The Ups and Downs of the Champions League


This past week, the Champions League started up again with the round of 16. While I love watching the Champions League, it has begun to appear as if it’s the same teams playing each other each year. So, trying to understand whether my statement is true, I did a little bit of research. Here is a brief overview of the Champions League if you aren’t as obsessed as I am.

The Champions League is where the best European fútbol teams compete to be the best of the best. The competition goes from group stage, which is comprised of eight groups of four teams each that play for a place in the round of 16. The top two of each group makes it to the round of 16, and third place goes to the Europa League, the less prestigious cousin of the Champions League, and fourth goes back to not being good enough. Then it’s the quarterfinals, then the semifinals and then the finals. Each leg from the round of 16 up — besides the finals — is played over two legs, so each team can have home field advantage. Away goals count as, in essence, two goals. As an example, imagine Real Madrid is playing Barcelona in the semi finals: if Real Madrid scores two goals at Barcelona’s stadium and one at home while Barcelona scores two at their home and one at Real Madrid’s stadium, Real Madrid win. Boiled down, away goals are worth more.

An exception to the two-leg part of the Champions League’s last stages is the finals, which is played in one game at a stadium that is designated before the competition.The Champions League is generally an exciting time for me.

Because I support the not-so-great team Everton, I’ll never have to worry about them playing in the Champions League. So I get to watch the Champions League simply as a fan of the game, hoping for an exciting, end-to-end match between titans of Europe.

Teams like Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain don’t usually play one another due to being in different leagues, but in the Champions League, the dream of seeing them play is a reality. Watching great players like French winger Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian winger Neymar go up against Welsh forward Gareth Bale and the rest of the Galacticos is usually an exhilarating prospect.

But these games have begun to feel like replays, as if it has become a regular season fixture for Bayern Munich to play Real Madrid. Over the past 10 years, the same teams have been dominating the group stages, the round of 16, the quarterfinals, the semi finals and even the finals.

Over the last 10 years, Real Madrid has made it to the quarter finals eight times, the semi finals eight times and the finals four times. Also, each time they made it to the finals, they won. Barcelona has made it to the quarter finals nine times, the semi finals five times and the finals twice. Each time they reached the finals, they won it as well. Bayern has similar stats to its fellow European juggernauts. The team has been to the quarterfinals eight times, the semifinals seven and the finals three times.

Unlike its brother organizations, it’s only won the big enchilada once in those past three trips.

Juventus and Atletico Madrid have similarly dominating stats, yet I believe the pattern is clear: these past 10 years have been some of the most predictable Champions Leagues in the history of the competition.

Real Madrid has won almost half of the last 10 with four of them, Barcelona have two, while the other wins are spaced out between Chelsea, Bayern and Inter Milan.

Before this Spanish dominance, the Champions League was an unpredictable and exciting mess. Anything was possible, and upsets were a constant threat. In the 20 years prior to this era of the Champions League — which I think should be named the Messi vs. Ronaldo era — 12 different teams won the trophy.

It also wasn’t just teams from Spain or England, but from everywhere; Red Star Belgrade won the cup, Liverpool came back from 3–0 down to win the cup in penalties, Ajax won the cup in thrilling fashion, the Milan clubs became kings for a day — the list of incredible stories goes on.

But now it seems the time of a romantic approach and mindset in fútbol is over. Real Madrid has won the cup three years in a row, a depressing statistic in my eyes.

And guess which five teams made it to the round of 16 again — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Juventus. While the games will be exciting, it seems that the magic and unpredictability of the cup is fading away.