Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What is Wrong with the UEFA Champions League

One more day left in he Champions League Group Stage and almost everything is settled except for Groups G and H. Porto a Portuguese powerhouse just needs a win at home over Leicester City and Sevilla just needs a tie in France when they play Lyon.

Outside of placeing, everything is done and dusted. What has became a trend in the last few years has became UEFA's worst nightmare this year as the group stage has been anything but dramatic. \

The best thing about sport, and maybe sport tournaments is the opportunity for Cinderellas to surprise and make a big run in the tournament. Most notably this happens in March Madness, like in 2006 when George Mason came out of nowhere to get to the Final Four.

In a way, the UEFA Champions League resembles quite a bit. There are 55 countries in UEFA compared to the 32 conferences NCAA basketball has. In Champions League, each country gets a different number of allocated berths similarly to March Madness. 

However, the one key difference is parity. Right now, the parity level in European soccer is at a all time low. There hasn't been a Cinderella in the Champions League since Galatasaray   a Turkish power surprised everyone after advancing to the Quarterfinals in the 2012-2013 Champions League season. Over the years previously, there has been a Cinderella every 2-3 years or so. Unfortunately, lately it has become rarer as the years have gone on.  

In fact, the last time a team outside the big four countries ( Spain, Germany, England and Italy) was the 2004-05 competition when PSV Eindhoven the dutch team narrowly missed out on getting to the final.

Again, over the years there has been a big dominance of power in from the Top three leagues.

This is part of the reason the Champions League has became "boring" over the years. It has been a for gone conclusion that one of four teams will win the Champions League. One of the three heavyweights or Bayern Munich.

Why is this the case? Like the NBA, the Champions League is also a steep gap between the rich and the poor and that doesn't give dark horses much of a chance.

There are two reasons why we have seen a decreasing number of small teams having success in the UEFA Champions League.

The first reason is the super team affect. Teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal all have super amazing teams when it comes to the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. The problem is, I just named five teams that dominate. The thing is there are only eight groups so the likely hood of being paired with one of those teams is over 50% Therefore, if your a Dinamo Zagreb or Legia Warsaw that are a in the Group stage due to overachieving, qualifying for the knockout stage is next to impossible especially when it's hard to collect maximum points at home.

Futhermore, another change that was hindered the chance of any dark horses is the new draw format. As of last year, the champions from the top seven leagues were automatically put in Pot one. While this has been beneficial to teams like Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, it has had a negative consequence on the teams happy to be there like Copenhagen and Ludogorets Razgrad because the potential is there to be placed with both Arsenal and Real Madrid and that leads to groups almost being over before they even get started.

Changes are coming starting in the fall of 2018, what it will mean to the smaller teams in the smaller countries is unclear right now.

What's wrong is the Champions League Group stage is too easy to predict. The last time a team outside of the Big three countries was 2004 when Porto won it all. At this point, Porto making the Final let alone the Semi Finals seems like a pipe dream right now.        

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