“Between them Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have a 52 per cent chance of collecting the Champions League” – Daniel Finkelstein

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I wanted to face Manchester because I wanted to pick the best team. They are the European champions. In two days they can become world champions, they have the Ballon d’Or winner in Cristiano Ronaldo and a super coach, Alex Ferguson.” – Jose Mourinho.

Runner-up: “You can’t do anything about the FA disciplinary process. I gave up years ago trying to be a voice, trying to bring reason to certain things. You need consistency, which means you need the same people sitting all the time, professionals who understand the game, who understand the passion of the game, the human element of the game. Sensible people – that doesn’t always happen, though. It’s erratic, I am sure they would say that themselves. You haven’t a clue what you’re going to get when you go down there. I was down there three or four years ago and I left bemused. Will I get charged for this? I’d put it far more in the hands of the professional game because you’ve got non-football people sitting on the panel, sitting opposite you with no understanding of the game, and that’s a problem. They’ve tried to introduce a more professional element, but they don’t really have a say, the main decisions are made by the non-football people. From what I can see it is more like a criminal case than a football disciplinary hearing.” – Gary Neville.

Today’s overview: The Champions League draw has sent the press into a frenzy as all the permutations and angles are covered in the Saturday papers. It is questionable however, how much of this analysis will be relevant when the ties are played out at the end of February.

Reacting to the mouth-watering Champions League draw, Kevin McCarra has some words of warning for the English sides facing Serie A opposition. “Most English people will easily recall a time when Premier League clubs habitually floundered in the Champions League. Circumstances have changed for the better, but there will be deterioration sooner or later. That is intrinsic to the life-cycle of sport. Even so, Italy has more to do than merely wait its turn.” Paul Doyle highlights all the “sub-plots” to the draw including “Rafael Benítez heading home to Real, Claudio Ranieri returning to Stamford Bridge and hoping to prove to Roman Abramovich that dead men can dance, and, of course, Jose Mourinho looking forward to another wild jig down the Old Trafford touch line.”

Gazing into the stars, David Pleat puts his neck on the line to predict how the four ties will play out, punting on Roma to knock out Arsenal for the only English casualty. Daniel applies a more scientific approach to his analysis, claiming “the Champions League is more likely than not to be won by a team from the Barclays Premier League. Between them Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have a 52 per cent chance of collecting the trophy. Want to understand Michel Platini’s desire to emasculate the Premier League? The chance of a French winner is less than 2 per cent.”

On the Manchester United-Inter Milan tie, Mourinho is being targeted by United as the man to fill the void when Ferguson retires, which is likely to happen either at the end of this season or the one after.” Henry Winter makes largely the same point, commenting “The Special One has an aura that United fans love. With Roy Keane taking time out, Mark Hughes’ availability and acceptability arguably compromised by his association with Manchester City and Martin O’Neill engrossed with Aston Villa, the way seems open for Mourinho.”

On the Chelsea-Juventus draw Matt Hughes highlighted Claudio Ranieri’s very personal reaction noting the Tinkerman “reserved his ire for Abramovich, the man who finally decided he could not be trusted to take care of his new toy after a 3-1 defeat by Monaco.”

On the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid, Sid Lowe traces Rafa Benitez’s long association with the Spanish club recalling that “he might have become their enemy by leading Valencia to two league titles that the Galacticos believed were their divine right, but Real is Benitez’s club… Born in Madrid, Benitez’s progression was as meteoric as it was Madridista.”

Turning to this weekend’s Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool, Amy Lawerence suggests “it would be no surprise if the Arsenal manager had spent a considerable part of this season cursing that he did not part with that little extra to clinch the deal to sign Xabi Alonso last summer.” And staying with Alonso, the midfielder gave his thoughts to Matt Lawton about the Reds’ progress this term, including “for the first time, we feel that if we do things properly we will have a chance.” And lastly on the Merseysiders, Jonathan Wilson makes an excellent pint regarding their striker issues – “Modern football at the highest level is all about the manipulation of space. Liverpool don’t have a player scoring hatfuls of goals. Their top scorer is Steven Gerrard with six, with Dirk Kuyt and Torres one behind. But that is less significant than the fact that Liverpool control space so well – just as the Valencia side with which Benitez won his first Spanish league title did; their top scorer was midfielder Ruben Baraja with eight.”

In other Premier League news, Terry Venables makes the ludicrous claim that Aston Villa should actually be targetting the Premier League crown this season, arguing that being “seven points off the lead and still very much in the mix, Villa must be thinking big — this season.” Ian Herbert paints a gloomy picture of life at Eastlands labelling Mark Hughes’ squad as “fractured by internal conflict,” and pointing the finger at the “lazy and a negative influence” OF Elano, Micah “poor trainer” Richards and Michael “lacking the conviction to recuperate” Johnson.

In the Saturday interviews, Luka Modric sits down with Alan Smith (“I was used to getting a lot of space in Croatia and that makes a hell of a difference. But I am getting used to it now. When that happens I will be OK.”), Fulham’s Brede Hangeland talks with Dominic Fifield (“The first 12 months have been excellent and I wouldn’t mind staying for some time to come.”)

Writing on the Ronaldo-Real Madrid link, James Lawton criticises both Manchester United and the Spaniards for poor behaviour. “In the Ronaldo affair Real have behaved with about as many scruples as the pickpockets who used to infest the alleyways around the Plaza Mayor. They have coveted a player belonging to another club and they have gone for him with a shameless lack of propriety. You have to wonder who they think they are. Manchester United, perhaps.” And in other transfer news, Peter Ferguson quotes Roque Santa Cruz saying “If a bigger club came in for me then I would like to take that opportunity,” Tony Banks writes that Chelsea want Luis Fabiano,

Lastly, with David Beckham arriving in Milan today Frank Dunne wonders “whether the 33-year-old Beckham can do enough between January and March to convince Milan to offer him a deal through to the end of next season.”