• Dan Tracey


Champions League

With the effects of COVID-19 still be largely felt within the sporting realm, the question of cross-continental football has once again come to the fore and with the Champions League set to return this month, some outside the box thinking has been required.

Because with several English clubs still in Europe’s premier club competition, this has created something of a headache for UEFA and that, is how to stage their knockout phase with the usual two-leg affair that we’d usually see before the final.

Of course, last season there was even more in the way of thinking outside the box and this came courtesy of both the Champions League and Europa League being scaled down to standard knockout format from the last eight onwards.

While although we are not quite there yet, there may be the need to return to such plans before the end of this season and although it was a spectacle largely welcomed by supporters, there is one reason why it may not be able to take place this time around.

With the delayed European Championships set to take place this summer, it would give those in charge of fixture scheduling absolutely nothing in the way of wiggle room and therefore, the desire will be to stick to the current designated dates.

Even though the dates are being adhered to, the previous locations are not and with Atletico Madrid now having to host Chelsea in Bucharest, it just adds to the litany of changes that have happened in recent times.

La Liga leaders Atletico were due to host the game on Tuesday, 23 February. However, Spain has placed restrictions on travellers from the UK, where a new variant of Covid-19 is present, and it will now be played at the Arena Nationala in Bucharest.

As things stand, it does mean that the second leg will still go ahead at Stamford Bridge as planned and the Blues join both Liverpool and Manchester City in playing the first leg of the Round of 16 ties in Central Europe.

That’s because the two teams that shared five goals in the Premier League last Sunday, are now off to Budapest instead of Germany, after the German Government banned most travel from countries affected by new variants of Covid-19, including the UK.

While although the show does at least go on, it does bring sporting integrity into question once more, as the ties are no longer fair in terms of each playing at a home venue and perhaps, it would be easier just to have a one and done like last year.

Ultimately, this is an issue that is not going to dissipate anytime soon and although the outlook is slightly better than it was last year, UEFA are still going to have to tread a cautious path in terms of tournament planning.

Then again, in terms of headaches, this may only be a light twinge when compared to trying host the European Championships and with no confirmed plans yet, the multi venue party that UEFA hoped for, is one that may have to be scaled down considerably.

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