Why the Champions League group stage needs to be abolished:

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Once again the anti-climax of the Champions League group stage has gripped us all. The format that allows a wide range of mid week games to help us get through the working week is all but over. 13 out of the 16 teams able to qualify for the knock out round have done, leaving only 6 teams battling it out for the last three places; Juventus or Chelsea, Benfica or Celtic and Galatasary or Cluj. With Roman Abramovich already assuming that Chelsea stand about as much chance as an MP in the jungle.

These are the only teams that will care about the final fixtures of the group stage that showed some promise at the start of the campaign with BATE Borisov claiming the scalp of Bayern Munich to much acclaim but like the fading of a corruption investigation into FIFA, the initial excitement vanished and now Borisov face Bayern Munich again at the Allianz Arena knowing the best they can hope for is Thursday night on Belarusian Channel 5. Apart from Manchester City’s early exit, glancing over the current standings nothing makes you take a sharp intake of breath in surprise as to who made it through. It has been that way for a while now.

The two Manchester clubs disappointed last year at the same stage but the only other surprise inclusion was Apoel Nicosia from Cyprus. Take nothing away from their quarter final reaching story but the group they were had big teams from their respective domestic leagues, FC Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk  but before this season their Champions League history was largely inconsistent.

The season before that was equally unenthusiastic.

It feels that the group stages of the worlds most prestigious competition is just a chance for Uefa to give the smaller teams a go against far superior opposition. Eventually as the giant sieve is bashed about the bigger teams stay in the mixer and go onto the slightly more entertaining knock out stage. To sum it up the first few weeks of the Champions League are becoming a formality.

To shake things up the best thing would be to bring back the old knock-out stage right from day one. This would make for some extreme potential upsets and make results from the past like Barcelona 1 v 2 Rubin Kazan get the historical recognition they deserve. Imagine if that was the first leg of a knock out tie and Barcelona had to go to Russia and get two goals? Obviously its very probable it would of happened but still the entertainment value would shoot up.

Or even if Celtic’s recent game’s against Barcelona were two legs of a knock-out tie? The atmosphere in extra time at Parkhead would have made for a very interesting 30 minutes.

The monopoly of the big teams in Europe is taken for granted now. The depth needed in a squad to be able to challenge for your domestic title and play mid-week against Europe’s finest is only possible to the elite, unless your Roberto Mancini who thinks its ‘crazy’ for a team worth over a billion pounds to at least consider challenging for the European title.

Having a knock-out stage instead of the group stage would bring more people to the European mid week games and raise the entertainment value to, at times, moments of utter sorrow or jubilation. The chance of it happening is beyond slim due to the amount of contracts that Uefa have with sponsors and brands that include the big elite that generate a certain amount of revenue.

That is all business talk but this is football, hopefully one day a man with power will finally see the difference.

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