The return of the Champions League is less than a week away!
Forget the flowers, spend February 14 with Graeme Souness and co
February 14. An expensive seat at a posh venue, painstakingly but thoughtfully prepared montages and a bit of spine-chilling orchestra music to accompany the dulcet tweet of Howard Webb’s whistle. It can only mean one thing: the return of the Champions League.
That’s right, the scrap for that cup with the Gary Lineker-esque ears resumes in just six days, and perhaps because the fad of English teams feeding the Premier League’s ego by hijacking the semi-finals spots is over, I can’t wait.
And though I think the competition benefits from having less Premier League heavyweights bopping about like they run the continent, the most intriguing second-round ties do include two of our luscious capital’s finest.
Napoli versus Chelsea looked tasty enough in December: the new establishment-snubbing kids on the block challenging the club who played that part about a decade earlier. Given the ineptitude of both in the intervening months, the unpredictability of it all adds to the delectability.
I backed Napoli early on, staying faithful even after they were parachuted into the most inhospitable European group since the Sugababes, but their recent struggles are a big worry, and with Chelsea still largely keeping it together in the cups, it’s easy to see why Napoli are 9/5 to qualify on bwin.
Before those two go at it, there’s another Anglo-Italian treat in the guise of AC Milan v Arsenal, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely to decide the outcome.
Those who feast on the phrase “never does it against English sides”, an honour even dished out to Lionel Messi once upon a time, forget about his two goals at the Emirates two seasons ago.
The lesson of this Serie A campaign is that when Ibra is on form, so are Milan. When he isn’t, they are atrocious. The worry for the Rossoneri is that statistics show that he tends to go into hibernation at this time of year.
You’re not in the clear though Gunners fans, because he’s produced an inspired plan to combat the problem: get himself banned for three league games and save all his energy for the Champions League. It’s 9/10 on bwin that it works and his team progress.