Jurgen Klopp has been vocal in the past over his view that the football calendar is simply too hectic.
The Liverpool boss has seen his side play 58 games in all competitions so far this season, and by the time the end of the season arrives their run to the finals of the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League, as well as a bruising 38-game Premier League season will mean the Reds will have played 63 times during the 2021/22 campaign.
From 2024 the planned changes to the format of the Champions League, devised under the ‘Swiss Model’, had included creating a new larger league table to replace group stages, with the games rising from six to 10. The increase of games would have had a knock-on effect for clubs, particularly in English football, with more midweek slots required, potentially putting competitions like the Carabao Cup at risk.
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But a report from The Times claims that plans have now changed following pressure from some clubs outside Europe’s elite over the original plan to hand two Champions League spots to teams with the best co-efficient, meaning that clubs like Manchester United would qualify even if they finished mid-table by virtue of their performance over the past decade in European football.
The report claims that the extra Champions League places will now be given to teams who performed best in European competition during the previous season, going some way to appease what many saw as creating a de-facto closed shop for the historically bigger teams whose competitive performances domestically did not see them qualify on merit for the competition. Also changing from the original plans, according to The Times, is that the number of group stage games will go up from the six that it currently stands at instead of the 10 that was planned initially.
It still represents an increase in the number of games but it does at least lighten the load slightly on what had been on the table originally, something that will no doubt please Klopp who has spoken out this season on the crowded fixture list.
In April the Reds boss, who signed a new deal last month to take him through to 2026, said: “It’s unbelievably difficult. We are still in three competitions and we play (Manchester) City; you saw how difficult that was. We just try to squeeze everything out to stay as long in the competition as somehow possible and then be there in the final, hopefully, or in the league to make the last decisive step.
“The schedule, and how people use the fame in the moment – Liverpool is hot and everyone wants to see them – they couldn’t care less, the TV stations. It’s just not OK.”
But while a slightly reduced set of fixtures for the Reds might be seen as something of a positive for Klopp, for Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group it will mean that there will be less money flowing into the club that there would have been otherwise, with a home game lost which holds a value to the Reds of around £3.2m. That is a figure that does not take into account the media rights surrounding that game, and with the Champions League having been seeking as much as £12.8bn from a new broadcast deal from 2024, the terms of the deal and the value may have to be revised, and that will almost certainly mean less money to be shared among the clubs, of which Champions League sides claim the lion’s share of.
The removal of a Champions League place based upon UEFA coefficient also adds an element of jeopardy for FSG. While the Reds are home and dry when it comes to Champions League qualification this season, and are in the final of the competition in Paris later this month, last season saw the Reds just managed to limp over the line to make the top four, finishing third thanks to some Alisson Becker heroics along the way. Missing out on the Champions League, had that transpired, would have been detrimental to the business and competitive side of the club and would likely have changed the landscape when it came to negotiating new contracts or landing talent such as Luis Diaz.
The decision, rightfully, removes a safety net for clubs and promotes more of a meritocracy, something that Liverpool and others were accused of trying to destroy with the failed plan to launch the European Super League last year. But with the Reds having reasserted themselves among the very best again, having started to address the transition that was needing by adding the likes of Diaz, and having secured Klopp’s long-term future, the element of risk for FSG in missing on has been significantly reduced and their chances of accruing more funds through prize money increased.