The Psychology of the Champions League: Why It Pays off to Lose

Psychology of the Champions League

The Champions League is football at its highest level; a battle between the most technically able and physically capable players on the planet, but also a battle of the mind. The psychological side of the game is ignored by many and in this age where there are staff for anything and everything, with Liverpool even having a coach specialising in throw-ins, it begs the question whether more attention should be paid to the mindset of not only the players but also the coaches particularly in the case of two-legged football ties.

Why It Sometimes Pays to Lose in the Champions League

Unimaginable Comebacks – a Product of the Mind

This year’s edition of the Champions League has produced some of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game. The miracle comebacks of Liverpool and Manchester United against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain respectively stick out in the mind, but at further inspection, these comebacks have been almost the normality this season.

Of the 14 knock-out ties this so far this season, seven have seen the side that lost the first leg progress to the next stage. Whereas only three have seen the side which were victorious in the first leg go through to the next round.

Why Is This Happening?

Rigged? Tactical? Many people have their theories. However, the most likely appears to owe this phenomenon to the mindsets of both the players and coaches going in to the second leg. If their side has a lead, teams look to sit on their lead and contain the opposition.

As a result, players are more restricted in their play and look to stop, as opposed to create. Their mentality is therefore negative and players make negative decisions as a result. These sorts of defensive tactics are all well and good with a side of strong tacklers and runners, but the top sides simply don’t have these traits and that’s why they can struggle holding a lead in the second leg.

The team chasing the game, however, have the completely opposite frame of mind: they look to be positive with nothing to lose, approaching the game on the front foot and looking to make an impact from the get-go. The result is football-fan heaven – comeback after comeback.

What Does This Mean for the Champions League Final?

Obviously the final this Saturday is a little bit different being a one-off game as opposed to a two-legged tie. That’s not to say a comeback isn’t on the cards; you just have to look back to the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ of 2005, where Liverpool stormed back from 3-0 down at half-time to then win on penalties under the leadership of Rafa Benitez.

It is hard to say from the outside, but it is definitely a possibility that the collapse of AC Milan on that night was due to a drop in focus and a change in psyche from chasing goals and being creative to a more negative approach. This is not to say whoever concedes first on Saturday will go on to win the game, but if it does happen, now you know why.

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