Monday, December 14, 2015

Yawn... Would it kill UEFA to have a bit of variety?

Barcelona meet Arsenal: round of 16 draw in full

So, midway through December and What Would David Bowie Do? has been abruptly woken from its pre-Crimbo slumber by, of all things, the draw for the last 16 of Champions League.

For, amongst the pairings - with Arsenal-v-Barcelona standing out as the tie of the round - Chelsea are once again matched with Paris Saint-Germain. Yup, couldn't make it up. Obviously there was always a one-in-eight chance of Chelsea drawing PSG, the team who knocked them out of last season's competition in a grumpy encounter at Stamford Bridge, in which PSG came from behind twice to win on away goals, one of them scored by former defender David Luiz.

Some suggest that Chelsea's malaise this season can be traced back to that match on March 11 - even though they went on to win the Premier League quite comprehensively two months later. Luiz had, of course, been part of the Chelsea team that had beaten PSG 2-0 at the Bridge in the quarter-final the season previously.

Playing PSG for a third consecutive season could, of course, be simply a mathematical inevitability when you're down to the last 16 and in Pot 1 of the draw. But at risk of 'doing a José', there's something suspicious about it, not helped by the stinking climate of mistrust that currently pervades football at its highest levels.

I've had a similar view of Chelsea's endless encounters with Liverpool in the Champions League over the last decade or so, especially in seasons where there have been FA Cup and League Cup ties, on top of the Premier League, pairing them like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals (the Blues and the Reds met eight times in the 2004-2005 season alone).

No doubt elsewhere in the blogosphere there is now a similar post from an Arsenal fan complaining about being drawn against reigning European Cup holders, Barcelona, who are currently in imperious form and 5/2 favourites to win the trophy again, and who beat Arsenal in the 2006 Final and again in the 2010 quarter-final (6-3 on aggregate...).

Of course, both Chelsea and Arsenal should be grateful not to be continuing their European adventures this season in unpronouncable Nordic climes on Thursday nights, and Chelsea fans, in particular, should be grateful that it is 'only' PSG.

Privately, I'm sure the clubs are looking forward to repeat business, and the obvious spice hasn't been lost on the clubs' respective social media teams. But as a fan, I'm not. Tempting as it is to think the Champions League draw is rigged, I do think there should be a better method of ensuring that the odds don't work in favour of predictability.

Arsenal-Barca and Chelsea-PSG, not to mention Roma-Real Madrid, Juventus-Bayern Munich, and Dynamo Kiev-Manchester City amongst the other highlights, might be good for TV ratings and UEFA's sponsors, but I'm sure that many fans would have preferred to see the last 16 mixed up much better. Why couldn't Chelsea face Juve, who are currently rolling back into the Serie A title race after an indifferent start to their fourth consecutive defence of the Scudetto. Why couldn't Arsenal encounter Roma, last-season's domestic runners-up in Italy and who've been showing the Milan teams a thing or two in recent seasons?

Something truly suggests that the drawing process for the Champions League is quite literally a load of balls.

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