October 20 – The group stages of the UEFA Champions League kick off tonight with a congested calendar and the threat of the coronavirus looming large.
In August, Bayern Munich were crowned European Champions after dominating the final eight tournament UEFA staged in response to the coronavirus pandemic that disrupted the second half of the 2019/2020 season. On Wednesday, the German giants will begin their title defence, hosting Atletico Madrid, as the Champions League kicks off a month late, a ripple effect from this summer’s congested calendar.
Matches will promise to come thick and fast during the European club season as well, with UEFA squeezing in all six match days of the Champions League group stage inside the space of 50 days.
The calendar pressure places a significant burden on the clubs and players, even more so in times of the coronavirus pandemic, but the governing body is concerned with potential TV rebates that could cripple UEFA’s cash reserves and reduce the long-term distribution of TV monies to European clubs.
To complete the group stage, UEFA has drawn up a comprehensive medial protocol which allows the clubs to play even if members of their squad have tested positive for the coronavirus. As long as a club has 13 players available, they will be allowed to play.
Cristiano Ronaldo is missing Juventus’ Champions League opener against Dynamo Kiev after he contracted the coronavirus on national team duty with Portugal. Club Brugge has travelled to Saint Petersburg for their match against Zenit without Simon Mignolet, Michael Krmencik and Odilon Kossounou after the trio tested positive.
If local authorities have outlawed football due to the coronavirus, the onus will be on the hosting team to find a neutral venue to stage the match. But the governing body has given participants some leeway by allowing matches to be rescheduled until January 28.
In the pick of this week’s matches, last season’s finalists Paris Saint-Germain host Manchester United and coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks.
Barcelona welcome Hungary’s Ferencvaros, who return to the European Cup after a 25-year absence. On Wednesday, Liverpool travel to Amsterdam for a clash with Ajax.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1606269378labto1606269378ofdlr1606269378owedi1606269378sni@o1606269378fni1606269378