Thoughts on European Super League & Champions League Quarter Finals

I heard something during one of the many podcasts I listen to that pinballed around my brain until one night I woke up with the realization that I am actually against a European Super League.  Here is where I have been and where I am going.

In my early years of following soccer, I had a hard enough time trying to figure which competition was which.  Champions League, Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup.  How do you qualify again?  And what is the away goals rule?  And where is this team from?  With coverage hard enough to come by and so many games all overEurope, how was a newbie supposed to keep track?  I started really following the Champions League during the 1996 knockout stages as Juventus brought the trophy home after a shootout victory over Ajax.  The group stages were still a bit much and it wasn’t until the 1998/1999 edition that I was able to watch the tournament from start to finish, and that was only because FC Barcelona and Manchester United were drawn in the same group.

Just after that edition of the competition, the G14 was formed as a possible route to a European Super League in which the rich and powerful would withdraw from UEFA and create a competition that would give them what they really wanted—more money and more control.  At the time, I was like yeah.  Give me some of that.  As each new version of EA Sports FIFA Soccer would come out, I would set up a hypothetical Super League and see how my constructed teams would fare in such a competition.

Eventually, tensions calmed down somewhat between clubs and UEFA and the G14 gave way to the European Club Association, which addressed the key concern of club teams—international call-ups and resulting injuries and compensation.  So now everyone is sort of getting along or at least at a cease fire, although club presidents will fire off a shot now and then, especially with Financial Fair Play in the future.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I actually want to stay with the current format.  No you don’t.  Well yes I do.  The group stages can bog down at points, but there is always one group that goes completely against the form book.  Plus there are the occasional big games.  In the fall of 2011, FCB and AC Milan faced off in two exciting, interesting games.  While both teams were always going to progress, it still showcased the clubs and gave fans a taste of the knockout.  An added bonus is the exposure to the smaller clubs, learning how to pronounce the names, a little history and possible up and coming stars.  Say what you want about Platini, his slight restructuring of the European club competitions has paid dividends.  Yes, some of the minnows are completely out of their depth, but then you get Shaktar making the quarters in 2011 and Apoel reaching the same stage in 2012.

Let’s be fair, the knockout is where the action is, with games of passion and drama and excitement (except when teams got rolled 7-0).  The current group stage practically insures that most of the 16 teams left are from a major league, but it does ensure quality in those matches.  Now I wouldn’t say that the current format ensures the best team wins, I refer you to 2004, as Porto and Monaco were not the best teams in Europe that year, but the competition is a cup and these things happen once in a while.

Maybe I don’t want to see United v FC Barcelona or AC Milan against Real Madrid every week.  The constant clashes, year after year, would lose their luster, weird as that sounds.  Right now, big teams face each once in a while, bringing value and gloss to the confrontation.  And think about the minnows of Europe’s Super Powers.  You really think Benfica and Ajaxand Marseille want to prop up a Super League table season after season, knowing that can’t win playing these mega teams week after week, year after year?

So that’s where I am right now.  Say no to a European Super League.  And remember that the domestic league is the foundation of everything.  For every epic match between Bayern and Liverpool on Wednesday, there is Liverpool v Stoke or Norwich or Blackburn game on Saturday that is just as important. I definitely lost sight of that component during the early 2000’s and now that I follow leagues on a week in week out basis, this aspect has made itself quite clear.  So enjoy the Champions League, enjoy the Europa League, but always leave the competitions wanting more because when you wish for something, you just might get it.

Now I’ll get off my soapbox, and look the 2012 Champions League brackets.

The draw could provide absolutely earth shattering semi-final match-ups.

Champions League draw – Quarter-finals

APOEL Nicosia

v

Real Madrid

Marseille

v

Bayern Munich

Benfica

v

Chelsea

AC Milan

v

Barcelona

Champions League draw – Semi-finals

Marseille or Bayern Munich

v

APOEL or Real Madrid

Benfica or Chelsea

v

Milan or Barcelona

Let’s get Real Madrid out of the way.  The Cypriot feel good story will come to a screeching halt as Los Merengues will be back in the semis as they search for their tenth title, a decade on from that magical night at Hampden Park.

Bayern Munich against Marseille should be pretty straight forward.  Even without Schweinsteiger, Die Roten should progress, but the French team is hard to break down so it’s possible there could be an upset on the cards here, especially if the Germans can not shake off their inconsistent form.

On the other half of the table, Chelsea will battle Benfica to get to the next round.  Who knows what’s going to happen in this tie?  I don’t know anything about the Portuguese team, and have to wonder did the Blues shoot their wad against Napoli or do they have enough in the tank to give it one more go?

Then there’s Barcelona against AC Milan.  Their games in the group stage were fantastic and the rematch should be fascinating.  If Juve keep drawing, then Milan could have the title wrapped up and focus on this tournament, and a full strength squad could give FCB all they can handle.  The Blaugrana know the title is beyond them so I’m interested to see how Pep balances the competitions.  I see a score draw in Milan and a narrow FCB win at the Nou Camp.

So here are the possible semi-final pairings:

Real Madridv Bayern Munich

Chelsea v FC Barcelona

Take a moment and let that soak in.  Think about all the talent and all the sub plots and all the history involved in those games.  That would be must see TV.  Everything seems to moving towards an El Clasico final but I have my doubts.  It’s about the journey not the destination right?

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