This is one of the most wonderful times of the year. No, it isn’t Christmas, itâ€™s March Madness! The Champions League is finishing up their round of 16 matches AND the NCAA tournament has been selected. This is one of my favorite times of year and two of my favorite sporting events to watch, so I thought I would reimagine the Champions League if it were determined through an NCAA tournament style setup. Before we get started, here are a few ground rules. 1. I am going with 64 teams and not 68, so no play in games. 2. There are 54 countries in UEFA whose leagues have the chance to qualify for Champions League but that would only leave 10 at large bids and there are way more quality teams in the top 5 leagues than just 10. Because of this, we are going with the same rules as the NCAA. The top 32 countriesâ€™ league winners by UEFA coefficient will gain automatic berths and there will be 32 at large bids. Sorry weâ€™re not sorry to the league winners from San Marino, Andorra, Gibraltar, Wales, Malta, Faroe Islands, Armenia, Estonia, Northern Ireland, Lithuania, Montenegro, Luxembourg, Latvia, Ireland, Macendonia, Albania, Bosnia, Finland, Georgia, Iceland, Moldova and Hungary; big boy teams from the top 5 leagues qualify over you guys. Money talks! The teams will be seeded as un-objectively as possible by yours truly, trying to avoid same league match-ups until later in the tournament. The higher seed will host a one off match like the tournament, no home and home match. On to the bracket and discussion:
First round matchups, for the most part, would be dominated by the higher seeds. Going strictly off of seeds, the upsets I see happening would be a young, 9-seeded Ajax squad knocking off 8-seed Monaco, a tough 10-seed Shakhtar taking down 7-seed Galatasaray and 10-seed CSKA heading to Belgium and beating 7-seeded Brugge. I donâ€™t see any famous 5-12 upsets in this bracket. A few other matchups that could give high seeds problems would be 3rd-seeded Arsenal facing the analytics squad from Denmark 14-seed Midtjylland, 11-seed Olympiacos taking on 6-seed Bayer Leverkusen, 14th-seeded Malmo giving all they had against 3rd seed Wolfsburg, 15-seed Celtic going toe to toe with 2nd-seeded Man City and 11-seed Besiktas giving 6-seed Fiorentina a hard time in Italy.
This round would again for the most part be dominated by the higher seeds. Unlike the NCAA tournament, there is a huge gulf in class between the top European clubs and the lesser teams. The only seed for seed upset I see happening this round would be 6-seed Spurs taking down 3-seed Wolfsburg. Some more close calls include all three 2-seeds struggling to advance: a terrible in form Chelsea struggling vs PSV, Shakhtar giving Benfica a run for their money, Man City surviving a second scare in a row from CSKA, Napoli giving Madrid a hard time and a big time second round matchup of 8-seed Liverpool vs 1-seed Bayern having the German giants advancing.
Now we get to the big stage. From here on out I will give a quick analysis of each matchup.
Barcelona vs Roma â€“ We saw this matchup in the group stage this year and Barcelona would definitely be able to handle Roma at home.
Arsenal vs Benfica â€“ Arsenal would head to Portugal and knock out Benfica, they have too much talent for the Portuguese side to handle.
PSG vs Sevilla â€“ The Spanish side would head to Paris and face a big test vs the French giants. PSG would handle Sevilla pretty easily.
Spurs vs City â€“ This is the first upset we see at this stage: Tottenham would head to Manchester and knock off big spending City, who have struggled recently.
Madrid vs Zenit â€“ I think the Russian club would have a chance if this match was played in St. Petersburg but since they travel to Madrid, they fall just short.
Juventus vs Dortmund â€“ This is one of my favorite matchups not just in this round, but the entire tournament: great defensive team vs amazing offense. As is the case in most sports, in the later stages of the season defense trumps offense. Dortmund would have a fighting chance in a home and home matchup, but heading to Turin facing the Italian giants they would struggle to get the win.
Chelsea vs Atletico â€“ Chelsea get into this tournament by winning the EPL last season, but weâ€™ve seen how terrible theyâ€™ve been this season. They get this far by handling 2 easy matches vs Partizan and PSV but they come up against a tough Atletico side that would handle Chelsea easily at this point of the season.
Bayern vs Lazio â€“ This is an easy win for Bayern, not much else to say.
Barcelona vs Arsenal â€“ We are seeing this matchup play out in the current round and have seen it in recent past. Barcelona look like the best team in the world right now and have Arsenalâ€™s number. They advance to the final 4.
PSG vs Spurs â€“ The French giants host Spurs and their attack is too much for the London side, they move on to the final 4.
Juventus vs Madrid â€“ Juventusâ€™ defense is too much for the Madrid offense and they knock off their second straight big time attack to head to the final 4.
Bayern vs Atletico â€“ Another great matchup that would go down to the wire, but Bayern is the second best club in the world and advance to the final 4.
Barcelona vs PSG â€“ Two great teams, and PSG might have a chance in a home and home, but in a one off match Barcelonaâ€™s triple threat up top would send the Catalan giants into the championship.
Bayern vs Juventus â€“ The matchup that we are currently seeing in the round of 16 is rightfully being played in the semifinal in our version. The first leg was a great match, the second looks to be just as good and I imagine this one off match would be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament. Bayern have just enough to get by Juve and create the dream national championship match everyone wants to see.
Barcelona vs Bayern â€“ The two best teams in the world face off for all the marbles. MSN vs their old manager looking to get the one title he hasnâ€™t brought to the Bavarian giants before he heads to England. We still have a chance to see this matchup in the final this season, but in our hypothetical scenario it has happened and it would be amazing. Barcelona look unbeatable at the moment and I think they would take home their second straight treble by knocking off Bayern in an all-time great match.
So there you have it, this yearâ€™s Champions League re-imagined as the NCAA tournament. Big boy clubs would dominate like they do in the real iteration of the competition and Barcelona are the champions.