European Super League has come and gone, but the Champions League still stands as one of the best European football competitions with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. This article looks at why this is so despite increasingly less teams qualifying for the competition.
The “soccer champions league” is not only the best in Europe, but it also proves why it is still the best of the best. The Champions League has been around for a long time, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Barcelona might exit the Champions League this week, while Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland has already done so, and AC Milan’s 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic could spark a spectacular round-of-16 qualification. If you still need persuading that the Champions League is OK the way it is, the next two days should provide unmistakable evidence.
It’s not only the big names that have their fates up in the air heading into matchday six. All four clubs in Group G — Lille, FC Salzburg, Sevilla, and Wolfsburg — have a chance to advance.
Of course, a large number of clubs have already secured their spot in the knockout round. Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Manchester United have all qualified for the round of 16 draw on December 13, while Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Juventus have also qualified.
But, with memories still fresh of the failed attempt by 12 clubs to form a breakaway European Super League (ESL) in April, when some of the game’s most powerful teams unveiled proposals to create an exclusive new competition that would have killed the Champions League as we know it, it’s perhaps a sweet irony that Barcelona, one of the main drivers of the ESL plan, is now desperately attempting to stay in a competition they were so eager to leave.
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If Barcelona fails to overcome Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, they will depend on Dynamo Kiev to defeat Benfica in Lisbon to give Xavi Hernandez’s squad a chance to advance to the round of 16.
That’s all there is to it. Barcelona, a club that has dominated the Champions League for the last two decades, might find itself in need of a favor from one of the clubs whose European futures would have been jeopardized if the ESL rebels had been successful in pushing through their lucrative breakaway league.
Barcelona hasn’t been to the knockout rounds since the 2003-04 season, so their fight for survival is the focus of matchday six. However, the league has produced a number of other intriguing tales over the group stages, setting up a compelling final round of matchups.
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We’ve already witnessed the incredible narrative of Sheriff Tiraspol, the Moldovan champions, who overcame Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu to win Group D after two victories in two games in their debut participation in the group stage.
Young Boys overcame Manchester United 3-0 at home in Group F, while Benfica’s 3-0 success over Barcelona at Estadio da Luz in September stunned the Spanish giants, leaving them requiring a win against Bayern to clinch their progression (though they also go through if Benfica fail to beat Dynamo).
Despite Dortmund appearing to be strong favorites to win Group C, Erik ten Hag’s impressive young Ajax team secured top spot with five wins from five games so far, while Sporting Lisbon claimed second place thanks to a 3-1 home win over Dortmund last month, dropping Haaland & Co. into the Europa League.
Janusz Michallik wonders why Borussia Dortmund can’t overcome Bayern Munich, despite the Bundesliga champions winning for the seventh time in a row.
Liverpool have also won five of their five games in Group B, but Jurgen Klopp’s side head to Italy on Tuesday to play AC Milan, who, despite losing their opening three games in the campaign, are still in with a chance of qualifying. Milan’s losing skid was ended with a 1-1 draw against Porto at San Siro last month, but a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in Spain on matchday five gave Stefano Pioli’s squad a chance if they defeat Liverpool and Porto lose to Atletico at Estadio do Dragao.
Even in Group H, where Chelsea and Juventus have dominated, the last few games are crucial. After five games, both teams have 12 points and are vying for first position and a slot among the seeds in the draw.
But maybe all of this final-game uncertainty is exactly why the ESL teams decided to leave the Champions League’s competitive aspect. With so much money and prestige on the line if they don’t make it to the knockout stage, the prospect of a closed shop competition, in which the huge finances are shared among the biggest clubs, appeals to those owners and executives who don’t want their slice of the pie threatened by a resurgent Ajax or a resurgent Benfica.
The ESL project’s backers underlined the necessity for football and the Champions League to evolve in order for the sport to stay relevant to the general audience. Yes, the Champions League may be predictably unpredictable at times, but the group stage this season has shown why it is the premier tournament in the sport. It doesn’t need to be changed to be relevant. Big clubs are collapsing, top players are being relegated to the Europa League, and some well-known historical teams are showing indications of regaining their previous glory.
It’s not what the owners and executives want, but the Champions League provided a group stage that still has plenty of tales to tell this week, just when we needed it to remind us why it’s the greatest of the best.
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