Good day, internet dwellers, and welcome to another long-winded ramble about nothing of particular importance from yours truly.
For today’s topic of conversation, you may remember from my previous post, me describing the Europa League as “big, convoluted, and unnecessary”, and I stand by most of it. There are far too many teams in that competition, and is just another example of UEFA favouring the biggest, richest teams of Europe and wanting more commercial revenue from those teams, instead of having a competition for teams that have actually earned their right to be there.
So let’s travel back in time and remember that special little enigma of a competition that was the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. As you can probably guess, the competition was for the teams that won their domestic cup competition, and was played in a straight-knockout format. However, with the Champions League and UEFA Cup gaining prominence and increasingly expanding as the 1990’s went on, seeing the actual cup winners competing in either one of those tournaments, and as it became an increasingly irrelevant competition, it was eventually abolished in 1999. A great shame, because as an Arsenal fan, it’s the only major UEFA competition we’ve ever won, and is probably the only one we’d have an actual chance of winning these days. It’s basically the equivalent of what UEFA are planning for the Europa Conference League, except the CWC had an actual point to it.
For now, we’re going to imagine a scenario where the Champions and Europa Leagues have been forgotten about for a season in order to create a throwback tournament where the 55 competing confederations of Europe will join together to determine who the best cup winner of 2019 is. We’re neglecting the other 2 competitions for now because, well, we need to keep things as simple as possible.
Keeping with the traditional straight-knockout format over two legs (I’m aware that if it were going on today it would probably be a group stage followed by knockout format, but my tournament my rules), let’s jump right into it and see what nonsense this tournament throws up.
I based the entry phase on the nations’ current UEFA coefficients. No, I don’t think it’s the fairest way of doing things but it’s the most UEFA-ish thing I could come up with to make it look vaguely realistic.
Basically, the 6 lowest-ranked teams will enter in at the First Qualifying Round. The 3 winners will then join the next best 37 teams in the Second Qualifying Round. The 20 winners will then join the 12 highest-ranked teams in the Round of 32, and it’ll be a straight knock-out from there.
Here’s the format that I have concocted for this tournament:
You can almost instantly see the problem we encounter with this sort of tournament. With so many teams from one nation competing in the Champions and Europa Leagues, barely any of these teams will actually be playing in this tournament, to the point where we’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel for teams to actually compete, and who in no way won their respective cups. You can see why this merged with the UEFA Cup after a while.
Now, I know I went through the effort of conducting a live draw for the hypothetical Euros, but if I do that every time it’s going to be repetitive, time-consuming, and I’ll most likely lose the only 2 friends I have if I keep pestering them to partake in my pointless shenanigans. So instead I’ve decided to turn to a draw generator, courtesy of randomresult.com.
We’ll start with the results of the First Qualifying Round:
Yeah, I know, mouth-watering. Sadly, the website doesn’t decide the results for me (if anyone knows a website that does please let me know), so I’ll be using my infinite wisdom to decide who stays and who gets slayed. I have decided that Havnar Bóltfelag, Budućnost & Feronikeli can hold their heads up high and claim a spot in the Second Qualifying Round.
Now, same again, here’s how the internet tells me that round will line up:
I know what you’re all thinking, FK Sarajevo aren’t playing anyone! That’s correct, turns out my maths went horribly wrong when calculating the format of this tournament, so instead of re-doing everything and starting all over again, I’ve taken a page out of the Chichester City book of lucking your way through cup draws and have allowed them to receive a bye to the last 32. To be fair, that used to be commonplace in UEFA competitions, and at the very least, it keeps things interesting.
As far as the the results go, there’s a lot to get through and to be honest, I don’t know enough about most of these teams for an informed opinion on who would actually go through in real life. I’ll do my best, and, of course, there’ll be the odd upset or two to keep your senses tingling.
