Here we go, kids, pick your Champions League poison

So, here’s the deal. The Champions League knockout stage draw is tomorrow, and from what I see, we have a big ol’ pigpile of beatability staring at us. Potential opponents are CSKA Moscow (Drugs? Cold medicine, dude!), Milan, Bayern, Lyon, Porto, Olympiakos or Stuttgart. Now, I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched, but winning the group came with its own special prize in a favorable draw in the crucial first knockout stage.

[polldaddy poll=2401347]

Let’s take a verry brief look at the candidates:

CSKA Moscow: Finished 3 points behind United in Group B. Shit. I hate long travel, and I particularly hate long travel to face a hard-assed, big, physical, disciplined Russian side. Which means that we will probably draw them. If we do, it’s going to be a grinder.

Milan: A very distant second to one Evil Empire in Group C, which tells me all that I need to know. Does anybody really want to see a suddenly playing well, pissed-off Ronaldinho? Sure, why not? Give him some of The Yaya to calm him down. Milan is a dangerous side, featuring a man, Filippo Inzaghi, who has more offside calls (14) than anybody else in Champions League. But Pato is a definite worry.

Bayern: Second place in Group A, which was owned by French side Bordeaux, and also featured Juventus and Maccabi “Round trip ticket” Haifa. But no Ribery, no worries. I just don’t see this club, though they sparkled in their last group stage outing, beating us over two legs. The problem is scoring goals and preventing goals, particularly since Lucio left.

Olympiakos: A no-brainer second place in a easy-for-them Group H, that was won going away by Arsenal. Stubborn and well organized, they scored the least number of goals of any of the teams that advanced, and yet they advanced. Which means they are stingy. It also means that 1 or 2 goals would be sufficient to do the trick.

Porto: Second-place in Group D behind Chelsea, another no-brainer finish, with two woeful sides below them. A very good Portuguese side, but a Portuguese side. Not ready for prime time, which means not ready to beat us. Good ball skills, nice possession game which is fine, but they aren’t going to see the ball.

Stuttgart: A distant second in Group G to Sevilla, who could be a Champions League surprise. My preferred candidate, because they have even more trouble scoring and stopping teams from scoring than Bayern. Remember, they are starting a guy on the wing who we booted out of town because he wasn’t good enough.

Lyon: Second to Fiorentina in a weak group, which says a lot. The proud French perennials have fallen on (for them) hard times. They’re in fourth place in the league, behind Montpellier (! Yay! My favorite large French city.) They’re in a rebuilding period, which would make them a plum pick for us.

Did anyone know that of all the teams drawing to face off, we have the highest average possession statistic, with 69 percent of the ball per match? Whoa. I’d be feeling confident against any of these clubs, but I think that what we need is a club that would best prepare us for the next round, and that club ain’t Stuttgart. For that reason, and because I think it would be a hoot, my heart would want to see Milan. My logic wants Stuttgart, because I think that we need a gimme in that first knockout round, until we get our sea legs under us again, so to speak. And who the hell knows how The Yaya and Keita are going to return from African Cup of Nations duty.

So Stuttgart it is for me. Let’s hear what you think.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Oh crap I was supposed to write up a post about this today and totally forgot…aargh stupid brain…good thing I have an absolutely fantastic team around me.

    1. hey super pippo inzaghi may be offsides a lot. but if hes onside he usually scores. plus he kinda looks like skeletor from he-man. so he got that going for him, which is nice.

  2. Stuttgart it is, and it is not even close. Stuttgart is a weak side that made it through a weak group outside of Sevilla. They are clumsy when playing good teams and were absolutely dismantled twice during the group stages. Comments on other teams:

    CSKA: I do not, under any circumstance, want to play a well-coached Russian team where we will have to travel and almost certainly get a draw. They are no Rubin, but they are similar. Just no.

    Lyon: Would take them if it came. Struggling French side that has trouble with fast players and solid mids. #2 on my list.

    Olympiakos: If we were ever worried about a team “parking the bus” well this team plays that style period. They only look for the counter and are not a huge threat on the offensive, but they can get lucky, and their junk defense is killer.

    Porto: Eh, could go either way. Played Chelsea tough, destroyed Atletico, and won the games they needed to. I think they could give us fits but they can be beaten.

    Bayern: Do not want a team with this talent in the round of 16, even if they are struggling on the year. They have been coming back in the Bundesliga and they absolutely killed Juventus.

    Milan: They play up to their competition. They killed Madrid in the 2nd half of their win and nearly beat them a second time. Pato is a handful and ROnaldinho could be pissed. I do not like this matchup.

