12 December 2013

Bring on Bayern! (or anyone else, for that matter)

Well, it wasn't the kind of second-leg away-win we've delivered recently, but the 2-0 loss at Napoli was enough to see us through to the next round. It may feel less glorious than winning 2-0 at Bayern, but this scoreline did secure progress to the next round. Now that the dust is settled, we can appreciate that element of it. Be honest with yourself. When the groups were announced, did you assume that we would advance easily, or did you worry that we'd get knocked out? I'll admit that I was more worried, and I'm an optimist. We're through. For an extra bit of satisfaction, we've knocked out a club whose supporters have earned a thuggish reputation—of course, we all remember the attack on Piebury Corner before the first leg, the attack that hospitalized a 48-year old man. Their supporters also clashed with French riot police. There have been enough incidents that UEFA considered closing the second leg to fans. I know that Napoli's fanbase doesn't have a monopoly on this kind of behavior, and that all clubs have some knuckleheads in their midst, but given Napoli's fans' recent history, I'm more than happy to dump them from the Champions League.

At any rate, that's done and dusted, and we can now think about who we'll face next. It might have been nice to have won the group and then draw from AC Milan, Schalke, Zenit, Olympiakos, Galatasaray, or Leverkusen. As it stands, we'll draw from Barca, Bayern, Real Madrid, Atletico, or PSG. Of course, we can't face Man U or Man City because we all represent the Prem, and we can't draw Dortmund because we're both from Group F. The same factors increase the chances that Bayern will again be our next opponent. Whereas Barca, Real Madrid, Atletico, and PSG could face one of seven different opponents, Bayern has only five opponents to draw—us, AC Milan, Zenit, Olympiakos, or Galatasaray. For Bayern, fellow Bundesligans Schalke, Dortmund, and Leverkusen are out, and so is Group D runner-up Man City. I'll spare you the rest of the algebra (you can find the breakdown from @2010MisterChip. I'm using his stats; he deserves the credit). Suffice it to say, Bayern emerges as our most-likely opponent, a 30.798% chance compared to 17.301% of drawing each of the others.

So be it. One does not simply walk into the Champions League and so on, and we're going to have to face some of the big boys at some point or another. Interestingly, we seem to be overlooking the idea that we are one of the big boys. By virtue of qualifying, we're one of the best 16 or so clubs in the world. By virtue of our performance, we might count as one of the top ten, maybe even the top-five clubs in the world. For now, at least. Last season, we might have been seen as one of the weakest group-stage runners-up. This time 'round, of course, we're as in-form as we've been in a long time (even including this loss and the Everton draw), and it's a form that stretches all the way back to March. We emerged from the toughest group, a group in which 12 points wasn't enough to advance. AC Milan advanced with six points. Gala? Seven. Zenit? Six—while sporting a -4 goal-differential. There oughta be a law against that. Anyway, whoever avoids us will heave a sigh of relief, and whoever draws us knows that it may have just met its match. We'll see.

Speaking after the match, Arsène had this to say of the draw (which takes place Monday):
We will see what comes out of the draw and will assess that in February because a lot can change on both sides, on us and the team we play against, so we need to put that to the back of our minds now and focus on the championship.
Well-said, public language champion. We'll take a closer look at our next opponent after the draw. For now, we have a trip to the Etihad to prepare for and a visit from Chelsea the following weekend to boot. One match at a time...

Before you leave off, thanks for your visit. If you have a preference of whom you'd most like to face, weigh in in the comments-section below. Thanks!