Champions League proving why it is still the best of the best amid European Super League debacle

Barcelona could be knocked out of the Champions League this week, while Erling Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund has already, and 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic could inspire an exciting qualification to the last 16 for Milan. If you still need to be convinced that the Champions League is okay, the next two days should provide unequivocal evidence.

It’s not just some of the big names that have entered the sixth round and their fates have yet to be decided. In Group G, the four teams – Lille, FC Salzburg, Seville and Wolfsburg – can still qualify.

There are, of course, plenty of teams that have already booked their passage to the knockout stage. Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United are all secure as group winners, while Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Juventus are all guaranteed a place in the last 16 draw on December 13. .

But with memories of 12 clubs’ failed attempt to form the European Super League (ESL) in April – when some of the game’s strongest teams revealed proposals to create an exclusive new competition that would have killed the champions. The League As We Know It – There is perhaps a sweet irony that Barcelona, ​​one of the biggest drivers in the ESL scheme, is now desperately trying to stay in the competition they were so eager to get out of.

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If Barcelona fail to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, they will rely on Group E bottom club Dynamo Kiev to deny Benfica a win in Lisbon so that Xavi Hernandez’s side hope to reach the last 16.

So there you have it. Powerful Barcelona, ​​the club that has dominated the Champions League for 20 years, may end up in need of a favor from one of those teams whose European future would have been much bleaker if the ESL rebels had been able to go forward massively. Profitable splinter competition.

The last time Barcelona missed the playoffs was the 2003-04 season, so their battle for survival in the Champions League is the headline in Round Six, but the competition threw up a number of other striking facts during the group. The stages that led to a great final round of matches.

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Already this season, we’ve seen the remarkable story of Sheriff Tiraspol, the Moldovan champion, who beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu to top Group D after two wins in two matches on his debut in the group stage.

Swiss champions Young Boys opened Group F with a win at home to Manchester United, while Benfica’s 3-0 win over Barcelona at Estadio da Luz in September shook the Spanish giants, leaving them needing a win over in-form Bayern to secure their lead (although they also qualified if Benfica failed). victory over Dynamo.

And in Group C, although Dortmund appear to be a strong candidate to top the group, impressive young Ajax team led by Erik ten Hag are on top with five wins from five so far, while Sporting Lisbon, thanks to a 3-1 home win last month against Dortmund. , finished second to drop Haaland & Co. in the European League.

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Janusz Michalik wonders why Borussia Dortmund struggled to beat Bayern Munich, after the Bundesliga champions achieved their seventh consecutive victory against them.

Liverpool also won five out of five in Group B, but Jurgen Klopp’s side travel to Italy to face Milan on Tuesday with Rossoneri They came back with the chance to qualify, despite losing their first three matches in the competition. A 1-1 draw against Porto at San Siro last month ended Milan’s losing streak, but a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in Spain in the fifth round gave Stefano Pioli’s side a chance if they beat Liverpool and Porto failed to beat Atletico on the pitch. Do Dragao.

Even in Group H, where Chelsea and Juventus dominated, the final round of matches still matters. Both teams are secured on 12 points after five matches and are determined to win the top spot and a place among the seeded in the lottery.

But perhaps all this danger in the final is precisely why ESL clubs want to break away from the competitive element of the Champions League. With so much money and prestige at stake if they fail to make it to the knockout stage, the prospect of closed-door competition, where huge financial resources are shared between the biggest clubs, has a clear appeal to those owners and CEOs who don’t want a slice of the pie threatened by enterprising Ajax. Or a rookie Benfica.

The club owners behind the ESL project have pointed out the need to change football and the Champions League in order to maintain the game’s importance among the sporting public. Yes, the Champions League can sometimes be expected, but this season’s group stage showed why it is the best competition in the game. You don’t need to change to make it relevant. We see major clubs falling, star players joining the European League and some famous old teams showing signs of returning to their former glory.

It’s not what owners and CEOs want, but just when the Champions League needed to remind us why it’s the best ever, it delivered the group stage that still has plenty of stories to tell this week.

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