THE UEFA Champions League return is scheduled for 7 August, but is the improvised format fair to every team?
The Champions League Return Format
The competition will return with the remaining Round of 16 legs, which are as follows:
- Barcelona vs Napoli (Agg: 1-1)
- Bayern Munchen vs Chelsea (Agg: 3-0)
- Juventus vs Lyon (Agg: 0-1)
- Man City vs Real Madrid (Agg: 2-1)
Relive Bayern Munchen’s 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League 2019/20 Round of 16 first leg on 25 Feb 2020. Video courtesy of FC Bayern Munich.
The final rounds of the tournament will then be played as one-off fixtures from 12-23 August. The winners of the Round of 16 ties will face Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig and Atalanta respectively.
Revised Champions League Return calendar in full:
- Round of 16 second-legs: 7-8 August
- Quarter-finals: 12-15 August
- Semi-finals: 18-19 August
- Final: 23 August
The Champions League draw from 10 July is as follows:
- Real Madrid / Manchester City vs Lyon / Juventus
- Leipzig vs Atletico
- Napoli / Barcelona vs Chelsea / Bayern
- Atalanta vs Paris
- Winner QF 1 vs Winner QF 3
- Winner QF 2 vs Winner QF 4
- Winner SF 1 vs Winner SF 2
The State of Play
The stand out problem from this format, however, is an unavoidable one – each side will have different time frames without games before the mini-tournament.
PSG and Lyon are in the most disadvantaged position following the cancellation of the French Ligue 1 during lockdown. The domestic cup finals, however, will most likely take place before August.
The French FA are currently finalising the details for the league cup final which will feature these two sides. PSG are also involved in the cup final against Saint-Etienne, currently pencilled in on 24 July.
Further issues have arisen in recent days for the French outfits. The 2020/21 Ligue 1 season has been scheduled to begin on the same weekend as the Champions League final.
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ESPN’s Dan Thomas is joined by Frank Leboeuf discuss how the early cancellation of the Ligue 1 season may affect PSG’s Champions League hopes. Video courtesy of ESPN UK.
Bayern Munchen and RB Leipzig will also have a lengthy break before their European fixtures; the Bundesliga season came to a close on 27 June.
Bayern played the DFB Cup Final a week later, reducing their break, and also have the added benefit of taking a 3-0 lead into their second leg fixture against Chelsea.
The Spanish and English sides are probably in the best position with their league seasons concluding in late July. Their two-to-three week break keeps with the traditional gap before the Champions League final.
Should Manchester City or Chelsea reach the FA Cup Final, they will be in action on 1 August.
Man City progress to the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United. Video courtesy of The Emirates FA Cup.
Italy’s representatives Napoli, Juventus and Atalanta will face a relatively quick turnaround. The revised Serie A calendar comes to an end on 2 August.
The Champions League Return Analysed
For Bayern, Leipzig, PSG and Lyon, the potential problem is clear. Match fitness and sharpness is lacking after a longer break. A brief look at how the three-month break affected domestic leagues shows just how much of a disadvantage these sides could be at.
The Premier League saw goals per game reduce by 18.5% after the restart. The Bundesliga also saw a reduction in goals per game, albeit less noticeable at 5.5%. As the season has hit full flow again, the goals have started to fly in.
The Premier goals per game are slowly returning to the season average, while the final two rounds of Bundesliga fixtures saw 55.5% of games reach at least four goals. The unfortunate sides who will have gone longer without games run the risk of being caught back in that unproductive stage while their opposition could be at their free-flowing best.
Watch Everton’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, their first game back after the restart on 21 June 2020. Video courtesy of Sky Sports Football.
Even without the numbers to back it up, it is clear that the teams without recent matches will struggle for fitness. Of course, the inverse may also be true. The hectic calendars faced by Premier League, La Liga and Serie A teams in the build-up to this tournament in Lisbon may lead to fatigue, or these teams may have more injuries to contend with.
The Lingering Questions
Will fans be allowed to attend the games? The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue remains unanswered. From the initial announcement, we knew UEFA would assess this regularly before making a decision as late as possible.
The latest update is not a good one – the host city went back into lockdown with gatherings limited to five people since last Wednesday, 1 July. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin remains confident that the current plans will go ahead, but we are no closer to finding out whether or not the games will be played behind closed doors.
Another big question that was hanging over the resumption of the Champions League was the eligibility of summer signings. The biggest one to date is Timo Werner following his move from Leipzig to Chelsea.
UEFA confirmed that teams can register three new players provided they were eligible before 3 February 2020. This allows Leipzig’s potential inclusion of left-back Angelino and Yannick Carrasco to feature for Atletico Madrid, but Werner and Hakim Ziyech will play no part in Chelsea’s campaign.
In a statement on their website, UEFA said: “Teams will be allowed to register three new players on their List A for the remainder of the 2019/20 season, provided such players were already registered and eligible for the club since the last registration deadline (3 February 2020 for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League)… It will not be possible for clubs to register newly-transferred players”.
While there are questions and doubts surrounding the return, every football fan is looking forward to the Champions League return. Will Real Madrid be able to overturn a first-leg deficit to continue their European dominance or can Chelsea defy all odds and progress to the quarter-final?
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