The revamped model will be beneficial especially for the newer top performing clubs in Europe.
There have been some major developments in European football in 2021. The proposed European Super League – a breakaway from the existing Champions League, consisting of 12 top clubs received a heavy backlash from the UEFA, domestic leagues and the fans alike. The plans were subsequently suspended within just 48 hours as the clubs in question withdrew participation.
This was followed by the UEFA introducing reforms to the Champions League itself, which will be incorporated from 2024-25 season. The decision to amend the structure was taken with the view to boost development of relatively smaller clubs and their infrastructure. The European Club Association (ECA) and UEFA Club Competitions Committee both backed the proposed reforms on April 19.
Without further ado, let’s take an overview of the new format for of the UEFA Champions League.
The UEFA Champions League will now have 36 participating teams rather than the current 32. This is to ensure more teams have a chance to face the best in Europe. However, that also means goodbye to the previous group-stage system. There will be no eight groups of four teams each. Yes, you guessed it right, no group of death anymore!
Instead, the new format will have a single league with all 36 teams in place. In the first phase, each team will play 10 different opponents – five each in home and away. Thus, each team will play four more games than what they do in the current group stage format.
The prospect of facing 10 different teams implies that clubs will face a much wider range of opposition. However, the league structure also means the competition between top teams will begin much earlier than the knockouts. So, if you want another taste of Ronaldo versus Messi, there is a chance you might get it in the league phase itself.
Teams’ positions in their respective domestic leagues in the previous season will continue to determine their qualification for the UEFA Champions League. But with four additional teams to enter into the competition, here’s how slots will be allocated:
This slot will be occupied by a club that belongs to the country which ranks fifth in UEFA’s national association coefficient. Each association’s coefficient is based on the results of its clubs’ performances in five previous Champions League and Europa League seasons.
This slot will be occupied by the domestic league champions with the highest coefficient ranking who have not automatically qualified for the competition.
Third and Fourth Slot
These two slots will be occupied by the two teams with the highest coefficient ranking who have not automatically qualified for the competition, but have instead qualified either for the qualification phase of UCL or UEFA Europa League/Europa Conference League (due to start in 2021/22 season).
To put this into perspective, even if Tottenham Hotspur finish seventh in the preceding Premier League season, they are likely to earn a place in the UCL due to their high coefficient ranking.
Round of 16
Here comes the interesting part. The top eight teams in the league phase will directly head into the round of 16. Teams placed 9th to 16th will take on teams placed 17th to 24th in the table in what will be a two-legged playoffs round. Teams placed 25th and below will be eliminated from the competition altogether. More importantly, the eliminated teams will not be seeded to the Europa League.
Once the teams book their place in the round of 16, the competition will proceed as per the current format. The eight teams coming through the playoffs round will each take on the top eight teams in the round of 16.
Now, let’s understand why UEFA deems this format more beneficial as compared to the current format. Firstly, it allows four additional top performing teams the opportunity to feature against the best sides in the continent. Secondly, with the introduction of the league format, the stakes will be high right from the get go for each team as every single result will matter.
This also means top teams locking horns against each other much earlier in the competition which is a big positive for the fans. Thirdly, with each team playing 10 games in the league phase, clubs have the prospect of earning increased revenues.
UEFA has also announced that this format will be followed in the Europa League as well as the Europa Conference League. By now, it is understood how UEFA plans to revamp its club competitions in the benefit of the clubs, players and fans alike.
However, potential amendments to the approved format on April 19 will still be made if necessary. Moreover, decisions regarding matters such as match dates, seeding system, format for the finals, coefficients and financial distribution will be made by the end of 2021. Thus, it will be fascinating to see how things pan out for the competition in future.
Stating his opinion on the development, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said, “This evolved format will still keep alive the dream of any team in Europe to participate in the UEFA Champions League thanks to results obtained on the pitch. It will enable long-term viability, prosperity and growth for everyone in European football, not just a tiny, self-selected cartel.”