Countdown to Champions League Final: How horrible is Saturday’s match up? Ridiculous numbers shed light.


It’s difficult to get too fired up about a Champions League final contested by a team that finished sixth in their domestic league and an opponent that just got blitzed in their domestic cup final. If the Champions League is, in fact, supposed to be about the best facing the best, this year’s final defies the definition. Few would argue that either Bayern Munich or Chelsea are amongst the world’s top five-or-so1 teams right now, but it would also be foolish to argue that these teams don’t deserve to be in Munich.2

It’s a bit unfair to compare the build up for this year’s final to last year’s Barcelona-Manchester United meeting, but there’s an obvious (and possibly refreshing) diminution in excitement. While it might help if Frank Lampard stepped up with a reputation-undermining scandal, the perceived quality of the matchup is tempering anticipation for a meeting of two of the world’s most popular clubs.

All that was a bit too nebulous for me, so I decided to combine a series of random numbers with spurious assessments, trying to determine just how bad this match up is. I looked at the 20 years of the Champions League and tried to assess, based on league finishes and league strength, whether we’d ever seen a “weaker” final. Trying to cover a number of angles, creating a number of different ways to rank the final match ups, looking at (click here to skip the boring stuff):

  • combined table (ordinal) finish,3
  • combined points, adjusted for the number of points it took to win the league,4 and
  • combined points, adjusted for the maximum number of points possible.5

Then for each of these measurements, I also created rankings that attempted to adjust for league quality:

  • combined table (ordinal) finish, with each value multiplied by league’s UEFA coefficient rank (ordinal),6
  • combined points adjusted for league winner’s points, adjusted for how the league’s coefficient (points) compare to the top coefficient,7 and
  • combined points adjusted for league winner’s points, adjusted for how the league’s coefficient (points) compare to a pseudo-maximum coefficient.8

Whether you want to look at raw, relative, or adjusted numbers, these quick-and-dirty assessments should cover the spectrum, but none of this should be taken too seriously. The goal here is to move from “Man, this matchup stinks” to something a closer to “OK, this is a slight more valid reason to think this matchup stinks.”

And by the six “measures,” Saturday’s matchup is the stinkiest in only one:

Table 1: Best, worst match ups by combined league rank

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 2
2010 Internazionale-Bayern Munich 2
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 2
2001 Bayern Munch-Valencia 2
1999 Manchester United-Bayern Munich 2
1994 Milan-Barcelona 2
1993 Marseille-Milan 2
Year Match up Score
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 8
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 8
2007 Milan-Liverpool 7
2005 Liverpool-Milan 7
4 tied at 5

All we’re trying to see here is which finals have features the best league finishers. There’s no shortage of meetings of league winners (“Best”, where the score ends up being 2). This year’s final, however, is right there with 2000’s as the weakest, by this measure.

It bares noting La Liga in 2000 was amazing, with six teams within eight points at the top (Deportivo La Coruña took the title).

We account for this kind of clustering in the next measure, where we don’t look at league rank; rather, we take consider how close the teams came to winning the league. The numbers, below, are the combined percentages of the points each team earned divided by the league leader’s (multiplied by 100, to make pretty). 200 would be a the best possible score, one earned by those seven meetings of league winners.

Table 2: Best, worst match ups by percentage of league leader points

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
Seven tied at 200.0
Year Match up Score
2007 Milan-Liverpool 139.3
2005 Liverpool-Milan 152.9
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 162.0
2006 Barcelona-Arsenal 173.6

This measure tries to capture how far back of their league leaders each team was when they made the final. When Milan and Liverpool were competing against each other for Champions League, there weren’t meaningfully competing for their domestic titles. Interesting, the four finals rating “worst” by this measure have all occurred in the last six years.

The next chart is similar, but instead of looking at teams relative to their league leader, we look at total points available. There are a certain number of points out there at the beginning of the year. How many did the finalists grab? If you had two finalists with two perfect league records, the score would be 200.

Table 3: Best, worst match ups by percentage of maximum points

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 155.3
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 154.4
1994 Milan-Barcelona 147.2
2004 Porto-Marseille 146.2
Year Match up Score
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 110.5
2007 Milan-Liverpool 113.2
2005 Liverpool-Milan 120.2
1997 Borussia Dortmund-Juventus 124.5

There’s that La Liga season again. In 2000, points were so evenly dispersed in Spain that Valencia (third, 64) and Real Madrid (fifth, 62) were still title contenders. To put that in perspective, this year’s Chelsea – never real title contenders – finished with 64 points.

