By Laurie Fitzgerald
Today’s draw in Nyon for the last 16 of this year’s UEFA Champions League will look a little bit bare of English names.
It will include the fewest number of Premier League entrants since this stage of the tournament became a straight knockout following the shock exits of Manchester United and Manchester City.
This means that it will be the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea that will be flying the flag for England in Europe’s elite competition going into the new year.
The great news for both sides is that they won their groups, meaning they will avoid the continent’s biggest names until at least the quarter-finals.
Teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be initially avoided, which will delight both Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas.
However, this doesn’t ensure that either side will get a kind draw as there are still some dangerous teams in the firing line that could halt their progress.
Italian giants AC Milan and Manchester City’s conquerers Napoli are possible oponents, as are potentially difficult trips to Russia to face the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg or CSKA Moscow.
Experienced campaigners Lyon are never a team to be taken lightly, especially after defying the odds and turning round a 7-goal deficit in their final group game to edge out Ajax on goal difference.
However, there are some attractive possibilities; whilst they knocked out United last week, there’s no doubt that Basel look the best possible draw available to the capital outfits.
Also, the two sides that progressed with Arsenal and Chelsea into the knockout stages in Marseille and Bayer Leverkusen respectively could be ideal line-ups and are more than beatable.
Either way, it is going to be a difficult route to the final with many of the big sides set to avoid each other and therefore likely to get through to the last eight.
But a kind draw for both the Gunners and the Blues will increase hopes of reaching the showpiece event at the Allianz Arena come May.
As for the Europa League draw, the Manchester duo join Stoke City in the last 32, with the English trio avoiding one another until at least the last 16.
There are some big names joining United and City through the Champions League trapdoor, with Ajax, Porto and Valenica amongst the names having to change their European priorities.
Plus with other clues such as Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Schalke, Twente and PSV Eindhoven also in the running, it will be unlikely that England’s representatives will find an easy path.
But Stoke have gathered in momentum throughout the campaign, while United and City are capable of winning the tournament – depending on how seriously they decide to take it.
So what do you think? Who do you want your side to get in today’s draw? Leave a comment and let us know your views.