  3. Olympiakos does it for me, the papadopolous central pairing is not one to fear, and i dont think diogo can get down abidals side or through puyol. An easy 2 legs to get our new year into 6th gear (that rhymes). Meanwhile, if we meet Stuttgart, pep might just shoot hleb.

  4. Knowing our luck, we’ll probably get CSKA Moscow. January is going to be tough, an if we get through Sevilla in CDR, Feb is going to be just as tiring. So either Stuttgart or Olympiakos.

  5. haven’t you guys heard of the fcb conspiracy, we get tough group and a harsh draw. We’ll get AC Milan for sure. Can’t be the best unless you beat the best and if you are the best than you have to beat a top 10 club.

  6. honestly I would want any team besides CSKA. The travel and physicality of the match-up just doesn’t make it enticing at all. I think we would beat them but it would be difficult. Easy picking would be stuttgart or lyon because they wouldn’t park the bus. BUT i picked Milan in the poll just because i think it would be awesome to watch that game. I know they are dangerous, but their style would be a great match-up for ours and we have a better team. and watching Ronaldinho trying to get revenge would be really fun. It would be an exciting match-up that i think we would win.

    1. guess i’ll write it again, gah!
      The team i would least like to draw is Moscow, because it’s cold, far away and they are physical= not good for keeping a squad healthy. Stuttgart and Lyon look the easiest because they would be least likely to park the bus, Porto wouldn’t either. BUT, I would like to see us get Milan because i think that would be AWESOME to watch. they would be tough competition. but they wouldn’t use Chelsea’s gameplan (which was the most boring thing to watch,EVER). They would actually try to beat us and we have a better team. So i think we would win in a very interesting match.

  7. Id take anyone really but bayern with ribert and robben on the wings could do damage to us.But we are champions and im sure no one wants to face us πŸ™‚

  8. so… when we Played Xerez (the last place team in the league) the three substitutes that we brought unto the field were Messi, Ibrahimovic, and Iniesta. (for Pedro!, Krkic, and Henry, respectively.)
    Someone had mentioned that that had to have been the most expensive substitutons ever made (when thought of in terms of buyout-clauses, as opposed to transfer cost, because of course, we raise alot of our players, and bouyout clauses are more proportional to wages than transfer prices are)

    Anyways, I finally got around to looking it up. Their respective buyout clauses are (in Millions of Euros) 250, 250, 150.

    That means that we put in 650 Million Euro’s worth of talent from our bench to the pitch. 650 Million Euros! Xerez’s yearly budget is 9 million Euros.

    just wanted to share how wondefully spoiled we are.

  9. Also, I forget who, but someone was comparing Yaya to Essien in another post.

    I think their positions are slightly different though. If Essien could be compared to anyone on our squad it would be Keita (role-wise), maybe even Busi, but more like Keita.

  10. Haha. No way do I want to see Milan. Not this year. Don’t want to go to Eastern Europe again either, I think we’ve seen enough of that part of the world.

    Stuttgart, Olympiakos and Lyon would be fine. Wouldn’t be thrilled with Porto or Bayern, but wouldn’t be overly pissed either.

  11. On a very slightly similar topic…

    Also Kxevin… (or Isaiah, or Hector, but mostly Kxevin)…

    You notice that Iniesta plays ALOT better in the middle than on the left. You notice shortcommings in Busquets game when his duty is to be our defensive midfielder, but also acknowledge that he has some pretty impressive displays when he he isn’t exclusively responsible for covering the midfield (for example, when Yaya plays behind him, or when Keita and he share the task)

    So let me ask you this… Is it possilbe that Out-and-Out defensive midfielder is not his natural position? and that he should possibly be compared to Keita or Iniesta, rather than against the Yaya?
    If we go on where he is played most often, of course we have to grade him and refer to him as a Defensive midfielder. But what if we think of him like Keita. He is is a hardworking, mobile, box-to-box midfielder, that also happens to be very good at shutting down the opposing team’s plays infront of the backline.

    This season Iniesta has played more on the left, but we know he is one of the best Attacking Midfielders on the planet right now. Xavi used to play defensive mid back in the day, as did Iniesta nad Cesc in the youth teams. I honestly don’t know how Busquets, Keita, or Yaya’s role in the midfield will evolve in the comming years, but I’m really excited about the possiblities with Busi.

    Will he take Xavi’s tempo-setting role? Keita’s box-to-box, all-around, attack-and-defend role? Yaya’s “YOU-SHALL-NOT-PASS” defensive mid role? can he fit into Iniesta or Guardiola’s roles? I think it’s important to note that in Barcelona there is not such thing as a “Like-for-Like” substitution. All of our players so vastly different, and SOO versetile, that they can play almost any position with their own personal touch.

