UEFA Champions League
The UEFA Champions League season kicked off just about two weeks ago. It is the most elite club competition in Europe for the world's most popular sport, soccer. As Americans, it can be difficult to find a team to root for in Europe, especially if you are new to the sport. It can also be hard to understand the format of the Champions League, as it is nothing like the professional leagues we have here. Today I will be explaining how the competition works, as well as helping you find the perfect team for you.
Qualifying for the Competition
Thirty-two teams from all across the continent enter the group stages in eight groups of four. To qualify, you must finish high enough in your domestic league in the previous season. Every league has a certain amount of qualifying spots. For example, the English league (the Premier League) has a minimum of four spots and can get up to five in certain situations, while the French league (Ligue 1), has a minimum of two spots. The number of spots given to each league is determined by the UEFA Coefficient, which ranks each league on how their clubs have performed in the last five seasons of UEFA competitions (Champions League and Europa League).
Some countries do not have guaranteed spots, however, in these cases, they will have two-legged playoffs against other teams trying to qualify until they fill up the 32-team requirement.
As I mentioned earlier, there are eight groups of four teams. They hold the draw for the groups in late August once every team has officially qualified. The requirements for the draw, according to the official UEFA website are as follows.
The teams who qualify are split up into four pots. Pot A hold the previous Champions League winner (in this case it is Liverpool), the previous Europa League winner (in this case Chelsea), and the previous champions of the top six leagues in Europe. The following three pots are sorted from best teams to worst according to their respective UEFA rankings. Each of the eight groups is required to have at least one team from each pot. Finally, no two teams from the same country are allowed to be in the same group.
The groups for this season are below.
This is where the competition officially begins. Each team plays the three other teams in their group twice, one home and one away. It uses the normal soccer point system, so a win will give you three points, a draw will give you one, and a loss results in none. To escape the group stages the rules are simple, finish in the top two of your group. A third-place finish in the group will see your side move down into the Europa League, a similar league to the Champions League but way less competitive. A fourth-place finish in the group will see your club eliminated from all European soccer all together until next season.
If there is a tie on points, the tie-breaker for this season according to UEFA is the head-to-head record. This means that during the two games the involved teams played, the team with the most goals wins the tie-breaker. If the two teams scored the same amount of goals through the two games, it goes to the team who scored the most away goals.
The knock-out rounds start in February and are typically where things start to heat up. The teams that advanced through the group stages are now entered into another draw for the round of 16. The rules for this draw are that no two teams from the same country may be drawn against each other, no two teams from the same group may be drawn against each other, and the first-placed teams in the eight groups must be drawn against the second-placed teams.
From the round of 16 to the semi-finals, the teams involved will play two-legged ties to determine who may advance. This means the teams drawn against each other will play each other twice, home and away, and the team with the most goals goes through. The away goals rule for ties the group stages also apply here, so if the teams are tied after two games, the team with the most away goals advances. If the two teams are tied on goals and away goals, they play 30 minutes of extra time. If there is still no winner, they go to penalty kicks until there is a winner. After the round of 16, there are no rules for the draw for the quarter-final and semi-final. Any club can be drawn against any club.
The Champions League Final is one game, not two like the previous three rounds. There is no “home” team for the final as the venue for the event is determined over a year in advance. If there is no winner after 90 minutes, it goes into 30 minutes of extra time, followed by penalty kicks if necessary.
How to find a club
Finding a team from across the world to support is odd. It’s not like we have a hometown team to root for. For me, I just watched tons of games and fell in love with a club in London called Tottenham Hotspur. Now, I will die for that club. Not everyone is lucky enough to just be attracted to a club and support them. That’s what I'm here for. For the rest of this article, I will make sure you have a reason to tune in this season for the Champions League.
Does your team have to win?
Are you a bandwagon fan? Do you root for the Warriors, Patriots, Yankees, Dodgers, or maybe even the Bulls in the ’90s? If so, your options are narrowed down to Liverpool, Manchester City, and Barcelona. If you are a fan of individual talent, I recommend Barcelona (because of Messi, duh). If you are a bandwagoner, yet still want to see a team win it who never has before, Manchester City is for you. According to Fivethrityeight.com, Manchester City are the favorites as of right now with a 27 percent chance to win the final. If you are one of the boring people in the world and would like to see the same team win it back to back, I guess you have to rock with Liverpool.
...Or do you want a team that has no chance in hell?
If that is the case, Slavia Prague, Genk, and Red Star Belgrade are for you. These are like the FCS football teams (like Stephen F. Austin) that try to go head-to-head with a big dog like Baylor. It hardly ever works out. I highly advise not supporting these clubs because they might not even be in the Champions League next season. According to fivethirtyeight.com, 18 teams have less than a one percent chance to win the tournament, with Genk only having a two percent chance just to escape their group.
Maybe you just want to root for some fellow Americans over there in Europe. I suggest Chelsea, RB Salzburg, and RB Leipzig. Chelsea, a club from London, has one of America’s brightest stars, Christian Pulisic. The former Dortmund winger is from Hershey, Pennsylvania. RB Salzburg has the only American coach in Europe. Jesse Marsch is a Wisconsin-native who went from New York Red Bull to Red Bull Salzburg. Speaking of Red Bull teams, Tyler Adams is another American star performing well in Europe. He also took the Red Bull route, going from New York Red Bull to the german side in Leipzig.
If you would rather listen to me and pick a favorite team based strictly on my opinion, I would highly recommend Tottenham Hotspur. The London club has been apart of my life for so long and has put me through hell, but I will support them until I die. They have never won the title so a victory would make it so much sweeter than if you were to root for someone who has one it multiple times. The other teams I support are all German clubs because, in my opinion, the Bundesliga is the best league in the world. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayer Leverkusen are all very fun to watch. They play fast and score a lot of goals if that is what you are a fan of.