At the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League Group stage, Manchester United has learned that they have the potential of facing six clubs from three different countries in the Round of 16.
The probable teams that United could drawn against on December 17 are Copenhagen from Denmark; AC Milan, AS Roma and Inter Milan from Italy; or Lyon and Marseille from France.
However, due to the rules that are currently in place, United will not be able to face either Arsenal, who finished in second place in Group H, or Valencia from their own Group C.
Having won their group, and to delight Sir Alex Ferguson, United has avoided the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, who knocked them out of the Quarter-Finals last season in the Round of 16.
On top of United and Arsenal advancing to the next to Knockout stages from England, both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have won their respective groups as well, which will rub the salt into English fans’ wounds, because no teams from Russia have advanced passed the Group stage.
In their last four Round of 16 match ups, United has played two French teams – Lille and Lyon – and two Italian clubs – Inter and AC Milan at this stage, and the Reds coincidentally have the chance to play three of those four clubs again this year.
United has faced an Italian team in every knockout round of play since they last failed to qualify for this stage in 2005/06 season.
The odds, as well as history, are clearly stacked up to say that United will face a trip to either Italy or France, however, Sir Alex Ferguson would probably prefer to go to Denmark.
The team that all of the able group winners will want to be matched up against will be FC Copenhagen, who are suppose to be weakest runner-up in the group stages, but as United found out the hard way last season anything that is allegedly gift wrapped is anything but that.
Copenhagen is not a pushover that some may think, because they are 19 points clear in the Danish Sas-Ligaen at the midway point (19 games), and they drew 1-1 with Barcelona in Denmark.
Ferguson will be hoping to avoid AC Milan, because they are in fine form this year and have a couple of players that can cause United some problems.
AC Milan has one of the deadliest strike forces in Europe with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato and Ronaldinho, and they were the only team to nick a point off Madrid in Group G.
AS Roma and United became very acquainted with one another during the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons, because these two foes played no fewer than six matches against one another.
United supporters will never forget the 7-1 footballing masterpiece in April of 2007 at Old Trafford, and they certainly will also remember the 2009 Champions League final in Rome when they lost 2-0 to Barcelona, and they have not been back to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome since.
The one Italian team that the supporters would love to face is Inter Milan, because last season’s Serie A Champions have been very poor this season under their new manager Rafael Benitez, who spent six seasons at Liverpool.
The treble-winning team from last year does not have the same potency as they did Jose Mourinho, who is now at Real Madrid, but they still have some top class players that can turn any match on its head.
Lyon, who United defeated at this same stage on their way to the Champions League title in 2008, is a bit of an unknown team this season, because of their inconsistency, but with players like Lisandro Lopez, Yoann Gourcuff and Michel Bastos they can be a real handful.
Last season, Lyon made it to the Semi-Finals of the competition, which goes to show that they have the quality within their side to make any team work, and they are not too far removed from when they won seven Ligue 1 titles in a row, either.
Marseille has won their last four group matches without conceding a goal and by an impressive 12 goal margin, and that included a 1-0 win over a full-strength Chelsea side in their last group match.
The reigning French Ligue 1 champions showed that they can score goals at will and posted largest single game tally in the Group stage with seven goals against MSK Zilina.
Even though Sir Alex Ferguson got his wish and avoid the European elite, these six clubs that they could potentially play could very easily knock Manchester United out of the competition if they are not fully focused on the task at hand.
Past Knockout Round Opponents
2006/07 – Lille, AS Roma, AC Milan
2007/08 – Lyon, AS Roma, FC Barcelona, Chelsea
2008/09 – Inter Milan, FC Porto, Arsenal, FC Barcelona
2009/10 – AC Milan, Bayern Munich
Group Winners & Runners-up
A – Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan
B – Schalke 04, Lyon
C – Manchester United, Valencia
D – Barcelona, Copenhagen
E – Bayern Munich, AS Roma
F – Chelsea, Marseille
G – Real Madrid, AC Milan
H – Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal