Paris (AFP) – As the coaches of the 16 qualifiers for the Champions League last 16 prepare to watch Monday’s draw, they might ask: what price success.
Five of the clubs who have made it to the knockout stages did so even though they axed the men who were in charge when the draw for the group stage was made.
Valencia started the trend by giving Marcelino the boot six days before their Champions League opener at Chelsea, bringing in Albert Celades, who had never been a club head coach. They then beat the Blues and went on to top tight Group H, dumping out Ajax on the final day.
Even though Mauricio Pochettino had guided Tottenham Hotspur to a first ever Champions League final last season, he was in danger as soon as Spurs lost 7-2 at home to Bayern Munich. What is more remarkable is that the winning coach that day, Niko Kovac, has also gone.
Sylvinho led Lyon to a 2-0 victory at Leipzig on the second matchday, but when he lost at home to derby rivals Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1 four days later, the club said “au revoir”.
Napoli finished Group E with a 4-0 route of Genk to qualify behind Liverpool and promptly fired a multiple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti.
Even among the eight top-seeded group winners, only Reds boss Jurgen Klopp can feel that he is at a club that he wants to continue managing and which is equally committed to him.
Even a favourable draw might not be enough for coaches whose seats are growing warm. And good results may only encourage moves by those whose feet are growing itchy.
The unpredictable way some of the groups played out means that there are more potential traps than usual in Europe’s toughest club competition.
Most of the usual suspects are seeded: Barcelona, Bayern, Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. But the top pot also contains outsiders Leipzig and Valencia.
The two Madrid clubs, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and last year’s runners up Tottenham, now under “serial winner” Jose Mourinho, lurk in the second pot.
Mourinho, as ever, insists he is confident.
– Spurs ‘one of the strongest’ –
“We are one of the strongest teams from the second group,” Mourinho said. “I think the teams that finished first will wish they don’t play against us.”
Teams from the same country, or who played in the same qualifying group, cannot meet. That narrows the permutations and Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid’s permanently under-pressure manager, has already been asked about the possibility of a rematch of the 2018 final, a 3-1 victory over Klopp’s Liverpool.
“If we play in Liverpool, we’ll eliminate them. There is nothing we can do about the draw,” Zidane said last Wednesday.
Klopp, meanwhile, just wants fewer games as his team heads off to Qatar for the World Club Cup.
After Liverpool edged Watford in The Premier League on Saturday, the German was more concerned with the Champions League format.
“Today I read the top clubs want more games in the Champions League — I am not involved in these plans but that is absolute bollocks,” he said.
“The fixtures are like they are. You all like watching us suffering. We have to do what we do and are quite positive about it.”
The two pots for the Champions League last 16 draw (1100 GMT):
Barcelona (ESP), Bayern Munich (GER), Juventus (ITA), Leipzig (GER), Liverpool (ENG), Manchester City (ENG), Paris Saint-Germain (FRA), Valencia (ESP)
Atalanta (ITA), Atletico Madrid (ESP), Chelsea (ENG), Dortmund (GER), Lyon (FRA), Napoli (ITA), Real Madrid (ESP), Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
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