    I dont know if I ever posed a real (non-rhetorical) question to answer… but everyone throw in your two cents…

    1. Well I too think the prototypical DMF (if we think of it as a 4-1-x-y) is not his position. I think you’re right that he’s better thought of as a box to box kind of guy. In the next three years, Xavi isn’t going anywhere, Iniesta will only get better, and we may — repeat, MAY — sign Cesc as a successor to Xavi. In that case, unfortunately, he will have nowhere to play but the DMF role, so we can only hope that he becomes better at it.

      Now, if and when Xavi retires, THAT’S

    2. Well I too think the prototypical DMF (if we think of it as a 4-1-x-y) is not his position. I think you’re right that he’s better thought of as a box to box kind of guy. In the next three years, Xavi isn’t going anywhere, Iniesta will only get better, and we may — repeat, MAY — sign Cesc as a successor to Xavi. In that case, unfortunately, he will have nowhere to play but the DMF role, so we can only hope that he becomes better at it.

      Now, if and when Xavi retires, THAT’S when things get really interesting. I actually think Iniesta will be able to drop back into the distributor role then, leaving attacking mid/box to box mid for Busi. The DMF will have to be imported in that case, or someone has to come up through the cantera.

    3. I don’t think Cesc is needed.

      He left, and we cannot endorse what he did by paying a lot for him. And believe, its gonna take much more than “a lot” of money to get him. The only way i would see it happen, is if we REALLY needed to get an experienced CAM quick, or if it was a political move, which sadly might happen.

      People say Iniesta is supposed to take Xavi’s role. He can fill it, but Iniesta will always be Iniesta (and that’s a good thing). Others say Fabregas is the heir to Xavi’s throne, so we NEED to get him back. I say no. I honestly think that the player with the skill set and style of play that exudes Xavi is Jonathan dos Santos.

      He always keeps it simple. I’ve even heard complaints here that he never tried anything dangerous enough. That will come with confidence.

      It is my Honest opinion that Iniesta, Busquets and JDS will rule our midfield for a long time to come. Obviously not always together (unless Busi does DM full time). Xavi has a lot left to give. Yaya is about the same age as Iniesta, so assuming that he stays a Barca player, he is added to the list of those 3. With support from players like Keita, Thiago A. VicSan, or whoever else we bring through or buy, our Midfield looks very solid for quite a while.

    4. Those are great points, guys.

      Ever since last year, I argued that Busi was a natural “horse” or box-to-box midfielder a la Keita. He is also a former striker (like Pique πŸ˜€ ) who has better stuff in the box than what he has shown so far due to the position he has been playing. If you look for his rare surges forward, you will see a guy with more attacking talent than one may think. He has excellent defensive instincts, he is street smart (i.e. he can play dirty when he wants to), he can dribble reasonably well, and his passing range is getting better. It’s interesting to watch his development (keep in mind that he is still younger than Messi and Pedrito)because Guardiola seems hell bent on turning him into a pure D-Mid or at least developing that facet of his game more. Granted, its probably primarily to make up for the absence of Yaya and Keita this season but I think it may also be for versatility.

      Busquets’ game, like any young player’s, needs polishing. He has the instincts, the body, and the “descaro” (English translation would be something along the lines of “fearlessness” or “relentlessness”) that is so vital for a young player to succeed immediately. “Descaro” is to me what Pedro and Busi have that Bojan is currently lacking. For all we criticize Busi for trying stupid things and screwing up every now and then, there is merit in that as such a young player he had the guts to try them and then had the mental strength to get back on his horse after the screw up. Its maddening at time but it also has merit in some sort of Hector perverted logic.

      How great would it be to have a midfielder who can play all three basic midfield positions? I think that is what Pep is slowly building in Busi. I doubt he will ever reach the heights of Xavi or Iniesta in the playmaking department but he can still become world class. Besides necessity (because of the ACN), I think Pep may be playing him back there to polish him mentally. The D-Mid, just like the CB position for us, is underrated in how cerebral it is. It forces you to see the big picture but also requires discipline which is another area of Busi’s game that needs (and is getting) polishing.

      One big improvement in Busi’s game that I’ve noticed this season is his passing range. I am always on his case because he frequently does not KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) as a a great D-Mid should. However, that is usually in reference to dribbling too much or losing the ball too close to his own half. We have now seen his passing range improve in the sense that he is now pumping out more frequent and accurate cross field balls to the wings or to Ibra. That’s development. The ability to shift the point of attack and the vision to see when it is required to do so.

