Thursday, December 20, 2012

Champions League Draw: The Big Three Ties

The draw for the knockout stages of the 2013 Champions League was released while almost all of America was sleeping, but the matchups created will be dreams and nightmares for the casual watcher and die hard fan alike this year.  As with any UEFA draw, there are some awesome matchups and some bad ones; some easier paths for the more famous clubs and harder paths for the more famous clubs.  So let's get down to it.

Manchester United vs Real Madrid: A tie that many saw coming prior to the draws' release, it is a cruel injustice that two teams who have a legitimate shot to win the whole thing must play each other in the first round.  Still, this clash has the storylines of a final: Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the stadium where he made his name for the first time since leaving United; Madrid manager Jose Mourinho coaching against the team many have pegged him to manage after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.  The star power on both sides is relentless, with Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Sergio Ramos just beginning to scratch the surface.  These two matches will be among the most watched and anticipated of the whole season, and a great team will be through no matter who wins.
Barcelona vs AC Milan: The Catalans have recently lost their coach, Tito Villanova, for a while as he recovers from surgery to battle with his second occurrence of a throat cancer.  Still, Barcelona have just one game between La Liga and Champions League play and are still the best team with the best player in the world.  This clash has fewer storylines than most because of Milan's poor performances across the board this year, but is still a tie with rich history and tradition as Barcelona have won two crowns in the last four years and Milan have won seven European cups.
Arsenal vs Bayern Munich: Bayern, who many consider to be the best team in the world not in Spain or England (or just Spain), are crushing the Bundesliga this year and have only lost one match while conceding a measly seven goals.  They made the final of this competition last year only to run into the lucky Chelsea train, throwing away multiple chances to win in their home stadium.  Back with a vengeance, they take on an Arsenal side that have been in disarray for most of the season despite their standing in the Premier League and may be forced to sell Theo Walcott before the first leg is played.  Bayern look like the clear favorites, but Arsenal are improving with health.

The first legs of the round of 16 begin in February.  Until then, there is a ton of interesting domestic action to watch across Europe.

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