Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Playoff for Europe

The beauty of the European domestic season is the simplicity of the schedule. You play everyone in your league twice- once at home and once on the road. There is no fairer way to determine a champion. Many of my uniformed American friends are shocked to learn there are no playoffs in European soccer. Especially in the NBA and NHL (and increasingly so in MLB and NFL), the regular season is merely a precursor to the real season- the playoffs. So the thought of a sport without playoffs is difficult for American fans to comprehend.

I would never suggest that the European leagues change their formats, but let's imagine what domestic league playoffs might look like in the top four leagues. We'll take eight teams, playing a two-game aggregate for the quarters and semis, followed by a one-game championship at a neutral site. Based on the current standings in England, Germany, Italy and Spain, your match-ups would look like this:

(1) Manchester United vs. (8) Tottenham
(2) Liverpool vs. (7) Fulham
(3) Chelsea vs. (6) Everton
(4) Arsenal vs. (5) Aston Villa
-The separation at the top of this year's Premier League is quite significant, so you're looking at a three-team fight. ManU cruises to the final and awaits the winner of another Liverpool-Chelsea battle.

(1) Wolfsburg vs. (8) Hoffenehim
(2) Bayern Munich vs. (7) Schalke
(3) Hertha Berlin vs. (6) Hamburg
(4) Stuttgart vs. (5) Borussia Dortmund
-Only 12 points separate the eight Bundlesliga playoff qualifiers, so this tournament is anything goes. Bayern Munich would be the favorites, but their form in 2009 has been anything but consistent.

(1) Inter Milan vs. (8) Udinese
(2) AC Milan vs. (7) Palermo
(3) Juventus vs. (6) AS Roma
(4) Fiorentina vs. (5) Genoa
-The Champions League has not been kind to Inter in recent years, so this format may not be for them. With three trips to the European Final since 2003, however, it is a better fit for their crosstown rivals.

(1) Barcelona vs. (8) Málaga
(2) Real Madrid vs. (7) Deportivo La Coruña
(3) Sevilla vs. (6) Villarreal
(4) Valencia vs. (5) Atlético Madrid
-Given the 15-point gap between second and third place in La Liga, anything outside of a Barcelona-Real final would be a shock.

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