Football Features

“Poor Pep Guardiola” – Champions League draw winners & losers as Man City face Real but Spurs avoid big boys

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:44, 16 December 2019

So that’s it, the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League round of 16 has been drawn in full.

We’ve seen some heavyweights drawn against each other in a series of spectacular ties. Who are the winners and losers?

Winner: Spurs

Spurs clawed their way into the knockout rounds on matchday five and will look to make an assault on Europe with their new manager. And despite the Portuguese’s recent history of struggling against smaller, more organised sides (his Chelsea were eliminated by upstarts Atlético Madrid in 2014, a rising PSG in 2015 and his Manchester United fell to Sevilla in 2018) as opposed to giants, this Spurs team is still quite weak in defence and exposure to any of Europe’s heavyweights may have been too much for even Mourinho’s big-game nous.

Luckily for them, then, that they drew RB Leipzig, arguably the weakest of all their possible opponents. The German side are not without their qualities, obviously, and Timo Werner is a hotshot that will need handling – but you can breathe easy, José! This is a winnable tie!

Loser: Manchester City

Poor Pep Guardiola. Just when his season of terrible luck and bizarre defensive errors looked to have at least been simplified into a narrow objective: focus on and win the cups, they go ahead and get one of the nastiest possible draws they could.

Are Manchester City better than Real Madrid? Unquestionably. They have a more coherent tactical vision and even in their current state of nonsense defensive structure, can still organise themselves better than Real Madrid – who are entirely reliant on enough of their star men playing well at the same time to see them over the line.

But here’s the thing: those star men so often do that in the Champions League knockout rounds. Guardiola’s impact on the Champions League is enormous, greater than any other manager in the last 20 years. But Zinedine Zidane has won more trophies than him in just three seasons of trying.

In fact, Zidane has never not won the competition when coaching Los Blancos. Now he’s back for a fourth go and facing a Man City side that, despite their obvious qualities, can’t seem to put it together (and have not won against Madrid in four attempts). It would be so very Man City to dominate this tie only to inexplicably lose to some of that classic Zizou Champions League ‘black magic’.

Loser: Atlético Madrid

Diego Simeone’s biggest weakness as a manager has always been that he values his defence just a bit too much. Obviously his Atleti defence is an utter juggernaut and has been pretty consistently since he took over in late 2011; but Simeone always starts big European matches with an effective counter-attack to keep opponents honest.

The thing is he then – usually after his side has taken the lead – pulls his men back and becomes too defensive. He tries to sit on the lead for too long, inviting more and more pressure until his boys crack under it. Look at the 2014 final, or the 2015 quarter-final, or the 2016 final or last season’s quarters against Juventus where they blew a 2-0 first leg lead in Turin. The same pattern emerges of an overreliance on defending.

Now they’ve drawn Liverpool, a team that simply refuses to die. You could shoot the Reds full of bullets and still they’d rise again like some sort of Scouse Terminator, stalking you, determined to take you down. And this time the Hollywood scriptwriters are on their side, so you can believe that they will take you down. Just look at almost any big game in the last couple of years for example.

You can see the tie unfolding already. Atleti will be lions in the first leg, absolute warriors full of garra. Then they’ll head to Anfield trying desperately to cling onto whatever advantage they would have gained at the Wanda and get absolutely demolished by Jurgen Klopp’s mentality monster European Champions.

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Winner: Valencia and Atalanta

Valencia finished top of their group but still knew that they would struggle against some of the stronger runners-up. Atalanta, meanwhile, snuck their way into the round of 16 by winning their last two matches (having failed to win any of their first four!) Both sides would have feared their campaigns would go no further than this round, but now there is hope.

One of Valencia or Atalanta is going to make the quarter-finals of the Champions League. For the Italians it would be their first-ever appearance at that stage and for Valencia a first quarter-final since 2007. Ferran Torres was just seven years old back then! It’s been a while, but it’s possible now because of this draw.

Loser: Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona doesn’t like Leo Messi, nor does he want him to succeed. Sometimes he voices support for Barcelona’s No. 10, but his primary mode of commentary is to take potshots at him, seemingly out of a sense of petty jealously that Messi could possibly rival or surpass him in terms of greatness.

So how unfortunate for him, then, that his beloved Napoli – a side that has never made it past this stage of the competition even when Maradona was playing for them – have been drawn against Barcelona.

The Blaugrana have been ritually humiliated away from home in the last couple of seasons in Europe, but the additions of Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann should go a long way to addressing that – and then there is Messi himself, the best player in the world, walking into Maradona’s back yard in the Naples fully motivated to prove that Barcelona are not going to go down as away day punching bags. Determined to make his own legacy on the hallowed ground that is the Stadio San Paolo.

Winner: The neutrals

This is a fabulous draw. Honestly. Atlético Madrid vs. Liverpool, Real Madrid vs. Manchester City, Napoli vs. Barcelona… all world-class ties. And then there’s PSG vs. Borussia Dortmund aka Will Neymar be fit this time? aka Verratti vs. Witsel aka Mbappé is fightin’ Sancho! And the incredible Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea, a tie which may see more goals scored than there are letters in the names of the clubs.

Atalanta vs. Valencia gives us the guarantee of one underdog in the quarter-final; Spurs vs. Leipzig does the same. The only dull tie is Lyon vs. Juventus and that’s only because of the horrible injuries to Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Beyond that, this draw is head-to-toe immaculate and should make for some genuinely thrilling viewing.

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