Two European soccer giants, Atlético Madrid and Chelsea, will meet in the Champions League on Tuesday. The site of this much anticipated game? Bucharest, Romania.
On Wednesday, Manchester City will play the German team Borussia Mönchengladbach. That game will be in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, where the English champion Liverpool beat Germany’s RB Leipzig last week.
In the Europa League, the continent’s second-tier club championship, neutral sites are now almost as common as home games. Last week, Spanish and English teams played in Italy, and teams from Norway and Germany met in Spain. On Thursday, a week after the London club Arsenal played to a draw against Portugal’s Benfica in Rome, the teams are set to meet again in the second leg of their not-home-and-home tie near Athens.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with international sports schedules for a year, and that chaos continues to affect soccer’s biggest club tournaments. The reasons — government edicts, travel restrictions and quarantine rules — vary around Europe. In some countries, teams are still allowed to travel to and from their opponents’ stadiums without issue. In others, countries have blocked visitors from entire nations, or drawn up onerous rules that make such travel impractical in a soccer season when teams often play two or three games a week.
UEFA, the European soccer governing body that runs the competitions, has decided that if restrictions adversely affect any game, it will be played at a neutral site where travel is permitted. But the decision to play knockout games in places seemingly chosen at random has led to confusion, and not a little grumbling.