The Lead

I’m a conservative. Before you get out the pitch forks, you’ll note the small ‘c.’ That means I’m a conservative in the classical sense; I believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that one should be very, very careful when tinkering with things that may be a bit creaky but still, by-and-large, work.

My conservatism applies fairly rigorously to my opinions about football too, a sport that, despite all the hand-wringing over rule changes and adaptations, has remained true to the spirit of the game codified in a London pub in 1863. So I tend to get my back up whenever a journalist inevitably pens their “FIFA/UEFA proposal”, as Gab Marcotti did this morning in ESPN.

Marcotti wants the final round 6 of the Champions League group stage to remain ‘compelling,’ and he has a solution:

Why not make first place more meaningful? How about rewarding the two clubs who get the most points with a bye straight to the quarterfinals?


At the same time, take the four best third-place teams and the four worst second-place teams and have them play off against each other in February, with the winners advancing to the Round of 16, where they would face the four best second-place teams.

Interesting thought experiment this may be, this is a solution in search of a problem. The Champions League is probably the most exciting footballing competition in the world. Like most competitions however, it has some competitive blind spots, which mostly centre around the likelihood that December will arrive with the vast majority of teams already through to the knockout round or the Europa League.

Do we really need therefore a set of formulaic tweaks in order to wring out every last drop of meaningful football from a tournament that already gives us so much in the way of entertainment? Marcotti’s plan is interesting, but adds an added layer of complexity to a tournament that doesn’t need it. Isn’t it okay for football to enjoy a bit of a relaxing period ahead of the holiday season? Wouldn’t teams want a reason to start younger players in a quasi-competitive fixture?

We already live in a culture that demands life be a non-stop romp of meaningful moments heightened to the extreme. There’s apparently no time to take a dump and read the newspaper with all the beauty in the world. It would be nice if we could preserve some level of meaninglessness and give football a break in between screaming at it to entertain us forever and ever, amen.


John Herdman invites young talent to Canadian women’s soccer camp.


West Ham front-runner for Olympic Stadium.

Mancini still proud of team, eager to focus on EPL title.

Rafa says Chelsea appear jaded and have lost their appetite to win.

According to Welbeck Robin van Persie a positive influence on the team.


Balotelli could join AC Milan.

Absolutely adorable! Marchisio and Giovinco can’t keep straight faces during interview.

La Liga

Kaka hints at possibility of leaving Los Blancos in January.

PSG president reassures fans Mourinho will not replace Ancelotti.

It’s goodbye for Fernando Llorente; player to exit Athletic Bilbao in summer.

Barcelona vs Benfica or cousin against cousin?


Recap of Schalke and Dortmund Champions League matches.

Bit and Bobs

Hulk warns he may leave Zenit in January.

FIFA ready to use goal-line technology at Club World Cup.

Some of Eritrea’s football team disappears in Uganda.

FIFA worried about fan violence at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Neymar wins top honour in Brazilian football.

Comments (11)

  1. The CL group stages are pretty much a formality for the big clubs, except the English ones of course. I like the proposal.

    • A formality?

      The only two teams that had first place in their group clinched before Week 6 were ManU and Barcelona, and even Barcelona lost to Celctic.

      Going into Week 6 there was still a lot to play for, especially contests for 1st and 2nd place in the groups, which can be a big deal.

      • If you think 1st or 2nd is that big of a deal, alright. I don’t. If you qualify, you qualify. You get the money, you get to play two more games at the very least. What’s the benefit of finishing first if you can get Real, Juve, Bayern, AC or Arsenal in the second round? Not to mention that most teams had qualified prior to yesterday, including ALL who played yesterday, making this round pretty damn useless.

  2. “Do we really need therefore a set of formulaic tweaks in order to wring out every last drop of meaningful football from a tournament that already gives us so much in the way of entertainment?”

    Thank you. I have no idea why the topic of ‘dead rubber’ matches gets revisited every year. The CL provides a crazy amount of plot intrigue by pitting Euro giant agains Euro giant – even if the on-field product sometimes fails to fulfil the hype. So what if one round of an otherwise excellent competition isn’t filled to the brim with excitement? That isn’t the end of the world. There are other, more or less, dead rubber matches in football, and yet the world goes on – league games when a title is clinched before the final match day, 2nd leg tournament matches where the first leg was a predictable blow-out by the favoured team (and is therefore unlikely to be overturned), etc.

    And even if your team is already though (or eliminated) on the final gropup stage match day, tune in to that day’s version of Shaktar/Juventus or Chelsea/FC Norwhatever – because there will always be meaningful games on the final match days.

  3. those deserving champs league winners from last year out at group stage backdoored there way into this years competition anyways spurs wouldve probably put in a better performance if they hadve been in and how bout those premier league winners from last year? no more europe for u

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