Champions League Knockout Rounds Preview

The greatest stage in professional soccer and viewed more than the Super Bowl, the Champions League Final, is just around the corner. But before the final comes, the dramatic knockout rounds stand before us. Unlike American sports, what makes these rounds so special is the concept of an aggregate and each round having two games (one at the home stadium of each team). In the knockout rounds, two games are played, and the scores of the two are added up, called an aggregate. If both teams are tied on aggregate at the end of the second game, the team with more away goals advances. If they both have the same amount of away goals, they go to extra time and possibly penalty kicks. 

This idea seems foreign to American sports fans. Why is an away goal so valuable? If a team has just played a league game on Saturday, and then has to travel across the continent to play on Tuesday or Wednesday in front of a hostile crowd of 50,000, an away goal is quite the feat.

Last year we saw some thrilling group stage match-ups. For example, Liverpool, who went on to win the Final, were dominated 3-0 by Barcelona in the first leg. However, in the second game they managed a 4-0 win at home mounting a comeback for the ages. On top of this, Tottenham lucked out with a last second disallowed goal against Manchester City and a last second goal against Ajax. Despite these intense games from last year, don’t expect the legendary moments to stop. When the top teams in the world are thrown into a tournament, there are bound to be many memorable games.

While the excitement of the Champions League may not reach last year’s levels, I think there will be a change in the dominant teams of the competition. Last season, five of eight quarter-final teams were English. But this year, Tottenham and Chelsea have seen a decline in their overall performance. This is especially not helpful because they drew RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich respectively. Bayern and Leipzig are in first and second place in the Bundesliga, and are on fire this season. While Tottenham and Chelsea could see early exits, so could Liverpool. Their main focus seems to be winning a title, not winning the Champions League. However, Manchester City still seems poised to make a run. The Premier League title appearing more out of reach adds more incentive for Pep Guardiola’s squad to win the Champions League. Unfortunately, it seems that English dominance on Europe’s biggest stage was only back briefly.

While English teams seem to have declined, German teams Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, and RB Leipzig seem to have surged to dominance this year. In my opinion, Bayern seem the most ready of the teams for a deep run and possibly even a title. Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored in every Champions League game he’s played in. On top of this, they have a rock solid defense anchored by veteran center backs David Alaba and Jerome Boateng with prolific keeper Manuel Neuer. They seem to have a near-perfect combination of world-class, experienced players and younger, quicker players. Dortmund is another frontrunner, led in attack by 19-year-old January transfer Erling Haaland who has scored 40 goals in the 2019/20 season. While their squad features other young starlets like Jadon Sancho, I think they lack the experience that Bayern has. All in all, this is the year for the German teams as the Premier League teams seem to have slightly deteriorated, but there are many other strong teams left like PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus.