Champions League draw: Manchester United to face Barcelona in last eight

Manchester United will face Barcelona in a heavyweight Champions League quarterfinal after the draw was made at UEFA’s Swiss headquarters in Nyon on Friday.

Serie A giants Juventus will face Ajax following the Dutch side’s incredible victory over Real Madrid while last year’s beaten finalists Liverpool was arguably handed a favorable draw against Porto.

Meanwhile, Tottenham will face the competition’s top scorers Manchester City in the only all-English quarterfinal.

The semifinal draw was also made on Friday, with Manchester United or Barca due to face Liverpool or Porto, with the winner of the tie between Manchester City and Tottenham playing either Ajax or Juve.

The quarterfinal first legs will be played on April 9/10 with the reverse fixtures scheduled for April 16/17.

The semifinals will kick off on April 30 and May 1 — with the second legs set for May 7/8 — ahead of the final at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium on June 1.

English dominance returns?

It is the first time in a decade that four English Premier League clubs will be in the Champions League quarterfinals, with Chelsea the last side to win the tournament in 2012.

Only two other English teams, Liverpool in 2005 and Manchester United in 2008, have been crowned European champions this century. In the same period Spain has had 10 Champions League winning teams.

United fixture reversed

United last met Barca in the 2011 Champions League final when it was well beaten by a side inspired by Lionel Messi. However, confidence will be high for United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his squad after a dramatic second leg comeback saw them overturn a 2-0 deficit away to Paris Saint-Germain.

That both Manchester clubs have reached the last eight has provided an organizational headache for Champions League organizers UEFA and a small bragging rights victory for City, a club former United manager Alex Ferguson once Old Trafford’s “noisy neighbors.”

Local authorities in Manchester have made it clear that both teams cannot play on the same night in the city nor on consecutive nights during the knockout stages.

So UEFA has ordered Barcelona’s game against Manchester United be switched, meaning the first leg will now be played at Old Trafford, with Solskjaer returning to the Nou Camp — the scene of his last-minute goal in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich — on April 16.

Champions League knockout matches are played over two legs with many managers and players preferring to play the first leg away and the second leg at home.

A 2007 paper published in the Journal of Sport Sciences found the “second leg home advantage” phenomenon was “real” with the teams who play the second leg at their own stadium historically having a greater than 50% chance of progressing to the next round.

However, the study also found that the extent to which having the second leg home at home was advantageous had decreased significantly in modern times.

A 2017 paper from academics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, also found a “slight second-leg home advantage” remained evident.

Europa League

In the Europa League quarterfinals, Arsenal face a tough fixture against Napoli while Chelsea will play Slavia Prague following the Czech side’s stunning comeback against Sevilla in the last round.

Arsenal boss Unai Emery is looking for his fourth Europa League success after winning three successive titles as manager of Sevilla.

Elsewhere, Spanish side’s Villarreal and Valencia were drawn together and Benfica will face Eintracht Frankfurt.

The first legs will kick off on April 11 with the reverse fixtures scheduled for April 18.

Djokovic crushes Nadal for record seventh Australian Open title and 15th major

Seven years ago at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic battled past Rafael Nadal in a historic, marathon final.

On Sunday it was the same end result but more like a 20-meter sprint thanks to Djokovic’s brilliance.

The Serb crushed a shell-shocked Nadal in front of a stunned Rod Laver Arena 6-3 6-2 6-3 to become the

first man in Australian Open history to amass seven titles.

That five hour, 53-minute contest in 2012 that at times left both men gasping for air and led to, unusually, organizers giving them chairs during the trophy presentation? Nowhere to be found.

Instead the world No. 1 needed a mere two hours, four minutes to see off the second-ranked Nadal in what was the most lopsided men’s final in Melbourne in games since Andre Agassi surrendered five to Germany’s Rainer Schuettler in 2003.

Djokovic won all but 13 of his service points, registering 34 winners overall and a minuscule nine unforced errors after routing Lucas Pouille in the semifinals.

About the only thing he got wrong Sunday was speculating he made 15 unforced errors in the last two matches. It was actually 14.

“It’s quite pleasantly surprising to myself, even though I always believe I can play this way, visualize myself playing this way,” said Djokovic. “At this level under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”

He took sole possession of third place on the all-time men’s list with 15 majors — passing Agassi’s chief rival Pete Sampras — and pulled to within two of Nadal and five of leader Roger Federer.

