Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fixing the Champions League

Today we are here to fix the Champions League. And, no, this isn't Abramovich type fixing.

Okay, it might not even be broken, but doing some really bad mental accounting, it seems that the number of lackluster semi-final matches over the past couplathree years is high. Well, there are only a handful of matches, so maybe I should say the percentage is high.

It might just be due to the fact that Liverpool and Chelsea keep running into each other, but both semi-final tilts from the 2005-2006 run also come to mind. The return leg of the Arsenal v. Villareal match might have been the least attractive futbol match ever played at that level. In total six hours of semi-final soccer produced two goals. Even that overstates how exciting the four matches were. And that's with only one Italian team present.

This week's first round matches were no prizes either. A dull affair at Anfield highlighted by a comic own goal with the ref probably lifting the whistle to his mouth. And a Barca v. United match where the Red Devils' offense consisted of Ronaldo hitting the ground anytime a Barca player came near him in the attacking third.

Sorry, these are the supposed to be the best clubs in the world, playing top flight soccer. I don't want to say it needs to be a goalfest lest I look like a fucking hypocrite, but I'd like to see some tactics that are based on something more than, "Well, if we get a 0-0 draw, we get the return leg at home and, when I bully the refs, Ronaldo might get one of those calls."

So, with that in mind, maybe it's time to tinker with the Champions League. And it's a pretty simple tinker. Basically, make it look more like the World Cup.

1) Make the Knock-Out Stages a Single Match: That's right. No home-and-away. One match. Winner goes on. Loser goes home.

The spillover benefit of this is that it does away with the silly away-goals rule.

Every match has it's own character. The pitch, the weather, the refs, all impact that game. Even from one week to the next there can be a change in match-fit players that will impact the offensive (or defensive) make-up of the tilt. Should you really go home because you drew 2-2 at home but only 1-1 on the road? It's kind of stupid. What if the return leg goes to extra time?

It just happened to Getafe against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. More time on the clock gave both teams the chance to score, but because it was at Getafe, Bayern's goals moved them on.

Additionally this will take a few fixtrues off the already overcrowded schedule. I'm sure United would like a couple of fewer miles on their legs as they head into this weekend's match with Chelsea.

But won't someone have a home advantage? No, just make it a neutral site game. Moreover, that might take the refs out of the match a little bit. Was the penalty given to Babel in the semi legit? Was either card given to Mazzerati in the quarters warranted? Nobody but Lingering Bursitis thinks so (okay, maybe the second, but definitely not the first). Were the calls influenced by the Anfield crowd? Probably.

Pity for such huge matches to turn on something so capricious instead of the play on the pitch. This isn't to suggest that the officiating will magically become better, it just might be less susceptible to crowd influence.

Of course single-elimination will never happen because, among other things, it means leaving money on the table. Two matches bring in more gate than one. Okay, fine. Just double the ticket prices. You're telling me these matches won't still sell-out?

2) Seed the Knock-Out stages: Chelsea draws Olympiacos and Fenerbahce. Seriously? Must be nice having a thug Russian billionaire running your club. Just seed the thing. I'm not going to quiblle over criteria. This year's first round: United v. Schalke. Inter v. Olympiacos. Madrid v. Fenerbahce. There will still be upsets.

3) There is no three.

In fact, number two is just me bitching that Chelsea had an easy path quite literally due to "the luck of the draw."

I just want to see teams at this level playing to win, playing attacking football. Right now, that seems to be more of an exception. Yesterday, United had little interest in doing much more than sitting back and absorbing Barca's onslaught. Seriously, the top team in Europe's top league ceded 65% of the possession? Please.

And it's not like they are going to come out firing at home. They know as long as they win at home, they are on to the final, but more importantly they have to guard against the away goal. So they are going to play a tentative first 45. Guarantee it. The only way that match turns exciting is if Barca does score early and United now need 2 goals.


The Fan's Attic said...

Must have been that time of the month for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Eladio said...

When I saw the post title, I assumed this was an expose on how Rafa paid off the refs in the Quarterfinals.

Autoglass said...

Well, if "the" Arsenal would just play themselves into April with some frequency they might bring the beautiful football to these matches and relieve us all of this stifling play that bores you so.

Precious Roy said...

Autoglass: "the" Arsenal was largely responsible for that 0-0 draw at Villareal that made me want to gouge my own eyes out. It was one of the few times I've seen Wenger suffocate play to get the scoreless result knowing it would advance them.