NYON, March 20 – Holders Manchester United were handed arguably the plum pick of the Champions League quarter-finals draw after being pitted against 2004 champions FC Porto here Friday.
For the second year in a row four English teams feature in the last eight with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool also looking for a quick and comparatively easy passage to the semi-finals.
While 2006 finalists Arsenal were drawn to play Spanish side Villarreal, semi-finalists the same year, an all-English quarter-final will see Liverpool take on Chelsea at Anfield before travelling to Stamford Bridge a week later.
In the other quarter-final 2006 winners Barcelona welcome Bayern Munich to the Nou Camp before playing the second leg in Germany.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s United went into the draw as the favourites to defend their title, although the bookies will be looking closely at the current form of Porto – and past statistics between the teams – before setting the odds.
Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was coach of Porto in 2004 when the Portuguese giants sent United crashing out at the first knockout round before going on to win the title. Of the six matches the clubs have played in Europe they have each won two, lost two and drawn two.
Liverpool and Chelsea meanwhile must be wondering whether they are destined to never be apart in the competition.
Although they meet at an earlier stage this year, the Premier League rivals have met in the semi-finals in three of the past four campaigns with Liverpool claiming the bragging rights.
Chelsea won passage to last year’s final, where they were defeated by United, after a 4-3 aggregate defeat of Liverpool after playing the first leg at Anfield.
In 2007 Liverpool prevailed 4-1 from a penalty shoot-out after the two-leg tie, in which Chelsea hosted Liverpool in the first leg, finished in a 1-1 draw.
Two years earlier Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat of Chelsea at Anfield, after a scoreless draw in London, was enough to book passage to the 2005 final where they beat AC Milan after a penalty shoot-out.
Arsene Wenger will be happy at being able to focus his young team’s energy on a non-English Premier League team, and the prospect of claiming an away goal in the first leg at Villarreal will have boosted his side’s hopes of a making the semis.
The last time the sides met was at the semi-final stages in 2006, when Arsenal held on for a scoreless draw in Spain after claiming a 1-0 first leg win at the Emirates stadium.
Villarreal did well to make the semis that year and will be hoping to go one better. If the Gunners do dominate the tie, they face a possible meeting with United.
Villarreal (ESP) v Arsenal (ENG)
Manchester United (ENG) v FC Porto (POR)
Liverpool (ENG) v Chelsea (ENG)
Barcelona (ESP) v Bayern Munich (GER)
Manchester United (ENG) or FC Porto (POR) v Villarreal (ESP) or Arsenal (ENG)
Barcelona (ESP) or Bayern Munich (GER) v Liverpool (ENG) or Chelsea (ENG)
Quarter-final matches played on 7/8 and 14/15 April
Semi-finals – 28/29 April and 5/6 May
Final – Rome May 27