Even the staunchest curmudgeon can only be excited by the draw for the quarter finals of the Uefa Champions League. It is surely the most mouth-watering since Opal Fruits re-branded.
Where to start? Liverpool v Chelsea would seem the obvious point, although recent history suggests that the result will be more interesting that the matches themselves. The neutral will be hoping that the ninth and tenth European meetings between the two clubs in the last five years resemble the 2008 version (seven goals in two matches), and not the three previous years’ (three goals in six).
Man Utd and Arsenal will be delighted to have avoided fellow English teams at this stage, and it will be a huge surprise if one of them does not ensure that the Premier League has a finalist for the fifth successive year. United is the obvious candidate – and the Manchester team are priced as short as 2-1 to win the tournament with some bookies. With the exception of last year’s final, however, they have surprisingly little experience against English teams. An Arsenal v United semi would have the thrill that Chelsea v Liverpool is beginning to lack.
The other semi final is already worth salivating for. Up against Chelserpool will be the victor of Barcelona and Bayern Munich – on paper the most interesting of the quarter finals, but probably fairly difficult to watch for those of us who usually spend our Wednesday night in the pub, parochialism once again defeating sound judgement.
Last year the English teams were undefeated in the knock-out stages by any of our European neighbours. The confidence within the ‘Big Four’, and the arrogance of the British media, would suggest that a repeat is a foregone conclusion. Michel Platini wouldn’t be happy with another all-English final, but, regardless of outcomes, after the false excitement of this season’s Premier League, thanks to yesterday’s draw, the Champions League is where it’s at. Pavlov has rung his bell.