good name for a football article!) winning Strictly Come Dancing than Celtic topping this group. Luis Suarez will face his old manager for the first time competitively since he bite Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil and subsequently left Anfield for £75million, with Rodgers also facing Raheem Sterling of City.
Yet it is the Scottish-Angelo derby that could throw up an even more intense rivalry between September and December, with British clubs playing each other on sellout European nights that much more special. It will be even better to see brothers at war, with Yaya Toure of City getting the opportunity to face-off with Kolo Toure of Celtic. Kolo Toure only left England for Scotland this summer, having played for Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League, but the experienced defender may be tasked with stopping his younger cake-loving brother (Yaya must be enjoying seeing Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood back on the screens in “TGBBO”) and sizzling hot striker Sergio Aguero. Another familiar face for diehard City fans will be English winger Scott Sinclair, who had a brief stint with the club, but left relegated Aston Villa this summer for the SPL. So, crossing the border for both City and Celtic could mean family feuds and old faces pooping up to prove a point, with crucial Champions League points also on the line. Although Group C looks good from the outside, Barcelona are only team out of the four not to have needed to qualify through the preliminary playoff rounds.
Gladbach could still prove a Hazard!
Manchester City and Celtic may be more concerned with facing Messi & Co. of Barcelona fame and fortune, but Borussia Monchengladbach could also prove to be a real Hazard. As I have already highlighted famous footballing brothers in this piece, here is yet another pair. We already know about Chelsea’s Belgian winger Eden Hazard, but his younger brother Thorgan Hazard never made it at Stamford Bridge and now plays his trade with German outfit Gladbach. Thorgan bagged a hat-trick as the Germans swept away Swiss side Young Boys 9-2 on aggregate in the playoffs, with forward Raffael also getting on the score-sheet on three separate occasions for the fourth-best club in the Bundesliga last season. Thorgan Hazard has showed signs of living up to Eden Project older brother in recent times with his goals and assists, so going on the offensive, Gladbach may prove to be a major Hazard in the road to the Cardiff final for Barcelona and Pep Guardiola’s Citizens.
My Group C Final Table Prediction:
1) Barcelona (Q)
2) Man City (Q)
3) Borussia Monchengladbach (EL)
4) Celtic (Like in the Olympics and Paralympics, no prizes for coming fourth!)
UCL 2016/17 Season Draw In Full:
Group A: Paris St-Germain (France), Arsenal (England), Basel (Switzerland), Ludogorets (Bulgaria).
Group B: Benfica (Portugal), Napoli (Italy), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine), Besiktas (Turkey).
Group C: Barcelona (Spain), Manchester City (England), Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany), Celtic (Scotland).
Group D: Bayern Munich (Germany), Atletico Madrid (Spain), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Rostov (Russia).
Group E: CSKA Moscow (Russia), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Tottenham (England), Monaco (France).
Group F: Real Madrid (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Legia Warsaw (Poland).
Group G: Leicester City (England), Porto (Portugal), Club Brugge (Belgium), FC Copenhagen (Denmark).
Group H: Juventus (Italy), Sevilla (Spain), Lyon (France), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia).
Photo credit: Thomas Rodenbücher [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons