Unless you’re an avid football fan (or Football Manager player), it may not have crossed your mind that the UEFA Champions League will change next year. That’s right – Europe’s premier competition will be changing its format for the 2024/25 football season with more teams competing than usual.
Unclear? Shocked? Don’t worry. Here’s everything you need to know about the UEFA Champions League and its new format to be held next year.
How many teams will be in the Champions League?
Traditionally, each season of the Champions League consists of 32 teams. However, starting next season, this will increase to 36. Given that it is not a perfectly divisible number like 32, how will it work in the group stage and subsequent elimination rounds, you might be asking? Well, actually, there is no group stage anymore. The Champions League will now operate under the Swiss model.
What is Swiss Model?
The Swiss model is named after the Swiss system used in chess tournaments where players “earn points for their results in each round, and the player with the most points at the end of the final round wins.” So with the Champions League, in contrast to the traditional group stage format, the Swiss model will have all 36 teams competing in a single league table.
Each team will play eight matches – four at home and four away – against randomly assigned opponents. These matches will take place over a period of ten weeks before the next stage is determined.
How is the 16th round decided?
You would be thinking that the top 16 teams in the league table would go through to the round of last 16. In fact, only the top eight teams will qualify automatically. Meanwhile, the teams that finished 9th to 24th would compete in two-legged ties to determine the remaining eight teams that would advance to the Round of 16.
By the way, there will be some changes in the round of 16 as well. Clubs from the same country can now be paired against each other at this level which was not possible under the current format. Additionally, 16th round seeding will be given. This means, as in tennis, the teams that finish first and second in the league table can only meet in the final of the Champions League, which turns out to be a grand spectacle.
Otherwise, the rest of the tournament will go on like the normal knockout stage we are used to.
Can teams that don’t make it to the last 16 still enter the Europa League?
Previously, any team that finished third in the group stage entered the Europa League Round of 32. Now this will not happen as Europa League is also changing its format to this system and it will have 36 teams.
Who gets the extra Champions League spot?
With four additional teams in the competition, which countries will get additional places? According to UEFA, two of the four slots will go to the countries with the best collective performance in Europe during the 2023/24 football season. So, if the new format is introduced in this upcoming season, it would mean that England and Netherlands would get an extra spot based on their performance in the previous season.
This also means that a country such as England could potentially have seven teams competing in the Champions League, assuming that an English club that wins the competition does not finish in the top four (or five) and that an English club has not finished the previous season. I win the Europa League.
Another spot will go to the third-placed club in the fifth-placed country. Now, it is France whose third place team will go through to the third qualifying round. Instead, the third-placed team would go in automatically while the fourth-placed team would have a chance to enter through qualifying. This is because the top four of the third and fourth placed countries are already automatically going into the group stages. Additionally, UEFA wants the top two countries to send five teams while the third, fourth and fifth placed countries send four teams each.
The final spot will go to the domestic league champion, adding an extra spot to the number of clubs qualifying from the “Champions Path”.
Why is the format of the Champions League changing?
There are many reasons why the Champions League is changing to this format. With four additional teams, this allows for greater competitiveness (in the current format some groups are decided by the fourth matchday), ensuring that the best clubs from all of the top five European leagues have qualified for the Champions League. and provides a better chance for lower ranked teams to make it to the last 16.
But actually the main reason is more money for UEFA.
With the addition of four teams and this new format, the Champions League has grown from its regular 125 matches to 189 in a season. This means more broadcast money and more business opportunities. UEFA already earns €3.5 billion ($3.92 billion) every year from the Champions League. With this move, it can now earn up to €4.5 billion ($5.02 billion) every year.
All that said, these moves look promising and could make the Champions League even more enjoyable.