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Checking in on the Champions League

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Europe’s top soccer tournament, the UEFA Champions League, is well under way. The Champions League puts the best teams from a multitude of different European soccer leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, etc.) against each other in one tournament. There are several stages to the Champions League. Teams must first qualify by either winning their domestic league or placing very high in their league table. This is dependent on the quality of the league each team comes from. For example, only the winners of the Belgian league qualify but the top four English teams qualify, due to the competitive nature of the English Premier League. Overall, there are 32 teams divided into eight different groups of four. The teams in these groups will all play one another twice, and the two teams with the highest number of points (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) advance. This leads to the knockout stage, in which the 16 remaining teams compete the traditional tournament format, with the winner moving on. Currently, the tournament is 75 percent through the group stages.

The groups of the Champions Leagues are extremely influential in the results of the tournament. Since they are randomly chosen after the 32 teams qualify, the quality of teams in each group can vary immensely based on the sorting. This year, a terrifying “Group of Death” is composed of Tottenham Hotspur (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), and Apoel Niscosia (Greece). The first three teams in this group are world class teams: Tottenham and Dortmund are some of the top teams in their own countries and Real Madrid is arguably one of the best teams in the world, winning three out of the four last Champions Leagues. Currently, the table has Tottenham in first, Real Madrid in second, Dortmund in third, and Nicosia in fourth.

Another “Group of Death” has AS Roma (Italy), Chelsea (England), Atletico Madrid (Spain), and FK Qarabag (Azerbaijan). Similar to the irst group of death, three of these teams have been historically very successful in the Champions League. Chelsea and Roma are two of the top teams in their respective leagues and Atletico Madrid has been the tournament’s final twice in the last four years, both times losing to Real Madrid. Roma is on top of this table, with Chelsea in second, Atletico in third, and Qarabag in fourth.

There are six more groups, each riddled with very capable soccer clubs, but there a few names more recognizable than others. Manchester United, one of the most recognizable names in English soccer, is on top of their group, having won all four of the games they’ve played. One Swarthmore student, Oliver Steinglass ’20,  is a fan of Manchester United, and was asked a few questions on the English club’s Champions League chances:

Obviously, tensions are high with most Manchester fans these days. Both clubs, United and City, are playing exceptionally well. With good play comes high expectations, so there’s good reason for Oliver’s bold predictions and sensitive nature.

Manchester City is flying high in their group, having won all four of their games. Also in City’s group is Napoli, the top team of the Italian League table. They, however, are struggling in third place with only one win. The English club Liverpool is narrowly in first in their group, with Spain’s Sevilla in hot pursuit. Barcelona, another world famous club, is sitting atop their group through four games. Juventus (Italy), last year’s runner-up, is right behind Barcelona in that same group. Finally, giant clubs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) (France) and Bayern Munich (Germany) are locked into a tight race for first place in their respective group.

The round of 16 will be finalized in December with the first games of the stage played in February and March. The knockout stage will conclude with the finals on May 26, 2018. As of November 5, 2017, it’s tough to pick out a winner. Both Manchester clubs have been excellent, but with their focus also on their own league race back in England, it’ll be tough for the teams to field fresh players for Champions League games. The two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, are always in the running. However, after Real Madrid’s recent shocking 3-1 loss to Tottenham and lackluster play in the Spanish league, one can wonder how they expect to turn their play around. Meanwhile, Barcelona have been excellent, despite losing their young star Neymar Jr. to PSG, who are also making noise in Europe. Juventus and Bayern Munich also can’t be ignored: both teams have always been historically successful in European play. Additionally, it’s tough to ignore Tottenham after their defeat of Real Madrid and fantastic play in a “Group of Death”.

As for me, a fan of Tottenham, I would love to see my club win. However, despite their victory over Real Madrid, it’s hard to imagine that other massive clubs won’t pick up their form. I don’t think Manchester United has enough to win the league, and Manchester City certainly cannot keep up their amazing form. Barcelona will go far, and I’m sure Real Madrid will sort themselves out in time for the knockout stage. I expect Juventus to exit early and for Bayern to go deep into the tournament as well. However, it is PSG who I think will win the entire tournament. The team that consistently falls short in the tournament will finally have their dream finish.

It’s tough to liken the Champions League to any other sports tournament. It doesn’t meet the World Cup in terms of passion; nothing does. However, one could argue that the Champions League puts on display the best soccer teams on planet, and that the Champions League Final is the pinnacle of soccer for a given year. After all, the top club teams attract the top players each year: national teams are set from birth. Either way, it’s guaranteed that true soccer fans will feast their eyes on the tournament over the next seven months.

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