What if there was no coronavirus? What could have been different if the world didn’t have to shut down? If businesses didn’t have to close, if football didn’t have to take a break, if everything in our lives had continued as usual before the coronavirus outbreak?
German Bundesliga champions have been crowned winners of the 2019/20 edition of the Uefa champion’s league. By so doing they have also made history by being the first time to record eleven consecutive victories in the tournament. Such was their dominance in seen off all comers on the way to claiming the championship and it’s no small feat given the quality of opposition in the UCL.
Yet 2020 has not been any ordinary year. Along with the rest of the world, the global pandemic had also disrupted sporting activities and football had to re-invent itself with the introduction of several innovative changes to cope with the effects of the disruption caused by the pandemic and to finish up the season. One of such changes was the adjustment to the normal two-legged (home and away) structure of the Uefa Champions League knock out stages which were changed to a single match fixture to be played at a neutral ground. Now we look at the teams and who took part from the quarter-final stage and how the single match format could have either hindered or advanced their progression in the tournament.
How the change of match format could have affected Bayern’s chances is anyone’s guess. Given that the team had earlier won a domestic double of the Bundesliga shield and DFB Pokal; such is the utter dominance and ruthlessness with which Bayern conquered every opposition on the way to glory. And on that form, there’s little to suggest much could have changed if the tournament had progressed in its usual two-legged tie format. Would they beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp? We will never know.
Despite reaching the knock-out stage of the competition for the first time in recent history, Atlanta FC has had somewhat of a fairytale run to the quarter-finals of the champion’s league. This season has seen them follow up their very impressive domestic performances with an also impressive run to the quarter-final stage of the competition narrowly losing to finalists PSG in a rather uncharacteristic performance. Not to take anything away from PSG’s performance on the day, Atlanta had been a free-scoring side all season, especially at home in Italy, and have lost with a 1-2 scoreline albeit by conceding a last-minute goal, one is wont to think that in a two-legged tie, with the benefit of playing in their very familiar ground, and given the home form of the team, Atlanta FC may have had more chances of reaching the semi-final than they did.
After the emphatic manner of dispatching perennial champions Real Madrid, no one would have predicted their ouster by this season’s giant killers Olympique Lyon. Spectacular on the day as Lyon was, they executed a perfect game plan but the scoreline is one that City can comfortably reverse in a two-legged tie especially at the Etihad. Nine out of ten times the odds will favor Manchester City to beat Lyon but odds don’t win matches and unfortunately, the onetime City couldn’t beat Lyon proved pivotal. However, Manchester City will feel hard done by having to play a single game against a team whom by all intents and purposes, they’d very much fancy their chances every time.
Another new comer who overcame mighty odds against established teams to get even further to the semi-final of the Uefa Champions League. However, the nature of their quarter-final victory over Simeone’s traditionally stout Athletico Madrid comes under scrutiny in this regard. Leipzig in their characteristic attacking style threw it all at Athletico Madrid and came away with a 2-1 victory to progress to the semi-final. It is one thing to beat Athletico Madrid in a single match, but doing it over a two-legged tie is an entirely different matter. Usually a resolute and defensively set team, Athletico Madrid is often very difficult to score against and over two legs, will definitely fancy overturning such a very slim margin against the Germans especially playing in the Wanda Metropolitano.
However, the battles have been fought and won, the dust has settled and the German champions are also crowned the European champions. The argument for whether the changes in the playing format of the 2019/20 UCL season affected the chances of some teams or to what extent such impact may have aided or mitigated against their progress in the tournament may go on a while longer. Though we may not have all the answers, what we do know is that Bayern Munich is worth six times Uefa Champions League winners.