Will UEFA’s New Champions League Format From 2024/25 Ruin The Competition?

By Ian John
January 20, 2024

With major changes coming to the Champions League format next season, are UEFA taking a big risk?

Strange as it may seem, this year’s Champions League will be the final one played in the current format.

From the 2024/25 season, UEFA are planning a dramatic alteration to the competition which will do away with the Group Stage as we now know it.

In its place will come a 36-team, single division “Swiss format” competition. It will see teams play eight Champions League games (instead of the six at the group stage currently) with more of the ‘big teams’ playing each other more often.

It all sounds incredibly complex and a little bit confusing. So, we have decided to clarify what the new Champions League format will look like and how things will be organised.

We’ll also explain how the expanded tournament will work and what it could mean for teams in the Premier League seeking to gain entry into the biggest club competition in Europe.

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The Champions League Format – From 2024/25

Currently, the Champions League sees an eight-group Group Stage. There are four teams in each group playing six games (three at home, three away) against each other.

The top two in each group qualify for the Round of 16. The third placed team qualifies for the Europa League Playoffs, and the team that finishes bottom of each group is eliminated from the tournament.

It is a neat, simple system that has subsequently been replicated now across the European Conference League and the Europa League.

But it will all change next season when the new Champions League format comes into play.

Here’s how it will work.

  • The New Champions League Format

We will see similar qualifying competitions ahead of the new League Stage (formerly Group Stage).

Teams that do not qualify for the League Stage outright will play through three qualifying rounds and then one playoff round.

The playoff round will produce seven winners who progress into the League Stage draw along with the following 29 teams:

  • Champions League winners from the previous season.
  • Europa League winners from the previous season.
  • The League Champions from England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Scotland and Austria.
  • The League Runners Up from England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands
  • The 3rd Placed Team in the league from England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.
  • The 4th Placed Team in the league from England, Spain, Germany and Italy.
  • Two additional teams from the league from the countries with the top two UEFA association coefficients in 2023/24 (currently England and Spain).

This new format means we could see potentially five, six or even seven teams from the same league in the Champions League in future years.

With 36 teams remaining for the Group Stage, the teams will be divided into four pots of nine, based on their 2023/24 UEFA Club Coefficients. Each club will play four matches at home and four matches away.

New Champions League Format
UEFA Club Coefficients – Dec 2023

They will play one team from each of the four pots for their home games, and then four different teams from each of the four pots for their away games.

This expands the number of matches played in the League Stage by two games per team. This means that the final two matches of the League Stage will be completed in January, rather than before Christmas as is the case with the current Group Stage.

Teams from the same league will not be drawn against each other in theory, but if one league has more than four representatives, then that may have to be the case to avoid a locked draw.

At the end of each team’s eight games the 36-team final table is decided. The top eight teams in this table progress automatically in the Round of 16.

In another new development, the teams finishing 9th to 24th in the League will be drawn against each other in a new Playoff round of matches ahead of the Round of 16.

The teams finishing 25th to 36th will be eliminated from the competition and not allowed entry into any of the other European tournaments.

An Example of how the New Champions League Format could work.

Let’s say Arsenal qualify for the Champions League League Stage along with 35 other teams.

They are roughly grouped – not based on their UEFA Coefficients from this season – in the following four groups:

  • Group A – Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Paris St Germain
  • Group B – AC Milan, Napoli, FC Porto, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Red Bull Leipzig, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven
  • Group C – Girona, Eintracht Frankfurt, Marseille, AS Monaco, Feyenoord, Red Bull Salzburg, Club Brugge, Aston Villa, Real Sociedad
  • Group D – West Ham United, FC Copenhagen, Bodo Glimt, Malmo FF, Hajduk Split, Young Boys, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sparta Prague, Celtic

For the League Stage, Arsenal will play two teams from each of the four groups. They will play one team from each group at home, and one team from each group away.

So a potential fixture list for Arsenal would look as follows:

Arsenal – Theoretical Champions League New Format Fixture List

New Champions League Format
  • Matchday 1 – v Malmo FF (A)
  • Matchday 2 – v Juventus (H)
  • Matchday 3 – v Red Bull Salzburg (H)
  • Matchday 4 – v FC Porto (A)
  • Matchday 5 – v AC Milan (H)
  • Matchday 6 – v Paris St Germain (A)
  • Matchday 7 – v Sparta Prague (H)
  • Matchday 8 – v Eintracht Frankfurt (A)

Arsenal’s points tally from these games would see them ranked in the 36-team table. They’d need to finish in the top eight to earn a seeded spot straight into the Round of 16.

If they finish 9th to 24th, then they face a two-legged playoff against another team that finished in these positions in the new Champions League format table. The winner of these playoff games joins the eight teams seeded in the Round of 16.

New Champions League Format Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Teams will receive more money as they will play two more games in the new Champions League format League stage.
  • More games to watch for fans and spectators.
  • More games between the top teams in Europe.
  • More chance for smaller teams in the competition to progress (via the playoffs) rather than being relegated into the Europa League.
  • Bigger teams have more chance of qualifying every season, especially those in the top leagues like Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France.
  • Less likelihood of ‘dead rubber’ games where one or both teams have nothing to play for.

Cons

  • The fixture schedule is already very busy without packing in at least two and potentially four (if they qualify for the playoffs) more extra fixtures for teams in the new Champions League format.
  • Much will depend on the draw of games. Some teams could have eight considerably easier games than others.
  • Fans will argue that this new Swiss System is not as clear, or as fair, as the old Group Stage.
  • As players play more games there is more risk of fatigue and injury.
  • Admitting more teams under the new Champions League format dilutes the quality of the other two UEFA competitions.

The new Champions League format was a direct answer to the threat of a breakaway European Super League. It does cater to the bigger teams somewhat, while also offering more chance for lower ranked teams to progress.

However, the fact that teams may have to play at least two, potentially four, more games in the new Champions League format each season, in an already busy schedule, does beggar belief somewhat when many managers are saying players are already at their limits.

The new Champions League format will likely work. UEFA cannot afford for it to fail, but I would not rule out further changes being made in the next few years, much as they were made when the Group Stages in the Champions League were organised.

But if clubs make lots more money, then you can bet the concerns about the new Champions League format will be diminished and the positives enhanced.

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