      He is a 21 year old. He WILL be inconsistent and make stupid error at times but make no mistake that he is a jewel. If he stays humble and keeps on learning, imagine him at 24-25 years old. I still think he will eventually be a box to box in 4-5 years albeit one who can also be an excellent D-Mid when called upon. This is the heritage of Total Football. Teaching guys different positions. Lest we forget that Xavi under van Gaal and Rijkaard was an excellent holding midfielder/D-Mid and still ocasssionally shifts to that position πŸ˜‰ .

    5. Descaro means audacity.

      I think the statement “He is a 21-year old. He WILL be inconsistent and make stupid errors at times” can be said about Bojan. By the time he’s Busi’s age, he’ll be playing as regularly as Busi is, I would think.

      If not, *then* it’s time to ship him out. Busi is the real deal, but I think could use some serious improvement, though I like the idea of him being molded slowly, through experience, into a player who can play anywhere in our system.

      Bojan will be a fine winger and should get the 7 shirt soon, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a 9.

    6. @Isaiah: true bojan may get there by the time he’s 21, but how? he doesn’t get much playing time. Can’t we send him out on loan?

  12. Drawing CSKA has one advantage and the biggest one at it… They won’t them match practice needed to do well in Europe, when did they play their last match again?!

  13. I think the most dangerous opponent for us is actually Bayern Munich. Robben is still one of the most explosive wingers, RibΓ©ry should be back to 100% in the middle of February and last but not least they’ve got a coach who knows Barca pretty well.
    Don’t forget it was van Gaal who discovered Xavi (resp. put him into the first team). Van Gaal had problems at the beginning of the season, but it seems that team and coach now fit together better and better. Still, we are favourite against them but I wouldn’t yet want to meet them in the round of 16 – in my perfect world, Bayern Munich faces Real Madrid and Robben will kick them out of the CL πŸ˜€

    So my vote goes to Milan, equally attractive as Bayern but less dangerous, imo.

  14. And btw, don’t lie to me UEFA. Not anymore. I’ve never been one to believe conspiracies, but this draw is absolutely delightful.

    Inter vs. Chelsea : Mourinho back to his old club.

    AC Milan vs. Manchester United : Beckham back to his old club (a week after saying he would cherish a ManU reunion)

    Nice storylines for the press there..

    1. I have to agree. The matchups in the group stages and the first knockout round this season have finally swayed me. UEFA needs to come out and admit that worldwide interest/tv ratings are a considered aspect of the champions league draw. I am fine with UEFA doing this actually, but let’s stop pretending the old random draw keeps finding the fixtures which generate the most interest.

    2. So why didn’t Real Madrid face Bayern Munich? How come that Chelsea didn’t face Inter last season?

      That’s stupid, it was certainly a random draw.

  15. Final Draws:

    – Barca-Stuttgart
    – Man U-AC Milan
    – Inter-Chelsea.
    – Bayern-Fiorentina
    – Olympiakos-Bordeaux
    – EE-Lyon
    – Arsenal-Porto
    – Sevilla-CSKA

  16. Stuttgart v Barcelona
    Olympiacos v Bordeaux
    Internazionale v Chelsea
    Bayern Munich v Fiorentina
    CSKA Moscow v Sevilla
    Lyon v Real Madrid
    Porto v Arsenal
    Milan v Manchester United


      Inter vs. Chelsea… now there’s a team that could actually knock off Chelsea early. Mourinho made them, let’s see if he can break them.
      Bayern vs. Fiorentina… an interesting match up, I think the teams are rather even
      CSKA Moscow vs. Sevilla… Buen viaje, hermanos! jajajaja
      Lyon vs Madrid… I like Lyon, and now they’ve got a proud history to maintain by eliminating Madrid in the Round of 16 for the sixth year in a row. Do Roma, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Liverpool are counting on you to keep it going.

      Porto vs. Arsenal… don’t see this being a very interesting tie, to be honest. Also, would have kinda liked both to advance.
      Olympiacos v Bordeaux… Bordeaux are running hot but the Greek team’s pragmatism might just be what kills their run.

  17. We deserved a bit of a lucky break after the group we drew πŸ˜€ . This is sooo rigged though (I’m kidding BTW)…

    – Mourinho returns to the Bridge and Inter faces ol’Carlo again.
    – Beckham returns to Man U (we will probably get subjected to the horror of a Beckham Camera to take in his wonderful facial expressions on the bench).
    – Benzema returns to Lyon.

    AND…. the mother of all story-lines. Surely the center-piece of the round: HLEB’s REVENGE!!!!

  18. That sound you hear is Isaiah furiously flipping through German history texts in order to prepare for the preview post in February.

