21 March 2014

Please, UEFA, pit Man U against Chelsea, won't you?

I know the Gunners have a match coming up, but with the UEFA quarterfinal draw happening on Friday, I hope you won't hold it against me if I hope that Chelsea get the best possible draw for the next round of their Champions League foray. The draw is now open, which means that rivals from the same league can now face each other. After a season in which we at Arsenal have seen a number of draws pit us against some of the toughest opponents available—our own Champions League Group of Death, Chelsea in the league cup's 4th round, Bayern again, then Spuds, Liverpool, and Everton in the FA Cup—wouldn't it be nice to see a draw help us out, even if we're not directly involved? I speak, of course, of my hope that Chelsea draw the kind of opponent that will allow them to advance ever-deeper in the Champions League. Ladies and gents, I present to you Manchester United.

After all, the further into the Champions League that Chelsea goes, the more matches they play. That's blindingly obvious. The further they go, the more fatigue and stress they face. Even for a club as deep as Chelsea, that becomes a factor. The matches will be played on 1-2 and 8-9 April, and the semifinals played on 22-23 and 29-30 April. None of this helps Arsenal this Saturday, of course, but it could create the kind of cluttered fixtures that could distract Chelsea's players and sap their energies (a less compassionate, sensitive, and humane writer than this correspondent would also mention injuries. I'm nothing if not compassionate, sensitive, and human, so I would never wish injury on a fellow human being. Then again, John Terry). Unfortunately, Chelsea's remaining Prem fixtures are pretty soft, and it's unlikely that they'll drop points there without something else to think about.

And that's where Man U comes in—I hope. They're arguably the weakest team left in the Champions League. Only a vital, pull-out-all-stops performance against Olympiakos (themselves one of the weakest teams to advance to the knockout stage) allowed Man U to advance to this stage. Killing two birds with one stone, this could lead to the savory ouster of Man U, consigning them to their first trophyless season since 2005 while forcing Chelsea into a semifinal against far-stiffer competition. Depending on tomorrow's draw, the outcome of those matches, and the semifinal draw, Chelsea might still face Barcelona, PSG, Bayern, or—ironies of ironies—Real Madrid. Far be it from me to use spite as a motivator, but how delicious would it be to see Mourinho—er, Chelsea—crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid (who show no signs of missing the Specious One at all)?

Adding four matches to their schedule, including all of that extra travel, preparation, might just do to Chelsea what it did to them the last time they progressed so deep into the Champions League. In 2012, when they won the Champions League, they slumped to sixth in the Prem. Now, it's almost impossible for them to fall that far this time around, and I'm sure as sugar that I don't want them winning the Champions League a second time through, but I'd trade a little at each end: a little less progress in the Champions League and a somewhat higher finish in the Prem. That's a tidy little compromise, isn't it?