17 Aug 2022

Champions League draw stands - despite controversy

Man United learn Champions League opponents, despite controversy

Manchester United have been handed a mouth-watering Champions League tie against Paris St Germain, but only after UEFA officials appeared to make a mistake during Monday’s last-16 draw.

Confusion began when United were first erroneously drawn against Villarreal – a side they had already been paired with in Group F.

UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti apologised for the “technical issue our draw is experiencing” before asking former Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin to try again, and this time it was neighbours Manchester City who were paired with the Yellow Submarine.

But the problems did not stop there.

When Atletico Madrid were the next side to be drawn, Marchetti said: “For Atletico Madrid, the possibility are all [teams] except for Liverpool, who was in the same group, and Manchester United as they were already drawn.”

But as United’s drawing was a mistake, they should still have been potential opponents for Atletico. UEFA’s head of club competitions Michael Heselschwerdt began collecting balls to put in the pot, but compounded the error by appearing to take a ball from Liverpool’s pot rather than United’s.

Atletico were ultimately handed a tough draw against six-time winners Bayern Munich, but it is unclear what, if any, action UEFA might take if the draw was carried out incorrectly.

United have not challenged the outcome of the draw, but are awaiting clarification from the European governing body, with Atletico saying on Twitter they were awaiting a solution.

UEFA has been contacted for comment on the draw procedures.

Liverpool will travel to face RB Salzburg, while Chelsea will continue the defence of their title against Lille, with the first legs due to be played in late February and the return fixtures in March.

United and PSG were the last two sides left in the pot at the end of the draw, setting up a fascinating tie in which Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can renew their long-standing rivalry.

United and PSG met in Group H of last season’s Champions League. United’s 2-1 win at the Parc des Princes was among the highlights of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign, though they lost the home fixture 3-1.

But this time the build-up will be dominated by Ronaldo and Messi, who have both changed clubs since then.

The pair have met in 36 previous games, with Messi finishing on the winning side 16 times compared to Ronaldo’s 11, with Messi also having 22 goals to Ronaldo’s 21 in those matches.

The intrigue does not stop there, of course, as United’s interim boss Ralf Rangnick will come up against Mauricio Pochettino, a man known to be interested in the permanent job at Old Trafford.

Having lost home and away to United to miss top spot in Group F by a single point, Villarreal will be back in Manchester next year to take on City.

The two sides last met in the group stages of this competition back in 2011, when Roberto Mancini’s City won home and away.

Liverpool, who won all six of their Group B fixtures, will face a Salzburg club who are the first Austrian representatives to make it to the knockout rounds of the competition.

Whether or not there was a mistake that led to it, the tie between Atletico and Bayern looks to be the pick of the other fixtures.

Inter Milan will take on Ajax, Benfica face Real Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon play Juventus.

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