  19. O.M.G

    Did I call or did I call it? It’s not that I want to take any credit or anything, but I totally called it! Stuttgart!!! πŸ˜€

    Anyways, this is OT, but why, oh, WHY did Kaka’ have to go to EE??! He’s too classy for them and it pains my heart to see him in white! Still, even EE, who have Thong Boy as their Poster Boy *shudders*, needs an actually good player to save face (and win games for them a la Higuain (and curse him and his Madridista-ness (he said he didn’t want us to win the CWC) btw!)

    The cause for this mini rant about Kaka’ is because of this: ^

    1. I have to agree.. Kaka is one of my favorite people in football nowadays and it still pains me to see him play for Madrid. I’m just happy to support the hell out of him when he plays for Brazil!

    1. Well, they are actually satisfied with the draw because they knew that they don’t have a big chance of advancing against any of the possible opponents πŸ˜€

      But Barcelona is obviously the most attractive team you can get and thus they are proud of facing us. Given the situation that Stuttgart is in right now (fighting against relegation), the focus is on the Bundesliga and not the CL. This might change until February, but I doubt it very much. Either, they might already have escaped the battle of relegation and will try to qualify for a European competition, or they are still in big trouble.
      But let’s not forget about CD Alcorcon, I think Stuttgart might be as thrilled as Alcorcon was, with the difference that we are not Real Madrid and Alcorcon had fewer things to worry about than Stuttgart πŸ™‚

      Positive about Stuttgart: I barely can remember a match in which they parked the bus and they usually play a fair, almost non-physical game.

    2. Interesting…

      I remember when Stuttgart was drawn in our group in the group stages 2-3 years ago. They actually weren’t all that bad…but then again, they were also Bundesliga Champions that year too πŸ˜€

  20. Obviously we still have to play the matches, but Stuttgart is my dream matchup. I just don’t think that they have the horaes to even challenge us, much less beat us. We shouldn’t take anyone for granted, but if our defense is on, I will be surpriaed if they even score.

    Look for the “UEFA loves Barca” conspiracy theorists to scoff at the very favorable draw for us, even after our hellhound of a group. And how great would it be if Inter did us a favor, and took care of the other CL favorite, and the only side that I think, all things being right on the planet, has even a shout at beating us over two legs, or even one.

  21. Lyon is 4-0 vs EE in Champions League and Pepe, their best defender, is done for the season. Sevilla will have a very tough time, but should advance.

    I like the Liga break comng at thia time. Everyone can heal, and get ready for a January from hell. If we come out good, sky’s the limit.

  22. In case you didn’t know, UEFA has changed the knockout round schedules this year. Instead of having them all in two weeks, each leg is spread out so there aren’t ever more than 2 knockout matches in the same day. So all the first legs will take place across two weeks in February, each with two match days. And then the same deal with the second legs in March.

    We got drawn into the second week batch for both legs, so our first match is Feb 23, and the Camp Nou match up wil be March 17 (the very last match day of the first knockout round). We’ll be playing the same days as Olympiakos-Bordeaux, and the same weeks as Inter-Chelsea and Sevilla-CSKA Moscow.

    By the time we play in the Camp Nou, all the ties will have been decided (except the Olympiakos-Bordeaux, of course).

  23. I didn’t know that Jose. That’s good to know, though I will miss the action-packed match days, where you’d come home to 6 or 8 matches on the DVR.

    Bordeaux is going to surprise some folks, I think. The Inter/Chelsea and EE/Lyon ties continue the homecoming trend of this year’s Champions League, that began with Eto’o and us.

    Hleb comes home, Mourinho comes home and Benzema comes home. Us drawing Milan would have made it even more perfect, though.

  24. *

    I guess Hleb can still come back :/ though i doubt he wants to.

  25. yea, ronaldinho would have been the biggest homecoming.
    ANYWAYS: what is the bracket set-up for the tournament? assuming we beat stuttgart, who do we play next? or will there be another draw?

    1. There’ll be another draw after this round where they’ll set up the rest of the bracket.

      This first knockout round is always so weird… Not the group stages but not yet looking like a knockout tournament.

  26. Unnamed Serie A club courting Pep Guardiola

    A top Italian club has made an offer to Pep Guardiola, FC Barcelona first team coach, should he decides not to renew his contract and leave the Catalan club, a report published by the Italian sports daily β€˜La Gazzetta dello Sport’ said.

    The newspaper, which does not specify which club it is, notes that Guardiola has sent β€œa message of appreciation for the offer” and announced that he β€œwould be delighted to sit down and discuss a common-interest project” but stressed that β€œany contacts between the two parties should be made through official club channels.”

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