Early Doors

Permutation, permutation, permutation

Could Manchester United draw Porto again?

It is unlike ED to play it straight, but it’s cold and raining and the only thing preventing it from diving into the abyss is the impending draw for the last 16 of the Champions League.

UEFA’s draw rules are possibly a bit too simple; group winners play runners-up, and clashes between teams from the same domestic league are strictly verboten at this stage.

European club seedings and relative difficulty of group have no impact, and probably rightly so as it would be a complicated mess otherwise.

But the draw’s simplicity can (and will) throw up combinations so harsh and frequent that they could not be called anomalies.

For example, having flopped last season, Manchester United did everything right in dominating and winning their group – but they could be ‘rewarded’ for their competence with a tie against Real Madrid, who came second in a Medievally brutal Group of Death. They could also get former conquerors Porto (although they have since ousted the Portuguese side), seven-times champions AC Milan, or potentially nightmarish trips to Donetsk and Glasgow. Indeed, Valencia are arguably their preferred option.

Arsenal could face PSG, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Bayern Munich as possible opponents, with the Gunners seeing Barcelona tossed into their pot because they can’t play Manchester United yet. Thanks, UEFA.

ED will quit its jibber jabber and probe into the deepest depth of a mildly autistic memory for a good, old-fashioned head-to-head of the two remaining Premier League clubs and their possible opponents. In all the head-to-head listings, the English clubs’ wins come first, followed by the foreign sides’, then the draws.

Manchester United – Group H winners

Celtic: 2-1-1

Celtic are always a trickier prospect in Europe than the strength of their domestic league would suggest, and they’re certainly no pushovers when put in a Battle of Britain scenario, having ousted Liverpool from the UEFA Cup in recent memory. Against United they have a surprisingly recent record, with all four of their competitive clashes having occurred in the past six years and all four in the Champions League group stage. The most recent ended 1-1 at Celtic Park, United having won 3-0 at Old Trafford, although Celtic did claim a famous win in Glasgow in 2006 thanks to a glorious free-kick from Shunsuke Nakamura (remember him?).

Milan: 5-5-0

Yes, that’s right – there has never been a competitive draw between Manchester United and Milan. The Rossoneri are not the force they once were though, and their last meeting saw United win home and away in a 7-2 aggregate victory.

Porto: 3-2-3

Porto famously ousted Manchester United en route to their 2004 triumph when a last-gasp goal by Costinha gave a young Jose Mourinho a famous scalp at Old Trafford. United got their revenge five years later, when Cristiano Ronaldo’s early strike at Estadio Dragao saw them through, also 3-2 on aggregate. There are usually goals in these ties.

Real Madrid: 2-3-3

Along with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Los Merengues are unsurprisingly one United’s ‘bogey’ sides in Europe, with the aforementioned trio all shading the head-to-heads by one win. Jose Mourinho is also one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s bogey coaches. Real have come up trumps in their last two knock-out ties, most recently in the 2002-03 campaign when Ronaldo TM’s hat-trick in a 4-3 second-leg defeat guided Real to a famous 6-5 aggregate win. Also, don’t forget Fernando Redondo’s outrageous piece of skill in setting up Raul’s goal in a 3-2 win in 2000.

Shakhtar Donetsk have never played Manchester United in a competitive fixture

Valencia: 2-1-5

They like a draw do United and Los Che, with their last match ending 1-1 at Old Trafford in 2010, United having won at the Mestalla. Indeed, that is the only victory for either side in their past five encounters.

Arsenal – Group B runners up

Barcelona: 1-4-2

Arsenal don’t have many bogey sides in Europe – when they were “boring”, they were impossible to beat, and the Arsene Wenger era has seen them adopt a style of play ideally suited to the continental game, second only to Barca’s. Fittingly the Catalan giants are Arsenal’s only real bogey side in Europe, and probably the only side who can pass them off the pitch. Arsenal seem to draw Barca at will – three times in the six previous seasons, including their final defeat in 2006. Sod’s law says they get Barca again.

Bayern Munich: 1-2-1

Bayern have the slight edge on Arsenal as they do on most clubs in Europe. A function of being four-times winners. Both two-legged ties have come in the Champions League era, and all four clashes have been relatively close. Their last match was won by the Gunners, as Thierry Henry’s goal gave them a 1-0 win in London, but they crashed out on aggregate anyway.

Borussia Dortmund: 2-1-1

Arsenal and Dortmund actually played each other in last season’s group stage, when the Germans surprisingly went out at the first hurdle. The Gunners won the home clash 2-1 thanks to a brace from a certain Robin van Persie, although things have changed since then – Juergen Klopp’s young team continue to mature into a major European force, while Arsenal continue to toil after losing RvP to United.

Juventus: 3-1-2

Arsenal’s surprisingly good record against Juve can be accounted for by their place on the timeline – two of their two-legged Champions League clashes came when Arsene Wenger’s side were a major force in English football. Their last encounters were in 2006, when Arsenal dominated the first leg of their quarter final thanks to goals from Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry. That 2-0 win meant a goalless draw was enough in Turin, but things have changed since then and Juve would be favourites if drawn against the Gunners.

Malaga have never played Arsenal in a competitive fixture

Paris Saint-Germain: 1-0-1

It was often joked that Arsenal are the best supported team in Paris, but that has changed since perennial underachievers PSG acquired unlimited riches. Their sole two-legged clash was in the 1993-94 Cup Winners Cup semi-final (remember that?). Arsenal won 2-1 on aggregate thanks to goals from Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell. Who scored for PSG? None other than Spurs legend David Ginola.


QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Wilshere represent a core of the squad and it's an extension for a long period for all of them. I'm a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it's always easier to keep them together and that's what we'll try to achieve going forward" – Arsene Wenger becomes an unlikely promoter of local talent, having been the first coach in England to field an all-foreign XI.

FOREIGN VIEW: Goals galore in Holland as Vitesse Arnhem's thrashed third-tier amateurs ADO '20 Heemskerk 10-1 in the Dutch cup. Wilfried Bony, Nicky Hofs and Renato Ibarra all scored doubles.

COMING UP: The aforementioned Champions League draw starts at 10.30am but tends to go on for a while, so expect the news to filter through just before lunch. There is also a decent programme of Liga matches tonight, with Real Sociedad’s match with Sevilla the highlight.