For a goofy morning timewaster, enjoy ESPN asking you to rank 20 of the best footballers in the world. In case you're interested, here is my list:
12.Robbin van Persie
As compared to the rest of the voters, I am higher on Xavi, Essien, Villa, and van Persie. I am lower on Henry, Eto'o, Ballack, Kaka, and Gerrard. My reasoning on Xavi is that he is even more indispensable to Barca than Messi is (especially now that the Blaugrana have Ibracadabra, who can generate offense by himself). Xavi not only dominates games for Barca and Spain; he allows those teams to play a defined style that forces opponents to cede possession and bunker up in their own defensive thirds. If I were starting a team, I'd take him over anyone.
I was a little annoyed that there were no keepers or defenders on the list, other than Maicon who is a defender in name only. Was ESPN worried that voters would not know who Iker Casillas is?
I guess I should also say a couple words on the Champions League draw:
VfB Stuttgart v Barcelona
Olympiakos v Bordeaux
Internazionale v Chelsea
Bayern Munich v Fiorentina
CSKA Moscow v Sevilla FC
Lyon v Real Madrid
FC Porto v Arsenal
AC Milan v Manchester United
The only team that I wanted Barca to avoid was Lyon. Instead, Barca has drawn the weakest of the eight teams available. Don't look at the fact that Stuttgart made the round of 16 and are a side from a good European league. Rather, look at the facts that they are currently outside of the relegation zone only on goal difference, they qualified from a group ahead of a Rangers side that has been devastated by the recession's effects on Scotland (short version: Setanta going under killed the SPL's TV money) and something called Unirea Urziceni, and their keeper illustrated his "Mad Jens" moniker by relieving himself during a game. This is a colossal mismatch.
The tie of the round of 16 is undoubtedly Inter and Chelsea. I was strangely disappointed that Jose Mourinho didn't offer any of his customary verbal bouquets when Barca and Inter met in the group stages. Maybe he's been beaten down by the hyper-critical Italian press. Maybe he knew that, unlike Chelsea, his Inter couldn't cash the checks that his mouth would write. In any event, I hope that he rebounds to make his return to Stamford Bridge tasty. Inter have a dreadful record in Europe and Chelsea look like the favorites right now, so you can see where I'm going here. Still, we have to see how Chelsea's African contingent look when they return from the Cup of Nations. The same is true for Barca and Arsenal.
United-Milan is also supposed to be a top tie, but I'm not feeling it from either of these teams these days. United clearly miss Ronaldo, although his departure doesn't explain Ferdinand and Vidic forgetting how to play. Their record is good in England and they qualified comfortably, but this team doesn't impress. Still, they should handle Milan. I had to laugh when I read this morning that Ronaldinho saves his best for big occasions like Champions League knock-out ties. Ronnie saves his best for churrascarias. I will always love the guy, but there are few better examples of a player who pissed away the chance to be a legend by not taking care of his body.
It seems likely to me that the quarterfinals will be the three La Liga sides, the three EPL sides, Bordeaux, and Bayern. If there is going to be an upset, then CSKA over Sevilla seems the likeliest spot. Sevilla were upset at this stage two years ago by Fenerbahce and a trip to Moscow in February could be tricky. I am also tempted to say that Lyon can beat Real Madrid because of Real's defensive weaknesses and their streak of losing at this stage of the competition, but Lyon have a lousy record in the knock-out stages. If Ronaldo is healthy, then Real should win.