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Satisfying Predictability

There’s something deeply unsatisfying about Champions League Football in September and October.  I can scroll through all 8 groups and with accuracy that would make Miss Cleo’s head spin predict the two teams from each group that will advance on to the next round.  The tournament doesn’t really start until February.  Supports are obliged to follow their club through the monotony, checking the match reports and player ratings diligently until the drama really begins.

The most surprising result of Match Day 2 was AC Milan’s defeat to Zurich.  Given current form Milan’s stumble takes on a different look: they’ve been abysmal with a capital A…B…Y well you get the picture.  Shouldn’t a loss against the weakest side in their group prove crushing?  It should but that’s not the case.  Milan have such quality in their side that following manager Leonardo’s imminent departure, the most drama we can expect is Milan perhaps needing a point in their last game. 

Some pundits have been looking at Chelsea’s win, yes win, against Cyprus champions APOEL Nicosia and suggesting they are a side in decline.  They won 0 – 1.  Consider that the Champion’s League Group stage is so shockingly dull that when a private jet full of multi-millionaires travels to Cyprus to play a team whose location is so accurately described by Google Maps below that anything less than a 0 – 10 blowout is treated like a defeat:

How many Chelsea players could point to Cyprus on a map?  I don’t doubt they pay people for things like that.

So we’ve thrown out the hype of the Champions League.  What’s left?  We have the satisfying perdictability of the league.  Familiarity breeds contempt; the most talked about Champions League matches in recent years have been those between clubs from the same nation.  Liverpool v. Chelsea, Arsenal v. Manchester United and Chelsea v. Manchester United.

More significantly the players seem to care more.  Milan will move on from their defeat.  Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool will all advance.  Last year Manchester United won the Premier League by 4 points: that amounts to one win and a draw over the course of 38 matches.  The year before the gap was 2 points and the title was decided at the death.

The Champion’s League Final is a culmination of a few months of sold out home games and carefully manoeveured away games.  The Premier League’s conclusion regularly provides a climax to the 10 month struggle.  A slog through hostile away grounds that have been waiting decades for the chance to knock off a title favourite or exact revenge for an injustice dealt decades earlier.

Now tell me that you’re not looking forward to exactly what you expected.

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