What if the Champions League Really Was a League?

With the second week of fixtures in the Group Stages of the Champions League about to begin, we thought it would be interesting to look at how the structure of the competition affects the percentage chance each team has of winning the competition. What if the Champions League really was an, admittedly large, league of 32 teams?

Is the current format, including draws which are seeded and which force teams from the same nation to avoid each other until the Quarter-Finals a disadvantage for the smaller teams? Is this disadvantage more than offset by the nature of a knock-out competition allowing lesser teams to progress off the back of a couple of lucky performances?

The first step was to use our team ratings to simulate the Champions League in its current form, excluding last week’s results to make the comparison fair. Next we threw all teams into a standard league where they play each other twice, three points for a win, one for a draw, none for a loss.

After running each simulation ten thousand times we found the following results:

Chance of winning:

Percentage chance of winning the competition

Chance of a top-two finish (reaching the final):

Percentage chance of making the top 2

Chance of a top 4 finish (reaching the semi-final):

Percentage chance of making the top 4

As you can see, the strongest team greatly benefits from a long season of many matches; this is because a short blip in performance doesn’t dump them out of the competition prematurely.

Here is the final league table averaged over all simulations. It’s interesting to note that Real’s slight edge over Man Utd in the current format is lost in a league scenario. I believe this is most likely due to the draw for the round of 16 protecting them from the best team in the competition, Barcelona, because of the rule which prevents teams from the same country playing each other.

How the Champions League might look if it really was a league.

So in conclusion, unless you’re a Barca fan, it’s probably best to stick with the current format for now!

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