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Monday, December 19, 2011

Champions League reaches knockout stage, not without casualties

We’ve finally reached the equivalent of the sweet 16 in the Champions League and as always there are some surprises in the field but even more surprising is will not be participating. Although never the overall favorites the EPL sides are always expected to make a strong appearance and go deep and no one has been more consistent in the League this year than Manchester City. Key off season acquisitions drew lots of attention but only after they remained unbeaten and at the top of the table through the first month did pundits really stand up and take notice. After that they were not only consensus choice to challenge for the EPL title but some additional hardware as well. Right not they may just have to focus on the afore mentioned as they were on the list of those who were expected to be on the pitch in February that will not. Also in this class are last year’s runners-up Manchester United whom are just two points behind City for the EPL lead and promise to either be right on their heels or perhaps in the lead throughout the campaign but despite their incessant consistency they also failed to make it out of the group stage and will have to focus on repeating as EPL champions as this piece of hardware has passed them by. Strangely enough, two clubs that are on the outside looking in at the clubs from Manchester, perhaps too far behind already to pose a serious threat are advancing in the Champions League and have looked very strong in the process. Chelsea (4th) and Arsenal (5th) are both still in the hunt, Chelsea with a very winnable cross with Napoli, Arsenal a more stout task taking on Inter Milan. On that note the Italians did not surprise at all, sending all three of their sides through and looking to have representation in the final four with both Inter and AC from Milan, and Napoli advancing. Conversely, Spain also a powerhouse league sends through the defending champs Barcelona and Real Madrid but Vallencia and Villareal will not make the trip. FC Porto was a popular sleeper pick but failed to materialize and will not be moving on. Although there are some big names left off Santa’s list there are plenty of big names left and even though we will not see the reigning player of the year on the biggest stage, there should be plenty of fireworks left come February.

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