And with that, we’ll close this report. No official response from United yet, but in fairness they’ve got the left-over vol-au-vents to shift, so first things first for these hard-working delegates. Those desirous of up-to-the-minute reaction from the Old Trafford representatives should keep their eyes peeled on this very site; we’ll have all the breaking news as and when it happens. And if the worst comes to the worst, and nobody says anything, ever, then the Fiver will make something up. Have a lovely day!
United might be in two minds over exactly how great this draw is for them, but you can’t write off a club with their recent European pedigree. With this in mind, Bayern are talking their chances down. Phillip Lahm we’ve already heard from, and now club suit and all-round German legend Matthias Sammer has added:
We should talk modestly and with the highest respect for Manchester United. I consider the tie winnable but dangerous. On good days, they are really dangerous. We’ve got to make sure they don’t have two good days.
Hot Chelsea chit-chat! Jose Mourinho has been kidding on that he doesn’t care, so the club have wheeled out top suit Ron Gourlay.
It was always going to be tough, there are only top, top teams left, but we will be ready come the first game. Our form is good, and we have a lot of games between now and the end of the season. We’ll try to win every game, by focusing on one game at a time. We’ll treat PSG with the utmost respect. Every team left has won a European competition of some form, and any team can go out.
Not sure where the Manchester United mouthpiece is. Perhaps he’s in the lavvy, locked in a cubicle, holding his knees and rocking back and forth a bit. I’m sure he’ll be out in a minute to talk it up, with reference to 1999 if he fancies sending a freezing pulse or two through the Bayern bloodstream.
The Europa League draw has been made, by the way. And here we go:
- AZ v Benfica
- Lyon v Juventus
- Basel v Valencia
- FC Porto v Sevilla
The ties will be played on the 3rd and 10th of April. Juve are the favourites, but could this be the year Benfica finally end that 52-year European trophy drought, after coming so close against Chelsea last season? That’s a decent draw for the Portuguese giants.
And Barcelona are also riding on the 1203 Platitude Express to Tritesville, nr. Hackney. Here’s their sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, reflecting on a draw that’s paired them with a side they’ve yet to beat in three meetings this season:
Considering the teams that were in the draw I don’t know if we would swap for anyone else as they would all be very tough ties. We are seeing in La Liga this season that Atletico are one of the strongest teams in Europe right now.
If only someone, anyone, would either claim their draw is a doddle, or that they’re totally buggered and may as well pack up and go home now. I suppose the guy from Dortmund has done that, kind of.
Meanwhile Bayern aren’t taking Manchester United lightly, which given the history between the two teams is fair enough. Here’s their captain Philipp Lahm:
We should not be blinded by their current position in the league because they have outstanding players. We have to perform according to what we can and if we do that we have good chances of reaching the semi-finals.
The deafening silence in Nyon has finally been broken. OK, more to the point, I’ve managed to find some quotes at last. And Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke isn’t best pleased with how the day’s panned out for his side.
We would have liked to get someone else. Real is the world’s biggest football club. But there is no easy draw here at this stage. We just have to be as best prepared as possible. It will take an enormous effort from everyone to do well. Obviously we had a great team last year; whether or not we can raise the level of our game we will see.
That’s not the worst draw for Chelsea, who will fancy their chances against PSG in a way they might not had they been paired with the Bayerns and Barcas of this world. Will it have an effect on the Premier League title race? A fair chance they’ll have to fit in a semi-final now, against one of Europe’s big hitters to boot, which might be good news for Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, all of whose beady magpie eyes are on that particular prize - and have no European commitments themselves.
The pre-draw odds are yesterday’s news now. Bayern are still favourites to win the trophy, their odds shortening to 7-4, while Real Madrid and Barcelona are both hovering around the 7-2 mark, that price slightly less generous too. Chelsea are pretty much as they were, but you can get Manchester United as far out as 36-1! Borussia Dortmund appear to be 38-1 outsiders, which puts paid to the self-deprecating theories of both David Moyes and the pre-draw jibber-jabber of Jose Mourinho.