“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have, mental, physical, emotional, so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record,” said Djokovic.

“It’s still far.”

Second ‘Novak Slam?’

Closer, if Djokovic wins the French Open in June — and that is certainly a possibility despite Nadal’s prowess at Roland Garros — the 31-year-old would complete the “Novak Slam” of capturing four consecutive majors for a second time. He is one of two men to upend 11-time champion Nadal at the French Open.

Yes, this is the same Djokovic who plummeted outside the top 20 last year following elbow surgery and a general malaise.

Federer and Nadal are usually the first two players mentioned in discussions of the men’s “Goat” — greatest of all time — but Djokovic is seriously butting in.

Federer and Nadal have never won four straight majors and Djokovic also holds winning records against both, now 28-25 against the Mallorcan.

And this was supposed to be a Nadal in form.

The left-hander — armed with a new service motion — didn’t come close to dropping a set en route to the final and had only been broken in one match, his opener against Australia’s James Duckworth.

Yet Nadal, in his first tournament since the US Open due to ever more injuries, faced a considerable step up in competition from the six others he swatted away at Melbourne Park.

“I played fantastic tennis during both weeks, but probably playing that well I didn’t suffer much during both weeks,” said Nadal. “Five months without competing, having that big challenge in front of me, I needed something else. That something else probably today I don’t have it yet.”

Nadal upped the aggression in his game but he said all the inactivity didn’t allow him to work on his defense, which is usually a mainstay.

“To play against a player like him, playing the way he played tonight, I needed that defensive game to finally have the chance to be offensive, no?” said Nadal. “When he was hitting, it’s true that maybe it was difficult to beat him even if I was at my 100%. But probably will be a little bit more fight.”

He will have to wait, again, to become the first man in the Open Era to bag each of the majors at least twice.

No stranger to injury heartbreak at the Australian Open, this defeat won’t hurt Nadal as much since he was never really into the match. It was unlike in 2012, when he rallied to force a fifth set and led the decider 4-2, or when he fell to Djokovic in five sets in the Wimbledon semifinals last July.

“In terms of mental pain, it’s harder the semifinals of Wimbledon than this one,” he said. “In the semifinals of Wimbledon, I was so close and I was playing so well, having a lot of matches in a row, winning Roland Garros, playing so well on clay. I had that extra intensity in that moment.

“For me, it was a big chance lost to win another Wimbledon. Tonight I didn’t have that chance. It’s easier to forget, yes.”

Irrespective of that, no player has ever got into Nadal’s head like Djokovic.

Flying start

The latter came out flying, while Nadal appeared tentative.

He only conceded one point in the first three games and only gave up one point on serve in the entire first set.

He smothered Nadal, who, seemingly frazzled by his own start, showed little of his previous sparkle.

To sum up his woes, Nadal even whiffed on a forehand in the seventh game of the first.

That first set was always going to be pivotal. Djokovic held a 17-1 record against the Spaniard when winning the first set away from Nadal’s favored clay, with the solitary reverse coming courtesy of a retirement at Wimbledon in 2007.

Shots Nadal executed with little fuss turned into unforced errors, much like when Federer would err on seemingly simple shots in a phase when Nadal bossed their head-to-heads.

A case in point came on Nadal’s lone break point at 2-3 in the third. With time to rip a backhand cross court, he sent his drive into the net.

A psychological battle, this tennis.

Djokovic has now beaten Nadal in eight straight hard-court outings and in nine of their past 11 matches overall, aided by a crosscourt backhand that his foe might have nightmares about.

“I don’t want to say I figured him out because I don’t want that to bounce back at me in any way in the future,” said Djokovic. “I might have figured him out for the match, but not for life.

“I’m sure we’re still going to have a lot of matches against each other on different surfaces. I look forward to it. I really hope we will because this rivalry has been the most significant rivalry, the one that impacted me on a personal and professional level than most in my life.”

Nadal sent a backhand long on a second championship point, before shaking umpire James Keothavong’s hand, then Djokovic’s.

Djokovic proceeded to drop to his knees at Rod Laver Arena in celebration.

He was again the king of Melbourne and is still the king of the tennis world.