Future Champions League Dilution Could Make Epic Semi-Finals A Thing Of The Past

Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a modern classic at the Etihad
15:00, 27 Apr 2022

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it! The gripping 90 minutes we were treated to in the seven-goal thriller as Manchester City beat Real Madrid 4-3 showed us why the current Champions League format is perfect the way it is. 

It was just over a year ago when football’s elite tried to force the European Super League into being and Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez said that the set-up we have at the moment does not keep the attention of young fans because the games aren’t interesting enough - what a load of rubbish!

The spectacle at the Etihad was one of the finest first legs to a Champions League semi-final that we have ever seen and if Perez believes these types of matches are boring then he must be the only one in Europe who feels that way. While the out of touch European Super League was quickly shut down, Perez has more or less got what he wanted with the impending reform to the Champions League format. 

The 36 teams that form the traditional four-team groups will be placed into one giant pool and will each play 10 fixtures split equally home and away. It is as yet unknown how the teams will be seeded but we already know that this has been created so Perez and the other financial-obsessed club leaders can get extra revenue from more tasty contests before the knockout stages.

It’s ironic that Perez doesn’t seem to realise that what he’s been after - the attention of younger people - will lessen once these changes come in. If the bigger clubs are facing each other more frequently in the groups, then their knockout stages meetings will be diluted. The anticipation in the build-up to the ties will be dampened and it will also weaken the quality of the games themselves. 

He cannot seem to process the awe-factor of having two of the best teams of their respective nations avoiding each other until the latter stages of the tournament. Why would he and UEFA want to tamper with a format that is working just fine? Of course it’s money, but it is just another sad reminder of the financially-driven route football is taking.

Tuesday night’s match was great, not just for the quality of the two teams on show but because they had only ever met two times in the Champions League knockout stages in the past. Given their domestic strength, they haven't met in the group stage before, and it would be better if it stayed that way. The changes from 2024-25 will undoubtedly see these sides meet every couple of years before the knockout stages and that is not something most supporters are happy about.

By having these teams go head-to-head on a more frequent basis in meaningless games, not only does it allow them to figure out what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are by the time they could be drawn to play each other again in the knockout stages, but it ruins the chances of the satisfying goal-fests in which both teams are fully committed. The changes will likely encourage matches that are played like a game of chess. Slow, tactical and if anything is going to struggle to keep the attention of young fans, it’s games like that - and it won’t just be the younger generation who will lose interest. 

Just imagine how less attractive the Champions League final would be if the finalists had already met each other in the group stage.

Take this season for example, we have already seen the two best teams in England, City and Liverpool play each other three times. Two of their meetings have been 2-2 draws while the other a 3-2 win for the Reds in the recent FA Cup semi-final. 

Both their league fixtures gave us the exact same result and although the games were great to watch, this won’t be the same in the Champions League final. With the best sides constantly facing one another in the group stage it will kill the excitement of such ties taking place in the latter stages of the competition.

Another example of a big fixture being overplayed and thus losing the buzz that it usually generates was when Barcelona and Real Madrid met four times in the space of two-and-a-half weeks back in 2011 - once in the league, the Copa del Rey final and two legs of the Champions League semi-final. 

Today marks the anniversary of the first leg in which Lionel Messi scored that memorable solo goal where he zipped through the Real Madrid players before slotting the ball into the bottom corner as Barca took a two goal advantage away from the Bernabeu. Out of the four quickfire games the majestic El Clasico was played in this period, this was the only game that lived up to the billing.

This is evidence that increasing the volume of the more glamorous fixtures in Europe is not going to make the product better, at least on the pitch. The decision to freshen it up was in the commercial interest of the competition and the clubs who are looking to further lining their pockets. They have tried to hypnotise people into thinking they are trying to save the Champions League by promising a better group stage, but in a few years time we'll likely be writing how the new arrangement was the worst thing that ever happened to Europe’s most prestigious competition.

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