The New Champions League format has finally been confirmed by UEFA Executive Committee and is set to begin in the 2024-25 season.
On Tuesday, the European football governing body approved the overhaul of the European competitions, from the first to the third tier with a rather similar format. However, the one which caught more attention is definitely the Champions League. The European top flight changes come in response to the emergence of the European Super League plan in 2021. Fortunately, it fell short and has since been abandoned by a number of European elites, with the exception of Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona.
The new Champions League format differs slightly from the original proposal, particularly in terms of the four additional slots. As previously stated, the new format includes a transition from the previous 32 teams seeded in eight groups as the preliminary round to a single big league for 36 teams using the so-called ‘Swiss model’ – commonly used in chess, extra berths, rules for qualified teams to the knockout stages, and even the knockout stages themselves.
The New Champions League Format is Ready to Start from 2024/25 Season
The Approved Changes
UEFA has approved a number of changes, but not all of them. Those that have been included in the final format range from the number of games to the four extra spots and the criteria for those who can advance to the next stages.
Initially, each team would play ten times against ten different teams, with five home and away games. However, the number of rounds will eventually be reduced from ten to eight. The rest of the details remain unchanged. The eight opponents for each club would be determined by slot or seeding and would come from the top, middle, and bottom ranks.
Next, the four extra berths have been finally determined by scrapping off the exclusive rights for the clubs with historic performance despite not finishing in the UCL zone or even club coefficient. Instead, the first slot will be given to the club in third place in UEFA’s top fifth-ranking league. The second slot is reserved for the winner of ‘Champions Path,’ a potentially new qualifying round. Finally, the third and fourth spots are available for clubs finishing just below the UCL zone in the leagues with the best overall performance the previous season.
Should such extra slots be applied based on the current season, the first slot goes to Ligue 1, which is currently ranked fifth in Europe, with the third and fourth slots going to the English Premier League and the Eredivisie runner-up.
The last change is about how teams qualify for the round of 16. The clubs finishing in the top eight in the final standings advance automatically. The remaining eight spots will be determined through a playoff round for the sides on the ninth to 16th on the table against teams sitting on 17th to 24th. The rest can neither progress, nor go down to Europa League either.
The Expected Changes
Those above are not the only amendments to expect in the new Champions League format. There will be more to come, mainly related to the details of the competition.
The format for ‘Champions Path’ qualifiers has not been discussed yet. It would be quite tricky as it involves the domestic top-flight winners outside the continental top leagues. It remains to be seen how many clubs will take part and what format will be used.
The next and somewhat surprising one is the proposal for staging one-legged semifinals in the same city as the final. This change is inspired by the UEFA Nations League final four and Champions League 2020 during the early pandemic. This mini-tournament, dubbed “the week of football” or “the festival of football,” has been proposed for April 2022 to reduce the impact of congested fixtures on players after dealing with more matches at the earlier stage. In addition, UEFA President, Alexander Ceferin, is also open to the possibility of holding the women’s and youth UCL finals at the same time. The success of Lisbon in hosting two semifinals before the final in 2019/20 despite playing behind closed doors has been a notable reference.