For the first five fixtures, I’d say Viking, Basel and PAOK seem pretty certain to go through. For the two British sides, I think Crusaders would have enough to overpower Budućnost, but I’d have thought Viitorul Constanta would see off The New Saints. For the next batch, Partizan and Bnei Yehuda should get themselves through relatively comfortably. Plovdiv and Gabala (who were once managed by Tony Adams and played a friendly against Bishop’s Stortford) face tighter ties but should be able to get themselves through. And finally, for a small upset, let’s go with Feronikeli working their way into the last 32.
In the third batch, you may have noticed an exciting Czechoslovak tie between Slavia Prague and Spartak Trnava, which makes me very happy indeed. The result would most likely be a very one-sided victory for Slavia, however, and the Trnava players will probably wish they’d never bothered making the short trip. And with further apologies to fans of Shamrock Rovers, AEL Limassol and FC Vaduz, I don’t see you going through. Congratulations to Rijeka, Sheriff Tiraspol, and Olimpija Ljubljana. Finally, I remember seeing F91 Dudelange making it into the Europa League either this season or the last, so for their courageous and over-performing efforts, I shall reward them with a place in the next round.
FK RFS, Fehérvár FC and Kaisar also take their places in the last 32, as do FC Midtjylland, who knock bottlejob FC – er, I mean Celtic – out of contention. Sorry Celtic, get your shit together and then @ me (to be fair they haven’t been bad in the Europa League this season, but this is my blog and reality is whatever I want it to be).
And so we have 20 teams joining the 12 big-hitters, and our final bracket has taken shape. We can now draw the last 32, which the bot gods have confirmed looks like this:
Now, since we have some teams of good pedigree who I actually know about joining the cause, I can actually go through each tie and at least try and justify my choices. To start with, I can’t ignore the tie between RB Salzburg and Manchester City. Salzburg have really been making a name for themselves in Europe this season, and are the dominant force in Austrian football at the moment. They’ll give City a run for their money, but the Manchester moneybags will surely be too good for them. Same with Bayern Munich and Slavia Prague. A quality team from a lesser league against a European giant who are currently underperforming. But Bayern have really shown up in the Champions League this season, and I think Slavia will be unfortunate to exit the competition.
Lokomotiv Moscow and Valencia is certainly an interesting tie, but I’d see Valencia just about squeezing their way through to the last 16. The teams from the other top leagues should comfortably see themselves through, with Lazio cruising past Viitorul, and Rennes easing past Viking. For the ties where I can’t really give much of an opinion, more an informed justification, here are the teams I think would make it through; Ajax, Galatasaray, Shakhtar Donetsk, FC Midtjylland, Sporting CP, Basel, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, and Partizan.
The last few ties are the ones I would consider to be underdog stories. Sheriff Tiraspol and F91 Dudelange continue their impressive runs, knocking out opponents of an albeit similar quality to themselves. And, having come through the First Qualifying Round, Feronikeli of Kosovo get the better of FK Sarajevo, who completely waste their use of a bye.
Thus, the last 16 is complete, and this is how they line up;
So yeah, some more pretty tough draws for the big teams there! I’ll quickly start off by saying that it looks as though the fairytale runs of F91 Dudelange, Sheriff Tiraspol and, most tragically, Feronikeli, will be coming to an end. Sorry guys, but it be like that sometimes. However, if you’re interested in upsets, I’m saying it right now, but Basel are good enough to knock out Valencia. So that’s exactly what they’re going to do, as the Spaniards channel their Gary Neville era and put in a woeful display to let the Swiss cut through their defence like some sort of knife.
For the ‘bigger’ sides, Lazio take a supposed waltz through the Lokomotiv Plovdiv defence to secure their place in the last 8, whilst Shakhtar do a similar thing at the expense of Partizan Belgrade. And in the two eye-catching ties, Manchester City show their quality by dispatching Rennes by an aggregate score of somewhere in the 6-1 region, whilst Bayern Munich eventually find their feet against Galatasaray and walk all over them for a spot in the quarter-finals.
