Real Madrid face formidable PSG test

(Reuters) – Holders Real Madrid will have to overcome a sizeable obstacle when the Champions League resumes in February after yesterday’s draw pitted the 12-times winners against Paris St Germain.

Bidding for a third successive title in Europe’s elite club competition, Real paid a heavy price for not winning their group as they were drawn with the big-spending Parisians who were tipped as many people’s favourites ahead of the draw in Nyon.

Five-times champions Barcelona will face English champions Chelsea, one of five Premier league clubs in the draw.

Tottenham Hotspur, who topped their group ahead of RealMadrid thanks to a 3-1 victory at Wembley, will face Serie A champions and last seasons’ runners-up Juventus.

Manchester City, who clocked up a record 14th successive Premier League victory on Sunday, are now listed as favourites after being handed a last-16 clash with Swiss club Basel.

Five-times winners Bayern Munich, who finished below PSG in the group, will be happy with a two-legged clash with Turkish outsiders Besiktas.

Europa League champions Manchester United take on Sevilla, Liverpool will meet Porto and AS Roma’s reward for winning their group ahead of Chelsea is a tricky tie against Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Champions League has proved beyond even the vast riches available to PSG and last season they were stunned in the last 16 by Barcelona, losing the second leg 6-1 after beating the Spanish side 4-0 in the French capital.

A clash with Real is hardly what they would have desired at such an early stage but with Neymar and Edinson Cavani having scored six goals apiece in the group, they will be hopeful – if they can keep Real’s nine-goal Cristiano Ronaldo quiet.

“This could have been the final, given the power of the two clubs. The last 16 is a bit early, we could say. Logically, we are both challengers for the trophy,” Emilio Butragueno,Real’s director of institutional relations, said.

“I don’t think it’s a good draw for them either. It will be a thrilling tie.”

PSG and Real have played six times in Europe, most recently in the 2015-16 group stage when the sides drew 0-0 in Paris and the Spanish side edging the return match 1-0.

ONLY TROPHY

Chelsea and Barcelona will renew a regular Champions league rivalry that last surfaced in the 2012 semi-final when Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate before going on to claim the trophy for the only time in their history.

Barcelona won the 2009 semi-final on away goals, Andres Iniesta breaking Chelsea’s hearts with a 93rd-minute decider.

“We’ve had some great times at Stamford Bridge, haven’t we?” Barcelona said on Twitter.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said past events were of no consequence.

“Our reaction must be positive. The past is the past, the present is another story,” he said.

The other English qualifiers fared better, especially Manchester City. While Basel are a formidable side at home and have taken big English scalps in the Champions League before, Pep Guardiola’s side will be firm favourites to progress.

“We have to be careful, they deserve to be here,” City’s technical director Txiki Begiristain said.

Tottenham will face Juventus for the first time while Manchester United and Sevilla have also never met before.

Bayern Munich will face Besiktas for the first time since winning 2-0 home and away in the 1997-98 group stage.

“Bayern are a powerful team but we are not a piece of cake either,” Besiktas president Fikret Orman said.

The first legs, with group winners PSG, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Roma, Manchester City, Barcelona and Besiktas away first, take place on Feb. 13-14 and Feb. 20-21     with the returns on March 6-7 and     March 13-14.

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