What Is Happening With The New Champions League Format 2024/25?

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New Champions League Format Gives Competition A Big Shake-up

For the 2024/25 season, the new Champions League format will arrive. It will usher in the next major evolution of UEFA’s biggest club competition. The tournament will be expanded to include a further four teams. The first round gets a huge overall as well.

With the new changes approved by UEFA, we look ahead to what is to come.

Four Extra Places For Champions League Teams

The new Champions League format will see the number of participating teams in the main draw rise from 32 to 36. When the initial discussions about the expansion of the Champions League were raised, some of the lengthiest talks were about the best way to fill those extra four spots.

This is what UEFA settled on:

  • One of the four new slots will be awarded to the fifth ranked league in the UEFA national association ranking. That is currently the French Ligue 1.
  • The second of the slots in the new Champions League format 2024/25 will go to a national champion in the qualifying ‘Champions Path’. That’s designed to try and further open the main draw of the competition up to champions of lower-ranked national associations.
  • The final two new slots, however, are wildcards. These have caused some debate. This area of the changes from UEFA hasn’t gone over smoothly with everyone.

The Wildcard Argument

A chunk of English Premier League clubs were opposed to there being wildcards to fill two of the new places in the UEFA Champions League. News of them being adopted by UEFA came out before they were ratified at the UEFA Congress in May 2022.

UEFA will give two wildcard slots out to teams, based on previous European performances. The argument against such a move says that it gives UEFA the power to create what is akin to a “backdoor Super League”.

The allocation of how those wildcards will be handed out is the issue. It is to be based on a 10-year club coefficient. That makes it harder for teams without European backgrounds to make it into the tournament.

The Problem With The UEFA Coefficient

The Premier League provides an example of how the UEFA coefficient could be seen as unfair. Under the new set-up of wildcard selections, if Chelsea were to finish fifth, then their previous 10 years’ worth of European club history would give them a good chance at making the Champions League via the wildcard.

The Blues won the UEFA Europa League in 2019 and the UEFA Champions League in 2021. Those are massive coefficient points earned by the London club.

But what if it was Newcastle that finished in fifth place?

The only European action that the Magpies have had since 2007 was a run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League in 2013. So the Magpies 10-year coefficient rating with UEFA, would be unlikely to get them a place in the Champions League under the system.

So there is a huge discrepancy there. It can be seen as favouring the big teams.

Places in the Champions League will be awarded by historical rather than current performances. It may create even more of an elite closed-shop scenario for a lot of teams.

New Champions League Format

But the changes are coming and the participating clubs in the main draw for the start of the 2024/25 season will number 36. That is a number that doesn’t fit with the current system of eight groups. That’s because the first stage will have a completely new look.

There will be one 36-team league in the first stage of the 2024/25 Champions League. This is where things do get a little more complicated. Teams only play eight matches in the first stage of the tournament.

Those will be against eight different opponents. Each team involved will play four home and four away matches in what is commonly referred to as a “Swiss model”. The opponents that a team faces, will be down to ranking.

How Qualifying Works In The New Champions League format

The top eight teams in the new format will automatically go through to the knockout stages of the competition. The teams that finish between 9th and 24th have to go into a two-legged knockout round. That will produce the other eight teams who make it through to the Round of 16.

Champions League teams that finish 25th or lower in the group stage will see their European seasons end.

The shake-up of this group stage format (which the Europa League and Europa Conference League will also be adopting) is, by UEFA’s designs, intended to allow teams to face a broader range of opposition instead of just facing three different teams.

The Positives Of The New Champions League set-up

The 36-team group stage can be broken down into three sections. This could create exciting races.

  • There’s automatic qualification for the top eight
  • Play-off qualification for the following 16 teams
  • Then the final selection of trying to not get eliminated from the competition

The idea behind the new model is to generate longer-lasting interest in fixtures. In the current group stage format, there are still plenty of meaningless games that happen in the group stage.

With only four teams in each group currently, it’s not uncommon to see dead rubbers. Due to seeding, it’s usually the two highest-ranked Champions League teams that get through to the Round of 16 from each group. The current format gives an incentive for the strong teams to start well. It creates opportunities to rest players in meaningless fixtures towards the end of the group stage.

The new single-league format of the Champions League could introduce a little more jeopardy.

It could be tougher for teams to lock down a qualification place for the knockout stages. It is more likely that come to the final rounds of the group stage fixtures, there is still a lot to play for. Three points in a final league stage match could significantly change the final position of a team.

Does The Round Of 16 Stay The Same?

The competition at the Round of 16 stage will remain the same. The Champions League teams will be split into separate halves of the bracket, however. That will depend on where they finish in the table. The team that finishes top for example will go into the top half of the bracket. The second place finishers go down into the bottom half of the bracket.

That would keep the top two finishers from the group stage, apart until the Final.

3rd & 4th, 5th & 6th and 7th & 8th will be paired and split into separate halves of the bracket also. At the Round of 16 stage in the Champions League, each of the teams that qualified automatically will face a team from the play-off round.

Losing teams in the play-off round drop to the Europa League. That is the equivalent of finishing third in the current group stage.

Champions League New Format Key Points

  • Teams expanded from 32 to 36
  • One league of 36 teams
  • Teams play eight different opponents (four home matches, four away)
  • Top 8 qualify for the Round of 16
  • Teams that finish 9th to 16th are seeded for a play-off round.
  • Teams that finish 17th to 24th are unseeded for the play-off round.
  • Eight teams will progress from the play-off round to the Round of 16
  • Losers in the play-off round will go to the Europa League
  • The Europa League and Europa Conference League will adopt the same format changes

Extra Games For Champions League Teams To Handle

Another hesitation about the new format is that there will be extra games involved. Teams are already facing heavy scheduling in a football season. The new Champions League format will add even more.

In the group stage, all teams will automatically play two extra games compared to the current set-up of the competition. But there will be a further two matches to be played for any team finishing in the play-off spots in the first round.

If for example, Real Madrid could only finish ninth in the new system, they would have to play a total of ten matches just to get to the Round of 16. Should they go on to be crowned European Cup winners again, they would have played a total of 17 matches in the UEFA Champions League.

Safety Nets And Barriers

Circling back to the problem of building UEFA coefficient points, is very interesting. Building that bank will not be an overnight thing for teams. It’s going to be a matter of consistency. That’s a tough thing for any team to do.

Whether it is from the Premier League, the German Bundesliga or Spain’s La Liga, there are always the heavy-hitters. Those with the big spending power like Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are always going to continuously build those coefficient points season after season. European Cup winners are likely going to come from such a group of clubs.

So what if there is a below-par effort from one of Europe’s elite in a domestic season? They have something of a safety net because of the forthcoming changes.

The changes are more of a barrier for a team that has been away from European club action for a long time. How does the breakthrough to the Champions League via a wildcard happen for such a club?

It likely doesn’t.

How Clubs Can Boost Their UEFA Coefficient

Reaching the UEFA Champions League Final is currently worth 38 UEFA coefficient points. Any National Champion coming through the Champions Path of qualification is unlikely to get anywhere near those points. So they would have to rely on winning the league season after season to try and get back on the path to the Champions League.

What the new format does is place more importance on the Europa League and Conference League. They will serve as stepping stones to the highest tier. Winning the Europa League Final returns 34 coefficient points, with 30 available for winning the Euros Conference League.

UEFA’s flagship club competitions more than ever may start to look more like a tiered system. The new Champions League Format is a huge shake-up. It comes with a gentle nod towards a ‘Super League’.