If Chelsea FC overcome a 3–0 deficit against Bayern Munich and progress to the quarter-final of the European Champions League, it will be a new format for today’s new world. The coronavirus pandemic has forced UEFA to turn the competition into a truncated tournament, resembling a mini World Cup.
What started as the European Cup in 1955 – the Blues would have been England’s first entrant, but the Football Association prevented us from taking part – became the Champions League in 1992. Since then, it has expanded to include 79 teams. The most successful countries, such as England, Spain, Italy and Germany, now have four participants each.
The usual structure starts with a series of qualifying rounds, with clubs from smaller nations like Northern Ireland and Luxembourg. After, we arrive at the group stage, which is a seeded round-robin made up of eight sections of four sides. Each plays the other three home and away. After these six games, the top two in each group advance (so 16 total) to the knockout stage.
Every group winner is usually paired with a runner-up, and they play home and away with the team who scores more goals over the two legs progressing to the last eight. Likewise, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the Champions League final is a one-off match at a venue picked years in advance.
However, UEFA has a different plan for this year to finish it quickly. We are at the last-16 stage. This Friday and Saturday, the four remaining legs of those ties – such as ours – will be completed as normal, though behind closed doors. Then, the tournament changes. Plus, next season’s competition also starts this weekend. (For context, this time last August, they were already at the third qualifying round.)
For this season, rather than home-and-away contests, the four quarter-finals and two semi-finals will be single elimination games, using extra-time and penalty kicks if necessary. All matches are in two neutral stadiums in Lisbon, Portugal to minimize travel and mitigate the spread of coronavirus. They are one-off knockout matches like the later stages of the World Cup.
The quarter-finals, one a day, will take place between August 12–15. The semi-finals will be held on August 18 and 19, and the 2020 Champions League final will be at the Estádio da Luz on August 23.
Will Chelsea be there? It will take an almighty performance to turn around a three-goal deficit. However, we have triumphed over Bayern Munich, against the odds, in this competition before. U.S. Chelsea fans have a great match to look forward to.