The draws for the Champions League and Europa League have been made, and don’t forget that Paramount+ will have all the action. But whose lot will bring them the most happiness? Check it out below:
Winners: Napoli and those who believe in divine influence
Speaking of football in terms of fate and destiny frequently feels clichéd. If the Serie A leaders win the Champions League this season, it will not be down to the whims of a deity but rather the extraordinary team of footballers they have assembled. Yet, if a higher force were meddling in the insignificant affairs of football, they may plan a season in which Diego Maradona’s country, Argentina, won the World Cup at the same time as his former team, Napoli, won the ultimate trophy.
Until the balls broke the way they did in Nyon, Luciano Spalletti’s team was among the top four challengers in the inner ring. Now that they are passing AC Milan and one of Inter Milan or Benfica on their way to Istanbul, their three main opponents for the championship may duke it out among themselves. The draw couldn’t have been more advantageous for Napoli. Maybe the interventionist god dresses in sky blue.
Loser: Pep Guardiola’s sleep cycle
What does Pep Guardiola dream about? Is it the image of Kathy Bates gleefully embracing her Oscar for Misery, Julia Roberts condemned to a ten-year wait for the top honor, or the fact that Beautiful Woman’s excellent underlying metrics were not taken into account in the decision? Could it be that the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons used the Jordan Rules to punish the greatest basketball player in history with such brutality? He may have to deal with the nefarious Champions League draw for the time being, at least.
Guardiola has spent a lot of time agonizing over his tactical strategies for the grandest of events, and now he has the opportunity to work with Julian Nagelsmann, a manager who modifies his systems with the same wild abandon that he does. If he survives the fight of the hydras, a game designed to exploit Manchester City’s fears over the Champions League will probably come next, followed by a tactical war of minute details. If Real Madrid defeats Chelsea, the side that never admits defeat, facing an opponent who with every passing year appears more convinced that something is going to go wrong someplace. City still appears to have the best chance of advancing past their portion of the draw, but both they and their manager will struggle mightily.
Winner: Benfica’s bank manager
It seems inevitable that the continent will be watching Benfica with one eye firmly fixed on whatever player they want to pry from the Stadium da Luz given that all football is increasingly a prelude to what the world actually wants — transactions, the more expensive and ill-considered the better. The Portuguese leads are most certainly semifinalists since any team that unexpectedly advances that far usually finds that they are quickly prey for Europe’s wealthiest teams.
The star striker whose goal-scoring prowess has made Darwin Nunez’s departure go unnoticed will already have some people salivating, but center back Antonio Silva may be the most desirable target of all. When he is paired up with Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, he will have his chance to shine. Many in the game would anticipate him to embrace the opportunity and establish himself as Europe’s next defensive dynamo. If Benfica’s bank account isn’t already overflowing, it might be soon.
Bonus Europa League winner: Jose Mourinho
And no, it’s not just because his great rival Guardiola appears doomed for a terrible few months. In the Europa League, almost every match seems designed to support the Special One. If Manchester United were to lose to Sevilla, that would be tradition in football. The Conference League would do well to top his brilliant takedown of Lazio after their loss to AZ Alkmaar on Thursday night. Nevertheless, should Juventus lose at any point, he can unleash another beautiful barb at the cost of a rival. “I feel bad for UEFA since they will now have to pay to ship the Conference League trophy. It could have remained in Rome, but it will now likely have to travel to Florence.”
If events go according to plan, which is rarely the case in the Europa League, his team should just barely edge Feyenoord and may very well defeat a Bayer Leverkusen team whose Neverkusen moniker stamps them out as, at least in Mourinho’s eyes, the complete antithesis of this serial champion. Then, in Budapest, the stage is set for a reunion with Manchester United. One has a suspicion that Mourinho will find a way to portray himself as the ultimate winner regardless of the outcome of that final. We’ll all probably be laughing out loud as we see him do it.