close up champions league football behind goal net

What Is The New Format Of The Champions League For 2024-25?

The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is one that makes sense to everyone apart from the executives in charge of football’s governing bodies. Whether it be the World Cup or the Champions League, the scamps at FIFA and UEFA can’t help but tweak and meddle with the format of competitions that have been working perfectly well for years. The modernisation of the European Cup into what is now the Champions League was a move that made sense, but the need to constantly try to make it ‘better’ isn’t one that most agree with.

Of course, governing bodies simply do not care about football fans. This has been proven time and time again, not least of all when the final of a competition comes around and there are more tickets of members of corporate entities than there are for the supporters of the team taking part in the final. All of which is to say that UEFA has decided to change the way in which the Champions League will work, with one of the most noteworthy alterations being an expansion from 32 teams to 36, largely as a way to ensure Manchester United can actually qualify for it.

How The Champions League Currently Works

football in back of the netUnless you’ve been living under a rock, the chances are high that you’ll know how the Champions League currently works. Even so, it is worth talking about it briefly in order to highlight the manner in which the format that will come into effect for the 2024-2025 season will differ. Since 2009-2010, there are two ‘streams’ of qualification for the competition for those teams that do not make it into the Champions League courtesy of finishing high up enough in the league to do so. How many places a league gets depends on their UEFA coefficient.

UEFA coefficients are worked out according to the performance of clubs representing each association across the previous five years. The qualifying phase as well as the clubs that qualify according to their league positions make up the 32 team that head into the round-robin group stage. The top two teams in each group head into the knockout phase of the Champions League, whilst the teams that finish third enter the Europa League. The group stage sees the 16 teams that made it out of the eight groups play each other, becoming eight teams, then four then two for the final.

The New Format From 2024-25

new format stampObviously the explanation of the current format of the Champions League is a somewhat truncated one, but it at least gives you a sense of what to expect if you watch any of the competition as it currently works. The changes that are being brought in ahead of the 2024-2025 season are wholesale, not least of all because it will see the competition expanded from 32 teams to 36. The new-look Champions League will use what is known as the ‘Swiss System’, with the four additional places allocated in the following manner:

  • One place to go to the club that is ranked third in the league of the association that it is fifth position according to the UEFA National Association rankings
  • One place given to a domestic champion thanks to the fact that the ‘Champions Path’ will be expanded from four to five
  • Two places to be awarded to the associations that have the best collective performance by their clubs over the previous season. That will be worked out according to the total number of points divided by the number of participating clubs. The position will go to the club ranked best in the league behind the previous Champions League places. As far as England is concerned, for example, that would mean that the team that finished fifth would get it

The Swiss System Explained

geneva in switzerland with swiss flag flying

Now we know how teams will get to qualify for the Champions League, but how will the new ‘Swiss System’ work when the competition gets underway? In essence, the group stage that we’ve all become used to will be abolished and a 36-team league will replace it. Each team will play eight games, with an even split of four at home and four away. A seeding system will be used to determine the fixtures, using historic performance to see what seed each team will be given. The top eight sides will qualify for the knockout phase automatically.

The teams that finish between ninth and 24th will then take part in a two-legged play-off in order to make it into the last 16 and the knockout phase. Once this begins, the competition reverts to become pretty much the same as it is now, going from the Last 16 to the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and the Final itself. In other words, teams will need to find space for two more matches in the calendar for the new-look Champions League, having previously played six matches during the group stage. An already busy calendar is getting busier.

The only good thing is that the original plan from UEFA was to have ten matches played in the league stage. That would have put even more pressure on players to play during an era when most managers feel that too much is being asked of the people under their care. Whilst the governing body for football in Europe seems remarkably pleased with itself, the reality is that the new format of the Champions League makes it something of a mess. The eight games played during the ‘league’ phase will be played against eight different opponents, for example, yet the big clubs will likely be kept apart.

The biggest change to the knockout phase of the new-look Champions League is that teams from the same country will be able to play each other immediately. At the moment, same-country protection is in place until the Quarter-Finals, but that will no longer be the case. The good news is that the mooted plan to make the Semi-Finals one-legged and played during the same week as the Final has been scrapped. Instead, the Semi-Finals will still be played over two-legs and the final will remain as its own showpiece event.

