The multiple and concurrent method of competitions in world soccer was always going to be a challenge to restart after the coronavirus shutdown. European competitions, i.e. the Champions League and Europa League, had the added challenge of dealing with multiple restrictions on safety and travel across European borders. Domestic leagues trying to finish their seasons as quickly as possible also closed up the usual midweek windows in which UEFA plays their club competitions.
So UEFA is going to get around all of it.
The Champions League and Europa League will return in August. Both will become single-game, knockout tournaments in one country, like the World Cup or European championships after the group stages. The Champions League will finish in Lisbon over 11 days in the middle of August, with the Europa League finishing in either Cologne or Dusseldorf around the same time and in the same method. Gone are the two-leg, home-and-home, aggregate-score quarterfinals and semifinals.
If you need more answers than that, UEFA doesn’t really have them for you. They haven’t outlined a safety and health procedure and protocol yet, are waiting to see what things look like closer to the date. Nor have they decided how they will finish out the last half of the Round of 16 matches in either competition.
In the Champions League, Barcelona-Napoli, Juventus-Lyon, Munich-Chelsea, and Madrid-Manchester City only played the first legs of their Round of 16 ties back in February, and not the second legs. UEFA has not decided if those second legs will take place where they were supposed to or in Lisbon as well. They are waiting to see what the landscape will look like on August 7th and 8th when those are scheduled. It’s possible some could be played where they were scheduled, or all in Lisbon, or half-and-half. If teams don’t get their promised home leg while some teams advancing did, that smells a little funny.
The Europa League is a slightly bigger mess. Six of their eight Round of 16 matches played their first leg, but two of them (Sevilla-Roma, Inter-Getafe) didn’t. Those latter two will be one-offs now, while the other six ties will finish out their second legs with aggregate scores...somewhere. So that’s not weird at all.
Whereas the leagues that are finishing out their seasons still are following the format that they usually would, just without fans, these European competition formats are being fundamentally changed. The idea of two legs over just a single knockout is to lower the chance of something really goofy happening deciding the winner (although it still does. See: Spurs-Man City 2019). In a single knockout game, a keeper can turn into the Kraken for a night, or a funny bounce off a defender, or a dodgy refereeing decision can decide the whole thing. Again, all of these things can define a two-legged tie as well, there’s just twice as big of a chance that those things will decide a single game.
There’s also the difference in preparation. PSG will have not played a game in anger in nearly five months when this kicks off. Same for Lyon. Munich clinched their title yesterday, so won’t have played a meaningful game in two months and one at all in six weeks. RB Leipzig will be in the same boat. Both will be tossed right into the most important competition cold. Meanwhile, Barcelona, Madrid, City, Juventus, Napoli, Atletico Madrid, and Atalanta will see their domestic seasons run pretty close to the start of this and be in sharper form and fitness. That’s an advantage. Moreover, those who have to finish their Round of 16 ties in August and advance out of them will have an additional game to build form and fitness that PSG and Leipzig won’t get after months on the shelf. That’s another advantage. Munich, on the other hand, pretty much have their Round of 16 tie wrapped up with a 3-0 lead on Chelsea. Which will almost certainly see Chelsea send a skeleton squad to wherever the second leg is played, as it will be after the Premier League season is concluded and Chelsea likely not wanting to disrupt their offseason too much.
On the flip side, it will be high comedy that a Champions League final that normally contains a level of pomp and ceremony just below the Super Bowl will be played in front of no fans with the teams merely wandering out to the pitch before kickoff like they’re looking for Reese’s Pieces at a truck stop.
Next season’s Champions League and Europa League will be affected as well. The group stages for those won’t begin until October, though they will still finish at the beginning of December as normal. They’ll just be more crammed together. The qualifying rounds before the group stages will now also be only single-leg ties instead of two-legged ones.
International football is also going to have to mutate. All the participants for Euro 2020 — now in 2021 but still called “Euro 2020” just to add to the Mad Hatter element here — had not been decided. There are still four spots up for grabs among 16 teams. Those playoffs will be played in October and November...at the same time that the next version of the UEFA Nations League will also take place. If you’re starting to feel like your stomach is trying to escape through your eyes, you’re not alone.
This will see some national teams playing three games in the October and November international window instead of the normal two, which is going to send some club managers into orbit, seeing their players used this way when away from their clubs. In addition, the first batch of UEFA Nations League games are slated for early September, which is still looking like the offseason for most leagues.
That’s assuming any of this is possible due to circumstances in the world. Everyone take a breath and we’ll meet back here in August. If we need to.