In relation to the quarter-finals, here’s how the draw panned out;
In the words of Owen Wilson, “wow”. What a draw we have here. And, if I say so myself, we have some very interesting results coming out of this as well. Manchester City beating Basel isn’t one of them, that’s more a formality. Shakhtar defeating Lazio, however, well I think one or two people would have something to say about that. And I’m sure a couple of angry commenters will take issue with FC Midtjylland stunning Sporting CP to carry their amazing run into the semi-finals. Who am I kidding, no-one comments on this site.
Finally, let’s just take a gander at that awesome tie between Bayern Munich and Ajax. On paper you’d probably say Bayern Munich would have the advantage over the Dutch side. But, in this universe, in this wild and wacky competition where anything can happen, I can see Ajax narrowly losing the first leg 2-1, but coming out all guns blazing in Amsterdam, and securing a 1-0 win through Donny van de Beek on away goals. Complain all you want but I really need a way to keep all of you interested.
Let’s see how the last 4 will fare in the semi-finals;
Well, that wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped for. I think the two finalists from this draw are pretty self-explanatory, with Manchester City playing exactly the same way they did against Shakhtar Donetsk as they did in the Champions League earlier this season, whilst Ajax end FC Midtjylland’s cup heroics to book their place in the final. I haven’t thought about a neutral venue for the final to be played at, but seeing as the original Cup Winners’ Cup was basically a third-tier competition, we’ll play it somewhere big but not in the most eye-catching venue. Enter the Friends Arena in Stockholm. That’s where Manchester City and Ajax will be battling it out.
And finally, we arrive at the final. David Silva leads out Manchester City in the hope he’ll finally win some European silverware before he leaves the club for good. Dušan Tadić leads the opposition out of the tunnel, realising how far he’s come from being an underrated outcast at Southampton as recently as three years ago (remember this is sometime in May 2020).
As you’d expect, Manchester City play keep-ball from the offset, and Ajax can hardly get near them. Sergio Agüero and Kevin de Bruyne both go close for City, whilst Silva smashes the crossbar. After 20 minutes, Ajax get their first chance, with Tadić slipping in Hakim Ziyech, but Ederson rushes off his line to make a huge save.
10 minutes later, City turn their dominance into a goal, as a neat passing move on the edge of the box sees David Silva laying it off for his namesake Bernardo to sweep in from 15 yards. And that’s how it stays going into half-time. Can Ajax respond in the second 45 minutes?
Yes, they can. It takes them only 4 minutes to equalise after the restart, and it comes from a Tadić free kick after John Stones leaves his leg in on Donny van de Beek. From then on it becomes frantic and end-to-end, with both Ederson and André Onana being kept busy by the respective forward lines. Gabriel Jesus is chucked on as a substitute for City and nearly wins it for them in the 85thminute, but goes to chip Onana instead of slotting it past him, and the ball ends up nicely in the keepers’ hands.
From that missed chance, Ajax get the ball forward and work it out wide to Ziyech. He plays a brilliant cross-field ball to Quincy Promes, on as a substitute, who brings it down, takes it past Zinchenko on the edge of the box, and plays it across back to Ziyech, who arrives at the back post to tap it in. The crowd goes wild. The players are jubilant. Pep Guardiola is stunned. Manchester City’s dreams of European glory are in tatters, and David Silva is crestfallen. They can’t recover and the final whistle goes. Ajax have exorcised their demons of the Champions League semi-final last season, and Tadić walks up to the stage, kisses the trophy, and hoists it high above his head.
Told you, anything can happen in this tournament.
And so our emotional journey to discover who today’s best cup-winning team is. Obviously on paper it’s either City or Bayern, but it’s Ajax who come out trumps here. Sorry City fans, you’re just shit in Europe. I hope you’ve all enjoyed, even if it was a complete mess at times, and even if you think this reality I’ve created is completely nonsensical. At the very least, I hope you had a laugh. A shoddy tournament table I whipped up on MS Paint can be found below.
There are plenty more competitions for me to cover from here on out. But for now, it’s good night from me, and a happy new decade to you all.