Buidling Dreams Together


Decoding the new Champions League format: Will it revitalise the competition?

The Champions League is widely considered as the most prestigious club football tournament in the world. The top teams from every major footballing league battling it out to determine who’s the best (well for that year at least!) However, from the 2024-25 season, the Champions League as we currently know it will be no more. A new format for the competition is being introduced, one that sees an increase in the teams participating, and greatly affects the group stage of the competition.

So what exactly are these changes? The first big one is that there will now be 36 teams participating in the competition, instead of the traditional 32. This is an effort to expand the reach of the competition and, as UEFA says, gives more clubs ‘the opportunity to compete against the best clubs in Europe.’ Two of these new teams will be awarded based on the two leagues that have ‘the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season.’ This could be beneficial for English clubs, as it could see the potential for a fifth Premier League side to enter the competition, boosting the chances of a British team being victorious. Overall, I think this is a welcome addition to the competition, and will likely mean that new teams are given the chance to compete on club football’s biggest stage.

However perhaps the biggest change in this new format comes in the form of the initial group stage section of the tournament. Currently teams are split into eight groups of four, with each team playing each other twice; once home and once away. This new system will instead operate in one league table containing all 36 of the teams, much like a traditional football league. The ‘league phase’ will see every team play eight matches against eight different teams, playing half at home and half away. The teams will still be drawn from pots (two opponents coming from each of the four pots) to allow for a fair range of opponents. At the end of the eight match weeks, the teams who finish in the top eight qualify automatically for the knockout stage. Teams ranked from ninth to 24th face each other in two-leg ‘play-off style’ matches. These changes will also come into effect in the Europa League and Europa Conference League. Confused? Don’t worry, UEFA released this video explaining it further:

There’s a few aspects of this new format that I like a lot. The new phase meaning each club faces eight different teams is a nice change, as it means that each fixture is unique and fans will have the opportunity to see their team face more clubs and also travel to more new places. The league system also ensures that there are no meaningless games, as every game will count in the race to secure automatic or play-off spot qualification. The current system of the group stage is certainly not perfect, with the final games of the group stage often being formalities with little impact on who qualifies for the knockout stages. 

However, there is one aspect of this new format that confuses me; the amount of teams in the play-off places is incredibly high. It seems pointless to change the group stage into a league phase and then only reward eight teams for playing the best football over these matches. The new system could see a team as high as 9th eliminated due to the playoffs, despite collecting many more points than the team down in 24th. Understandably, the jeopardy of a team being eliminated in this manner will create more excitement, but it could also mean the knock-out stages see mismatches between the top performing clubs and weaker teams. It definitely puts a lot of emphasis on qualifying for the top 8, but maybe if the top 12 teams qualified automatically, (with teams 13th to 20th contesting the play-off), it would be more balanced.

So why has UEFA made these changes? One explanation could simply be that fans are tired of the current Champions League format. The current system is tried and tested, but it can be easy to predict which teams are likely to progress through each group. It is worth noting that UEFA approved these changes to the format in May 2022, a year after the controversial European Super League debacle took place. Under the proposed ESL system, teams were split into groups of 10 and the competition operated on a similar league style table, with playoff-games at the end of the group stage too. With titans such as Real Madrid and Barcelona involved, it’s certainly possible that the uproar caused by the ESL had some effect on UEFA’s decision process, and it would be in their best interest to keep the world’s best teams happy.

Whatever happens this format marks a significant change in one of the biggest competitions in world football, and next season’s competition will definitely benefit from the new changes. Whether the Champions League continues to be the gold standard for club football, only the future will tell.
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