Man United enjoys luck of the draw

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsMarch 21, 2009

It's that happy time of year when everyone pores over their brackets – and Europe's top soccer clubs are no exception.

There wasn't too much madness at Friday's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal and semifinal draw in Switzerland. Just a bunch of aging men in suits with the fate of a continent's soccer royalty in their hands.

However, the scene that played out in the somewhat sterile environment of a quiet theater in Nyon will have huge repercussions in arenas of a far more passionate and electric nature between now and the end of the season.

The selection process to determine the final rounds of the world's greatest club tournament was a completely open affair, with no seeding or separation based on prior performance or nationality. Anyone could get anyone, and the outcome was mightily kind to the defending champion.

Here we take a look at the main story lines awaiting us in the quarterfinal stage.

Fergie's counting to five

The stars are aligning for Manchester United, as Sir Alex Ferguson's side looks to claim a second straight Champions League crown as part of a unprecedented haul of a possible five major trophies this season.

United could not have asked for a better draw if Ferguson had dreamed it up himself. Its quarterfinal opponent, Porto, did dump United out of the competition in 2004, but the Portuguese team was still the easiest matchup Ferguson could have hoped for.

Looking ahead, the semifinal positions have also been nice to the Red Devils. If United progresses, it will face Arsenal or Villarreal, avoiding the arguably more dangerous heavyweights of Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the other half.

Hello again

It's the Champions League, so that means Chelsea plays Liverpool. Fate, coincidence, call it what you like – either way, these two teams will square off for the fifth season in succession.

Liverpool is in spectacular form, having stuck four goals past both Real Madrid and Manchester United in the space of a week, and that led to the long-awaited resolution of Rafa Benitez's contractual dispute.

But Chelsea is feeling good now, too, with the tepid performances of Luiz Felipe Scolari's failed reign fading quickly. Guus Hiddink has injected confidence and poise and knows this tournament is the best chance for the club's season to be considered a success.

There's no place like home – or not

Arsenal and Villarreal could be forgiven for seeing themselves as Champions League specialists this season. Both have suffered campaigns of domestic disharmony, but European action has brought some much-needed comfort.

The Gunners have flirted with missing out on next season's Champions League for months, with only a recent dip by Aston Villa propelling them back into the EPL's top four. Likewise, Villarreal has been unable to keep pace in La Liga and is now 21 points off the pace set by leaders Barcelona.

However, Europe has been a pleasant distraction and now offers the potential for redemption.

Heavyweight hoedown

The marquee matchup between two European heavyweights in Barcelona and Bayern Munich might just turn out to be the best tie of the quarterfinals.

Barca, which has found life tough in La Liga following a spectacular start to the season, was awesome in its round of 16 destruction of Lyon. Jurgen Klinsmann's Bayern is desperate for success in this competition and has made it a priority.

The victor here will like its chances of going all the way.

England expects

English teams have occupied three of the four semifinal spots the last two years, and that looks like a serious possibility again.

The Premiership's Big Four is taking an iron grip on this competition and clearly has unshakeable confidence when faced with any non-EPL rival.

Talk of an English stranglehold on the semifinals evaporated when Chelsea and Liverpool were drawn together, yet the representatives of Europe's dominant league will be hard to stop.