Real Madrid

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. A goal-scor­ing ma­chine. Thirty-three goals for club and coun­try. And it’s De­cem­ber.

Oh, and that £ 86- mil­lion Gareth Bale chap isn’t too bad ei­ther. Nor is the man­ager, Carlo Ancelotti, who twice won the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League with AC Mi­lan.

The most suc­cess­ful club in the his­tory of the com­pe­ti­tion, hav­ing won the Euro­pean Cup nine times. But by next May, it will be 12 years since Real last won the com­pe­ti­tion, or even reached the fi­nal. La Dec­ima is the ob­ses­sion in the Span­ish cap­i­tal.

Ron­aldo, of course. He has 15 goals in his last eight matches, in­clud­ing three hat-tricks. He must be a shoo-in for the Bal­lon D’Or. A Bale re­turn to Eng­land would be com­pelling view­ing, par­tic­u­larly at Arse­nal.

And Luka Mo­dric would re­ceive an equally gen­er­ous wel­come from the Emi­rates crowd. The best in the com­pe­ti­tion. Six­teen points from 18 and a +20 goal dif­fer­ence. They went to Hell and ended up in Heaven, thrash­ing six past Galatasaray in Is­tan­bul. Also over­came Ju­ven­tus at the Bern­abeu.

The 10th Cham­pi­ons League has be­come such an ob­ses­sion in Madrid that the pres­sure is now huge on the play­ers to de­liver. They have been un­able to for over a decade. And there are ques­tion marks de­fen­sively, with Ser­gio Ramos per­haps head­ing for the exit door next sum­mer.

Barcelona

In Cat­alo­nia, they bris­tle at sug­ges­tions this Barcelona team is ap­proach­ing the end of their cy­cle of dom­i­nance. The 7-0 ag­gre­gate de­feat by Bay­ern in last sea­son’s semi-fi­nals will have stung – we ex­pect a re­sponse and a fourth Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy in nine years would be the per­fect ri­poste.

Per­haps a sur­prise that a club of Barcelona’s size only have four Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles, three hav­ing come in the last decade.

Lionel Messi’s re­turn from in­jury will be piv­otal, but Neymar isn’t do­ing too badly in his ab­sence, net­ting three against Celtic on Wed­nes­day. He will hope to score more con­sis­tently in the sec­ond-half of the cam­paign. An­dres Ini­esta, as ever, will look to pass the other side off the park. Not as in­vin­ci­ble as pre­vi­ous years, and have come un­stuck away from home.

De­feat at Ajax, draw at Mi­lan. Just a 1-0 vic­tory at Celtic. At the Camp Nou, it’s a dif­fer­ent story, with 13 goals in their three home matches. Tata Martino is in­ex­pe­ri­enced in the Cham­pi­ons League – per­haps this may be ex­posed in the lat­ter stages of the com­pe­ti­tion.

Can also be de­fen­sively vul­ner­a­ble, but that has al­ways been the case with this Barcelona team – you just need to get the ball off them, first...

Atletico Madrid

Some might sug­gest Atletico to be the eas­i­est of the pos­si­ble draws for City or Arse­nal. Their form sug­gests oth­er­wise. Level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga, Atletico have strolled through to the knock­out round of the Cham­pi­ons League – and this is de­spite sell­ing Fal­cao last sum­mer.

Af­ter two Europa League tri­umphs in the last four years, Atletico are now stak­ing their claim in the elite com­pe­ti­tion. Run­nerup in the 1974 Euro­pean Cup fi­nal, where they were beaten by Bay­ern Mu­nich.

Diego Costa has scored in all but three of the matches in which he has ap­peared this sea­son, net­ting 19 goals in 18 ap­pear­ances. David Villa adds qual­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence, while young mid­fielder Koke is at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of Manch­ester United. Oh, and man­ager Diego Sime­one knows a thing or two about up­set­ting English op­po­si­tion. A points haul only matched by Real Madrid, af­ter five wins and one draw re­warded Atletico with 16 points and top spot in Group G.

Per­haps an over-re­liance on Diego Costa but make no mis­take, this would be an im­mensely tricky as­sign­ment for any side, let alone the English sides.

Paris Saint-Ger­main

Money­bags PSG con­tinue to grow as a Euro­pean force and they con­tinue to add qual­ity to their squad. Top of the French League, eas­ily through the group stages – and they have Zla­tan.

A UEFA Cup Win­ners’ Cup and an In­ter­toto Cup in the late 90s and early Noughties is the ex­tent of PSG’s Euro­pean suc­cess. That should soon im­prove.

Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic has 25 goals for club and coun­try this sea­son, while Edin­son Ca­vani has made an in­spired start to his time in France, al­ready scor­ing 15.

Thi­ago Silva is a cen­tre-half of real au­thor­ity at the back. A breath­tak­ing start, with three wins in a row and 12 goals in their open­ing matches at home to Ben­fica, away to Olympiakos and away to An­der­lecht.

Since then, it’s slipped a lit­tle, with de­feat to Ben­fica this week, but the hard work had

al­ready been done. the qual­ity of Ligue 1, week in, week out, suf­fi­cient to pre­pare PSG for the lat­ter stages of this com­pe­ti­tion? And what hap­pens if Zla­tan has one of those sulky nights?

Bay­ern Mu­nich

(Avail­able to Arse­nal only – Manch­ester City can­not draw them as they were in the same group as the Ger­man side)

Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons, tre­ble win­ners and now they have ar­guably the best coach in the world. Un­beaten in the Bun­desliga since Oc­to­ber 2012.

Cur­rent hold­ers of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League and five­time win­ners.

Franck Ribery and Ar­jen Robben are the wizards of the wing, but qual­ity and class ooze through­out this Bay­ern team. From the pres­ence of Manuel Neuer, through to Philip Lahm and Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger and Javi Martinez, Bay­ern are so strong. Im­mac­u­late –- un­til Manch­ester City came to town. Ten Bay­ern may have switched off but Arse­nal went to Mu­nich and won 2-0 in March in the sec­ond leg of the knock­out round. Gave the Ger­mans an almighty fright.

Borus­sia Dort­mund

(Avail­able to Manch­ester City only – Arse­nal can­not draw as they were in the same group as the Ger­man side)

Run­ners-up last year and their pace and move­ment on the coun­ter­at­tack can be sen­sa­tional. De­mol­ished Real Madrid in last sea­son’s semi-fi­nals and con­tinue to flour­ish in this com­pe­ti­tion de­spite high-pro­file sale of Mario Goetze.

Win­ners in 1997 but their re­turn to promi­nence un­der Jur­gen Klopp sug­gests they are here to stay.

Robert Le­wandowski con­tin­ues to fire the goals, with 15 this sea­son, while Marco Reus, who is be­ing mon­i­tored by Manch­ester United, has net­ted nine from the wing. Sum­mer sign­ing Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan has helped off­set the loss of Gotze. Pushed all the way by Arse­nal and Napoli, and only a late, late goal in Mar­seille con­firmed qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Ten points off the pace in the Bun­desliga and de­feat at home to Arse­nal showed that Dort­mund can be ex­posed. Manch­ester City may see the Ger­man side as a ne­go­tiable tie. – Daily Mail

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