To this point, we havent taking league strength into account. In these final three … things … I try to do so. First, I take the league finish rankings and multiply them by the league’s UEFA coefficient ranking (before combining the numbers). The best possible score here would be 3.9

Table 4: Best, worst match ups by combined league rank, UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 3
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 3
2008 Manchester United-Chelsea 3
1993 Milan-Marseille 3
Year Match up Score
2004 Porto-Monaco 21
2007 Milan-Liverpool 18
2005 Liverpool-Milan 16
4 tied at 13

A meeting of teams from fifth and sixth-ranked leagues drives up the 2004 final. It didn’t help that Monaco was the third place team in Ligue 1 that season.

Staying with the idea of adjusting domestic results for league strength, we shift back to point totals but make our UEFA coefficient adjustment. That adjustment: take the league’s coefficient points and divide it by the leader’s coefficient points to create our “factor”. For example, if we’re talking about a team from the number one ranked league by UEFA, the factor will be 1; however, if we’re talking about a league that’s only accumulated half the points of the best league, the factor will be .5 and the team’s domestic point total will be downgraded accordingly:

Table 5: Best, worst match ups by combined league points (relative to leader), UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 100.9
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 100.9
2001 Bayern Munich-Valencia 100.7
1998 Real Madrid-Juventus 100.69
Year Match up Score
1994 Milan-Barcelona 58.77
1996 Juventus-Ajax 64.06
2006 Barcelona-Arsenal 65.25
2007 Milan-Liverpool 68.65

In 1994, Barcelona finished well off the pace in a league that was miles behind Italy as UEFA’s best-rated. If you want strong teams from strong leagues in your Champions League final, 1994 Barcelona may be the worst finalist of the last 20 years.

And we’re finally at out final table. This one is like Table 5, but except using the best-rated UEFA league as the European standard, we shift to our theoretical maximum UEFA coefficient points.10 The goal here: assess teams’ absolute league results when adjusted for league’s absolute coefficient “quality”.

Table 6: Best, worst match ups by combined points earned from maximum, UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 66.2
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 64.7
2008 Manchester United-Chelsea 58.9
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 50.0
Year Match up Score
1994 Milan-Barcelona 28.2
1996 Juventus-Ajax 33.3
2004 Porto-Monaco 33.6
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 35.3

Hold on a second: How did this year’s matchup make it into a “Best” list? For this ranking, it’s all about the UEFA coefficient. In historical terms, the rankings of the current top three leagues are very high. You get a matchup between the two of them, and it’s going to climb these charts. In 1994, even though Milan was from Europe’s top-rated league, the actual rating wasn’t that high, as far as coefficient-leading rankings are concerned.

So … after all that anybody else ready for Saturday?!? Wasn’t this exciting? Yeah, I know. The numbers become a bit of a buzzkill after a while, but look at it this way: There was no buzz to kill for this weekend’s match, exactly the reason why we did this in the first place.

There is the assumption that this year’s matchup is a bit of a stinker, and it is. But there are have been a lot of stinkers in the past, no matter how you look at it. And as the prevalence of the Milan-Liverpool finals on these lists show, some the match ups the numbers see as horrible end up being among our most memorable finals.

Take a look at some of the raw data, if you’re into that kind of thing.

1 – Let’s go ahead and say Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City, with a good argument for AC Milan ahead of Bayern … and most certainly Chelsea.
2 – It’s not that the argument’s wrong. It’s more that “deserve to be” there is just a weird way we discuss these things. It always leads nowhere. You’d be foolish the engage in that discussion. It’s too Baylessian.
3 – League finish of Team A added to League finish fo Team B (or for second place Bayern and sixth place Chelsea, the final value out be 8).
4 – League points for Team A divided by the league leader’s points, added to the same measure for Team B. I multiplied by 100 for aesthetics. If two league leaders meet, the score would be 200.
5 – League points for Team A divided by maximum league points, added to the same measure for Team B.
6 – This one’s just as it sounds. Chelsea’s sixth place finish and England’s first place coefficient ranking yield a value of six. Bayern’s value is also six (second and third ordinals). The match up’s final “score” is 12.
7 – This takes the league leader point adjustments we did for note 4 and multiply them by a similar coefficient leader adjustment based on league coefficient points and divided by coefficient leader points.
8 – Similar to what we did for note 5, but since it’s near impossible to come up with a maximum coefficient, the figure used as to adjust here is the highest coefficient seen yet (England 85.785 in 2011) divided by .897 (which is the closest any club has come to claiming full league points in the Champions League era). The goal is to scale the value in a manner similar to some of the non-coefficient adjusted measures.
9 – The first place team from Europe’s best league meeting the first place team from the second-best league or the second place team from the best league.
10 – Which comes out to 95.635, and is really not a theoretical maximum at all; rather, it’s a scaling agent.