Instant reaction, platitudes, etc., to come in a wee while. Tum te tum. While we’re killing time, here’s Simon McMahon: “Regarding a new pot for the winners of this competition, an oversize ‘Champions League chequebook and pen’ would be quite tasteful don’t you think? And instead of a final, we could have a ‘supermatch game’.”
This is pushing all sorts of buttons. If only Ronnie Hazelhurst was still alive! He could write a theme tune which would knock Zadok the Priest into a cocked hat. George Frideric who?
And now, in an easy-on-the-eye arrangement ...
- Barcelona v Atlético Madrid
- Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund
- PSG v Chelsea
- Manchester United v Bayern Munich
Ties to be played on 1/2 April and 8/9 April.
And the final tie: Manchester United will, of course, host the reigning champions, Bayern Munich! So much for poor old David Moyes’s post-Olympiakos feelgood boost - but then again, 1999 and all that. You never know!
The third tie: Paris Saint-Germain are the first-leg hosts of ... Chelsea!
The second tie: Real Madrid will be at home in the first leg, and they’ll be up against ... Borussia Dortmund!
The first tie: Barcelona will play their first match at home - and they’ll face 1974 finalists Atlético Madrid!
While we wait for the Uefa blowhard to complete a drone that would put Ravi Shankar to shame, and because I can’t think of anything else to write, let’s remind ourselves how many European Cups this year’s quarter-finalists have gobbled up:
- Real Madrid (9)
- Bayern Munich (5)
- Barcelona (4)
- Manchester United (3)
- Borussia Dortumnd, Chelsea (1)
- Atlético Madrid (0, but at least they’ve made a final)
- Paris Saint-Germain (0)
Po’ PSG! It’s up to you, Zlatan. You may as well put the extra effort in, you’ve got nothing going on this summer after all.
Right! It’s on! The delegates have wolfed down as many gratis vol-au-vents and glasses of bucks fizz as possible, and now it’s down to business. Some Uefa suit or other, it doesn’t really matter who, is currently running through the rules of the draw. Must it be that difficult? “Back in 1956 it’s a well-known fact that people were way bigger than they are now, hence the seemingly smaller scale of that noble trophy,” writes Ian Copestake, who is bored. “I myself as a wee nipper struggled to hold aloft said trophy while on a tour on Liverpool’s trophy room in the 1980s. I am living proof of how small humans have become since 1956.” You wouldn’t have caught Norma Desmond talking like this.
The odds ahead of the draw: Bayern Munich are the favourites, a best-priced 2-1; Real Madrid and Barcelona can both be got at 4s; Chelsea can be backed as far out as 14; while Manchester United are 22-1 outsiders in some places. Lump on, people who recall Istanbul ‘05 and Munich ‘12! Lump on! “Yesterday marked the vernal equinox, but today marks the venal equinox in which greed prevails,” begins Ian Copestake, utterly incapable as usual of passing on a pun. “Why is the European Cup still the trophy on offer when this competition divorced itself from that legendary do-or-die affair years ago? They should be playing for some massive silver-plated iPod instead, complete with oversize headphones of course.” A fine idea. Or, because the trophy had already long been upsized from its original graceful proportions, Uefa should finally be done with it and produce a distended, 50-foot-tall behemoth in which the winning squad can sit, peering out over the edge, waving. With their oversize headphones on.
Mourinho speaks! He always speaks. But he’s been chatting specifically about the draw, and here’s what he has to say, courtesy of our man in the field, Dominic Fifield. Firstly, Jose was asked what the best outcome would be for Chelsea.
Nothing to choose. All the big teams are there. Sometimes you have in the quarter-final an outsider, somebody that nobody was expecting to be there, a team with less experience or less potential. That’s not the case. We’re very, very calm because we know what’s waiting for us. It’s balanced, but balanced by the top. The big candidates are there. All the big teams, the teams of the moment but also the teams with history. So we have to be really happy to be among the best teams.”
