Champions League final 2020: Debate – should the one-leg format remain?

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Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe
Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe

UEFA landed on an intriguing format to complete the 2019-20 Champions League. Should it stay longer?

The coronavirus pandemic forced the world of sport to get creative and UEFA was not spared the scheduling headache caused by the breakout of COVID-19.

Football in Europe ground to a halt in March, with the Champions League and Europa League suspended as hero health workers around the globe battled to keep the virus under control.

UEFA landed on a solution of completing both tournaments as one-game knockouts from the quarter-finals onwards (some last-16 ties in the Europa League were also single-leg ties) in a format mirroring the latter stages of a World Cup or European Championship.

It has proven very popular with supporters, who saw Lyon and RB Leipzig upset the odds to reach the Champions League semi-finals perhaps emboldened by the all-or-nothing situation they were faced with.

Some fans have even suggested such a format should remain in place long term. Two Stats Perform News writers, John Skilbeck and Peter Hanson, have debated the issue ahead of Sunday’s Champions League final between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.

They lit up Lisbon, so UEFA must take their greatest showmen on the road again – John Skilbeck

One leg good, two legs bad. All is suddenly well in UEFA’s farmyard, their showpiece competitions having moved towards gripping conclusions over the past fortnight.

And oh, what a spectacle these one-off games have provided, with the eyes of Europe and beyond glued to a run of electrifying fixtures.

Out of adversity, a triumph has emerged, the back-to-basics thrill of 90-minute combat where everything is on the line, where there are no second chances. Where 90 minutes does not, blissfully, equate to half-time.

Any repeat of this spectacle in the post-coronavirus days might be cast into doubt by the fact two-legged matches mean double the TV exposure and double the gate receipts.

And where would they be played? Eight-team city breaks are all well and good when supporters of those teams largely stay at home, rather than assemble in their multitudes and drain a beer or nine.

So the logistical issues and the financial issues are undeniable, and those so often win out because it’s easier not to search for solutions and to settle for the tried and tested.

But rather than the closing stages being a laboured process – the Champions League quarter-finals began in early April last year and the final took place on June 1 – this year’s have been condensed effectively to a supreme standalone competition: easy to follow, unobstructed by domestic games, and an unbeatable advertisement for club football.

Is that enough? Maybe not. You suspect some football bean counters might opt for a four-legs option if given half a chance, allowing for a deeper dip of the snout into the money trough, but this European summer, so grim for so many, has been lit up by football in its purest form.

In the absence of Euro 2020, it was not only the next best thing, but UEFA’s brightest idea for many a year.

It’s been fun but don’t let short-termism fix something that isn’t broken – Peter Hanson

Credit should always be given where it is due and UEFA found a fine solution amid a grim global situation.

The need of neutral supporters for drama and excitement, so synonymous with the Champions League, has been assuaged, while simultaneously it has ensured a legitimate winner of football’s grandest club competition could be found.

But it would be foolhardy in the extreme to suggest Europe’s premier competition was in need of a revamp.

Without the two-leg format, Barcelona would never have overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit against PSG with that scarcely believable 6-1 triumph at Camp Nou in the 2016-17 last 16.

Nor would Roma or Liverpool have ever had the chance to inflict memorable comebacks in consecutive seasons against Barca, the latter having gone on to lift the trophy last season.

And Cristiano Ronaldo would not have been able to score the hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in 2018-19, a performance for the ages that saw Juventus into the quarter-finals having lost 2-0 in the first encounter.

Essentially, UEFA found a great solution to a problem no one ever wanted to face. It was just that, though, a solution.

It’s been fun but don’t let short-termism fix something that isn’t broken.

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