The Champions League has changed through the years; one would argue that the changes were for the better, albeit favoring the top 5 leagues in detriment of historical clubs, who find it increasingly hard to even qualify to the group phase.
For well over 20 years, it remained relatively unchanged: except probably for exceptions like those of the next year, where Russian teams won’t be able to play in the competition.
The changes that will come, though, are bound to change any Champions League predictions that we might have had before: sure, they are apparently small, but they can bring about enormous repercussions, and benefit the big teams as a counter-move against the European League that the big sharks shilled for, and with a big backlash from pretty much every pundit, club staff and football fan around the world.
The New Shape of The Champions League:
First off, in 2024-2025, we will see 36 teams playing in the Champions League instead of the 32 we have currently. It has been officially approved by UEFA, so it’s no longer up to speculation.
Instead of the normal 6 games per group, each team will now play 8 games, over 10 match weeks. This decision alone decisively changes the shape of the competition, and the hardships that teams will endure: imagine Olympiakos, for instance. If they match with teams that are disparately throughout Europe, there is at least one more instance of jetlag and travel conflicts that will certainly have an effect on local competitions.
Then, the mere fact there is at least two more games also affects smaller teams, with limited roosters, as they will need to have more than 13-14 players playing a heavy role on the team’s performance. This will favor, undoubtedly, those with the money to create better developed squads.
Which clubs will be in the new 4 spots?
According to Ceferin, “the dream to participate will remain for all clubs.”
This being said, the idea that the four places would be filled by clubs with good runs on the previous years was abandoned for a far more brand approach: while 2 of the spots will indeed by given to the countries whose clubs performed better on Europe over the previous seasons, another place will be granted to the third-place league team in the country standing fifth in the ranking, which presently needs to go in the third qualifying round.
The fourth, foraging arguably the most interesting concept, is qualified via the “Champions Path”. This is what UEFA names the qualifying round for domestic champions who don’t go to the group stage automatically.
The Words of the UEFA’s President
"UEFA has clearly shown today that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the values and solidarity-based European sports model," said Ceferin.
"We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football across our continent while increasing the appeal and popularity of our club competitions."
How does it all play out?
While the current format sees 8 groups four, with teams playing six games (one at home, and one away with each team in the group), the new format envisions a different type of scenario.
It is hard to wrap our heads around the idea, but this is probably due to its nouvelle effect. It goes like this: the initial phase is one of a single league table, including all teams.
Each team plays eight league stage games against different opponents, with four being home and four away.
The top eight of this small league will go on to the knockout stage, and those from ninth to 24th will compete in a two-legged play off in order to progress to the next stage.
In essence, we will still have the 16th legs, but the 8 best teams will progress directly to the quarter finals, which again is technically an easier pathway for the biggest teams in Europe. Adding to that, the big teams that fail to qualify in the top eight will have an easier route to the knockout stages, as they won’t have to face, in theory, teams of their level.
We need to see how this plays out, but the words of UEFA’s President Ceferin serve as little more than a graceful diplomatic escapade than a real change at the competition’s core.