I’m not sure yet about the new and improved Champions League format. Thirty-two teams battling over six match days to get to 16 teams. Then six more match days before we get to know the quarter-finalists. It obviously has it’s plus side with all these extra clashes that wouldn’t otherwise have happened to be enjoyed and it may well prove to be marketing genius at work also.
I am bound to say that I liked it the way it was. Lots of innovation went into all the changes up to last year. The resulting competition was a treat and we got to savour results and time to look forward to the next game. The gaps between match days allowed appropriate respect for domestic leagues and ensured full commitment to them.
Take English side Chelsea for example and their last seven days. Travel to Turkey for a Champions League game versus Galatasaray. (Win 5-0). Return to London for a top of the table clash with Arsenal. (Lose 3-2, dramatically after leading 2-0 with 15 minutes to go). Travel to Italy to play AC Milan at the San Siro stadium in a potentially huge Champions League clash. (Tie 1-1). Now I like Chelsea as much as the next man, and they certainly play attractive soccer under Gianluca Vialli. But in any other year up to now, they would not be participating in the Champions League, since they finished third in the Premier League.
My point is that they achieved two magnificent results in Europe, and one potentially very damaging result at home. I’m not saying that Arsenal could not win at Stamford Bridge anyway, but Chelsea had one eye on the trip to Italy with fifteen minutes to go on Saturday when they thought they had the points in the bag. It may well be that UEFA has gone too far this time and should have left well enough alone. When Champions League games are meaningless – witness half of match day six games next week – it seems to me that the pure soccer fan would be better off without this “early” round. That’s the view as I see it.