The draws for the Champions League and Europa League are set, and remember you can catch all the action on Paramount+. But who will be happiest with their lot? Let’s find out below:
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Winners: Napoli and those who believe in divine influence
It so often feels trite to talk about football in terms of destiny and fate. If the Serie A leaders win the Champions League this season it will be because of the exceptional squad of footballers they have built, not the whims of a deity. Having said that, if a higher power were meddling in the trivialities of football, they might script a season in which Argentina won a World Cup for Diego Maradona at the same time as his former club brought the greatest of prizes to Naples.
Luciano Spalletti’s side were in the inner ring of four serious contenders before the balls broke the way they did in Nyon. Now their three most serious rivals to the crown can slug it out among themselves whilst they take what ought to be a serene route to Istanbul past AC Milan and one of Inter Milan or Benfica. Napoli could scarcely have dreamed up a more favorable draw. If there is an interventionist god, perhaps he wears sky blue.
Loser: Pep Guardiola’s sleep cycle
What haunts Pep Guardiola in his nightmares? Is it the sight of Kathy Bates clutching her Oscar for Misery in delight, Julia Roberts doomed to a decade long wait for the top prize, her stellar underlying metrics in Pretty Woman not reflected in the final result? Could it be the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons deploying the Jordan Rules to such brutal effect on the greatest basketball player there ever was? For now. at least. it might be the fiendish Champions League draw that lies ahead of him.
Guardiola has long sweated over his tactical plans for these biggest of occasions, now he meets a manager in Julian Nagelsmann who changes his systems with the same reckless abandon that he does. If he makes it through the clash of the hydras, a tactical battle of minutiae will likely be followed by a game tailor made to prey on Manchester City’s insecurities over the Champions League. Real Madrid, assuming they get by Chelsea, the team who never know they’re beaten, against an opponent who with every passing year seems more convinced that something is going to go wrong somewhere. City still seem the most likely to make it through their half of the draw but they and their manager are bound to have an unbearable time doing so.
Winner: Benfica’s bank manager
Being as all football is increasingly a prelude to what the world really wants — transactions, the more expensive and ill-considered the better — it seems inevitable that the continent will be watching Benfica with one eye firmly on which player they want to prise from the Estadio Da Luz. The Portuguese leaders are likely semifinalists, any team that gets that far in surprise fashion tend to find that they are swiftly carrion for Europe’s richest sides.
There will already be those licking their lips at the prospect of snaring Goncalo Ramos, the star striker whose scoring exploits mean Darwin Nunez’s exit has gone unnoticed, but the greatest prize of all might be center back Antonio Silva. His chance to shine will come when he is matched up with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. There are plenty in the game who would expect him to seize it and mark himself out as Europe’s next defensive superstar. If Benfica’s coffers are not already full to bursting they may be soon.
Bonus Europa League winner: Jose Mourinho
… And no, not just because of the horrendous few months his great rival Guardiola seems destined for. Almost every tie in the Europa League seems tailor made to vindicate the Special One. If Manchester United were to fall to Sevilla, well that’s football heritage. Defeat for Juventus at any stage and he can unleash another magnificent barb at the expense of a rival, though the Conference League will do well to better his glorious takedown of Lazio after their defeat to AZ Alkmaar on Thursday night. “I feel sorry for UEFA, who now have to spend money to ship the Conference League trophy. It could have stayed in Rome, but now instead it’ll probably have to go to Florence.”
If results go as expected, rarely a given in the Europa League, his side should just about shade Feyenoord and might well overcome a Bayer Leverkusen side whose Neverkusen tag marks them out, in Mourinho’s eyes at least, as the polar opposite of this serial winner. Then the stage is set for a reunion with Manchester United in Budapest. One suspects that whatever the result in that final, Mourinho will find a way to cast himself as the ultimate victor. Doubtless we will all be in stitches watching him do so.
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Publish Date:2023-03-17 22:06:52