Thursday, February 24, 2011

Predictable Europa League

The round of 32 of the Europa League concluded this week. The round consisted of 24 teams who had advanced from the group stages, and 8 who came in after finishing third in groups in the more prestigious Champions League. Four of the Champions League teams were "seeded," based on their performance in that competition.

If you were roughly ranking the 32 teams before the round started, you might well do it this way:

1. Seeded Champions League teams (4)
2. Unseeded Champions League teams (4)
3. Europa teams that won their groups (12)
4. Europa teams that finished second in their groups (12)

Now let's say you wanted to guess which teams would win each match-up, but knew nothing about the teams. You might well bet on whichever team was in the higher of those categories. (The way the draw works, no teams from the same category can play each other.) And how would you have done?

Congratulations, you picked all 16 games right. There wasn't a single upset by a team in a lower category.

(In case you're wondering, last year, the first that used this new Europa League format, you would have been  11-5.)

The system doesn't apply as well to the next round, beginning March 10, since teams from the same category can be drawn against each other. Still, four of the eight games can be predicted: Benfica over PSG, Twente over Zenit, Rangers over PSV, and Braga over Liverpool. Let's see how those turn out.

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