So, Manchester United finished top of the in the Champions League this year. After last seasons utter disappointment, it wasn’t surprising that we came out all guns blazing early in the group stages to secure top sot. Just as well we did considering we lost both our last fixtures 1-0, although we were playing a host of youngsters in those matches.
All eyes are now on the end of February when the knockout stages begin and the business end of the Champions League gets under way. There is a potential blockbuster tie against Real Madrid and Ronaldo, a Great British affair with Celtic or an Italian job against AC Milan. We may have topped the group, meaning the second leg will be at home, but it will be a far from straight forward procession to the next round.
The draw will take place on December 20. What do the fixtures look like on paper?
So, a potential fixture against Real Madrid is on the cards. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Our Champions League record isn’t very good against the Spanish champions – they have knocked us out in the 1999/2000 and in 2002/2003 competitions, with the great Ronaldo’s sublime hat-trick that got a standing ovation from both sets of fans still staying fresh in the memory.
Ronaldo would again be the name of everybody’s lips again if this draw happened, Cristiano Ronaldo that is. He still hasn’t played against us since his £80m move in 2009 and although his name still reverberates off the walls of Old Trafford, I wouldn’t fancy us being able to keep him from scoring.
Mourinho’s Madrid would be by far the toughest draw of the lot but if you want to win the Champions League, you have to beat everyone.
Another big fixture would be AC Milan, seven times conquerors of Europe. Our most recent appearances against the Italian outfit went rather well with Wayne Rooney‘s brace at the San Siro helping us record our first win against the side at their home ground, before we trounced them 4-0 at Old Trafford on David Beckham’s return to the club with AC Milan.
They aren’t the fortress of a team in comparison to what they used to be. Having sold Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic this year without replacing, they make AC Milan a far more beatable side than you would imagine and on paper, we would definitely be favourites to win this tie.
Shakhtar Donetsk have shown what they are worth in this years Champions League. Finishing top in a group with soon to be ex-European champions Chelsea and Juventus is no mean feat. A Brazilian backbone with the likes of Willian and Fernandinho has given them the flair and talent to succeed at the highest level.
We have never played the Ukrainian outfit and their home record is formidable (they went three years undefeated in all competitions) and it would definitely be a tough draw. At home, you would fancy us but their attacking prowess would certainly cause our faltering back line troubles, Willian in particular.
A potential Great British tie against Celtic is also possible, after Neil Lennon’s men heroically qualified in second place behind Barcelona with an impressive ten points. We have been in Celtic’s group twice in the Champions League, beating them twice and drawing and losing one each as well, but have never faced the Scottish club at the knockout stage.
This would be a fiery tie. A return to Glasgow for Sir Alex will take him back to his Aberdeen days and Celtic would relish the chance of throwing his team out of the Champions League. They showed by beating Barcelona that they can beat anybody on their day and it would certainly be a raucous atmosphere if we drew the Scottish champions. Not the most difficult of ties on paper but it has a lot of context that could make it very tricky and a lot of eyes would certainly be on Celtic’s highly rated midfielder Victor Wanyama.
The last two ties would be Porto and Valencia. Neither of these teams has particularly impressed during the group stages of the Champions League but both finished well with 13 points. Porto look a dangerous force at home having won all three of their matches but stuttered to only one win on the road. Having lost Andre Villas-Boas and Hulk in recent years, they aren’t the same calibre of team that won the Europa League but they made it to the knockout stages, so would have to be respected.
Valencia looks like the most straight forward out of the options. We have played them six times since 1999 and have never lost, so we would certainly be heavy favourites to win over two legs, but they do still have Soldado up front and after Llorente showed what he can do against us last year in the Europa League, Spanish strikers can’t be taken too lightly.