There’s no greater annual competition in the world of sports than the UEFA Champions League. Despite FIFA’s corruption in the sport over the years, this tournament is luckily ran and organized by a (probably… hopefully?) less corrupt organization, UEFA, who overall seem to do a near-perfect job running the competition on a yearly basis.
What often gets overlooked regarding the 32-team tournament, however, are the ‘pots’. Eight teams are thrown into four pots for the random draw which determine the eight groups for the tournament – this year the draw to be held on 30 August 2018 in Monaco.
There’s a major aspect that can cause shockingly imbalanced groups, though. Pot 1, the supposed eight-best teams in the world, includes the defending Champions League and Europa League winners and the winners of the Top 6 leagues in Europe, which are determined by the UEFA country coefficients.
Try to guess the major issue in that before I remind you. Champions League winner? Obviously. Europa League winner? OK. Winners of the Top 6 leagues in Europe? Hmm… the Top 6 leagues in Europe by UEFA country coefficients: Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, German’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue Un and… Russia’s Premier League.
Yes, 2017-18 Russian Premier League champions Lokomotiv Moscow are in Pot 1. The other teams in Pot 1 are Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester City, PSG and Real Madrid.
Lokomotiv’s UEFA coefficient is 22.000. The worst team in Pot 3 (based off coefficients), Galatasaray, has a UEFA coefficient of 29.500. Lokomotiv is a Pot 4-caliber club that will be in Pot 1. There are teams in Pot 2 like Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham and Napoli, and teams in Pot 3 such as Lyon, Schalke and Monaco. That means a club like Tottenham could very likely be drawn into a group with clubs such as BOTH Barcelona and Lyon, while another Pot 2 club will be drawn with Lokomotiv Moscow and basically get a free route to the knockout stage, because Lokomotiv are not good compared to the field.
To be fair, Lokomotiv have made some great signings this summer to prepare for the competition and if they get a favorable draw, advancing to the group stage is not out of the question. They’ve brought in CB Benedikt Höwedes from Schalke and massive Portuguese forward, Eder. Midfielder Anton Miranchuk is one of Russia’s brightest young prospects. Nevertheless, they are not just a class below the other Pot 1 clubs, but the Pot 2 and arguably Pot 3 outfits as well.
A simple solution would be to have the exact same formula, just have Europe’s Top 5-league winners qualify for Pot 1 along with the Champions League and Europa League winner, and have the club with the best coefficient who don’t apply to the above to round out pot one. With that formula, Borussia Dortmund would be in Pot 1 this year. Much more even.
This isn’t anything awfully major, but it’s a quite noticeable unfair advantage for not just Lokomotiv Moscow, but the other three teams who are to be drawn in their group.