Over its 60 year history, The UEFA Champions League has evolved several times before it became the version it is today. The evolution looks like it will take another leap forward.
UEFA announced on Wednesday they are changing the seeding for the Group stage which will award the top seeds of the group stage draw to the defending champion and the domestic league champions from the top seven countries in UEFA Coefficient. If the defending champions also won their domestic league, then the domestic champion from the eighth best country would be included among the top eight seeds.
Originally, UEFA ranked the top 32 teams by UEFA coefficient – a number based on how each club do in the Champions and Europa Leagues – splitting every eight teams into four pots. The top pot was plainly reserved for the top teams in Europe, but those spots are now reserved for the Champions of the top leagues in the world.
Every media outlet have already expressed their dismay or support for the new system in the context of the teams they support, so let us do the same for Bayern Munich. First, we need to provide a general context for the tweak heard 'round the world, so below is what the pre-draw pots of the 2014/15 group stage would have looked like before and after the recent changes:
Under Current System
|Pot 1||Pot 2||Pot 3||Pot 4|
|Real Madrid||Schalke 04||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||Anderlecht|
|Barcelona||Borussia Dortmund||Olympiakos CFP||AS Roma|
|Bayern München||Juventus||CSKA Moskva||APOEL FC|
|Chelsea||Paris Saint-Germain||AFC Ajax||BATE Borisov|
|SL Benfica||FC Shakhtar Donetsk||Liverpool FC||Ludogorets Razgrad|
|Atlético Madrid||Basel||Sporting Portugal||NK Maribor|
|Arsenal||Zenit St. Petersburg||Galatasaray SK||AS Monaco|
|Porto||Manchester City||Athletic Bilbao||Malmö FF|
Under New System
|Pot 1||Pot 2||Pot 3||Pot 4|
|Real Madrid ()||Barcelona||Zenit St. Petersburg||Anderlecht|
|Atlético Madrid ()||Chelsea||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||AS Roma|
|Manchester City ()||Arsenal||Olympiakos CFP||APOEL|
|Bayern München ()||Porto||AFC Ajax||BATE Borisov|
|Juventus FC ()||Schalke 04||Liverpool||Ludogorets Razgrad|
|SL Benfica ()||Borussia Dortmund||Sporting Portugal||NK Maribor|
|Paris Saint-Germain ()||Shakhtar Donetsk||Galatasaray SK||AS Monaco|
|CSKA Moskva ()||Basel||Athletic Bilbao||Malmö FF|
The draw for the group stage could have been very different and very similar at the same time. The only team who would move into the first two pots would be CSKA Moskva, a similar position they were in the year before anyways. However, both Liverpool and AS Roma were within arms reach of their domestic titles in 2013/14, and had they snatched the top flight trophies of their respective countries, they would have drastically changed the draw landscape.
In terms of how it played out, the draw would have been most different for Bayern Munich in 2014/15, for they would not been in the same group as Manchester City and CSKA Moskva for the second consecutive year. The parity would have been nice to see, especially after being part of three of Manchester City's first four seasons in the Champions League. Conversely, the path through the group stage could have included a much tougher run of fixtures.
Bayern avoided the Spanish teams until the last knockout rounds due to the high coefficients of Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid (in fact, the last time Bayern played a team from Spain in the group stage was Valencia in 2012/13). That would no longer be the case, for the La Liga heavyweights would not be able to split the two premier trophies amongst the three of them. The new structure would increase the likelihood Bayern would have to head to Spain in the fall – especially with Valencia currently in fourth place in La Liga – possibly hindering their chances to advance out of the group stage.
A similar situation applies for Bayern in relation to the English participants. The two familiar faces in European competition in recent seasons, Chelsea and Arsenal, will now have to win the league in order to maintain their spot in the first pot. With European newbies now creeping into the domestic title picture, the days of avoiding the strong London clubs are over for Bayern.
By the same token, the new structure benefits Bayern should they happen to not win the Bundesliga one season. If the Rekormeister decided not to participate in the Champions League next season, their coefficient would still be in the top 10 in Europe. Club and managerial ramifications aside, they are close to guaranteed a spot in Pot 2 if they did not hoist either the Bundesliga or Champions League trophies next season. That presents them with much more desired opponents from Italy, Portugal, France, or Russia, a pot a tad more diverse than the current top pot in the draw.
2014/15 Champions League
2014/15 Champions League
The seeding change has a strange and uncomfortable aura around it, but UEFA's reasons for executing this restructuring are defensible. The gulf between the group of death and the group of life may increase, but the hypothetical redistribution of seeds in the 2014/15 draw just shuffled around clubs in the top two pots. The countries UEFA is rewarding in this format harbor clubs who take both European competitions seriously, so the champions of these top seven or eight countries would be among contenders for the top two pots regardless.
A variance in group construction would counteract a resulting gap in group strength. The constant grouping of Bayern with Manchester City, Arsenal with Dortmund, or Paris Saint-Germain with Barcelona was what probably prompted UEFA to try to shake things up a bit. The top-dog dominance in Germany and Italy at the moment may keep familiar faces in the top seeds, but the king of the hill battles in England and Spain will give the top seeds a fresh look every season. Additionally, while the champions in Ukrainian Premier League, the Eredivisie, or the Pro League in Belgium may be similar every season, their standing as a top seven or eight seed in the Champions League will not.
Most importantly, the change gives new domestic champions a bit more breathing space in the Champions League, and it also gives the middle-tier top flights more of a platform to be competitive. The competition was founded under the principle of pitting each country's league champions against each other, and the exclusivity fueled pure disparity among the participants. That disparity is prevalent in the Europa League, but dissipates under the current format of the Champions League by the quarterfinals. The new iteration could restore more dynamism between the different leagues, and remove some of the top heaviness from the UEFA club system.
As with any change to a competition, this tweak will take a few seasons to unravel the real foundational nuances to the European game. Regardless of what is bound to come about, the competition will be just as, if not more fascinating to watch, especially with perennial participants like Bayern Munich.