Change is the law of nature. Everything on this planet has to adapt and change to keep up with time. UEFA is no exception. The current format of the UEFA Champions League, also known as UCL, has been nearly the same for the past decade and a half. From 2024, UEFA is planning to introduce a new format in the group stage of UCL. It was high time a change should have been brought in. Seems like current UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin thought the same.
What was the previous format?
Earlier, the 32 qualified teams would be drawn into eight groups of four teams. After the group stage, the top 2 teams from each group will move forward into a second group stage. After the second group stage, the teams will head to the quarter-finals and then semi-finals, subsequently reaching the finals. The second group stage was criticized a lot by players and managers because it affects their league performance and increases the expenses. In the 2003-04 season, UEFA brought in the ‘Round of 16’ in place of the second group stage. The Round of 16 was a knockout round, just like the quarter-finals and semi-finals. In the 2005-06 season, defending champions Liverpool failed to qualify for UCL, finishing fifth in the league. UEFA decided to permit Liverpool to participate in the first playoff Round of UCL. Following the season, UEFA announced that the last year’s Champion would directly be drafted in the group stage of the following year. In the 2014-15 season, UEFA President Michel Platini made a sensational announcement that the winner of the UEFA Europa League will directly qualify for the UCL group stage if the reserved spot is not used by last year’s UCL winner. For example, the 2014-15 season winner was FC Barcelona. FC Barcelona also finished first in the LaLiga that season. This meant that FC Barcelona had no use of a reserved UCL winner spot to appear 2015-16 UCL group stage, and this spot was allocated to Sevilla, who won the 2014-15 Europa League. If Barcelona couldn’t finish in the top 4 of the league, it had to use the reserved Champion’s spot, and Sevilla would then be drafted into the preliminary Round.
What is the new format?
While not all the details have been shared, UEFA has explained some key points. The new format would come into action from the 2024-25 season. It will consist of 36 teams instead of 32. Each team will play 8 matches ( 4 home and 4 away) instead of 6. It is also stated that there will be a single standing table instead of 8 group tables. In this table, the top 8 teams directly qualify for the Round of 16. The teams ranging from 9th to 24th will then play a playoff round to determine the remaining 8 teams, which will complete Round of 16 ties. The teams placed 9th to 16th will face teams from 17th to 24th in the playoff with second leg home advantage for higher-ranked sides. From Round of 16, UCL will progress in its current fashion.
How will the four additional teams be selected?
Traditionally, to qualify for the Champion’s league, a top-ranked nation’s team must finish in the top 4. But since 2005-06, if the last year’s Champion finishes outside the top 4, they are promoted at the expense of the 4th ranked side. This generated a lot of commotions, as Chelsea finished 6th in 2011-12 Premier League, but was still permitted in the group stage ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who finished 5 points ahead of their London rivals. UEFA aimed to correct this by allowing the four teams who will be permitted under UEFA.
The first two spots go to the associations with the best collective performance (Total no. of points/ Total no. of teams). If it was implemented this year, the spot would go to England and Netherlands. The team finishing fifth in Premier League and the team finishing second in Eredivisie would have qualified. The third spot would go to the third-place team of the fifth-ranked association. This year it would have been French Ligue 1. The last spot would go to domestic league champions with the highest coefficient ranking who have not directly qualified for UCL. These teams are generally in the Champions path.
Will this format work?
Only time will say that. The new format looks promising but is filled with what-ifs. UEFA needs to straighten up some certain flaws before carrying out this plan, and UEFA knows that. That is why they have postponed the project three years later, rather than executing it next season. It is estimated that this format would give UEFA 45% more profit than the current plan does. It is a matter of time to see whether money prevails over the sport, as UEFA’s latest proposed format isn’t much different from the ‘Super League’ format. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more such updates.