Soccer’s Champions League Fandom Is Not Limited To Europe Anymore
Growing numbers of Americans love the Champions League, which is the highest league of European clubs. Here is a look at the upcoming playoffs for the Champions League Final Four.
The UEFA Champions League semi-finals will be underway soon, and the 32-team tournament is in its final rounds. The final four teams are Real Madrid, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Each round in the Champions League consists of two legs, or games, with one at each team's home stadium. The aggregate score determines the winner. If they are tied, an away goal tiebreaker is used, where the team who scored more goals away from home advances. If that does not separate the two teams, they go into an overtime period and, potentially, a penalty shootout.
Real Madrid takes on Chelsea in the first match. The first leg will be on April 27 in Madrid, and the second leg is on May 5 in West London. It's a battle of the two teams on what has commonly been dubbed as the weaker side of the bracket. Real Madrid has been marked as slight favorites, with fanduel odds putting them at +135, while Chelsea are at +220. This means that putting $100 on Real Madrid will give someone $135, and the same bet on Chelsea will give someone $220.
Recent controversy surrounding Real Madrid’s President Florentino Perez and his involvement in the attempted creation of the European Super League has frustrated many. For Michigan State University student and long-time Real Madrid fan Ali Abdelmagid, this does not faze him.
“To say Real Madrid is the most hated team in Europe would be an understatement, but it's nothing new,” Abdelmagid said. “They’re getting counted out again, but it was like that in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, yet the only constant is they won the title each year.”
Abdelmagid's confidence is not out of place. A majority of the team from the most recent title winnings are still being there, with Christiano Ronaldo the star of each season. However, he moved to Juventus after the 2018 triumph. Winning the title this year would be the most surprising victory, as the team has gone through a lot of adversity beyond the recent judgement for Perez’s actions.
“Despite over 50 injuries this season, they are still in the semifinals and in the domestic title race,” Abdelmagid said. “Sometimes it's not about a matter of team, coach or player. It's a matter of spirit and mindset, and Madrid’s spirit is the Champions League.”
Standing in between Real Madrid and their sixth final since 2014 is Chelsea. Their last title win was in 2012, and making it to the semifinals is the furthest they have gotten since 2014. Recent MSU graduate and longtime East Lansing resident Munzer Elsir is hopeful that they can return to the summit this campaign.
“I honestly believe Chelsea can win if they continue to control possession,” Elsir said. “Since Chelsea does not score often in open play, maintaining possession and keeping pressure on their opponent will be crucial in giving them chances.”
Chelsea’s season was given a revamp in January when manager Frank Lampard, who was the captain the night they won the competition in 2012, was fired for poor performance. Thomas Tuchel filled in for Lampard, and he's gotten the team through the previous two rounds.
“It's definitely been exciting watching Tuchel work behind the scenes,” Elsir said. “He has been hesitant to use the same players in consecutive games, so I am interested to see who he decides to play for the games against Madrid.”
Tuchel was manager of Paris Saint-Germain when they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich last season, and Tuchel could potentially meet his former team in the final. Ironically enough, while his hire gives Elsir plenty of belief in Chelsea, his absence from Paris Saint-Germain is giving one of their fans belief that they can win their first ever Champions League title.
“Now they finally have a world class manager in Mauricio Pochettino,” Michigan State student Mohamed Babiker said. “They have him along with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria leading the attack. I’m confidently betting on them to win the whole thing.”
Pochettino is a former finalist himself, finishing second in the competition to Liverpool in 2019 as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur. This Paris Saint-Germain side is without a doubt more talented than Tottenham, and his quest to bring it home should be in safer hands this time around. They are also battle tested after a tough quarter final series.
“They already got rid of reigning champions Bayern Munich on the way here,” Babiker said. “They should have no problems with the rest of the teams in the tournament. This is their year to finally win it all.”
Their opponent, Manchester City, is also looking for their first ever title, and they are in a similar position of confidence. Manchester City is the favorites going into the games, with the odds set at +120 for them and +200 for Paris Saint-Germain, although betting sites tend to have a bias toward the English teams. The first leg is on April 28 in Paris and the reverse fixture is on May 4 in Manchester. Whoever wins this series is very likely to be the heavy favorite in the final.