You knew it was bound to happen sometime – Jose Mourinho heading back to Stamford Bridge.
Yes, thanks to Friday’s Champions League draw, the “Special One’’ returns to west London. Chelsea meeting Inter Milan’s Mourinho is one of two mouthwatering round of 16 clashes, with Manchester United facing A.C. Milan.
The first legs take place in February.
Mourinho was brought to Chelsea in 2004 to win the Champions League, and although he led the Blues to two league titles (telling the whole world about it), he ultimately failed in Europe. His successor, Avram Grant, came much closer, getting Chelsea to the final – only a missed John Terry spot kick deprived the west Londoners the trophy. How irked would Mourinho have been had Grant, the dignified Israeli, done the job?
Adding spice to the tie is Mourinho’s relationship with current Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, ex of Milan. Frankly speaking, the two don’t get along. In the short time their paths crossed in Italy, a war of words erupted.
“Now they say of Ancelotti in England that he is Prince Charles,” Mourinho said in the summer. “But I only know one Prince Charles and that is the Prince of Wales. Ancelotti is no friend of mine.”
The subplots surrounding the clash are welcome, since on the pitch this should be a walk in the park for Chelsea. Italian teams don’t fare well against English opposition, struggling to cope with the faster pace. While Chelsea is in a rut at the moment, the team will probably get things sorted by February.
Likewise for United, despite the fact the Red Devils historically struggle against Milan. The red-and-blacks were thoroughly outplayed by Arsenal two seasons ago – and that was with Kaka.
The most balanced tie just might be Bayern Munich-Fiorentina. The latter stunned Liverpool in the group stages, while the Germans outclassed Juventus on the final matchday to progress, putting their domestic troubles aside. Barcelona, the defending champs, won’t be troubled against Stuttgart (unless Jens Lehmann stamps on someone), although Real Madrid has it tough against Lyon.
Here are the eight matchups, along with predictions (home teams for the first leg listed first):
Inter Milan vs. Chelsea (Chelsea to advance)
Milan vs. Manchester United (Manchester United)
Bayern Munich vs. Fiorentina (Bayern)
Stuttgart vs. Barcelona (Barcelona)
Porto vs. Arsenal (Arsenal)
Lyon vs. Real Madrid (Lyon)
CSKA Moscow vs. Sevilla (Sevilla)
Olympiakos vs. Bordeaux (Bordeaux)
Selected Europa League round of 32 ties:
Ajax vs. Juventus (Juventus)
Liverpool vs. Unirea (Liverpool)
Everton vs. Sporting (Sporting)
Brugge vs. Valencia (Valencia)
Panathinaikos vs. Roma (Roma)
Fulham vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Fulham)
Villarreal vs. Wolfsburg (Villarreal)