Uefa’s executive committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss proposals to usher through the most significant changes the Champions League in a generation.
Last April, days before the failed European Super League plot was launched, Uefa announced that reforms to the Champions League had received unanimous backing from the European Club Association and Uefa Club Competitions Committee.
It confirmed plans to change the format of European football’s top club competition from 2024, and giving the tournament its first new look since the 2003/04 season. The proposals were not met with the same level of backlash that greeted the Super League plans but have still been criticised by leading fans’ groups, including the Football Supporters’ Association [FSA].
“We are united in opposition to proposals to reform the Champions League that are a back door attempt at a return to the discredited idea of a European Super League,” read a statement said from the FSA’s Premier League Network.
But what are the proposed changes, and how could the Champions League look from 2024 if the plans are voted through? Here’s everything you need to know.
What would the new Champions League look like?
Since 2003, the Champions League has been a 32-team competition with a single group-stage phase followed by a knockout phase. The 32 teams, seeded according to league position and Uefa coefficient, have been split into eight groups of four, with the top two teams progressing to the last-16 after six rounds of matches in a round-robin format with both home and away matches. That has then been followed by three two-legged rounds, the last-16, quarter-finals and semi-finals, with matches played home and away, before the final at a neutral venue.
If the proposals go through, the group stage will look completely different.
There are two main proposed changes: four additional teams will be added to take the number of clubs up to 36, and a single league format will be used. The league phase will determine an overall ranking – from 1st to 32nd, with three points for a win and one for a draw as usual. The top eight teams will advance to the last 16, with the 16 teams finishing between ninth and 24th entering the play-off round over two legs, with a victory securing passage to the last 16. Team who finish 25th or below will be eliminated and will not drop down to the Europa League.
How will the league format work?
Discussions are ongoing over how many fixtures will be used in the league phase. Uefa want there to be 10, an increase of four matches from the current six, but are set to face opposition from the Premier League and other major European leagues, who reportedly want there to be eight.
Fixtures would be determined using a ‘Swiss-style’ seeding system. Under Uefa’s proposals, 10 matches would be played, all against different teams, and with five at home and five away. All the results would contribute to the overall league ranking.
Will it change the knockout phase?
Apart from the play-off round, the knockout phase is set to be the same from the last 16 stage. There will been reports, however, that Uefa will discuss the idea of scrapping two-legged semi-finals in favour of a ‘final four’ format played across a week in one European city.
Will some clubs be able to qualify based on past performance?
Perhaps the most controversial part of Uefa’s proposals is to reserve two of the extra four places in the Champions League “to the two clubs with the highest club coefficients that have not qualified automatically for the Champions League’s league stage”.
Those clubs would still have to qualify for European competition, either through their league position or by winning a domestic cup competition, but it opens the door to there being a safety net for the biggest clubs and widening the inequalities in European football to an even greater extent.
For example, a club like Liverpool or Manchester City would still qualify for the Champions League if they finished seventh in the Premier League, which is the last remaining spot for the Europa Conference League, or by winning the FA Cup. They would do so because their club coefficients are in the top five of the Uefa rankings – which is determined by performance over the past five seasons.
However, a team like Brighton, were they to win the FA Cup – would not receive the same pathway into the Champions League unless they finished in the top four.
If the system were to be used this season, Manchester United (sixth in the Premier League) and Roma (sixth in Serie A) would qualify for the Champions League due to their respective rankings off 10th and 11th in the current Uefa club coefficient table.
How will the other two extra Champions League spots be allocated?
According to Uefa, the other two spots will be allocated according to this criteria:
Slot one: One of the additional places will go to the club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the Uefa national association ranking.
Slot two: Another will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the so-called ‘Champions Path’.