How It Works
All fans of European soccer know and love the Champions League, but if you’re new to the sport, here’s how it works. Founded in 1955, the UEFA Champions League is an international European tournament between the best clubs from many European countries. The top-division teams in each country earn a spot by finishing the previous season in one of the highest positions. For example, Liverpool F.C. finished 2nd in the English Premier in the 2016/2017 season, so they were one of the 4 teams from the English league who get to participate. The 5th place team qualifies for the Europa league, another international tournament, but not as prestigious as the revered Champions League. The bigger countries, such as Spain and England, get 3-4 spots, with some of the smaller countries like Greece and Turkey getting 1, maybe 2.
The tournament officially begins in mid-July with 3 knockout qualifying rounds and a playoff round. The 1st place teams from each country do not have to participate in these preliminary rounds, and others may be excluded as well based off of their record or standing. After the playoff round has finished there are 32 teams left, which are then split up into 8 groups of 4, which is known as the group stage. The group stage is a double round-robin, meaning each team will play the other 3 teams in their group twice, once at their home stadium and once away at their opponents. A team is awarded 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 for a loss. At the end of the group stage the winner and runner-up from each group advance to the knockout stage, leaving a total of 16 teams in the competition.
The winner of each group is seeded, and then the runner-ups are drawn randomly to face one of the group winners, so the first round of the knockout stage is always a group winner against a group runner-up. Just like in the group stage each team will play its opponent twice, once at home and once away. However, the winners are calculated differently than in the group stage. No longer are teams awarded points based off of winning, drawing or losing. Instead, the winner is based off of the aggregate score from the 2 games, or legs as they are called. For example, if Team A beats Team B 4-2 in the first game, and then loses the second game 2-3, the aggregate score would be 6-5, with Team A advancing. Now, if at the end of both legs the score is tied, the tie is broken by which team scored more goals away from home. To demonstrate, if Team A beats Team B 3-1 at Team B’s stadium, not only is the score in Team A’s advantage, but they also scored 3 away goals. So for the second leg, let’s say Team B defeats Team A 2-0 in Team A’s stadium. Now, the aggregate score is 3-3, which would be a tie. However, since Team A scored 3 away goals, and Team B only scored 2 away goals, Team A would advance. And if the teams are tied in both aggregate score, and they scored the same amount of away goals, a 30-minute overtime period will be played at the end of the second leg. And if everything is still tied up at the end of overtime, the victor is decided by PKs. The tournament continues in this fashion up until the final game in May, which is a 1-day, 1-game finale to determine who is crowned the champion of Europe. Now that we all know how it happens, let’s talk about this years’ competition. The playoff round has recently finished and the Group Stage draw has been completed, so here are the 32 contestants still involved, split up into their appropriate groups.
Group A – Benfica (POR), Manchester United (ENG), Basel (SUI) and CSKA Moskva (RUS)
Group B – Bayern Munich (GER), Paris Saint-Germain (FRA), Anderlecht (BEL), and Celtic (SCO)
Group C – Chelsea (ENG), Atletico Madrid (ESP), Roma (ITA), and Qarabag (AZE)
Group D – Juventus (ITA), Barcelona (ESP), Olympiacos (GRE), and Sporting CP (POR)
Group E – Spartak Moskva (RUS), Sevilla (ESP), Liverpool (ENG)and Maribor (SVN)
Group F – Shaktar Donetsk (UKR), Manchester City (ENG), Napoli (ITA), and Feyenoord (NED)
Group G – Monaco (FRA), Porto (POR), Besiktas (TUR), and RB Leipzig (GER)
Group H – Real Madrid (ESP), Borussia Dortmund (GER), Tottenham (ENG), and APOEL (CYP)
Groups of Death
As previously mentioned, the top 2 teams from each group advance, so when there is a group that has 3 or more teams who are considered top contenders, it is called a “Group of Death”. It is given this fun little nickname because one of the teams who would be considered a title contender will be knocked out in the group stage. This year that term includes groups C and H. Group C has reigning English Premier League champions Chelsea, along with Atletico Madrid and Roma. Atletico has gotten close to winning the past couple years, but have been unable to do so, and Roma is consistently one of the best teams in Italy. Group H has reigning Champions League winners and Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid, alongside the frightening Borussia Dortmund and the incredibly competitive Tottenham. It’s sure to be a good one this year, stay tuned for more updates!