Last night’s Champions League results made me think, once again, about the structure the competition. The thrashing of Celtic at the hands of PSG (Pot 2) and Chelsea’s (Pot 1) demolition of Qarabag FK were examples of elite teams taking on an opponent that qualified via the playoff’s ‘Champions Route’ and were seeded in Pot 4 for the group stages.
To give the background to this first. For the 09/10 Champions League a new system was introduced that created two separate qualifying tournaments prior to the group stages. The Champions Route was established for clubs that win their domestic league competition but do not automatically qualify for the Group Stages. Generally speaking, this has allowed historically smaller clubs from weaker leagues to have entrants in the Group Stages of the Champions league.The non-champions route, which begins from the third qualifying round, is reserved for clubs that do not win their domestic league.
While this may be good in terms of representation, I think it’s having implications for uncertainty of outcome – many groups are now dead rubbers.
Looking at the basic stats for team that qualified via the Champions Route and were seeded in Pot 4 lends to this view:
- Since the introduction of the new system in 09/10 only two Champions Route teams have qualified from the group stages – APEOL and Celtic. Three quarters of the team’s finish last in the group. Seven teams have lost all six group matches.
- Since 09/10, from the 34 teams that qualified via this means, and were placed in pot 4, only 118 points have been collected over eight seasons of the Champions League.
- Only 22 points have been collected when playing against top seeds, and top seeds have been defeated only 4 times. CFR Cluj, Celtic, BATE Borisov and APOEL have this honour.
- The top seeds have scored 78 goals away from home against the Champions Route teams and a sizable 109 goals at home. These teams have only scored 26 home goals and 13 away. Half of the 34 Champions Route teams failed to score in both the home and away match against the top seed.
- Commonly, there is a four goal difference between the top and bottom seed in a qualifier. Many examples exist: Barcelona 7-0 Celtic, Bayern Munich 5-0 Dinamo Zagreb, Real 8-0 Malmö FF, Maccabi Tel Aviv 0-4 Chelsea (both home and away), Chelsea 6-0 Maribor, Athletico 5-0 Malmö FF, APOEL 0-4 Barcalona, Real Madrid 4-0 Ludogorets Razgrad, Porto 6-0 BATE Borisov, Athletic 4-0 Austria Wien, Bayern Munich 5-0 Viktoria Plzeň, Barcelona 6-1 Celtic, Steaua București 0-4 Cheslea, Chelsea 5-0 Genk, Dinamo Zagreb 2-6 Real Madrid, Viktoria Plzeň 0-4 Barcelona.
While looking at Champions League groups before the changes still suggests to Pot 4 seeds are the least likely to qualify (and the odd trashing still happens), the variation within groups regarding team quality doesn’t appear to be as great. Maybe it is worth it for the money of maybe it’s time for UEFA to start re-thinking things.