With Napoli dispatched, who's next for Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League?
Chelsea have made it to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals for the second year in a row. That sentence doesn't properly encapsulate what actually happened at Stamford Bridge last night - the Blues had one of the two worst possible draws* for the knockout round, we manhandled in Naples, and came back to win in extra time with a wonderful performance. Fans were entitled to celebrate a little bit.
*And with all due respect to Arsenal, I'd rather have faced AC Milan than Napoli, who seem to relish downing the big dogs.
However good the win yesterday was, though, it's not the end of the line. Chelsea were fighting to continue their Champions League battle, not end it in triumph, and now we have a new opponent to look forward to. The draw's all set (we were the last side to advance). Who's left in this thing?
Some reckon Barcelona to be the best team in the world, and considering their recent success in Europe it's hard to fault anyone for that opinion. But Real Madrid are well clear of the Catalans in La Liga, and Jose Mourinho is fashioning them into an incredibly impressive team. They play incredibly fast, vertical football - think Napoli but better at virtually everything - and the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil should scare the living [fun] out of everyone.
If drawn: >:(
And now we have Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, who are best known for having the best midfield on the planet and the best player in the world. Barca aren't at their very best this year, and their away form is pretty poor, but they're still not a team Chelsea will want to get anywhere near, at least until later in the tournament.
If drawn: >:(
Bayern Munich are having an incredibly inconsistent season. They looked like world beaters in the early going until a clash with Napoli knocked ace midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger out of action, and they then had a several month spell where they looked average at best, allowing Borussia Dortmund to overtake them in the Bundesliga table. However, they've been incredible in their past few matches, and their 7-0 demolition of Basel shows what they can do if they're in the mood. Oh, and Schweinsteiger's coming back. Sub-optimal opposition.
If drawn: :-(
I assume you know who Chelsea are.
If drawn: :-?
Milan thumped a desperately poor Arsenal side 4-0 at the San Siro before nearly finding themselves knocked out in the reverse fixture at the Emirates. Although they're the top of Serie A and thus having a much better season than Napoli, their slow, patient play and typically Italian 4-4-2 diamond shape makes them less of a threat to rip open Chelsea's back line. However, if Zlatan Ibrahimovic decides to turn on the style, Milan could easily be trouble.
If drawn: :-|
The Portuguese side topped the group in which Manchester United finished third, which should give some indication of their strength. Having sold a raft of stars of late - David Luiz, Ramires, Angel di Maria and Fabio Coentrao were all in this team during the 2009/10 season - Benfica have taken the opportunity to overhaul their squad and bring in several talented players, fashioning a new side which has so far done reasonably well for itself. A dodgy performance in St. Petersburg highlighted some of their weaknesses, their home form is nothing to sneer at.
If drawn: :-|
Marseille are in a horrible slump right now. They're in eighth place in Ligue 1, not playing particularly good foodball and will be without goalkeeper and club captain Steve Mandanda for the first leg of the quarterfinals after his late red card in the 2-1 win over Inter Milan. It's difficult to see how Marseille would have advanced if Inter weren't having such a bad season, because they were hardly impressive over the course of that tie. Unless their fortunes turn around in a hurry, this should be a breeze.
If drawn: :-)
APOEL Nicosia are consistently exceeding expectations this year. They topped a group that included Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg, and most recently knocked out Lyon on penalties. But at some point, their luck has to run out, and they're certainly riding it so far. No team that's made it this far as faced so many shots or had so few of their own. The how exactly they've gotten this far is a mystery, but if Chelsea manage to land them, you'd have to imagine it's the end of the line for the Cypriots.
If drawn: :-D
The draw itself takes place on Friday March 16 at 10:45 AM GMT (6:45 AM EST). Who would you like to face, and in what order? Sound off in the comments.