It’s almost time to forget everything you know about the Champions League. Rather than the traditional group stages we’ve come to expect, a revamp is on the cards in time for the 2024-25 season. It sees each team playing eight matches over 10 weeks, in a single league of 36 teams.
The format change is somewhat akin to a ‘Super League’, even if it’s not as restrictive as the would-be tournament that was prematurely announced in 2021.
Here are our thoughts on the new Champions League revamp, and whether it will have much of an effect on the games themselves.
Why change the Champions League format?
Why would UEFA change a format that has worked well? Officially, UEFA says:
“Taking the total number of teams from 32 to 36 in the UEFA Champions League, the biggest change will see a transformation from the traditional group stage to a single league phase including all participating teams. Every club will now be guaranteed a minimum of 8 league stage games against 8 different opponents (four home games, four away) rather than the previous six matches against three teams, played on a home-and-away basis.”
The extra four teams are going to be made up of a club that finishes third in UEFA's fifth-highest league, a smaller domestic champion, and two teams with the highest club coefficients. At present, this would be another team from England and Spain.
This increases the number of games to 189, up from a total of 125. Originally, UEFA was pushing for 10 games in the group stage, which would have been lucrative, if a slog to get though. How will the changes work in practice?
“The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition.
So, there are also going to be knockout games for the group stages, even if it’s only for sides that are struggling.
While most of the attention is being paid to the Champions League, it’s worth noting that other European competitions are also going to be altered and expanded:
“Similar format changes will also be applied to the UEFA Europa League (8 matches in the league stage) and UEFA Europa Conference League (6 matches in the league stage) and both will also include 36 teams in the league phase.”
Is the ‘Swiss model’ controversial?
In and of itself, the model and method isn’t particularly controversial. It’s a way to ensure that every team gets to play more games, and helps to placate any talk of a Super League as bigger sides have an easier route to qualify. They will play more frequently, which l boosts their coffers.
With 10 different opponents, it avoids repetition seen over the past few years, and it gives top leagues more chances to qualify via country coefficients.
The changes do dilute the competition further, as it was originally envisioned as a way for the best teams in Europe to battle it out for the biggest prize on the continent. Hence, the Champions League.
The new iteration is likely to see the same teams qualifying each year, especially if they continue to be matched up with relative minnows that are going to take up the second half of the table in the group stages.
Following the news, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said;
“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.”
“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.”
Of course, each league is going to be happy, as are clubs that will see UCL revenues increase significantly.
What to make of the new Champions League format
It’s hard to know what to make of the proposed changes, especially as the Champions League has worked well in its current format.
That’s not to say that the new Swiss model doesn’t have the potential to be an improvement, just that there doesn’t seem to be any real need to alter the most prestigious tournament in Europe.
There are more matches, which equates to larger sums of money for everyone involved. That’s not a bad result for the clubs themselves, even if it adds more minutes to the schedule for players at the top end of the sport.
It does benefit the bigger sides in the competition, which goes against the spirit of the game. Ideally, this appeasement will also be enough to shelf any plans for a European Super League.
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