Champions League proves why it’s still the best of the best amid European Super League debacle

Barcelona could exit the Champions League this week, as Erling Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund have already done so, and 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic could inspire a dramatic round of 16 qualification for AC Milan. If you still needed to convince that the Champions League is doing well as it is, the next two days should offer unequivocal proof of that.

It’s not just a few of the big names entering day six with their fate yet to be decided. In Group G, all four teams – Lille, FC Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg – can still qualify.

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

But with still fresh memories of 12 clubs’ unsuccessful attempt to form a European Super League (ESL) breakaway in April – when some of the game’s most powerful teams unveiled proposals to create an exclusive new competition that would have killed the champions League as we know it – there is perhaps a sweet irony that Barcelona, ​​one of the biggest drivers of the ESL plan, are now desperately trying to stay in a competition they were so keen to withdraw from.

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If Barca fail to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, they will rely on the last club in Group E, Dynamo Kiev, to deny Benfica’s victory in Lisbon so that Xavi Hernandez’s side have a hope to qualify for the round of 16.

So there you have it, mighty Barcelona, ​​a club that dominated the Champions League for almost 20 years, might end up needing a favor from one of those teams whose European future would have been so much bleaker if the ESL rebels had been able to get through their hugely lucrative breakaway competition.

The last time Barcelona were out of the round of 16 was in the 2003-04 season, so their Champions League battle for survival is the day six headline, but the competition started a number of other stories. eye-catching during the group. stages that prepared for a fascinating finale.

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Already this season we have seen the remarkable story of the Moldovan champion Sheriff Tiraspol, who beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu to take the lead in Group D after two wins in two games in their very first phase appearance. of groups.

Swiss champions Young Boys opened Group F with a home win over Manchester United, while Benfica’s 3-0 win over Barcelona at Estadio da Luz in September rocked the Spanish giants, leaving them in need of a win over Bayern in form to ensure progress (although they also pass if Benfica fail to beat Dynamo.)

And in Group C, although Dortmund appear to be a big favorite to dominate the group, impressive young Ajax side Erik ten Hag have sealed the top spot with five out of five wins so far, while Sporting Lisbon, thanks to last month’s 3-1 home win over Dortmund, claimed second place to drop Haaland and co. in the Europa League.

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Janusz Michallik asks why Borussia Dortmund struggle to beat Bayern Munich, after the Bundesliga champions claim their seventh consecutive victory against them.

Liverpool also have five out of five Group B wins, but Jurgen Klopp’s side travel to Italy to face AC Milan on Tuesday with the Rossoneri back with a chance at qualifying, despite losing their first three games in the competition. A 1-1 draw with Porto at San Siro last month ended Milan’s losing streak, but a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in Spain on Matchday 5 gave the team a chance. Stefano Pioli’s team if they beat Liverpool and Porto fail against Atletico at the Estadio do Dragao.

Even in Group H, where Chelsea and Juventus dominated, the final round of matches still counts, with both clubs – stuck on 12 points after five games – determined to claim first place and a seeded place in the draw. by lot.

But maybe all of this danger in the final game is precisely why ESL clubs wanted to break away from the competitive element of the Champions League. With so much money and prestige at stake if they don’t make it to the knockout stage, the prospect of a sold-out competition, in which huge finances are shared between the biggest clubs, has an obvious appeal. for owners and managers who don’t want their piece of the pie threatened by an enterprising Ajax or reborn Benfica.

The club owners behind the ESL project had spoken about the need for football and the Champions League to change so that the game remains relevant to the sporting public. Yes, the Champions League can be predictable at times, but this season’s group stage has shown why it’s the best competition in the game. It doesn’t need to change to make it relevant. We are seeing big clubs fall, star players entering the Europa League and some famous former teams showing signs of returning to their former glory.

It’s not what owners and managers want, but just when the Champions League was supposed to remind us why it’s the best of the best, it delivered a group stage that still has a lot of stories to come. tell this week.

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