What Has Been Said About It

football on a ptich surrounded by money

As you might expect, the President of UEFA, Aleksander Čeferin, is rather full of himself and the work of his organisation. Speaking after news of the new format was confirmed, he spoke of the fact that it shows ‘clearly’ that UEFA are ‘fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions’. It was seemingly a sly dig about the European Super League that caused such consternation towards the end of last season, largely thanks to the fact that teams couldn’t be relegated from it.

In the eyes of many, though, the new-look Champions League is the just the European Super League ‘by stealth’. The increase in matches means that there will be more cash for the clubs, which is what Čeferin said they wanted from the ESL, whilst the additional places mean that the top clubs will almost always be able to get into the Champions League regardless. The desire for the Champions League to make it easier for the richest clubs to succeed has continued unabated, all whilst Čeferin and his ilk pat themselves on the back.

Not that Čeferin cares, of course. He wittered on about the format finding the ‘right balance’, saying,

“Today’s decisions conclude an extensive consultation process during which we listened to the ideas of fans, players, coaches, national associations, clubs and leagues to name but a few, with the aim to find the best solution for the development and success of European football, both domestically and on the international club stage…Qualification will thus remain purely based on sporting performance and the dream to participate will remain for all clubs.”

Interestingly, though, the new format did receive the approval of the European Club Association, which is the representative body of over 240 clubs. They said, “The changes mean that the new-look competitions will have the best start in life, resulting from exhaustive consultations between UEFA and ECA over a number of years that ensure the legitimate interests of all relevant stakeholders are respected – driven by collective rather than self interest. The new format also gives the opportunity for future growth of European football in a sustainable, responsible and inclusive way.”

Supporters aren’t important in the eyes of UEFA or any governing body, yet most are unimpressed with the plans. For all that Čeferin might talk about making things fairer, it means that fans will have to pay to watch another two matches, which is costly at a time when money is tight around the world. ‘The dream to participate’ might remain for all clubs, but the higher cost is just something that supporters are going to have to lump. Want to watch your team play home and away? Here’s another game in each category for your to find the money for, all thanks to UEFA, who are against greed, apparently.

What About The Europa League & Europa Conference League?

europa league trophy large replica on display in poland before final

The Champions League isn’t the only tournament in Europe, of course. Both the Europa League and the recently launched Europa Conference League are part of UEFA’s stable of competitions and they’re facing similar changes to bring them in line with the continent’s premier competition. As with the Champions League, each of them will see the group stages scrapped and replaced by a league that contains 36 teams, with teams facing off for the chance to qualify for the knockout stage of the individual competitions.

Since the 2009-2010 campaign, the Europa League has seen 12 groups with four teams in each playing a double round-robin format. The top two teams in the group move forward into four rounds of two-legged knockout ties before a one-off final. Any team eliminated from the Champions League preliminary, qualifying or play-off rounds were transferred into the Europa League, whilst eight third-placed teams also moved into the competition. The winner of the Europa League earned a place in the following season’s Champions League.

A tertiary European competition in the form of the Europa Conference League was launched in 2021. This involved a group stage of eight groups with four teams in each. As with the other tournaments, it then turned into a knockout tournament. The winner of the Europa Conference League would be awarded a place in the following season’s Europa League, in addition to the prize money. In England, the winner of the EFL Cup gets a berth in the Europa Conference League, which goes to the sixth of seventh best team in the Premier League if they’d already qualified for the Champions League or Europa League.

The big change to the Europa League will be that there will be a 36 team league, meaning that there will be 12 fewer teams taking part than during the current group stage. The new format will involve eight matches in the league stage, which will be an increase of two matches in the same way that the Champions League has seen two more matches put in place. At the time of writing, it is unclear whether teams will drop from the Champions League league stage into the Europa League, or from the Europa League into the Europa Conference League.

As for the Europa Conference League, it currently has 32 teams in the group stage but will increase to 36 teams from the 2024-2025 campaign onwards. Each team plays six matches during the group stage, but that will shift to become eight games as part of the new-look format that involves one big league. Once again, the changes see supporters having to pay through the nose for the privilege of following their club taking part in a competition, this time the second-tier and third-tier ones in Europe.