No group stages, EFL Cup or Nations League? Suggestions for a post-coronavirus football 'reform'

By Sports Desk March 29, 2020

Football will eventually return following the coronavirus pandemic, but it could look a little different.

The sport's leading competitions have been suspended amid the global crisis, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino this week suggested the pause represented an opportunity to "reform football".

"Perhaps we can reform football by taking a step backwards," Infantino told Gazzetta dello Sport. "[There would be] fewer but more interesting competitions, maybe fewer teams but for a better balance, fewer but more competitive matches to preserve players' health."

But what could post-coronavirus football look like? What must remain? What should disappear?

Five Stats Perform writers have put forward their suggestions for how the sport can move forward.


NO MORE GROUP STAGES - Ben Spratt

Those seemingly most frustrated by football's packed schedule are the coaches of leading European clubs. Therefore, there is a simple way to lose four games a season.

The most exciting Champions League and Europa League matches - with greater scope for shocks - tend to occur in the knockout stages anyway, so why not play two tense legs instead of six pool fixtures to advance?

A return to the format used in the European Cup and UEFA Cup might mean renaming the continental 'Leagues', but it is a price worth paying. Just keep the Champions League anthem!


DITCH FA CUP REPLAYS - Chris Myson

Even before the coronavirus pandemic caused a host of postponements and cancellations, fixture schedules were a particularly significant issue in England.

The FA Cup initially got rid of replays from the quarter-finals onwards and has since extended that to the fifth round. But now they should go all the way.

This would impact the one or two lower-league clubs each year who earn a dream replay against a top team in round three or four, but the competition has lost some of its lustre with big teams often resting their star names in the early rounds anyway.

Often the additional fixture is an inconvenience, while a one-off tie increases the drama and actually boosts the chance of a lower-tier club achieving an upset.


GET RID OF THE EFL CUP - Peter Hanson

Another sure-fire way to ease pressure on the calendar in England is to ditch the EFL Cup.

French football is ending the Coupe de la Ligue after this season, meaning English football will be the only one of the top-five European nations to have a second domestic cup competition.

With early rounds dominated by second-string XIs and fringe players, and the 'bigger' clubs largely utilising the cup as a means to give minutes to expensive benches, there is little clamour for the continuation of the EFL Cup.


AXE THE NATIONS LEAGUE - Liam Blackburn

If we're looking to cut back, how about axing the newest competition, the one that has no history and remains a mystery to your Average Joe?

The thought process behind UEFA's Nations League – to have more relevant fixtures and allow countries to play those they are more closely aligned with in the rankings – is commendable, yet it was undermined by the eventual absence of relegation from the inaugural edition.

The format and its relationship with qualifying for the Euros continues to be something of a Rubik's Cube unless you're a rocket scientist.

If something needs to go, can the convoluted.


CUT THE CLUB WORLD CUP - Patric Ridge

Infantino's calls to trim a bloated calendar are sensible, but actions speak louder than words. Perhaps proof of his desire for "reform" would come with an early end to an expanded Club World Cup.

Although the new 24-team format would see the finals held every four years in lieu of the Confederation Cup, it still seems an unnecessary hindrance.

The competition has been won by the Champions League holders on all but four occasions since its 2000 inception and provides little in the way of entertainment. 

Given the first new-look Club World Cup was due to take place in 2021 and now the Euros, Copa America and Olympics have each been pushed back to next year, Infantino has the opportunity to disregard this particular folly once and for all.

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    With the season suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, Juve are top of Serie A and playing in the last 16 of the Champions League.

    Yet Italy's defending champions have not been entirely convincing this term under Maurizio Sarri, sitting just one point clear of Lazio in the league and trailing Lyon 1-0 after the first leg of their European tie.

    Di Livio, who was part of the last Juve team to win the Champions League in 1995-96, was troubled by their approach to the Lyon game and does not consider them genuine contenders for Europe's top title.

    "Juve are still a long shot from what I have seen this season before COVID," he told Stats Perform News. "They struggled even in Serie A and they have a super Lazio just one point behind them.

    "They are at risk in Serie A as much as in the Champions League against Lyon. They have to come from behind, but I didn't like their approach.

    "Juventus boast a very unique mentality, we all know that. Whoever plays there knows exactly what to do with aggression, grit and love for the shirt.

    "This season they looked a bit prissy, but they still top the league and have a game in hand to topple Lyon."

    Di Livio is at least encouraged by Sarri's recent work at the club, although he was bemused by the departure of previous head coach Massimiliano Allegri.

    "Not many have understood this change at the helm," he said. "You have to respect a winner.

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    Ronaldo, Juve's star man, is a role model for his team-mates, according to Di Livio.

    He said: "Cristiano Ronaldo always has to play. You can make him rest once every 15 games. He is admirable and it is proven by all his team-mates who get on so well with him.

    "He is a super champion. He leads by example for his working attitude, his lifestyle, never a problem. Hats off."

  • Mourinho: Tottenham will not spend rivers of money Mourinho: Tottenham will not spend rivers of money

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    Tottenham are eighth in the Premier League table amid a turbulent 2019-20 season and, should play resume in order to finish the campaign following a break enforced by the coronavirus pandemic, supporters will expect improvements.

    Mourinho said his players are keen to return to action but moved to cool any expectations of a bumper transfer window at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

    "The first question after that is when will the transfer window be?" Mourinho told Sky Sports. "I don't think it will be in July or August anymore, it has to go further than that.

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    Prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension of the Premier League, Spurs found themselves struggling with injuries to key personnel and that was beginning to manifest in poor results.

    Spurs went into the hiatus on a six-game winless run, with Kane and Son missing every match.

    Kane ruptured a hamstring tendon at the start of January and subsequently missed the following 15 matches, while Son – who has undergone military service in his native South Korea during the pandemic – suffered a fractured arm in February and was absent for six games.

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    "I cannot say in this moment they are ready to play because one thing is to recover from an injury, and another is to be ready to play football," Mourinho told Sky Sports.

    "In Harry's case, I think for about five months he hasn't played, but all of them are not injured any more. They are training, and training is what it is at the moment, training has a lot of limitations.

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    "Harry Kane, Son, Bergwijn, [Moussa] Sissoko, all of them are fine. I think with a couple of weeks of normal training, when the authorities tell us we can train normally, I think in a couple of weeks, the boys will be ready to play. Of course, not in the maximum of their potential, I think nobody can do that in this moment.

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