Matchday six of this season’s European group games are upon us once again. And, as usual, it brings with it an absolute shedload of pony games.
Generally speaking, this round of continental fixtures are far worse than those quota filling Super Sundays. You know the ones we’re talking about: when you settle down to enjoy some top class football, only to end up enduring painfully mid-table teams play out 0-0 draws whilst you Google “how to file a complaint under the Trade Descriptions Act”.
Indeed, those afternoons are the stuff of legend compared to the vast majority of this final round of games.
In comparison, they’re the sort of pointless encounters that make the extended highlights of the World Paint Drying Tournament worthy of a series link. In HD.
This week we have such joys as Man City vs 1899 Hoffenheim look forward to, where the only thing of interest will be which Stone Island coat Pep turns up in. And don’t forget Arsenal vs FK Qarabag, where fans mad enough to turn up can entertain themselves by trying to count the Emirates’ attendance single-handedly.
So, what can be done about this pox on both UEFA’s houses?
Well, the common sense solution would be to simply ditch the group stages and revert to how European competition used to be. Simple two-legged knockout games from the off, ensuring every kick of the ball matters right until the very last whistle.
But thanks to the lucrative group stage TV rights (and UEFA’s fondness for lining their own pockets), we know that’s never going to happen.
Which means it’s up to us to put the arguments forward to fix these dreadfully dull encounters…
1. Teams must be forced to play monkey rush
Fundamentally, goals are what make football matches enjoyable to watch. Therefore finding a bona fide way for the scoreline to go bonkers during these otherwise meaningless games is a surefire way to inject life into them and bring the punters in.
To aid the net-bulging, a new rule could be established whereby in all fixtures that have only worthless points up for grabs, monkey rush rules must apply.
For those of you not familiar with the laws of the playground or 5-a-side cages across the land, monkey rush means there is no fixed goalkeeper. Instead, glove duties fall on whoever is the last man back.
Just imagine the fun you’d have watching diminutive full-backs go flying through the air for a diving save or freakishly tall midfielders flapping at a cross as the scoreline goes to 8-6. We’d tune in.
2. High-scoring teams get a wildcard to the next round
Going on the basis that UEFA somehow know how to pull off the most convoluted tournament system football has ever known in the shape of the Nations League, they can surely find a way to cram a couple more teams through the Champions League and Europa League group stages.
Specifically, they should reward the teams who manage to score the most amount of goals in their dead rubber fixture with a wildcard through to the next round. Stay with us here.
It’d give some tangible meaning to what would otherwise be a mere box ticking exercise, with players having to be kept updated with fixtures elsewhere on the continent as they go goal hunting.
As an added bonus, when FC Neverheardofthem of Middleofnowheresville progress to meet the tournament’s real big boys in the latter stages, we’re guaranteed to witness another goal-heavy demolition.
3. Introduce a no over 21s policy
Virtually every club prioritises their domestic campaign over European endeavours, meaning there’s no appeal whatsoever to play full-strength sides in these pointless games.
Matches invariably end up being glorified reserves kickabout under the lights, with a heady mix of out-of-form starters, squad players you forgot they had and a smattering of debutants.
Instead of having to put up with these disjointed displays, why not instead force clubs to look to the future and pick a team exclusively plucked from the youth ranks?
That would give fans crazy enough to turn up something new and exciting to watch at least, whilst supporting the next generation of superstars in the process. Oh, and giving those players who end up in a normal 9-5 job by age 23 a night to remember too.
4. Ban managers from attending
With nothing riding on the outcome, we’re certain managers would much rather spend their midweek evenings doing their homework on far more important fixtures. Or, you know, just putting their feet up in front of EastEnders.
Let’s give them the chance to do that whilst simultaneously letting others cut their teeth in the dugout.
So much is made of giving players and coaches better hands-on management experience to help develop their skills these days. The last round of group games offer them the perfect opportunity.
Whether it’s a veteran captain or a trusted lieutenant from the backroom team who takes the helm, there’s no better time to give them a crack of the whip.
Although we’d wager a certain Jose Mourinho may not be fully behind this particular rule. After all, there would a dangerous chance Man United may actually end up playing some half-decent football.