Which of Premier League trio can go furthest in Champions League?
The Champions League last 16 draw got us thinking here at Coral. Which of the three Premier League teams still standing in Europe’s elite club competition is equipped to go the furthest? Here’s our assessment.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger faces former club Monaco in the last 16 and, while the injury crisis at the Emirates looks pretty grim right now, plenty of personnel should be back fit and firing before February. What should concern him, though, is Monaco’s magnificent defensive record in the group stage.
Leonardo Jardim has overseen a strange time in the Principality. Monaco’s resurgence was complete when they finished second in Ligue 1 in their first season back in the French top flight. Jardim’s predecessor, Claudio Ranieri, was sacked and star names Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez were allowed to leave.
This inability to keep hold of big names is encouraging for Arsenal, who are finally splashing the cash themselves rather than selling. With a forward line that includes Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud, surely the Monaco defence marshalled by Portugal veteran Ricardo Carvalho cannot hold out.
Beyond this fixture, Wenger will face a far sterner test. There are no bad sides in the Champions League quarter-finals so, unless he strengthens defence and the midfield anchorman position, that hurdle will be one the Gunners will struggle to clear.
Jose Mourinho’s Blues were paired with PSG in the last eight this past spring, but they will meet a round earlier in this term’s editions of the Champions League. These two capital clubs have star strikers in Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic respectively, so are evenly matched in that regard.
What will be most fascinating is a tasty midfield battle. Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas will encounter opposite numbers Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti with the respective engine rooms boasting equal attributes. What may let Laurent Blanc down is his defence.
Brazil pair David Luiz and Thiago Silva are damaged goods following humbling defeats on the global stage when hosting the World Cup this past summer. PSG should consider breaking this pairing up, and putting physical specimen Marquinhos in to deal with Costa’s rugged style.
In goal, Salvatore Sirigu has a propensity to flap at crosses. Chelsea’s back five of Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, Blues club captain John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta simply looks stronger. That rearguard should be the envy of Europe.
Coupled with an exciting support beyond Costa, which includes Belgium sensation Eden Hazard, Brazil pair Oscar and Willian, and impact substitute Andre Schurrle, Chelsea are worthy favourites to go the furthest of three Premier League teams still standing.
Manchester City (5/1)
Given that Manuel Pellegrini’s men were beaten home and away by upcoming Champions League opponents Barcelona at this stage last term, defeat is staring them in the face again. While Barca may not be the force they once were, the Africa Cup of Nations is a danger for City.
Being held prior to Europe’s elite club competition in Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast captain Yaya Toure is a key player for the Etihad outfit, and is risking injury by tackling this tournament straight after a congested festive fixture list with his club. Any hope of upsetting the Catalan giants seems to hinge on the City spine being on the pitch.
Sergio Aguero single-handedly revived Pellegrini’s push in Europe with a hat-trick against Bayern Munich, but has since sustain trained knee ligaments. City must manage their star striker carefully; if they rush him back then they are inviting disaster.
One major advantage Barcelona have over the Etihad outfit is a winter break. That rest is all to the good, especially for ageing metronome Xavi. A front three of inspirational Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Brazil skipper Neymar and former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is frankly frightening for Vincent Kompany and co at the back.
City stopper Joe Hart will have shots fired in from all angles by this attack of all the talents. It’s very hard to make any sort of case for Pellegrini going any further. It hinges on a sending off, moment of madness or something else unforeseen. Even so, that 5/1 price isn’t long enough.