Then he went on to trot out this brazen Chelsea Have No Hope nonsense he’s been roadtesting recently in the Premier League. When asked if there was anyone he wished to avoid, he said:
No. It’s as I was saying. The most difficult opponents you can get in European football are all there. All of them maybe want us. I believe so. Because Chelsea are maybe the most outsider of the group, maybe us and Manchester United because all the other guys... you have the two finalists from last season, the winner and the runner-up; you have the two Spanish giants; you have Atletico, obviously a fantastic team over the last couple of years; you have Paris, with everything they represent. Maybe they look at the draw and look at us and maybe Man United, because they are not having a great season, and consider us the two clubs that all of them, they want.
This is top-drawer Mourinho. Set aside the sheer chutzpah of a manager from a petrodollar club taking a pop at PSG for “everything they represent”. He’s either disingenuously talking his own team’s chances down, or doing so in order to take a roundabout pop at Manchester United. He’s an accomplished performer, operating at levels beyond simple mind games these days.
Dates for your diaries (if you still have a diary, and aren’t planning your modern e-life on a cloud somewhere, or wherever it is you internet pop kids live these days). The first legs of the quarter finals will take place on April Fools Day, a boon for lazy satirists, and Wednesday 2 April, with the return legs and all manner of tiresome controversies kicking off on Tuesday 8 April and Wednesday 9 April. Two days after all that’s done and dusted, and the papers have just about stopped droning on about some fabricated brouhaha or other, it’s the semi-final draw! And also the draw for the final, which sounds unnecessary but it decides who gets to wear their first kit, is given the dressing room with hot running water and unblocked lavvies, etc. But we’re getting a long way ahead of ourselves here.
Spring has sprung! Yesterday marked the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere. A new beginning. Flowers bud. Chicks hatch. A more gentle, warmer breeze tickles the saggy bits that are beginning to form under your chin. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and we’re feeling good (as the bloke who created arch miserablist Gurney Slade once sang). But while nature becomes a thing of warm, cuddly, joyous wonder once again, it’s got nothing on the blooming splendour of the Uefa Champions League, which has reached the quarter-final stage, where after months of predictable faffing about, the competition suddenly becomes interesting. Very interesting indeed.
Now, to be fair, you wouldn’t have been going too far out on a limb if you had predicted this final eight at the start of the campaign. Last year’s winners Bayern Munich. Last year’s losing finalists Borussia Dortmund. Last year’s losing semi-finalists, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Moneybags Paris Saint-Germain, who gave Barca such a good game in the quarters last year. Chelsea, the 2012 winners.
Arsenal. Manchester United, the hardy perennials of the Champions League. And Atlético Madrid … well, perhaps Atlético represent a slight curved ball, but even then the signs were strong early in the campaign that something was stirring at the Vicente Calderón.
Bayern are hot favourites to become the first team ever to retain the trophy in the Champions League era, the first champions of Europe to hold on to their crown since Milan in 1990. But in truth any of these eight teams could feasibly lift the trophy in Lisbon’s famous Stadium of Light come May. They only need to hold it together for five matches, and enjoy a little luck, after all. Dortmund aren’t quite the team they were last year, but Jurgen Klopp knows his way to the final now. All the teams have some sort of trump card to play: Barcelona have Messi, Real Madrid Ronaldo, PSG Ibrahimovic, Chelsea Mourinho, Atlético Diego Costa. Even the newly self-styled underdogs Manchester United will fancy their chances, channelling the vibes of Chelsea 2012 and Liverpool 2005, two unfancied outsiders whose challenges slowly but surely gained an unstoppable momentum. For all of these eight teams: it’s on!
The potential match-ups are fascinating, too, as we’ve got to the stage of a free draw, where anyone can draw anyone, regardless of affiliation to their home land. So we could see another all-German showdown and repeat of last year’s final. Another famous Clásico on the continental stage. A Madrid derby. A face-off between David Moyes and the man who wanted his job – hey, we didn’t start the rumours – José Mourinho. Zlatan Ibrahomovic v the inner demons of Zlatan Ibrahomovic.
The draw will last about five minutes, unless Uefa drag it out in an ill-advised attempt to put on a show, with Michel Platini belting out a free-jazz interpretation of Mr Bojangles. It begins at 11am GMT. Don’t blink, or you may miss it.