MLS: NYCFC with 3 wins in 3; defending champs TFC point-less

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NEW YORK (AP) Ismael Tajouri and Maximiliano Moralez scored 12-minutes apart in the second half and New York City FC opened the season with three straight wins for the first time in the club’s short history with a 2-0 victory over Orlando City on Saturday.

Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik misplayed a back-pass that went right to Tajouri inside the 18-yard box and Tajouri took a few touches to the penalty spot for an easy finish in the 62nd minute. After an Orlando giveaway to Saad Abdul-Salaam, Jesus Medina settled it for an oncoming Moralez to slide it home.

NYCFC (3-0-0) was without start David Villa due to a minor injury.

Orlando City (0-2-1), led by NYC’s former coach Jason Kreis (2014-15), has its share of injury problems as well. Striker Stefano Pinho had a right ankle injury last Saturday, leaving on crutches, and playmaker Dom Dwyer will be out for at least two more weeks.

Sacha Kljestan made his debut for Orlando after serving a two-game ban. The club arrived late due to the St. Patrick’s Day parade traffic.

MONTREAL (AP) Jeisson Vargas scored four minutes before the intermission to lift Montreal to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC in the Impact’s home opener Saturday.

It was the first MLS goal for 20-year-old Vargas and the first win for new coach Remi Garde, who replaced Mauro Biello in December as coach of the Impact (1-2).

Toronto (0-2) played its first game since a rousing victory in the CONCACAF Champions League over Mexican side Tigres. The travel to Mexico may have sapped some energy from the defending MLS champions, who nonetheless started most of their top players.

Garde seemed to catch everyone off guard by starting a three-man backline with former Marseille defender Rod Fanni making his debut in the middle.

It made for a mostly uneventful first half until Saphir Taider intercepted a ball and sent Ignacio Piatti up the middle. Three Toronto defenders focused on the Impact captain, leaving Vargas open on the right side to take the pass and slice a shot inside the goalpost in the 41st minute for their first lead in three games.

Piatti was inside the Toronto penalty area on two more occasions before the break but Nick Hagglund blocked one dangerous shot and another was also turned away.

Eight minutes into the second half, Piatti sent Taider in alone but Alexander Bono pushed the shot.

Toronto threatened in the 64th when Sebastian Giovinco got the ball to striker Jozy Altidore. He lifted a shot over goalie Evan Bush but saw it bounce just wide. Toronto looked to have tied it in the 84th minute when Altidore’s shot got behind Bush and was rolling slowly to the goal line, but Michael Petrasso swept it away at the last second.

Montreal striker Matteo Mancosu, who missed practice this week for what the team called precautionary reasons, didn’t dress.

Midfielder Victor Vazquez, who has had back trouble, didn’t dress for Toronto. Chris Mavinga (suspected sports hernia) was in the lineup but did not start.

Mourinho slams Man Utd players for “lack of desire” despite FA Cup win

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Jose Mourinho, voted the manager mostly likely to zig when everyone else in the world is zagging*, laid into his Manchester United players on Saturday despite the fact the Red Devils topped Brighton & Hove Albion to advance to the semifinals of the FA Cup.

*not a real poll that has ever been taken, as far as we’re aware

[ MORE: Spurs advance to FA Cup semifinal | Man United join them ]

The Portuguese boss called out his players for what he deemed “a lack of personality, a lack of class, and a lack of desire” in the 2-0 victory at Old Trafford.

quotes from the Guardian:

“The basic things is to keep the emotional balance to play with that red shirt, which is a heavy shirt to wear. But to feel not comfortable to play, saying, ‘Please Mister, take me from the pitch.’ I felt that. So I have nothing to lose in relation to that. The strong ones will be always the strong ones. The young ones, under pressure and under criticism, will improve or will not improve.

