PARIS - Spanish giants Barcelona were handed the toughest possible draw Monday when they were paired with Manchester City in the plum tie of the last 16 of the Champions League. Champions Bayern Munich were also given a hard draw as they plucked Arsenal for the second year in a row at this stage.
For the English pair, who both finished second in their groups, it was yet again a harsh lesson in the importance of winning the group. Manchester United and Chelsea, both group winners, were given far more favourable draws against Olympiakos and Galatasaray respectively.
In fairness to Arsenal and City, they did have the toughest possible groups facing one each of last season's finalists. City came within a single goal of pipping Bayern to top spot in their group when a 3-2 win in Munich was one goal short of what they needed to overhaul the Bavarians.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said neither side would be delighted with the draw. "City will not have wanted to play against Barceona either," he said. "What we need to concentrate on is being in good shape when February comes around. We need to have a high level and sustain it. They are scoring goals with ease so we are not going to discover them now. We want to play well in the tie and obviously win it."
Despite drawing the 2009 and 2011 champions, City director of football Txiki Begiristain said he was delighted. "It's very tough, but we are happy because we are here and we will fight for the trophy," he told Sky Sports. "It's a wonderful draw and these are two big teams so it's going to be great, great matches. The last game we played in Munich, winning against the champions of Europe has given us a lot of confidence. We have shown we can score in all matches."
Arsenal were within a couple of minutes of winning their group despite losing 2-0 at Napoli on the final match-day but Borussia Dortmund's late winner in Marseille allowed them to snatch top spot there. Last season Arsenal drew Bayern in the last 16 and seemed to be as good as out when they lost the first leg 3-1 at the Emirates.
But they came within a whisker of making the quarter-finals when taking the second leg 2-0 at the Allianz Arena, going out only on away goals. Arsenal have rarely had much luck in the knockout stage draws in recent years having been paired with AC Milan in 2012 and Barcelona in 2011. In 2010, having beaten Porto in the last 16, they drew Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Olympiakos coach Michel did not sound confident of causing an upset against United. "We like the idea of going to play at Old Trafford; it is a nice destination for our fans," he said. "Manchester United is a major club. We are talking about a huge football organisation. They will be two tough matches." French giants Paris Saint-Germain pulled Bayer Leverkusen while AC Milan will face Atletico Madrid.
Milan's sporting director Umberto Gandini was cautiously optimistic. "We're returning to Spain to face a team we're not used to playing, as opposed to Real Madrid or Barcelona who we know very well. Atletico are a very dangerous team going forward but it could have been a worse draw for us, that's for sure. Atletico are currently playing very well, they're having a great season and are a very tricky team to play against."
Leverkusen sports director Rudi Voeller admitted they will be up against it against PSG. "We need to perform better than we did against Manchester United (a 5-0 home group stage defeat) but I'm convinced we're capable," he said. "It's not just about stopping (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic. They have other great players like (Edinson) Cavani and (Ezequiel) Lavezzi, to name just two."
Last year's semi-finalists Real will play Schalke 04 and completing the draw Dortmund are up against Zenit St Petersburg. The first legs will be played over four separate match-days in February with the second legs taking place three weeks later.