We're not going back to the old European Cup, but let's mix it up a bit
Play knockout games, Group stages are just a way to make money
Atletico, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are into the last 16. Real Madrid, Chelsea and PSG are one point away, so I'll gamble and say that's 7 in with 9 still to be decided.
My bet would be Manchester United, Bayer Leverkeusen, Juventus, Benfica, Shalke, AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal.
I'm bound to be wrong on one or two, but let's play the hypothetical game for a minute.
Those 16 would make up some fantastic knockout ties, but most football fans would probably have picked at least 12 of those 16 to qualify. So it makes me think again about the validity of the group stages, and whether they are just a way for UEFA to really coin in the TV money. We all know it's true, but it's such a long, drawn-out competition that maybe it needs to be reduced so that we can get the interest back in every game. Group stages are just a way of ensuring every team gets on TV, earns some money and showcases their best players for the bigger teams to buy the next season.
Barcelona v AC Milan was exciting to watch, as was Real Madrid v Juventus, but these massive ties don't have the same significance or importance when they could happen 4 times a season. Let them slug it out once (well twice as the home and away legs are still a factor), and the winner advances.
Oh, but then we won't see Messi v Balotelli or Ronaldo v Pirlo in the latter stages - sure we will, just seed the teams from 1 to 32, It may not be the Champions 'League' anymore, but it gives the smaller teams a chance to progress, places some importance on every game and doesn't just keep lining the pockets of the bigger teams.
Oh, I'm suggesting going back to the old European Cup when the Champions of each league played each other? Yes, and no. Sepp Blatter can keep the money from having 4 English teams, 4 Spanish, Bayern, PSG etc, but we won't have to endure months of games that lead us to the same end - and it creates a fairer system where smaller teams can advance, because ask a Milan fan now about that epic tie with Barcelona in the Champions League, and he/she will say, "When? In 2013, 12, 11, 06, 04?" Or something like that in Italian!