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.
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.