Europe’s elite competed this week for the remaining places for the last 16 of the Champions League.
There is again a sense of deja vu with seemingly the same 12/14 teams qualifying for the knockout stage.
This is a problem which UEFA must address, with the fundamental flaw in the Champions League lying with the draw system.
Firstly, the draw for the group stages is made based on seedings determined by UEFA. The seedings are judged on the strength of the federation of which a team belongs to.
Here lies the first issue. A league’s quality may not accurately represent the respective ability of a team which plays in that league. A prime example of this is in the 12/13 La Liga season where Real Sociadad qualified for the 13/14 Champions League by finishing fourth.
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The strength that Barcelona and Real gave to the league was far greater than what Sociadad brought, represented by the difference of 34 points between themselves and Champions Barcelona in that season.
Another factor which determines the seeding of a team is European history. Arsenal for instance have now qualified for the knockout-stage 15 years in succession, which is taken into account by UEFA with Arsenal being put in pot 1 for this year's draw; meaning they face none of the other decided top seven teams in Europe.
Then there is Roma, who accumulated 85 points in Serie A last season resulting in a second place finish. Though the fact that they have been absent from the UCL for three seasons now meant that they were dumped in pot 4 for the draw. Is that fair? Are Arsenal really 'three pots' superior to Roma?
Furthermore, the fact that Liverpool and City both finished higher than The Gunners last season and were put in lower pots than Arsenal emphasises the injustice of the system that UEFA uses for the UCL draw.
We then get Benfica and Porto, who have little trouble filling the three UCL places on offer in the Portuguese League year on year. This means that they are seeded highly as they have frequently reached at least the group stage, but how hard is it really to finish in the top three in Portugal?
Moving on to the draw for the knockout stages, there is another case of hideous injustice. Similarly to the group stages, teams from the same federation cannot face one another which significantly limits any possibility of seeing a thrilling Manchester derby or El Clasico at all in the Champions League. Nice one UEFA.
Then we have the group winners playing the group runners up. That in hindsight is a good and fair way of doing things. However when you get a situation where the group winner faces a group runner-up that happens to be Bayern or Barca, you then have teams effectively being punished for topping their group.
Some credit must be given to UEFA though, as next season will be the start of the new seeding system where the top team in each domestic league will be in pot 1, second place finisher in the domestic league in pot 2 and so on.
But it should not have taken them this long though to sort out such a blatant flaw in the system. However, the knockout stage draw will still continue to have the potential of punishing teams that top their group.
All in all though, it could be argued that nobody should expect any easy games in the last 16. Though however the Champions League evolves, as long as it continues to give us great nights of top quality football, then it will continue to be loved by (almost) every fan and player alike.
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