Striker to return to England for first time since leaving Liverpool while Chelsea face PSG and Arsenal take on Monaco
Luis Suárez is preparing to return to England for the first time since his controversial departure from Liverpool after Manchester City were handed another nightmare Champions League draw against Barcelona.
It is the second successive year that City have been paired with the 2011, 2009 and 2006 champions and casts immediate doubt over whether Manuel Pellegrini can finally turn the colossal investment from Abu Dhabi into a place in the latter stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
City were dispatched 4-1 on aggregate last season against a Barcelona team that have since spent £75million on making Suárez their record signing.
Suárez scored 31 goals Premier League goals last season but left England after the World Cup amid what was his third lengthy suspension from football during less than four seasons as a Liverpool player.
He has joined an attack at Barcelona that already included Lionel Messi and Neymar. City, though, believe they have also improved considerably since last season and, having recorded back-to-back wins against Bayern Munich and Roma to secure their place in the last 16, clearly believe that they are finally building some momentum in the Champions League.
Pellegrini’s team are currently on a run of seven straight wins and should have Sergio Aguero back by the time of the first leg on Feb 24.
“Every tie in that draw is the same, it is fantastic, so we are looking forward to it,” said City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain, who himself spent seven years as a player and then seven years as a director at Barcelona. Begiristain added: “We have improved our squad from last season and we have some real quality up front. It’s unbelievable. It will be emotional and difficult as well.”
Luis Enrique, the Barcelona manager, quickly warned his players that they will need to be at their very best to beat City. “It will be key to going to the game in top form,” he said. “We will look for a win by playing well, but there are games where you can’t play the way you want to.”
City will be without Yaya Touré for the first leg due to suspension but Stevan Jovetic has delivered the club a boost after it emerged that he could still return from injury in time for the Christmas period of matches.
Chelsea also received just about the most difficult last 16 draw possible on Monday with a repeat of last season’s quarter-final against Paris St Germain. Jose Mourinho’s team were the only English representative to win their group and could have expected a tie against weaker opposition despite Mourinho’s claim that he wanted to draw PSG all along.
It will mean a reunion with David Luiz, who became the world’s most expensive defender earlier this year when PSG paid an extraordinary £50million fee to take him from Chelsea to the French capital. PSG’s squad has been hugely enhanced by the financial backing of their Qatari owners and also includes the brilliant Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Like Pellegrini at Manchester City, PSG manager Laurent Blanc is under pressure to turn the vast funding from his club’s owners into a major challenge to win the Champions League. Chelsea only beat PSG last season on the away goals rule following an aggregate 3-3 draw after losing the first leg in Paris 3-1.
“Last year was an apprenticeship which must not be repeated,” said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi. “Chelsea are a good draw for us. I am very confident. I’ve got confidence in my manager and in my players that they’ll show on the pitch the best of PSG.”
The fixture is given added spice by Mourinho’s recent admission that he has turned down several opportunities to manage PSG. “I think I can say I was the first option for Leonardo,” said Mourinho. “Before Carlo Ancelotti? Yes. Before Laurent Blanc? Yes. I really thought about it, but I was at Real Madrid the first time and the second time I returned to Chelsea. The [PSG] players have experience. They played a quarter-final last year. They won against Barcelona. I think they have all the conditions necessary – but the Champions League is the Champions League.”
Another manager to have turned down PSG is Arsène Wenger and, after facing Bayern Munich at this stage in the last two seasons, Arsenal received a favourable draw against Monaco. Having only qualified second in their group, Arsenal could also have drawn Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid but Wenger will instead return to Monaco for the first time since he made his name there as a top European manager during seven seasons from 1987 until 1994.
“I’ve got great memories of Monaco because they gave me a chance when I was a very young manager,” said Wenger.
The big question for Arsenal is whether all the injuries will have cleared by February, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the latest concern following a groin problem that is still being assessed ahead of Sunday’s match at Anfield against Liverpool.
The two favourites to win the Champions League are Real Madrid and Bayern, who were respectively drawn against Schalke and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/