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Predictable Champions League is bested by Europa League


Atletico Madrid’s elimination from the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday at the hands of local rival Real Madrid effectively ended the interest of many neutrals in the competition. In this era of Financial Fair Play (FFP), the Champions League has become so predictable that for each of the last six seasons, two of these three teams (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and FC Bayern) have been in each semi-final, while in three of the last four seasons each of those three teams have made the semifinals.

Diego Simeone, Atleti’s manager, has been criticized by some including Bayern’s President Karl-Heinz Rummenigge for his tactical approach to Champions League matches. But Simeone has simply adjusted to a reality in this era which is that his club with its resources cannot compete without playing a style elites might consider negative and boring. But Simeone’s other option is to unilaterally disarm against the long odds provided non-elite clubs in today’s Champions League.

The Champions League could get more exciting next season with a new seeding process announced on Thursday. It better become more compelling because this year the second-tier Europa League has been far less predictable and far more entertaining than UEFA’s showcase competition.

Thursday’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal second leg between Zenit and Sevilla was one of the most exciting knockout stage matches of any competition this season. The comeback of Zenit in front of an enthusiastic St Petersburg crowd was finally cancelled out by a late Sevilla winner and the holders advanced to the semifinals by the narrowest of margins. To this point, the Champions League has failed to provide any sort of similar drama.

This has continued a clear pattern over the last few seasons in UEFA competitions where the Champions League doesn’t really capture the imagination of neutral fans. By contrast, the Europa League has thrown up some genuine surprises at the group stage and continues that excitement right through the competition. The balance of teams and competitiveness of the competition has made for exciting and compelling football, and has exposed fans to some teams that aren’t normally household names. The Champions League Group Stages are a complete bore and the Round of 16 was interesting this season simply because it exposed the weakness of England’s Premier League in continental competitions.

The era of FFP has sorted out the haves and have nots in European football. The haves consist of three or four clubs while the have nots include everyone else. Very few clubs can actually compete for a Champions League title in this day and age – the days of the likes of Porto, Marseille, AS Monaco or Bayer Leverkusen reaching a Champions League final are behind us. Even the recent successes of Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid cannot hide the reality of the staleness of most Champions League fixtures – they will be won by the team that spends the most money or has the most inherent institutional advantages. The three teams that benefit the most from this are once again still alive at the semifinal stage of the Champions League.

The elite clubs of Europe, as evidenced by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s dismissive attitude toward Atletico and his previous statements about Manchester City, have seen continental football and the supremacy that comes with it as a private playground. Thank goodness for the Europa League. which has provided exciting midweek football with some clubs we do not get to see often.


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  1. rkujay

    April 25, 2015 at 6:10 am


    If the ‘neutral’s’ idea of a good match is one involving the sisters of the poor against vaguely familiar (other) teams then the Europa league is for you. Bayern is no financial powerhouse. Nor is Atletico. The European clubs are built to play in the Champions League. The fault in the Premier League is that these teams are built to win the domestic league. The Champions League appearances suffer for it.
    I’d prefer to see the best club teams in the world. You can have your Thursday League, thank you very much.

  2. Ivan

    April 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Well written article, Kartik.

    The gap between the Spanish giants and Bayern Munchen and then everyone else in Europe is huge, simply huge.

    Very few teams can have a chance against a team fielding Messi, Neymar and Suarez in the starting lineup.

    Just look at the following 4 world class players that said “Bye Bye” to the Premier League in recent times to join the Spanish giants: Ronaldo, Bale, Modric, Suarez, before that Xabi Alonso…no wonder the Premier League this season is not enjoyable. The only thing that keeps my interest is whether Leicester can survive the drop. Everything else is a done deal, and the quality of play is as poor as I can remember. It is difficult to sit through a full game of the new champion, Chelsea…

    Zenit-Sevilla was by all accounts a great game, too bad I had to work…

    Don’t get me wrong, I am licking my chops for Barca-Bayern, and so is everyone else, I bet.

    But you are right, the days of Monaco, Leverkusen, Marseilles getting to the CL final are long gone.

    And if I have to sit through 2 more group stage games between Dortmund and Arsenal…ugh…at least UEFA is tweaking the format for next season.

  3. NaBUru38

    April 24, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    I think that the financial fair play rules prevent investors from building a team from nothing. Fans want to see classic rivalries, not Hoffenheims and RB leipzigs.

    Arabs anyway have eluded the rules by self sponsoring the teams.

    The problem of boring group phases would be resolved by splitting teams into six groups, rather than eight. This would increase the number of matches betwren top te A ms.

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