“Matic was an island of personality and quality. But a few of the other guys, I saw them scared to play. Look, I cannot say much more. I think it is in relation with personality, in relation to trust, in relation to class. And you know when the sun is shining, and in football the sun is shining when everything goes well, you win matches, you score goals, everything goes in your direction, every player is a good player and every player wants to play and every player wants the ball and every player is confident to play and every player looks amazing.

“When it is dark and cold and that in football means a period of bad results or a bad result like what happened to us a couple of days ago, not everybody has the confidence and the personality to play really. Because to be on the pitch and touch the ball every five minutes, anyone can do it but to be on the pitch and say: ‘Give me the ball because I want to play,’ that is a little bit more difficult. Not all of them were able to do it.”

As for 21-year-old Scott McTominay, Mourinho singled him out for criticism not only in the public forum, but in the locker room after the final whistle:

“You have the kid that didn’t play well at all. I told him already, he was the first one I spoke to individually in the dressing room. And instead of being critical with him, I was positive with him saying: ‘You played very bad but you did the basic things that one player has to do.'”

This is year two of Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford, and if the signs of fractures between manager and players are beginning to sound all too familiar, one should be reminded that Mourinho only signed a new contract to remain at the club through 2020 (with a further option) in January.

Serie A: Juventus slip up vs. SPAL, let Napoli back in the race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Spurs advance to FA Cup semifinal | Man United join them ]

SPAL 2013 0-0 Juventus

Just one week after going top of the league with a game in hand, Juventus slipped up away to 17th-place SPAL on Saturday and left the door ever so slightly ajar for second-place Napoli in the title race.

Juve had 65 percent of possession on the day and out-shot SPAL by a count of 12-3 (3-0 on target), but the likes of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Douglas Costa and Miralem Pjanic couldn’t beat 20-year-old goalkeeper Alex Meret (on loan from Udinese).

(Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Massimiliano Allegri’s side now leads Napoli by five points, but the game in hand now belongs to the chasers, who host 13th-place Genoa on Sunday with a chance to cut the deficit to just two points with nine games remaining. Just when it seemed crystal clear and a foregone conclusion Juve would wrap up their seventh straight Serie A title, newly promoted SPAL helped to make things quite interesting once again.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Sassuolo

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Sampdoria vs. Inter Milan — 7:30 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Roma — 10 a.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Chievo — 10 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Fiorentina — 10 a.m. ET
Hellas Verona vs. Atalanta — 10 a.m. ET
Benevento vs. Cagliari — 10 a.m. ET
Napoli vs. Genoa — 3:45 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Bologna — 3:45 p.m. ET

Man Utd joins Spurs in FA Cup semis

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Jose Mourinho has come under heavy scrutiny in recent days and weeks, as his Manchester United side crashed out of the Champions League this week and continue to trail runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City by 16 points, yet the Portuguese is perhaps just 180 minutes from finishing the 2017-18 with a major trophy anyway.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Swansea to reach FA Cup semis ]

Man United got the best of Brighton & Hove Albion, to the tune of 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday, to book their spot at Wembley Stadium in the semifinals of the FA Cup. Romelu Lukaku scored the winning goal not long before halftime, with United grinding out another laborious result with superstars Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez glued to the bench for the whole of 90 minutes.

United enjoyed a healthy 61 percent of possession in the game, but were out-shot by the 12th-place side in the PL by a sizable margin, 16-8 (4-2 on target).

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ] 

Lukaku’s rampage through the FA Cup continued in the 37th minute, as the big Belgian striker bagged not only his 23rd goal of the season in all competitions, but his fifth of the tournament thus far and extended his record of having scored in each round to four games.

Nemanja Matic floated a cross from the let side of the box to the back post, where Lukaku had created a yard or two of space for himself. Tim Krul didn’t come out to catch it, and Lukaku headed it just under the crossbar to give the Old Trafford faithful reason to smile again.

[ PREVIEW: Who will join Spurs, United at Wembley?

It was Matic who got on the end of another back-post ball, this one from an Ashley Young free kick, in the 84th minute to put United two goals ahead and secure the club’s second FA Cup semifinals appearance in seven seasons (United enjoyed a run of five final-four appearances out of eight in the years prior).

Tottenham Hotspur, who trail United by four points in the race for second in the PL, were the first side to advance to this season’s semifinals by winning 3-0 away to Swansea City on Saturday.