Shambolic draw adds drama to Champions League knockout stages

The word from Madrid was “you can imagine Florentino Perez’s reaction”.

Before Uefa had declared the first Champions League draw null and void, Real Madrid had lobbied that it should only be redone from the point of the technical error, thereby leaving their tie against Benfica intact. Instead, they will now face Paris Saint-Germain.

Over at Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, they had complained about having to face Bayern Munich rather than Manchester United. They now get the Premier League side.

There is the potential for a lot of theatrics here, to go with the usual knockout drama. The “shambles” of the situation notwithstanding – to quote one source – it’s actually hard not to conclude that the redraw has drastically improved the Champions League last-16.

There’s first of all the simple fact that the collection of ties are better than they were. In the initial 11am draw, it was really only the Manchester United-PSG game that was in any way engaging. It felt rather drab, and further indication of a tournament where the “real start” gets later and later. That isn’t quite the case now. There are a few games that catch the eye.


Atletico’s preference for United over Bayern Munich adds edge to that tie, but there’s another element, too. For all the fixation on Mauricio Pochettino, the Old Trafford hierarchy have long had a much deeper interest in Diego Simeone. Some at the club would love for him to be their next manager, even though they know it’s impossible.

Beyond that, there does feel like there’s more possibility for more teams in the 2pm draw, due to the fact there are a few more 50-50 ties.

United-Atletico is undeniably one of those, while offering Ralf Rangnick a very different sort of challenge to that which PSG would have offered. The French club are still involved in the tie of the round, which is now that narrative-rich meeting with Real Madrid. So much will revolve around the Super League, given they found themselves on opposite sides of the story, and also what much of this means for the future of Kylian Mbappe. Madrid won’t exactly be better disposed towards Uefa amid all this, as the legal fall-out from April’s events continues.

The truth is that the governing body had no choice but to restage the whole draw. The independent auditors could not guarantee exactly when the technical error with the software happened, so it just had to be redone. It’s unfortunate, and frustrating, but it is really as simple as that.

Liverpool’s task is another that has become a bit harder. They face Internazionale rather than RB Salzburg, although it is much the same for Chelsea and Manchester City. For Chelsea, it is literally the same, as they face Lille. Sporting offer a similar sort of challenge as City’s original opponents, Villarreal, but there seems little doubt the English champions will get through.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is currently engaged in a legal battle with Uefa

All of this is also why Monday’s situation perhaps reveals more about the draw than anticipated, as well as issues that go way beyond any technical errors. Part of the reason the initial games were so underwhelming was because of the overbearing strength of about six clubs, at least three of them from England. Part of the reason the draw itself was convoluted – with different clubs in different pots – was because teams from the same country had to be separated.

But given the current economic landscape of European football, it increasingly feels like it is only going to be the Premier League that has full representation in the last 16. That can be seen in how two of the last three finals have been all-English affairs. This is something that often feels like it goes against the continental spirit of the competition, but is made all the more likely by early country separation.

Monday’s events have offered a good argument to get rid of that ruling. There was even the removal of some intrigue from the last three ties in the 2pm draw, when Liverpool were automatically given Internazionale, since the latter’s potential pairing with Juventus limited options.

Amid all of this, it was hard not to imagine the excitement of a fully open draw, and what that might have done for the competition.


There is an element of irony here, too. Seedings largely exist because of the power of the big clubs. Madrid are meanwhile involved in a legal battle with Uefa because they dislike the current structures of European football, and want to play the biggest games all the time.

They’ve now got the biggest in this round. There won’t be too many satisfied, even though the second draw has proved better – and obviously fairer – for this Champions League season.

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